By James Hawkins
Friday, April 30, 2010 at 10:30 am
Yesterday I was able to tool around on the Halo: Reach beta with about 4,000 other lucky folks who got the early key. For me, the multiplayer aspect of the Halo games is the most enthralling part, and though I bought ODST when it came out, I thought the new additions to the multiplayer in that entry were largely disappointing. It has been years since I've experienced a fresh Halo match, and I can tell you right off the bat, the experience is different than anything we've seen before.
It looks like Reach has taken the next logical step in the evolution of the Halo franchise. In Halo 3, I remember being really impressed with how the power-ups added a new dynamic to the gameplay. In Reach, the developers have beefed up the focus on strategy by adding four loadouts that the player can choose from before the game and on the respawn screen. These loadouts, which are preselected weapon and ability types, allow the player to approach the objective in a manner that best suits them. For instance, I usually selected the Stalker loadout -- I was given the ability to have limited active camouflage so that I could flank or sneak past the enemy undetected. The game is more mature and complex than its predecessors, which is something that I fear might curb the primal intensity that separates the Halo games from others in the genre.
The biggest thrill I've had with the Halo games is how aggressive and in-your-face the battles are. In each previous game, when I approached an enemy head-on, it came down to an exercise in timing, skill, and decision making. Each encounter took only a few seconds, but those seconds were so packed with gut-reactions and improvisations that I got an immediate shot of adrenaline each time they occured. With the new additions to Reach, there is such an emphasis on special abilities that I found myself disappointed when I met an opponent and he just flew away with his jetpack, or sprinted down a corridor with the Scout loadout. There are too many variables in each situation. It doesn't feel quite as visceral as before.
But this also may be the fact that I wasn't used to the new gameplay. I haven't played Halo online with any regularity in a while, and the game I've been playing most recently -- Bad Company 2 -- is a far different kind of shooter. I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up loving the Reach multiplayer once I get acclimated to the pacing and intricacies of the game, but I can say for certain that I am a bit leery of it as the groundbreaking, genre-defining multiplayer experience of our generation; a title that the marketing team has so generously self-proclaimed. But we shall see.