Halo: Reach has been something of a mystery ever since the release of Halo 3: ODST. At that game's launch, the beta for the next istalment in Bungie's franchise was first advertised. Finally, that beta has gone live, giving gamers who own a copy of ODST an early look at Reach’s multiplayer, and offering them an opportunity to shape the final product.
That should be reason enough to jump into the beta.
Reach’s multiplayer is quite different to that of Halo 3. The Spartans and the Elites return, but the new power system allows players to select varying load-outs, with unique powers that make each game much more diverse and entertaining. The change is not purely cosmetic.
Spartans have access to four powers: Jetpack, active camouflage, sprint and armour lock. They are only a few, however they vastly mix-up the gameplay. Depending on the power you select, you can use your selected power at any time during a match, provided you have the energy required to activate it. This energy replenishes when a power isn't active.
The jetpack is self-explanatory. It allows you to fly and provides you with a quick route to the far end of the map. However, you also expose yourself to everyone on the ground.
Active camouflage operates much the same as it did in Halo 3’s multiplayer, but can be activated at any time.
Sprint works as advertised – but its usefulness should not be underestimated – and the armour lock ability allows the player to become temporarily invincible in exchange for their mobility.
Elites can't access the same powers as Spartans, but have much better shields and can dodge bullets more easily.
As the beta progresses, additional multiplayer game modes will be opened up testing. Slayer mode is, as always, present. Capture the flag is also here, but there is an additional flag-gathering game mode wherein teams must capture as many flags as possible.
There are also some excellent Spartan versus Elite game modes which face off the two factions.
But the best available mode must surely be Juggernaut. One player becomes powerful and takes on all comers until he’s brought down. The player who delivers the killing blow becomes the Juggernaut in turn.
As you play the multiplayer you earn credits that you can use to purchase armour. They’re all simply unlockable skins, and provide no real benefit, but the idea is to keep you coming back for more.
The tweaks to the game have not been just to the gameplay. The graphics are very impressive indeed and there’s a far greater level of detail than has been seen before. In fact, Reach has a new dynamic lighting system and can now handle 20 to 40 light sources on the screen. It’s a far cry from Halo 3’s four dynamic light sources. The game can also handle twice as many units on-screen simultaneously than its predecessor and has a much larger draw range.
The menu and multiplayer systems are also much improved. The game cycles through three options to choose from and players can vote for a preferred level and load-out, with the most voted map being the one played.
It’s a vastly improved system over the previous version which only allowed players to skip a map, and to only do this once.
Halo multiplayer hasn't been this fun in a very long time. It isn't quite Halo as you know it, and it’s certainly not the same old tired Halo 3 multiplayer. The levels, the gameplay and the graphics have been overhauled. The old Halo feel and style is still there but even at this early stage, it’s quite possible that this is the best multiplayer experience of the series.