Halo: Reach

Halo: Reach Firefight Hands On Preview - A Matchmaking In Heaven

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Firefight is arguably the greatest addition to the Halo franchise since Halo 2 added online multiplayer way back in 2004. Who am I kidding? It is the greatest addition since then. Sure, it’s a derivative mode and Bungie quite clearly jumped on the “Horde” bandwagon, but as Bungie usually do, they take something quite novel and give us their take own unique take on it. While in London this week at Microsoft’s “Christmas Showcase,” we got chance to go hands-on with Firefight in its newly upgraded form and as expected, it was everything we wanted from it... and more.

Two key goals for Bungie and Firefight 2.0 revolve around putting more control at your fingertips. That not only means full matchmaking now – although honestly, playing with friends is still recommended – but you can also completely customise your experience this time around. That means you now have the option to set how many waves/rounds you want, which enemies you’ll confront, what skulls are on, which weapons or sets are activated, how many lives you have and even further, you can even set a time limit on it. Of course, the standard Firefight still exists for those just wanting to jump in and play, and also, the new Rocketfight mode – which as you probably guessed is Firefight with unlimited rockets – makes its debut, if carnage is your thing. Couple Rocketfight together with the jetpack and it suddenly ups the intensity of the mode and portrays it in a less tactical and more destructive light – beware friendly fire!

Speaking of the armour abilities, it’s actually them that separate this version of Firefight from the original. The jetpack suddenly makes those Wraiths at the one end of the level easier to get to without spending too far away from your group, although each does have its own specific benefits. Whether you’re using the Armour Lock with the “Catch” skull activated (excessive grenade use from your opponents) to avoid that inevitable grenade spam that’s just around the corner, the Active Camo to sneak round the back of a Hunter to attack his weak spot or the Sprint to get the hell out of there, each has its unique advantages and choosing which to use, not only adds a tactical element to the proceedings, but makes you feel a lot more powerful.

Our hands-on also gave us a chance to check out the new Drop Shield armour ability, which essentially is a bubble shield that has health regenerative capabilities. Nothing too adventurous, in fact, it’s one of the weaker abilities to pick if you ask me, but having someone in your team using this ability will definitely offer a major advantage after you’ve used all the health packs. Unfortunately the Hologram ability wasn’t on hand to test out, but the ever-growing list of armour abilities is going to make for some hard choices this September.

It’s not all about the armour abilities though, Firefight v.2 is also made better with the new enemies as well, and with armoured Grunts walking the field and Skirmishers – cousins of the Jackals – looking to get up close and personal, everything feels that much fresher. Bungie were also keen to highlight the “upgraded AI” before our hands-on, but too often did I see Grunts get stuck trying to walk through a door that was not open, for me to take that as gospel.

All the weapons that you got hands-on time with during the beta were on offer and against endless waves of fodder, they seem much more powerful than they were back then. The newly revealed Target Designator added a new meaning to the word destruction in the Halo universe with its devastating missile barrage. All you need to do is point and click, and you’ll rain missiles down on your intended targets – incidentally it has around a 20-30 second cooldown and comes packed with 3 shots, but it’s more than enough to wipe out a small circle of clueless foes. However, it wasn’t enough to bring down a drop ship – something that Global Product Manager, Mike Stout, tells us is entirely possible in Reach’s version of Firefight. That being said, we weren’t able to bring one down with countless rockets, but it wasn’t through the lack of trying.

The two levels available for us to vent our frustration on were the daytime map, Beachhead, and the evening map, Waterfront. Both of which – like the multiplayer maps – are taken out of the campaign; ultimately that now means that imaginary boundaries exist round a few of the exits, and if you wander over them, you’ve got 10 seconds to get back into the arena before you’re declared out-of-bounds – i.e. you die. The locations do differ slightly from their campaign counterparts though, with lighting changes and such made to keep them feeling fresh.

Beachhead was the more open map of the two, with a large structure taking place as the centrepiece that near enough dissects the level and runs down to the beach. The beach acts as a Covenant drop point for standard enemies and large vehicles, and the bridge that connects the large structure with the beaches makes for a rather nice vantage point to rain down destruction on your enemies. Mix in a jetpack and if they decide to flank you on both sides, you can make a quick getaway.

Waterfront on the other hand was a much more contained map that saw the action take place under the cover of night. Whilst a lot of the combat on Beachhead spilled onto the sands and surrounding grass enclosures, Waterfront kept the action mostly on the sprawling multipronged structure that takes up a large proportion of the map. With buildings galore and plenty of interiors to outsmart your foes with using various armour abilities; my only qualm with Waterfront was how bloody hard it was to find a worthwhile weapon. If your teammate picked up the Target Designator drop, great for him, but it was increasingly hard to find a weapon of significant power to meet his devastation. At times, I was a bystander to the weapon’s sheer power.

Admittedly I wasn’t blown away by Halo: Reach’s multiplayer beta – I must not have been alone out of the 2.7 million that did play it – but for me, Firefight is a game changer on its own. While Halo 3 didn’t have the delights of Firefight, it did have its extensive multiplayer to hang its hopes on. ODST on the other hand, if it hadn’t have been for Firefight, the game might have bombed hard with the critics because of its short, yet enjoyable campaign and duplicated multiplayer content. Halo: Reach though not only has the ever popular multiplayer to lean on, as well as a much more robust campaign (or so we’re told), but now Firefight has been added to the package meaning Halo-ites have got the mouth watering prospect of the most feature rich Halo ever.

With armour abilities mixing things up, Firefight customisation, matchmaking, brand new locations, some crazy powerful weapons and new enemy types thrown in for good measure, I have no doubt in my mind that Firefight 2.0 will be a hit when Reach ships this September. I may even enjoy the multiplayer after hearing from Stout that they’ve dialled down the power on those pesky grenades. The future’s bright. The future’s all Firefight though.

Halo: Reach is scheduled for a September 14th release in North America and Europe.


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Game Info
Bungie Software


US September 14, 2010
Europe September 14, 2010
Japan September 15, 2010

Backward compatible on Xbox One: Yes
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