Last Friday, Bungie decided to roll out its Halo 3 Beta to the press and its Friend and Family scheme. On behalf of 360 Monster I was one of those lucky few, so here I am ready to tell you what is in store for your gaming fingers, eyes and ears this coming Wednesday 16th of May, when the Halo 3 Beta opens to the masses.
“Loading”…”Halo 3 Beta”…”Love, Bungie” , you got to love those crazy Bungie guys. These are the first words that you will see when loading up the Halo 3 Beta. Once in the menu the well known musical score that still rings in every Halo fanboy’s ears begins to play. The Beta’s main menu features just three simple options – “Play the Beta”, “View a Film” and “Quit to Dashboard”, there are also two further sub options of “Profile” and “Friends”. All these areas will be looked at in this Preview, but first let’s visit the most important one…
Play the Beta
Selecting “Play the Beta” takes you into the Matchmaking Lobby. From here you select your game types, network modes and rank preferences. Only Xbox Live play is available in the Beta, although System Link and Local features are present but cannot be executed. Two Playlists are available to you here, “Ranked” and “Social”. “Ranked” playlists filter down into three types. “Rumble Pit” which are free-for-all battles, “Team Slayer” where two teams containing up to 4 players can fight to the death, and lastly “Team Skirmish” which features two teams of up to 8 players fighting in attack and defence game types such as Capture the Flag and Bombing runs. Over in the “Social” playlist there are two options – “Rumble Training” and “Team Training”. Both game types mirror the Ranked server modes. “Rumble Training” is an unranked free-for-all for up to a maximum of 6 players, where as in “Team Training” you can join up with 3-4 others and face against another team of 3-4 players in attack and defence game types.
Before starting your Ranked or Social matchmaking, you have the ability to fine tune the types of opponents that you will be placed with. Four choices are available to you here with only one of these types being selectable at one time. So it is not really much of a filter but more like what you would most like to prioritise when matchmaking. The choices available to you in the Beta is “Close skill range”, “Good connection”, “My language” and the default “None”. All of these are self explanatory and should the matchmaking fail to select enough players in your criteria it will then go to the next best option.
When each choice is made during the matchmaking process an area of the screen is populated with data, showing the amount of available players for that game type as well as the overall amount of gamers playing the Halo 3 Beta online. Matchmaking can take seconds or even minutes depending on your search criteria. Most of my time was spent waiting 1-2 minutes only to fail in filling up with enough players and then restart. Once all players have been found you are taken into the match overview lobby where you can see your team and/or your opposition. Players are listed on the right with their custom emblem, Gamertag name, Halo 3 ID name and rank level. Before the game begins players have the ability to veto the auto selected map. If enough players veto a map the server then selects a new map on the rotation. As soon as the match countdown ends the game commences…
First let’s kick off with the graphics. When you first see the map laid out in front of you in all its high definition glory you do think thing to your self – “yep this is Halo alright”, but that is that – maybe all the pre-release screenshots had softened the blow. Personally I was hoping in the Beta to be wowed but it did no such thing. Everything is still very angular and has that look of low polygon count to it. After being spoilt with the likes of Gears of War and Rainbow Six Vegas I just hope everything gets ramped up in the graphical department in the single player game. It would be nice to enhance what looks like a higher-textured version of Halo 2 with the odd extra polygons thrown into the models and better lighting. I am hoping this is still early days and that Halo 3 multiplayer in its current state just mirrors the current releases such as Rainbow Six Vegas and GRAW2, where graphically everything is turned down a notch to keep frame rates up and lag to a minimum. That said there are some nice water effects going on the beach of the High Ground map with gorgeous lapping water.
The sound in the game is in a word – fantastic. In 5.1 surround every explosion, sniper shot and grenade is accurately positioned in the soundstage, something many games fail to achieve on my 5.1 setup. In a similar way to Crackdown, you can even hear the faintest of your team’s warfare being made way out on the other side of the map, making you feel even more immersed as you make your way over to join in on the fury. Communication over the headset is made by holding down any direction of the D-Pad – on every press and release you are acknowledged by tiny intercom bleeps which is a nice touch. Personally I found this default method to be cumbersome, as you have be sure you’re safe to talk because holding down the D-Pad meant you were off your move sticks and basically a dead horse, open to a well aimed spike grenade in the chest.
Gameplay, Vehicles and Equipment
As gameplay goes, Halo 3 Beta has this in abundance just like how Halo 2 did. Hey, if it isn’t broken, why fix it? I’m sure Bungie and its army of Halo 2 multiplayers are thinking just the same. From the matchmaking through to in-game itself, everything works pretty solid, with hardly any glitches in tow. I won’t bore you again with details we already know but what are my key points?
Well the new vehicle, the Mongoose, controls just like how the Warthog does although with a much tighter turning circle. This takes a little getting used to at first but before you know it you’ll be ripping up the two maps in the Beta that it appears in. The Mongoose sadly carry’s no weapons although if you have a buddy willing to jump on the back, they can act as rear gunner instead.
The equipment dotted around each map is also worth noting too. First up – the Shield Bubble which not only looks great but can also save your behind, and in turn can really tip the balance in a fight should you be carrying one at the time. The Gravity lifts will aid you from getting into those hard to reach areas so I can see this piece of equipment becoming a serious asset on attack and defence game types. The Trip Mine shows potential, but more for vehicles than people on foot. On most textures they are fairly easy to spot when you’re not manically running about, so if you’re placing them strategically then chances are they will be spotted. I can see the Trip Mine being used to target fast moving vehicles more than anything, which will hopefully be more common in other available maps. Finally we have the Power Drainer. Not the best and most used piece of equipment; these bombs emit a kind of electric energy that drains the shields of people near to it as well as disable vehicles, so a defensive tool at best.
Apart from the standard Plasma and Frag Grenades, a new addition to Halo 3 Beta is the Spike Grenade. Much bigger to spot, these huge harpoon looking sticks of explosive can be hurled against anything and it will stick to it. Yes you can also stick them on to your enemy too, which makes for great viewing, but in most cases they are great for getting into areas where a Frag or Plasma grenade will just bounce off, and most of the time out of your chosen destination. So a worthy addition to the explosive line up.
As you may already know three maps are available to you in the Beta; High Ground, Valhalla and Snowboard. Each map gives you a taste of the various locations and scenery in the Halo 3 world. In High Ground you will get a taste of the ocean waters and realistic lapping waves as I’ve previously mentioned. The rest of the map is a mix of sandy boulders and grassland while inside the compound we have a mix of walkways and passages leading into it from the outside as well as with the compound. The map is fairly small but with enough angles to enter the compound, keeping you on your toes. A few Mongooses line the beach side of the map but without a Gravity Lift activated you will have to breach the compounds defences and its steel front door by foot. Players within the compound can quickly man the chaingun that is mounted on the gate wall, making any soldier storming the beach take cover. On the ridge of the beach is where you can pick up an Active Camouflage module which gives you Predator like invisibility and aids the attacking team in breaching the compound.
Valhalla on the other hand is much more open, and to lessen the time getting from one end to the other you have a Warthog and a few Mongooses available to you at each base to help speed things along, that’s if you’re not already being shot at on route! To also cut time in travelling to each base there are “Man Cannons” on the balcony’s of each structure, or if you want to try it on a Mongoose – a “Mongoose Cannon”. These contraptions catapult you (and your vehicle) into the air, in the direction they face. This map is also another chance to see some more Halo 3 water effects at work here, stretching from one end of the map to the other is a shallow river. Taking this watery route is encouraged as it shields you from any threatening sniper who’s willing to pick you off as you make your way to the enemy’s base. Being an open and terrain friendly map, this leads to the Sniper Rifle becoming the main tool of choice, so be careful of long-distance snipers, and keep low!
Lastly there is Snowbound. This snow based map is surrounded by automatic gun emplacements. Wander into their sights and they will quickly tell you that you should be returning back to the field quick-sharp! A single vehicle we all know and love is available here – the Ghost. Still deadly as ever when faced face on, so be ready on the jump button should anyone get hold of one and begin hunting you down. Like High Ground, this is a fairly small map, although the open surroundings make sure you feel much less claustrophobic. Each side has an underground base with Star Wars planet Hoth style ice corridors leading underground. Each base has force-field doorways which makes handy cover for any grenades thrown your way or any laser fire being cast in your direction. Inside is very dark and can lead to some crazy fire exchanges should you see a Spartan with an opposite colour to yourself also sharing the same cosy indoors.
View a Film
Choosing “View a Film” from the main menu takes you to the “Theater Lobby”. From here you can select from Last played, Share a film and Saved films. The “Last Played” option lets you quickly jump back into a previously played film or an automatic recording of the last game you have played. “Share a Film” lets you do just that, selecting one of up to six recorded films and pressing A will upload that film to your File sharing space. When another friend next checks to see your file shares, there your films will be, ready to be downloaded. Each film comes with some meta data telling the viewer who the player is, the date it was recorded, the map played as well as the game type, the length of the film and lastly the size, which for one 9min film was 4.1MB. It is worth pointing out that only 25MB of storage is available for your videos. The last option “Saved Films” lets you view all the films you have recorded. In here you also have the ability to rename or delete recorded movies with the press of the X button. So you can now name that film of you taking out your best mate at long distance with a headshot and name it “Dude you got Owned” and let him swim in the humiliation by sharing the video too. Selecting a film on this menu will take you back to the Theater Lobby where you can start the film. After some loading the film then plays out as it did when you were recording it, similar to Half-Life TV. Any lag or server loading/syncing are also recorded but all the waiting is cut, bringing you straight back into the action.
Sadly in this Beta you are unable to go into third-person, switch views or even view other opponent’s side of the battle, something you can do while dead. Hopefully these features will be available in the final game, as such features will aid tactics and clan play massively. Apart from ending your film, the only interactive element while viewing them is the match/player scoreboard during the game. Unlike Half-Live TV you are also unable to fast-forward or rewind the film, you cannot pause or even resume from where you left off! So you are forced to sit through an entire match before you can view that killing spree of yours, and even then you can only view it once, no rewinding, nadda. Whether these will be added in the final version is yet to be seen.
Within the “Profile” area you can view your service record, your recorded films and the status of your film transfers, to and from other players. In the service record area you can view your ranking, skill and progress which are marked out as Rating Points (RP). Also within the profile area is where you are able to change your pads controls, voice output settings, and customise your Spartan’s multiplayer appearance from colour through to emblem. New to Halo 3 is the Service Tag – this is a quick visual identification within the game and is made up of just one letter and two numbers which can be edited in the profile section.
Lastly is the Friends option. This option can be featured throughout the Beta menu screens. Once the Friends “Y” button is pressed the standard guide will pop out showing your friends list. Selecting a friend will show two additional options on the friends menu, “Halo 3 Service Record” and “Halo 3 File Share”. Each option will show your friends current ranking and shared films available for download.
That pretty much sums up my first impressions of the Halo 3 Beta. There are enough modes, weapons and a varied map list available to keep you occupied during the Beta’s period. It is definitely worthy of picking up a copy of Crackdown should you be keyless and fancy tasting what Halo 3 multiplayer has to offer months before its release. So lookout for MantUK ( Sparten – M77), most likely at the bottom of the match scoreboard in a multiplayer match near you. I’ll be the one with ‘easy kill’ written over my backside!