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The Halo: Reach Beta has been hotly anticipated since it was first announced. News that all people who purchased Halo 3: ODST would be given access to the beta managed to boost the game’s already staggeringly impressive sales. Let’s face it – at this point, if you know anything about games, you know Reach is gonna sell like gangbusters. The Halo brand name is worth billions in sales alone. And the Reach beta shows that this trust in the developers is not misplaced.

If you’ve been hearing a lot about how the controls have changed and been worried that your leet skillz won’t transfer to the newest addition to the Halo series, you may rest assured that that’s not the case. If you played any of the prior games, you’ll not that the whole setup feels intimately familiar. Your joysticks still move and point, respectfully, and your left and right triggers still shoot and toss grenades. The only notable changes in control are this: The right bumper now uses the melee attack, and the left bumper uses your equipment. That left bumper is important.

Reach’s addition to the gameplay is the equipment system. Currently, you can choose from one of four special equipment modules: Stalker, Scout, Guard, and Airborne.

The Stalker module allows you to become invisible – exactly like active camo. The slower you move while using it, the longer it lasts. One nifty change to the active camo is that you can see more enemies on your radar while using it, but sound is severely dampened – which is logical, as the camo would have to dampen YOUR sound, as well. It’s one of the little touches that shows real thought behind he design.

The Scout module allows you to sprint for a short period of time, roughly doubling your forward movement speed. Turning will take longer, though, and coming out of the sprint takes a second. This is very handy for moving through areas under a lot of fire, or beating a hasty retreat when your shields are low.

The Guard mod allows you to cloak yourself in energy, rendering yourself invulnerable for a short time. While invulnerable, however, your Spartan will be unable to move or shoot, and recovering from this state takes a couple moments, so it’s strictly a last-ditch effort. But it can buy you the few seconds you need for reinforcements to arrive to hold the line.

And finally, the much-discussed Airborne mod. This is the jetpack we’ve all been looking forward to. For many people, footage of the jetpack rendered Halo: Reach an instant purchase (guilty). Holding the left bumper will allow your Spartan to achieve lift and fly for a short time. Turning left and right is very sluggish, but aiming works just fine, so cooking off a few rounds is fun and easy. Great for getting to a higher vantage point, drawing attention (and thusly fire) away from crucial points, and giving you an elevated position to throw out some lead rain on the opposing team.

All of the powers have a gauge on your HUD that decreases as you use them. Speaking of HUDs, you’ll note that the Reach’s has been toned down a great deal, to reduce visual clutter. And a cursory glance tells you that the health bar has returned, so mind you keep near a medpack when you can.

It seems some of the background options have been tweaked a bit, too, as Spartans seem a bit sturdier than they used to be, absorbing more fire before dying. This helps to balance out the fact that everyone gets a superpower very nicely.

Brace yourselves for some good times.

In addition, Reach seems to have taken some inspiration from the Modern Warfare series, as you now gain experience points outside of matches, and earn the ability to buy new armour upgrades for your spartan.

In the beta, you have a limited amount of maps and modes available. The most notable new mode is Stockpile, which requires you to collect and guard several flags before the timer counts down. When the timer hits zero, the flags get collected and added to your score, and new flags get set on the map to replace the collected ones. It’s a delicate balancing game, trying and raid your enemy’s base to get their flag and leaving enough men to guard your own, so this mode seems to have come together really well. The fact that performing a melee attack with a flag is an insta-kill makes people a bit less hesitant to run with them, too.

The maps are varied, ranging from military base in the middle of the jungle to the tightly packed corridors of what appears to be a large office building. The latter is Sword Base, and it’s so often voted for that you’re going to be spending 80% of your time here. Yet for a map called “Sword Base”, there are very few swords.

There’s several new weapons, including the Needle rifle, which shoots exploding needles at medium to long range with excellent accuracy, and the Plasma Launcher, which works alot like a guided rocket launcher, except instead of rockets, you have gobs of gooey, exploding plasma. Tender.

Reach has taken some small steps forward by way of graphics. The framerate looks a bit smoother, and makes more use of motion blur when turning, which lends to a more realistic feel when moving around. Aside from that, everything looks about as it did in Halo 3. The sound remains almost entirely unchanged – in fact, many sound-effects seem to have been reused.

Now, this is a beta, which means that all of this is subject to change before the release. But if Bungie keeps on the current path, they’ve got another guaranteed hit on their hands.


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