It has begun. Halo has landed and Xbox 360 owners have mobilised, intent on dissecting every detail. Having wowed the crowds at E3 with an explosive in-game cinematic, tantalised with tidbits and generally frustrated the hell out of everyone expectations are inevitably high. When are they not?
This ground swell of tension was perfectly illustrated when fate conspired to scupper Microsoftâ€™s best laid plans. As part of a promotion it bundled a Beta key with the excellent Crackdown, but come download day the game was inaccessible. Toys left prams at alarming rates, but thankfully things were rectified the next day and the Beta extended to appease disgruntled fans.
Initially itâ€™s clear that those who wish to make some kind of extrapolation of the graphical prowess of Halo 3 may find this Beta a tad underwhelming. That isnâ€™t to say it doesnâ€™t look good â€“ it does â€“ but there isnâ€™t the kind jaw dropping eye candy weâ€™ve seen from the likes of Gears of War or the recent Lost Planet DX10 demo. Improvements, such as in texture quality and lighting, are noticeable but are subtle in nature and donâ€™t immediately draw the eye. That this is a Beta, a multiplayer one at that, is important to remember. Thus, reserving judgement in this respect is the best option.
Before one delves into the frenetic multiplayer action, one area Bungie has clearly been working on is the matchmaking process. Now, before you begin, you are asked to choose from three Playlist options: Rumble Pit, Team Slayer, and Team Skirmish. There are also options for Social Playlists, for those wishing to set up a private game, and you can also opt to specify Search Priority between Close Skill Range, Good Connection, and My Language.
The former is a hint at one of the new systems put in place to judge ability. Based on your experience and achievements online you are given Rating Points, with the intention being that you be matched against similarly skilled players. At time of writing itâ€™s clear this system is still developing, players have only just started thus more experienced players are often pitted against novices. As the Beta progresses itâ€™ll be interesting to see how this develops and Bungie will surely be keenly monitoring the effectiveness of its algorithms.
Once youâ€™ve chosen your Playlist, the online system will search for other players and place you in a suitable match. Scenarios and maps are chosen at random, and before each round begins you can choose to veto the options by pressing X. If thereâ€™s a majority then a new map and scenario will be chosen, though Iâ€™ve yet to encounter an occasion where this actually happened.