Our impressions of the Halo: Reach beta
With the Halo: Reach beta well underway, Nick and Aaron decided to dust off their copies of Halo 3: ODST to decode the Internet hubbub surrounding the latest entry in the franchise. While their experiences were both positive and negative, one thing is clear: It's definitely Halo.
After five minutes of a capture-the-flag match in the Halo: Reach beta, I thought to myself: "I know what this is. This is Halo 2 -- and 3. Ugh." Yes, I really did "ugh" in my mind.
Halo multiplayer is meant for split-screen or system link parties held among banter-prone friends who throw out a mixture of taunts and encouragement. The online version of Halo doesn't appeal to me -- it wasn't made for my tastes. But as I was downloading the latest Halo beta I told myself I must like Reach's online component. For once I wanted to understand the zealous admiration Halo fans have for the series' online portion. I also wanted to know why some people won't let Halo 2 die.
My plan was to approach Reach without any negative preconceptions. I thought it would be easy thanks to excellent video documentaries like "Once More Unto the Breach," which demonstrate Bungie's passion for the numerous changes, tweaks and upgrades to the core single-player experience. I was quick to assume that those changes would carry over to the multiplayer. Unfortunately they don't, and nothing much has changed as a result. For an overwhelming majority of gamers both part-time and hardcore that's fantastic news. For me it's disappointing.
However, the Reach beta does have two things going for it. The class powers add a layer of fun to the experience that the bubble shield and other Halo 3 equipment never fully achieved. Secondly, Bungie's social filter options are genius. A player can choose different match tags to find "chatty" or "polite" players, and the browser will find games with your similar preferences. I could even search for others at my same skill level. Options like this are brilliant, and they need to become the status quo for other blockbuster console titles.
So maybe I'll ease up on my hype for awhile. I'll still browse the news sites and click on the links with "Reach" in the headline, but I'll be apprehensive. I'll bide my time until the game is out, and the consensus is clear for the more important parts: the single-player and co-op campaigns.
I'm a weekender when it comes to Halo. Although I was participating in 16-player fragfests on a weekly basis nearly a decade ago, my love for Halo waned once college -- and Halo 2's online-focused multiplayer -- arrived. Like Smash Bros. and Goldeneye before it, I always associated Halo with getting a group of friends crammed together on a couch, blowing each other to pieces and having a grand old time.
But then Xbox Live was born, and Microsoft saw an opportunity for its flagship franchise to lay the foundation for the first significant console-based gaming network. Maybe it had just as much to do with all my friends heading off in different directions at that point in life, but the massive LANs at friends' houses had long since come to an end and the only way to play Halo together was over a 10Mbps connection with the aid of a wonky, uncomfortable headset. Finally: All the thrills of the Halo experience coupled with the creature comforts of working in a call center.
So yeah, I approached Halo: Reach expecting to be disappointed. And it wasn't until I had been needled, stuck with a sticky grenade, circle-strafed and bashed with a flag -- which only took about two minutes, given my skill level -- that the old, familiar Halo rage began to percolate within me. I avoid online shooters on Xbox Live because I don't want to be forced to share any space, real or virtual, with someone who identifies as XxJUGGALOLZxX.
But at the same time, I felt a tingle of nostalgia coming on. I remembered all the fun I used to have with Halo. And then it dawned on me: the game hadn't changed -- I had.
Fortunately, like Aaron mentioned, Bungie has taken some intelligent steps toward shaping your online play experience to suit your interests. Want to play Oddball with casual, polite, quiet folks who might be just as willing to sit down with a cup of coffee and discuss Proust? Knock yourself out, man.
But ultimately, the only thing you need to know is that Halo: Reach is Halo. It's Halo 1, 2, 3 and ODST, minus a few significant tweaks in the matchmaking formula and some interesting new game modes thrown into the mix. If you love Halo multiplayer, and your friends love Halo multiplayer, I have no doubt you're gonna have a blast with Reach. But as a game critic, I'm disappointed that the beta doesn't indicate a greater willingness on Bungie's part to develop the Halo formula and to push it forward.