Beta Impressions: It's delicious Chef!! I hadn't counted on that? What I HAD counted on?
Let's get the negative out of the way immediately. There's little excuse for the absolutely legendary #@*$-up that was the Halo 3 beta launch. How is it possible for two major players like Microsoft and Bungie to produce such an amateurish effort, and a perplexing comedy of errors that culminated in the beta download (at least for the people getting in through the purchase of Crackdown) being some 14 hours late? Perhaps less time should have been spent on that spiffy countdown timer (which proved to be utterly useless, and of course, completely inaccurate) on Bungie.net and more time actually testing the product you've promised to legions of devoted fans who've lined your pockets for years now, eh? Before any fanboys start sending me hate mail insisting how grateful we should all be to Bungie for even giving us the opportunity to play Halo 3 months before launch, stop masturbating to that manga and listen up: defending multi-billion dollar corporations in which you do not own a controlling share of stock is not only completely stupid, but shows an innate lack of understanding regarding anything but your Star Wars dolls (sorry, action figures
) and lack of sexual contact with real females. Besides, you didn't really think that idiotic Cosplay Cloud outfit was cool, did you? That's not to say that I'm not a Star Wars fan, but paying 1500 bucks for a discontinued Boba Fett figure made of 2 cents worth of plastic? Eh, not so much. And Cosplay? Well, Cosplay is just?. wrong.
That said, here's the good news: The Halo 3 beta absolutely rocks, and if it's any indication of the final product (which, of course, it is) Halo 3 will be the multiplayer title that rockets Xbox Live to lofty new heights, even in the face of Sony's free online service launching around the same time. So, let's get down to brass tacks ? the Halo 3 beta test includes 3 maps; Valhalla, Snowbound and High Ground. Each map is unique, nicely designed, with plenty of excellent terrain, lots of vehicles (including the super-cool new ATV style Mongoose) and loads of eye-candy. You'll hear lots of simple-minded, semi-literate chimps harping all over message boards everywhere that the graphics are ?teh suck?, and it looks like nothing more than Halo 2 in high res. Of course, they also have mittens pinned to their jackets all year round, and like to start fires in their spare time. For those of us that don't need a cork placed on the end of our forks while we eat, lest we gouge our own eyes out due to poor motor control and spastic movement, it's quite clear that there are serious improvements to the look of the game this time out that go way beyond a simple resolution upgrade.
The game is very, very vibrant and colorful. Water looks amazing, grass looks really, really good. Snowbound has a nice effect of snow kicking up as you run, the lighting and reflections look pretty great too - also, the explosions are sweet. The effects like smoke trails on rockets and secondary explosions & shrapnel when you blow someone off the Mongoose are killer, and the physics during moments like that are hilarious - totally cool looking. The character models and vehicles have been WAY refined, and look much better. And everything now is self-shadowing where it wasn't before ? which adds weight and realism to the vehicles and landscapes, that's for sure. And perhaps most importantly ? everything moves at a solid frame-rate, even when there's complete mayhem on-screen.
While this is just a beta test, Bungie has included a bunch of fun gametypes (King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, Slayer, Team Slayer etc..) and loads of features that will be further polished and expanded for the game's release. Take the ability to save films ? you can opt to save a clip of your entire game in the post match lobby by pressing the X button. You can view these at any time in the theater lobby, and also send them to your friends so they can see that great killing spree you went on, or how you blew a Warthog full of enemies up with a rocket as you flew overhead on Valhalla. In the final game, you'll be able to rewind, fast-forward, and use slow motion to further examine your game plan. This should be an invaluable tool for learning to be a better player.
The stat tracking this time out is even more extensive than Halo 2 ? not only in the post-game lobby but on Bungie.net as well. You can see every game you've played, what weapons you preferred, how many medals earned; kill to death ratios and loads of other information that's truly astounding. All the cool vehicles are back, and have been beefed up in terms of toughness. In addition, the ATV style Mongoose is nimble, maneuverable and can ride someone shotgun on the back. The person riding still has the ability to fire their weapon, and while the Mongoose is unarmed, it can whisk a flag carrier back to base quickly.
I have high-hopes for the finished game, as even at this stage the beta is polished and nicely balanced. No more spending the first minute of a match scouring the battlefield for a decent weapon ? the AR is powerful and combined with judicious grenade tossing can make short-work of anyone. There are lots of pick-ups all over the map, and the Covenant Carbine and Battle Rifle both feel great and work exceptionally well at far range. New weapons such as the Brute Spikers are powerful and nasty-sounding, and dealing out death while dual wielding these babies is particularly satisfying. Not to mention the joy of sticking someone (or something) with the new spike grenades. Other new gadgets like the bubble shield (a geodesic dome of pure refractive energy) portable grav lift, trip mine and energy drainer add new strategies to the battlefield, but the core gameplay of guns, grenades and vehicles feels remarkably balanced here.