Games for Lunch: Halo: Reach beta

By Kyle Orland
Friday, April 30, 2010 at 1:00 pm
Games for Lunch chronicles the first hour of a different game every weekday. Each hour ends with the answer to the only question that matters at that point: Do I want to keep playing? For more information, check out the Frequently Asked Questions.

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Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: May 3, 2010 (public beta)
System: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: NR

In a nutshell: Getting into it wouldn't be much of a reach.

0:00 The Halo 3 beta was actually my very first game for lunch back in 2007.I haven't exactly become an avid player since then -- give me a Left 4 Dead or a Borderlands any day -- but I'm still interested to see what all the fuss is about.

0:01 A very short introductory trailer shows a Spartan putting on a helmet and some sort of flying vehicle crash-landing amidst a firefight. Then a quick cut to a black screen with blue text. "Welcome to the Beta... the experience you are about to enjoy is a delicious sampler platter of multiplayer modes from Halo: Reach." Delicious! They want honest feedback at bungie.net. I'll provide it here instead.

0:03 I don't have any "credits" yet, so I can't buy any of the cool armor on display in the armory. I can change my service tag to any four-letter combination of letters, numbers and symbols, though. I choose "@_@*" because that's what I expect to look like after sucking it up in this beta.

0:05 I'm playing this at ten in the morning the day after I got my code. This is partly because that's when I finally found the time, but it's partly because I really suck at Halo and didn't want to go up against all the good people with super-early access. Then again, if you're still playing at 10am the next day, you're probably pretty good too.

0:06 I like the matchmaking menu interface.. very slick and makes it clear what everything is supposed to do. I can try to specify what type of people I want to play against based on  Chattiness, Motivation, Teamwork and Tone. I leave them all at the default.

0:07 A lit up world map shows where all 1,135 online players currently are. America and Europe are bright orange, as are the Eastern Australia coast and much of Southeast Asia. There are scant dots around Africa, South America and Russia/China.

0:08 OK, start matchmaking. My "NAT type is not open so matchmaking might be slow" whatever that means. I find a group of eight pretty quick and we get top vote on our game type. Everyone seems to want "1 Flag CTF" on the Powerhouse map, so I go with the flow. "Brace for Carnage" says the game. I'll see you on the other side.

0:12 So Powerhouse is a nice, small desert map with a central multi-level structure that houses the flag. I got a few kills here and there, but many more deaths. Our team picked up the flag a few times, but couldn't seem to move it back to the base without getting killed. Everyone is flying around with jetpacks. How are they doing that?

0:14 Ah, I have to choose the "jetpack" loadout to be able to float around by holding LB. It's so much fun slowly rising above the playfield and shooting from above. Why would anyone pick any other loadout?

0:16 One guy keeps picking up the flag and throwing it in front of him, leading the announcer to scream an unbroken stream of "Flag TAKEN, flag DROPPED, flag TAKEN, flag DROPPED." This is just as annoying as you'd think.

0:19 The opposing team seems much better at working together. They managed to capture the flag in their last round and are doing a good job fortifying their position now that they're defending.

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0:21 I keep getting sniped by some sort of thick, pink energy laser, fired from a corner of the map. Damn snipers. I find I'm having trouble getting my bearings, too. Still, I manage to advance the flag a few feet in our team's successful attrition effort. The match ends in a 1-1 tie. Not bad for a start.

0:22  I earn 55 credits for "game complete" and 22 for "commendations." I had 7 kills, 1 assist, and 16 deaths, which puts me ahead of exactly one other player -- a guy on the other team named KingBalmung. I got 4 medals, but I can't seem to find where it tells me what they are. Back to the game, "Stockpile" is the next game type.

0:24 We're in some sort of ornate bunker, with criss-crossing clear walkways. I quickly figure out that the game is about picking up flags, dropping them in your home base, then defending them long enough for them to be "collected" at regular one-minute intervals.

0:27 I'm a bit confused since we're the red team now. I have to keep telling myself "I am red. I am shooting blue."

0:28 Managed to collect a flag and drop it off, but an opposing player killed me and removed it from our base with five seconds left until collection. Gah! 

0:30 One of my opponents is going by the handle Lil Poison. If couldn't possibly be the real Lil Poison, could it? Probably not, since I managed to kill him once.

0:32 We end up winning the match rather handily, 10 flags to 6. What's more, I even feel like I contributed a bit, even though I didn't technically collect any flags. I did get some clutch kills though, helping other people get flags. What can I say... I'm a team player. I really dig the quick back and forth action in this game mode.

0:33 This time I get 50 points for completion plus a massive 67 for commendations, and an extra seven for "victory." I was 8 and 18 for a -10 differential, but I'm pretty proud of my seven assists. Like I said... team player.

0:35 Back to single flag CTF on that first map, where the opposing team makes mince meat of us and take our flag with remarkable speed. I don't think I got a single kill that round, nor survived for more than ten seconds in a row.

0:39 Another brutal round as we try to attack the flag. At one point I get rocketed immediately as I turn the corner to run up some stairs. And that stupid corner camper hits me with the pink energy weapon seemingly no matter where I am. How do you even GET that weapon? All I seem to have is this stupid default combat rifle...

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0:41 The difference, as far as I can tell, is that they work together as a team where we work alone as individuals. Also, they know how to aim and move whereas I and my teammates do not.

0:43 OK, this isn't even fun anymore. They just keep picking us off before we even have a chance. Did I get matched up with some pro-level players or something?

0:44 1 kill, 3 assists and 25 deaths. That was just embarrassing.

0:48 Back to Stockpile again, with the same opponents as before. They're just as ruthless in taking us out before we can get anything going. Then, while we're waiting to respawn, they take all the flags, put them in their base, and just put up a defensive perimeter that we can't break. They make me feel so out of my depth that I fear I will never be even close to the correct depth.

0:53 We end up losing 10-0. My only consolation is that my teammates seem to be doing just as badly as me, with everyone showing a negative score. Still, my score was the most negative, with one kill and 21 deaths. At best, I can say I was a distraction that let other teammates get some kills.

0:55 My 325 credits have gotten me 41% of the way to "Private Second Class" status. Maybe I need to level up before I get the cool weapons and loadouts? Is that it?

0:56 In the shop, I buy some Scout shoulder pads. I'm still not clear whether they're just decorative or actually will give me more protection in the game. I've gotta do some research... or just some more playing. Not right now though, since the hour is almost up and I have other stuff to do.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? I feel I need to play with some friends, rather than expert-level strangers, to really get the full experience. Also I could see really getting into Stockpile mode.
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