WARNING! POTENTIAL SPOILERS ABOUT HALO: REACH BELOW!
Source: See below.
What we heard: Xbox 360 fans got a taste of 2010 this week, courtesy of an apparent leak about next year's eagerly awaited sci-fi shooter, Halo: Reach. The report originated on the Major League Gaming forums (registration required) with user "ToM MoReLLo"--who initially wrote his name all over the screens. Since then, the leak has turned into a spigot on the informational free-for-all that is the NeoGAF forums, which has posted subsequent details.
The legitimate-looking screens are allegedly of a very early build of the game, with unfinished graphics possibly based on a new engine. One level appears to show space combat, but the rest are on land--presumably on the game's titular planet, which was the setting of the first Halo novel, Halo: The Fall of Reach.
The book's plot chronicled a Covenant invasion of a United Nations Space Command (UNSC) fortress world, which was home to the program to develop SPARTAN supersoldiers--such as Halo series hero the Master Chief. It was also the site of a secret archeological dig that uncovered an ancient artifact from the Forerunners--the Halo-building ancient race, which are worshipped as gods by the Covenant. Unsurprisingly, the multiracial empire of religious zealots wants the artifact for themselves and invade en masse to get it.
The missions described in the leak appear to fit into the events of the Fall of Reach, with both having multiple male and female SPARTANs attempting to gain control of Reach's planetary defense grid. Halo: Reach will apparently also feature some search-and-rescue levels of the original Halo game (that is, go find space marines who crashed their dropship). It will also feature some infiltration and sniper-focused modes a la ODST, including one where Covenant forces fight with some of Reach's more aggressive wildlife.
The screens also show some convincing-looking Halo: Reach-branded menus--which indicate it will have a "privacy" switch to turn off drop-in co-op play. Another in-game screen appears to show four health bars by a radar screen, likely showing the status of co-operative players or possibly non-player characters.
Several Halo: Reach weapons are also revealed in the screens. One new addition is the needler carbine, which shoots three needles that explode once stuck in an opponent, provided said opponent's shields are down. A tweaked version of Halo 2's battle rifle will also be returning, sporting scoped single-shot action and a 12-shot clip. The assault rifle, needler, and SPARTAN laser also look set to return, along with the Warthog vehicle, which will come in a new missile-launching variant.
The official story: Wait for it…
"Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation."--Microsoft rep.
Bogus or not bogus?: The screens look too detailed and information is a bit precise for this leak to be bogus. And with the Halo: Reach beta coming in early 2010, anyone who bought the beta-key equipped Halo 3: ODST won't have that much longer to wait.