X10: Halo: Reach Hands Off Preview - One Map at a Time
Written Friday, February 19, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
“We’re not looking to radically change the formula... it doesn’t work for what we’ve built” stated Bungie’s Community Manager, Brian Jarrard, in front of a small crowd at this year’s X10 in San Francisco. Bungie were on hand to show off one of their beta maps for Halo: Reach, Powerhouse, with the CM noting that whilst the beta won’t be indicative of the final retail version, they will be doing their best to get it up to scratch. “We have to do our best to get it representative of the final version,” stated Jarrard, conscious that so many judgements would be made from this coming May’s beta.
In all honesty though, catching up with Halo: Reach at X10 this year was an experience of contrasting emotions. On the one hand, having a tour of this desolate multiplayer map was hardly what I call an inspiring and overwhelming experience, but on the other hand, man that bad boy is one sexy son of a bitch!
Arguably one of Halo’s fallbacks in recent years has been its visuals. Don’t get us wrong, ODST looked great and everything, but it’s hardly what we’ve come to expect from a triple A franchise in the 21st century. What’s that you say? Visuals aren’t everything? If you want to be a triple A title, they’re definitely part of the package. Either way, Reach is looking to fix that. The detail that was on show in their beta map, Powerhouse, was of an impressive standard and added a sense of visual splendour to the franchise. Despite the muted colour palette of the environment Brian Jarrard assured us that this is still Halo after all, so expect a much more colourful package when the environment is jam-packed with action.
Whilst the visual makeover is obviously apparent in the environment, from the sweeping three-dimensional vistas to the rivets on the walls and doors, the attention to detail is at its best with the Spartans themselves. Interestingly your virtual Spartan now follows you through both the online multiplayer and the campaign, and they will be fully customisable... visually anyway. I say interestingly, simply because it’s a first person shooter and as we all know, you don’t often see yourself in first person shooter games. So how much better are the character models you ask? Well the fact that you can read the serial numbers on the gun is nothing short of amazing.
The improved visuals aren’t the only things you can expect in Reach, Bungie have also put a lot of effort into such things like the sounds of the guns. They definitely sound a lot meatier this time around and seem to have more gravity and carry. As Jarrard shoots the DMR (“designated marksman rifle” which looks a lot like a battle rifle in some respects) across the Powerhouse the echo is deafening. Presentation seems to be an obvious focus for Bungie’s last Halo outing, but why you ask? According to Creative Director, Markus Lehto, it’s so that the players “have a better sense of place” and to ramp up the world’s “realism.” Two things that they certainly seemed to have achieved with Reach.
The level of detail isn’t just superficial and chances are you won’t notice some of it, but it’s there to create this much more rounded experience. Yes you may notice the increased particle effects from the impact the weapons and grenades make with certain surfaces, but chances are you won’t notice that each projectile has its own dynamic light attached as well – despite Bungie saying we will...
Don’t expect Halo 3 with a visual overhaul though and although we’re stepping back into the shoes of a Spartan, Reach will continue to use ODST’s health system which is said to “encourage more exploration in the environment” and add a more “strategic” element. You’ll also see the introduction of the equipment from Halo 3, but now it’s not adopting the use-one-time-and-discard system, but now equipment will stay with the player throughout the duration of gameplay. Bungie used the “dash” armour customisation to show off this tweaked mechanic, where players can sprint for a short period of time. Once the meter has depleted, instead of discarding it, you simply have to let it recharge. Lehto was keen to add that whilst many of these will appear in the beta, “a good few of which will be held back for the main game.” They don’t want to blow their proverbial load too early now do they?
“Also, an interesting note is, all our multiplayer spaces fit contextually within the campaign” commented Lehto, before pointing out that whilst you go through the Powerhouse level at night in the campaign, the multiplayer map will be set in the day. Throw in a few varying game changers like weather conditions and you’ll see two very different sides to the same environments in both the campaign and the multiplayer.
Entertaining as it can be looking at an empty beta map, at least we can say that Halo: Reach does the one thing we wanted from the title... it looks better. Throw in the usual Halo gameplay, a few new weapons, a new equipment mechanic, a new take on maps being used across the campaign and the multiplayer, and Halo: Reach is well on its way to stardom. Obviously it would have been nice to see a little action and this was nothing more than a glorified tech demo, but despite that, we were actually quite excited. Wait... we were excited by an empty map? Yes, I know, it kind of shocked us as well, but it’s encouraging to see that Halo will finally be able to be mentioned in the same breath as the other high-end, visually appealing titles that currently sit at the top of the tree.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, “Master Chief will not be a part of this game,” and that’s straight from the Creative Director’s mouth... so can we put that rumour to rest now?
The Beta kicks off May 3rd for those that have a copy of ODST.