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Are you going to buy an Xbox One X This Holiday Season?

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Game Profile
Xbox 360
GENRE: First Person Shooter
September 14, 2010

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More in this Series
 Written by Troy Matsumiya  on May 24, 2010

Beta Impressions: Reach out and kill someone.

The wait is over ? well, partially over. While Halo: Reach is still several months away, Halo 3: ODST owners enjoyed two weeks of the Reach multiplayer beta and a generous taste of what Bungie's franchise swansong has in store for us.

The beta was everything you'd expect from a Halo game; at its core, it's the same Halo we all know and love, but at the same time there are a ton of changes. Most are subtle enhancements and improvements, more of an evolution rather than a revolution. That said, it was still damn fun. But for those of you who missed it, here's the scoop on what you can expect.

The first big change is in the form of the vastly improved lobby. You are greeted with a handy list of friends playing Reach and how many people are in their party. You can choose to join your friends and automatically connect to their party when their current game session is over. You can even see the score and how much time is left in their game, so you will no longer be left in the dark twiddling your thumbs wondering how long you'll have to wait.

If you prefer joining a random party, you can customize some personal preferences to help ensure you join like-minded players.

Once a session is launched, everyone is presented with two or three gametype or map options, and every player votes on their favorite. If you don't like any of them, you can vote for ?None of the above? ? very cool.

Perhaps the biggest change is to the control scheme. Yup, Bungie switched some of the controls around so veteran Halo 3 players would sometimes die an embarrassing death while fruitlessly trying to melee someone with the B button (which now selects grenade type). Melee is now the right bumper, X reloads, and there is no dual wielding. Holding the melee button while behind an opponent triggers an assassination, complete with a humiliating third-person view animation. However, you are vulnerable while doing this and so could end up dying a humiliating death yourself if you're not careful.

The left bumper activates the new Armor Abilities. Halo 3's equipment pickups are now gone; instead, you now select a load-out ?class? each with a unique power-up: Active Camoflage (activates Predator-like invisibility that weakens the faster you move), Armor Lock (makes you invincible but you can't move or fire while it's active), Sprint (makes you run faster), and the oh-so-fun Jet Pack. Armor Abilities can only be used for a limited time and require a cool down period before they can be used again. This is especially important to keep in mind when using the Jet Pack; running out of gas while a hundred feet in the air is not a good thing, especially since falling damage is now back in the game. Ouch.

And yes, falling damage means the separate health meter returns. You still have your rechargeable shield but once that's down, you will take health damage, and the only way to replenish it is by using the precious few health packs scattered around the maps, similar to ODST.

Depending on gametype, you can select from several different classes or Load Outs, each with their own unique weapons and Armor Abilities. For example, Air Assault has an assault rifle and Jet Pack. The Expert Marksman has Sprint and the new single-shot Designated Marksman Rifle, which replaces and improves upon the triple burst Battle Rifle with reduced kickback and deadly mid-to-long range accuracy. The Grenadier has Sprint and sports the new grenade launcher. Pull the trigger and it fires a grenade; hold the trigger and the grenade won't explode until you release it, making it perfect for setting up impromptu mine traps.

Other new weapons include the Plasma Repeater (basically a Covenant assault rifle), the Needle Rifle (a Covenant version of the DMR that shoots needles ? and yes, it's as cool and deadly as it sounds), the Focus Rifle (a nasty combination of the Sentinel Beam and the Beam Rifle that looks and sounds deliciously evil) and the insane Plasma Launcher, which can fire up to four plasma grenades that track their targets. Oh, and let's not forget the return of everyone's favorite, the scoped Magnum. Sweet!

Note that I haven't mentioned Elites yet. Unlike the previous editions, Reach focuses primarily on Spartan-on-Spartan action. Elites only appear in certain gametypes and now have different attributes. Previously, the only difference between Spartans and Elites was appearance; now, Elites are much bigger and stronger, and have the exclusive Evade ability, which is the quick dodge-and-roll we've seen in the single player campaigns.

Ah, but what about the gametypes? All of your favorites will be back: Slayer, Team Slayer, Capture the Flag, and so on. But the beta introduced us to four new ones: Headhunter, Stockpile, Invasion and Generator Defense.

In Headhunter, each player drops a flaming skull when they die; scoop up the skulls and drop them off at scoring locations to earn points. If you manage to score 10 skulls at once, you automatically win the game. The catch is you have a counter above your head indicating how many skulls you are carrying, so the bigger the number, the juicier the target you become. Oh, and just to make things even more interesting, the scoring location jumps around like a skittish frog. Headhunter is the type of crazy fun that drunken gaming nights are made for.

Similar to Headhunter is Stockpile. This is a team game where you must grab several neutral flags scattered across the map and return them to your base. The flags need to sit in your scoring zone until a timer runs down in order to earn points. This means you not only have to fight for the flags, but defend them as well. This is another fun gametype that was very popular during the beta.

Invasion is a big team gametype pitting the Spartans against the Elites. The Elites are faced with several progressive objectives, with new ones unlocking as they successfully complete the task at hand. They have to shut down several generators, steal a data core, and deliver it to an extraction zone. The Spartans, on the other hand, must defend each objective and prevent the Elites from delivering the data core. New Armor Ability classes, weapons and even vehicles unlock as each objective is completed, giving both sides new tactical options as the game progresses ? very cool. Think of it as a Halo version of Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and you'll get a good idea of how fun and frantic it can be.

Generator Defense is a similar but smaller version of Invasion. Once again the Elites are tasked to destroy three generators that are defended by Spartans. In the beta, this gametype was limited to only three-on-three, so we're not sure if this number will increase. In any event, this is another fun gametype that rewards smart teamwork.

Visually, Reach is impressive but won't blow you away like Gears of War 2 or Modern Warfare 2. There are certainly nice graphical enhancements but it's still basically Halo 3 prettied up. That's not necessarily a bad thing since it still looks great, but if you're picky and crave the latest and greatest eye candy, you might be a bit disappointed.

Not surprisingly, the maps are nicely designed, especially the asymmetrical ones. Bungie has a history of creating symmetrical maps that can be disorientating during the heat of battle, so it's nice to see them embracing asymmetrical designs that are not only more aesthetically interesting, but add new tactical elements as well.

Final Thoughts
The beta is over, and it didn't disappoint. Halo fans have a lot to look forward to when Reach is launched later this year. It's not a huge departure from the tried and true formula, but the little tweaks and enhancements could make this the best Halo multiplayer yet. But will it be enough to knock off Modern Warfare 2 as the most-played game on Xbox Live? We'll find out in a few months.

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