Friday, May 21, 2010

Halo: Reach post-beta impressions and insight

 Assassinations are pretty sweetThe Halo: Reach beta has come to a close and with it my stalwart pessimism towards its future. Everything Reach adds refines and reconstructs the necessary shooter mechanics that have made it so overwhelmingly popular. What’s more baffling, I never imagined that the key ingredient missing from Halo’s triumphant formula was simply hiding in its competition.

If you had the opportunity to test out the beta, you may have been taken aback at how different yet conveniently familiar Reach felt. The game is still very much Halo, but with a new class system, weapon changes, and aiming mechanics that completely augment the experience. For some, these alterations could be infuriating, but the rest should find it welcome and you can thank contemporary games like Battlefield and Call of Duty for that.

 Armor Lock will save your ass Being able to change your class on the fly is single-handedly one of, if not the most significant change the series has taken. Depending on the gametype, the class you choose could come with different sets of weapons and all come with their own unique power such as sprinting, cloaking, and jet-packing. Weapons are still found around the maps, but spawning with something a little meatier than a peashooter is a nice touch. As far as abilities go, the sprint ability seemed to be the most natural fit of the bunch, but there’s nothing like flying over your opponents whilst raining death via rocket launcher either. You’ll never find a single class that’s good at absolutely everything, but it’s nice to see them excel at something very specific.

These special abilities or Armor Powers, definitely diversify the battlefield and none seem to be too overly unbalanced. If I had to choose though, the Armor Lock ability would be the one to stand out. Armor Locking throws you into a crouching position with intensified shields that can withstand any amount of damage, but you become immobile. It’s extremely useful for avoiding grenades and ricocheting pesky rockets right back at your enemy, but I feel it’s almost too powerful. Maybe it’s that you can activate the power too many times in one period, but who am I kidding? If you use this thing with none of your allies around, you’re as good as dead. Usually.

 Grenades are nuclear. Seriously! The new game types have also added a flair I didn’t think Halo could do. Invasion is the new mode that plays much like Unreal Tournament’s assault mode. It’s Elites versus Spartans and, at least in the beta, the Elites are the attackers while the humans take up defensive positions. Capturing objectives adds more strategy to a game that has only really known the tactics of running and gunning. Headhunter, though, is my personal favorite as it’s complete, unadulterated chaos. In order to score, you must collect skulls from fallen players and run them to constantly moving drop-points. The trick behind all this is anyone can see the number of skulls you’re currently carrying. It becomes hilarious in the late game when people you kill start dropping scores of skulls that roll all over the map and everyone tries frantically to pick them up. Another strategy, albeit a tough one, is to score 10 skulls at any point. If you can do that you’ll achieve a Skullamanjaro as well as an instant victory.

Weapon-wise, Reach has changed a great deal of the iconic Halo weaponry and threw out dual-wielding all together. The famed Battle Rifle is now defunct and is replaced with the Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR). The pistol, which can never seem to find the right role, is better than ever and the Needler isn’t complete trash. It’s all hard to believe, but the much larger role is the new aiming system. Instead of having three-shot massacre rifles and pin-point accuracy at any range, the new aiming system rewards those who have patience. Pull the trigger like you’re trying to start a fire and you’ll make your reticle as big as the moon and your aiming coach very unhappy. But if you time it by waiting a second in between each shot, you’ll keep your reticle in perfect shape and hit your target with ease.

 Oh, headshot This accuracy thing will definitely urk the more hardcore crowd but with time it’s pretty easy to get used to and not every weapon suffers from it. The new grenade launcher definitely doesn’t suffer from accuracy issues as you’re the one in sole control. One of the great perks of utilizing the grenade launcher is the ability to manually detonate the grenade. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to scatter groups of enemies who think they’re out of your range. It’s perhaps my favorite new weapon, right next to the absolutely ridiculous plasma grenade thrower. I mean, how could you not like a weapon that shoots out homing plasma grenades? Seriously.

There’s a great deal more I haven’t touched on like the new interface, credits, and the Spartan/Elite idiosyncrasies, but it’s fairly obvious everything is done particularly well. The greatest feat of Reach though, is its ability to be so different while remaining very much the same. Bringing back mechanics that work, like health and the power of the pistol, are very much welcome but so are the obvious influences from present games. It all comes together in a way that makes Halo feel like it was always meant to be played this way. Now the wait for September truly sets in.

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