The Halo: Reach Beta is here. After appearing at last Year’s E3 in the form of a mysterious trailer, Reach finally emerges from the depths of Bungie Studios and onto our TV monitors. Featuring as a Beta on the disk of Halo: ODST, and also as a downloadable ‘Thank You’ available to those who purchased Halo 2 before the server shutdown. But has it been worth the wait, and more importantly, does it live up to the hype? Let’s take a look.

Visually Halo: Reach doesn’t disappoint. Still with recognisable environments and characters, but with a grittier and slightly more realistic look. Halo: Reach is a very pretty game indeed, and certainly does not disappoint in terms of graphics.

Being an online-only demo is very clear sign that Bungie really want to focus on multiplayer. And, it’s probably what they do best (Halo 3 is still one of the top most played games on Xbox 360 to this date). The online lets you access game types such as slayer and the newly added invasion. Some game types (such as invasion) favour a Spartan versus Elites format. Elites are now very different to Spartans in a number of ways. Elites can run faster, jump higher and play very differently indeed. This allows the player to think on their feet, causing them to switch tactics and adapt strategies in order to play to the species strengths.

At the start of each game, and every respawn, you can choose a pre-set load out. These often contain the same weapons, but with different armour abilities. There are four abilities players can now choose from, sprint, jet-pack, armour lock and active camo. Sprint (which is replaced in elites with evade) and jet-pack do what they say on the tin, allowing increased manoeuvrability around the maps, whereas armour lock and stealth are much more defensive abilities. Armour lock puts your character in a state of overcharge; you become invulnerable but cannot move. If the ability is activated for longer than about six seconds, then a small shockwave is released once you deactivate the ability, this can weaken enemy shields around you, making them easy to kill. The active camo ability also features a radar jammer (similar to that of Halo 3), making you invisible but disrupting the radar of friends and foes alike. All these abilities make an interesting change for the Halo universe. They add a slightly tactical element to the game, allowing you to adapt play style to whatever the situation requires. Plus jet-packs are awesome. Another noticeable feature is the new assassination kills. These are initiated when a player holds down the melee button when behind an enemy. This then triggers a pretty awesome animation. This doesn’t mean you can’t just pop someone in the back of the head and then scamper away, as it only happens if the button is held, rather than just tapped.

Armour customisation is back. The recognisable, colour, emblem and service tag customisation is there (service tags can now contain four characters, woo-hoo), and with little change. The biggest change is in terms of actual armour. This time players must buy each individual piece using credits which they earn for playing online. New buyable armour pieces are unlocked as you advance in rank. This system adds an element of uniqueness to using armour, and which pieces you buy, meaning it is less likely to see anybody with the exact same armour as you online. However, as there aren’t that many pieces on the demo, this feature hasn’t exactly been shown in full.

Halo: Reach will be a success, no doubt. It is an easily accessible game that appeals to the hardcore and casual alike. Some may argue it is too similar to Halo 3, however, the inclusion of such features as the armour abilities, and separate species matches makes this game a separate experience. A more unique experience at that. Different matches call for different tactics, and often require a reasonable amount of teamwork. If you love first person shooters, and especially if you love Halo, it’s a no brainer, check this game out.

The Beta is available until May 19th

Images: Bungie