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Bungie revamps with 'Reach'

Apr 27, 2010

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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Hop onto Halo 3 multiplayer these days, and it seems there's a powerful force that has stopped players from screaming expletives and spewing insults into their mics. That force is Halo: Reach.

Halo ReachThe newest (and possibly last) Halo game from developer Bungie, 'Reach' and its upcoming multiplayer beta is the current talk of the town for players on Halo 3, and like any Halo game, it has latched onto gamers' minds. This series has dominated Xbox Live for years and it all signs point to it continuing that trend with the upcoming Reach beta. Bungie's last two 'beta' projects have probably garnered more chatter than other full retail releases.

G4 Canada had a chance to give the beta a whirl, trying out two of the four new game modes being introduced in Reach. Besides the game modes, there are several features new to the Halo series that give it a fresh coat of polish.

Right off the bat, the voting system is much better than in Halo 3. Instead of being given the option to veto one game, and being forced to play whatever the second choice is, players are given three game type choices. Instead of vetoing, you vote on what choice you like best (or 'none of the above' if you dislike all the choices), and whatever has the highest number of votes wins. If the majority chooses 'none of the above', a final list of three choices pops up to vote on.

The two game modes we played were 'Headhunter' and 'Stockpile'. The great thing about both of these new game types is that they appeal to fans of both deathmatch and objective style games.

Headhunter is bound to be a huge hit as both a first option, and a great 'go to' mode when people can't agree on anything else. The object of the game is to kill players and collect skulls that they drop when they die. The skulls you've collected then have to be 'cashed-in' at different nodes on the map, all of which are continually respawning at different locations.

There is plenty of white-knuckle action going on here. Every time you're holding skulls - whether it's two or ten - you instantly become a target for everyone else on the screen. It was a rarity to get to a node without someone taking aim and trying to get your loot by dropping you. It seemed every time we were making a desperate run to score some skulls, we were getting shot in the back by someone looking to ruin our imminent victory.

Best of all, a number appears above each players name showing just how many skulls they have. So don't expect to hoarde skulls in the double digits and not figuratively be a bigger target than someone holding one or two.

The best part about this mode is that there is most certainly a high level of strategy involved. Do you focus on scoring one skull at a time? Or is it better to grab several near the end of the match and try to overtake the leader? Getting the most kills in this mode is moot. It's all about capturing skulls, so even players who don't get the most headshots in a game still very much have a chance of winning.

Halo ReachThe other mode that didn't have nearly the same kind of fun was Stockpile. It's similar to Capture the Flag, but there are several flags set up on the map, with blue and red capture points that you have to bring the flags to. The difference with classic CTF here is that there is a timer counting down, and when it reaches zero, whatever flags you have in your scoring node earn points.

Though this mode is somewhat of a mixture of time-honoured game types like CTF and King of the Hill, something about it just wasn't as appealing as Headhunter. Maybe it was the map we were on (more on that in a moment), but it seemed gamers weren't as into it. We'll see how it plays out when the Reach goes live.

Another big new addition to Reach is the Armor Abilities - and this is a change we love. Armor Abilities are kind of like the replacement for items in Halo 3 (ie. Bubble Shield, Regenerator, etc), but far more interesting. These new abilities can be chosen at the beginning of each round and can be switched up every time you respawn.

The abilities are set in pre-chosen 'load-outs', which can and do change depending on the game you're playing. These load-outs are kind of like choosing classes like in other multiplayer games. You can be a close encounters expert, a marksmen, or a classic grunt with all-around abilities. Keep in mind that each ability is based around a regenerating meter. So, use an ability once, and you'll have to wait several seconds to use it again.

Usually you'll have four load-outs to choose from in each game, and each one varies greatly. Sprint is pretty self-explanatory, giving you the ability to run in quick bursts to get out of the line of fire or make a last second effort to grab a flag or score some skulls. Only Spartans can use this.

Evade can only be used by Elites, and it lets you perform a first-person leap of faith if you're being hunted from behind. If you're locked on by a weapon, Evading will break this. It's a quick little manouver that is much more handy than it may at first sound.

Halo ReachJet Pack is just as obvious, allowing you to fly high, high above the ground to get to hard-to-reach areas in a vertical sense. Careful though - you don't want to land from too high up with making a soft landing or else say bye-bye to your shields or some health!

Active Camo is great for the player who likes being the one to steal the flag. The slower you move, the longer camo lasts before having to regenerate it. Lots of fun even in Slayer for sneaking up on enemies.

Armor Lock is definitely the most interesting of the bunch. If you find you're losing a firefight and are about to die, you can activate this ability, which will give your character an impenatrable shield for a few seconds. The downside? You're locked in place; you can't move at all, so if a smart enemy sees you do this, they simply have to step away (a close-proximity damaging blast goes off every time you end an Armor Lock) and wait for your damaged hide to come out of hiding and pop you with a bullet or two to finish you off.

Developer Bungie has always had a particular knack for making amazing maps in the Halo series, and Reach is no exception. The two we had the most time with were Powerhouse and Sword Base, with Powerhouse looking to be one of the sweetest Halo maps in a long time.

Powerhouse is great for several game types, from CTF to Headhunter. It's also a good choice for Oddball as long as you have no more than four, maybe five, players. Lots of great weapons (have fun going after the rocket launcher) and though it's an outdoor arena, there are still plenty of spots to go inside and sneak up on enemies.

Halo ReachSword Base is only so-so. It has a ton of vertical levels, and though it's easy to move up using the jet pack, it's a nearly useless Armor Ability once you move inside one of the many rooms. And have fun moving a flag up the flights of platforms (even jet packs won't help you since Armor Abilities become null and void once you're holding an objective item).

One other feature that we didn't get much time to play around with is the levelling up system. It looks to be vastly improved over the confusing, muddled experience system in Halo 3. It's simple - you do stuff to help yourself and your team in a match, you earn points when said match is over. A nice big bar on the screen after the match shows you how close you are to your next level. And earning points lets you buy stuff for your character. We've seen it done before on plenty of multiplayer games, but it's still great to see it in the Reach beta.

The most important point to make about this beta is that even with all these added features, Reach is still very much like past Halo games. That arcade-like feel is not gone - there simply has been several tweaks to make the overall experience more enjoyable.

If you've always hated Halo multiplayer, Reach still might not be for you. Fans of course will flock to it no questions asked, but it would be wise for non-fans to keep a close eye on it and give it a whirl at a friend's house. They may be surprised with how the series has progressed into something much more interesting.


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