Halo 3 Beta Impressions

Halo 1 came out nearly six years ago. Halo 2 came out nearly three years ago, and until the release of bright, shiny, next-gen Gears of War, ruled the roost at Xbox Live. Halo 2 just logged it's five millionth unique player, and will no doubt continue to be a fairly popular game as long as there are more first generation Xboxen in the field than their younger, 360 brethren.

With all those players, games, weeks, months and years under the bridge for Halo 1 and 2, what can one say about Halo 3 after three days?

Probably the easiest thing to do is just point out what's changed.

The Difference Engine

In some ways it's easy to see how people can glance at screenshots or beta footage and say "it's just Halo 2 with better graphics", sometimes cheekily adding a "slightly" in there someplace. Certainly the Halo 3 beta has the look and feel of the Halo universe in its three multiplayer levels, Valhalla, Snowbound, and High Ground. To expect otherwise would be silly.

Take a moment or two longer to really look at things, though, and it's obvious that there's nothing that hasn't been touched here.

Frankie has spouted off at length about the water effects, and I honestly don't know if the ones in the beta are final or not-- but they are gorgeous. The waterfall in Valhalla is nothing short of stupendous, not only because of its look, but because of its sound. The areas of flowing and standing water look so much like real water that they cease to be an impressive CG effect and become simply water. Unlike some of the earlier footage, bodies, weapons, objects and projectiles do produce pretty splash effects. If these effects were final, I'd have no objection.

Great graphics might be the beginning of a great game, but it's not the end. And since for players, this beta is the very, very beginning, I'm not going to dwell overmuch on the graphics.

The sounds, though... the sounds are astounding. Gunfire and other sounds in the distance sound convincingly far away: not just fainter, but different. Just standing and looking over the battlefield with the rat-a-tat-tat of assault riflery in the distance evokes the impression more of watching a war movie or even news footage than it does playing a video game. Grenades and other explosions get similar treatment; they've got plenty of punch up close, but from far away they aren't just quieter, they really do sound far away.

The Warthog sounds and drives pretty much like it did in Halo 2. The Mongoose sounds like a cross between a Warthog and a riding mower, but it's so much fun to drive, it's hard to object.

Beneath The Skin

Those are all cosmetic things, though. The look and sound of the game can bring you into the game's universe and envelop you in it, or it can jar you back to reality, where you're just another guy or girl on a couch with a controller. Whether it transports you to another universe or not, though, the game has to manage your input and give you feedback. You have to do stuff, and see stuff happen as a result. So what's different about Halo 3 in this respect?

The list of changes reads like a subset of popular fan complaints. Although the sword hasn't yet been seen, to the best of my knowledge, the "melee lunge" that gives you that extra burst of speed towards an opponent when trying to get a melee strike seems to be drastically reduced. It takes some getting used to, and I've certainly been stymied by it a few times so far, but in my heart it feels right. Other beta footage seems to show the lunge more or less intact when using the sword, but until we see a game type with the weapon present, it's anybody's guess. The same goes for the pistol, which is supposed to be somewhere between Halo 1's handcannon and Halo 2's peashooter.

Some changes are so ephemeral it's hard to know if there's any there there. One of my earliest impressions of Halo 2 gameplay came in the opening encounter of the Delta Halo level. Rushing up the middle, I encountered an Elite hiding behind a crate. I emptied a clip into him; he meleed, I dodged, and meleed him in the back for the kill.

Yet the entire sequence felt unrewarding. It felt floaty; it felt like my opponent and I were skating on some ether a few millimeters above the ground, sliding around each other, reaching out but not quite making contact, as if everything felt far away and was being controlled remotely.

There's nothing like that in the Halo 3 beta. Everything feels solid, the way I remember from Halo 1. Objects and enemies seem solid. They are where they appear to be. When you hit them, you get a satisfying smack.

Unless you're driving a vehicle. Vehicle-player collisions now for some reason seem to cause piteously small amounts of damage; targets just seem to slide around the edges of your ride and bounce harmlessly to one side. Sliding a hog around behind one of the Blood Gulch bases used to be an easy way of getting cheap kills on helpless players. That's not going to work here.

The sniping weapons, the beam rifle and the sniper rifle, are pretty much as you remember them from H2. The sniper rifle no longer shows a live video feed when you're not zoomed in, but instead shows a vector rendering of terrain, vehicles and enemies.

The Situation Is Under Control

You'll need a few moments to adjust to Halo 3's controls. It's one thing to note the new scheme-- Bungie publicized it awhile ago, but reading the chart and knowing what they are are two different things. The blue 'X' button used to reload, but now it deploys equipment. Make that mistake and you could find yourself inside an unintended shield bubble, or draining your own shields, or bouncing on a mini-trampoline. The right bumper reloads your right hand weapon. If you've only got one weapon, the left bumper cycles your grenade types; maximum two each of frag, spike, and plasma.

That same change applies to performing other actions, like picking up objects and getting in and out of vehicles: you have to use the right bumper, not the X button. If you're trying to grab a flag and rely on your Halo 2 instincts, you'll find yourself running around like a chicken with its head cut off, as happened to me in my first H3 CTF game; until you get used to the new controls, anyway. For me it may take a bit longer.

Like it was with powerups in Halo 1, like heatlh packs, active camo, and overshields, you pick up equipment in Halo 3 just by walking over it. The beta's reaction to this is so subtle you might miss it; you get a new icon in the upper left of your screen, and a one-line text notice. If there's a lot of killin' going on, you might miss it; there are also some places in the game where the screen is so bright that it completely obscures that text. Until you get used to checking for those icons and instantly recognize what they mean, you might hit X and get a nasty surprise.

Halo Reloaded

The idea of using the bumpers for independent reload of dual-wielding weapons certainly seems logical, and fits the way the 360 controllers were designed. Whether it works well in practice is something I can't truthfully answer just yet. The only weapon I've even dual wielded so far in the beta is the new Brute Spiker. I've seen SMGs on the maps, but to be honest, I've yet to even pick one up. I'm not even sure I've seen another player wielding one yet. Perhaps this bullet-hose, that got a rousing cheer in the Earth City demo when Sgt. Banks gave his weapon to the Master Chief because he'd need it, is now so completely associated with the "spray and pray" criticisms of Halo 2's dual-wield-heavy gameplay that no one is longer interested in it. I couldn't honestly tell you if the Spiker is any better at all, in terms of accuracy or power. I do know that it's new, shiny, looks cooler, and certainly sounds like it's a lot more deadly. Also, they seem to spawn in convenient pairs, so you don't have to go looking for a second one.

Other weapons offer unique tradeoffs. The heavy weapons, the turret and the missile pod, even change your point of view, like driving or riding in a vehicle. They slow you down, and stop you from doing almost anything else: no grenades, no melee attacks, no crouching, no zooming, and no riding or driving vehicles. Do they dish out enough punishment to make it worth giving up all that? Up to you to decide. The turret seems suitably deadly, though. I've yet to get any good results out of the missile pod but I'm sure the blame for that is squarely on my shoulders.

The laser isn't a heavy weapon, but it is different from just about everything else in Halo's arsenal. It perhaps most closely resembles the Torque Bow from Gears of War. It takes a long time to be ready to fire, and in that time, produces a visible sighting laser that you use to line up your target, and that your target can see (so they know to get the heck out of Dodge, fast). The long charge time means it's less effective at short range when you don't have time to react, but also makes targeting distant enemies a bit challenging. It's hard to use, but it's virtually an instant kill on just about anything, just like the torque bow is.

You Ought To Be In Pictures

The Saved Films feature is in the beta, although its functionality is a bit limited; you can't change camera angles during playback, or pause, fast forward, or rewind.

What you can do, however, is upload up to six films to your "file share" associated with your gamertag. Other gamers can browse your share. You can browse the shares of other players, and download those films to watch them if you wish. However, at the moment all you get is the first person perspective of the player who recorded the film--exactly what they saw when they played. The only exception is that when you die in-game you get to control the "death cam" and that control also extends to the viewer during playback.

That's it for reactions after thirty games or so-- more will be coming soon.

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Good article, narcogen. My

Good article, narcogen. My feelings are pretty much the same. I think the more they make it Halo 1-esque, the happier i will be.

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narcogen
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Thanks!

And I also agree-- Halo 1 has a lot of elements, as well as a general atmosphere, that are worth rescuing for Halo 3, particularly in the campaign mode.


Rampant for over se7en years.

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Trindacut
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Joined: 05/21/2007
Nice review, but I have something to add

Nice impressions Narcogen, but I have something to add about the missile launcher and SMG.

If you haven't already noticed, it locks onto vehicles. I've been in a few situations in Valhalla when the Mongoose is heard taking off from the other side (the sound travels the valley, because it just that, a valley) and you pick up the launcher, make your way to the top end front and lock onto it. It automatic, and it's uber-deadly. When your on the receiving end, in the vehicle, you hear a beeping sound when you lock on. When you hear it, you jump out and run. If you don't you die. It's a powerful weapon, one I go for, especially if I hear a vehicle.

The SMG's are still weak. Crazy inaccurate. If you need a close range duel-wieldable, it's definately the Spiker pair.

-Trindacut

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narcogen
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Joined: 05/26/1999
Yup, already noted

Trindacut wrote:
Nice impressions Narcogen, but I have something to add about the missile launcher and SMG.

If you haven't already noticed, it locks onto vehicles. I've been in a few situations in Valhalla when the Mongoose is heard taking off from the other side (the sound travels the valley, because it just that, a valley) and you pick up the launcher, make your way to the top end front and lock onto it. It automatic, and it's uber-deadly. When your on the receiving end, in the vehicle, you hear a beeping sound when you lock on. When you hear it, you jump out and run. If you don't you die. It's a powerful weapon, one I go for, especially if I hear a vehicle.

The Missile Pod is one of my favorite weapons. I've already noted in the description that it has vehicle lock-on:

http://rampancy.net/page/halo_3/14052007/missile_pod

The scenario you describe happens a lot. I find in Territories on Valhalla, the defending team often rushes off to "control the center"-- get the turrets and Spartan Laser) because from there you can easily defend four of the five territories. That often leaves 5, at their own base, open for a quick and easy Mongoose capture.

Since I do that, that means others do it, so I tend to grab the missile pod at the start of a round and then hang out for a bit in back of the base. Sometimes they come with both the mongoose and the warthog and it's a quick three kills; happens in Assault and VIP sometimes, too. A plasma pistol passenger on a mongoose is a good VIP strategy, but not before the missile pod is down.

Trindacut wrote:
The SMG's are still weak. Crazy inaccurate. If you need a close range duel-wieldable, it's definately the Spiker pair.

-Trindacut

I think the Spikers actually have a broader spread than the SMG. They just sound better.


Rampant for over se7en years.

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