Halo: Reach First Impressions

[UPDATE] Spartans stand tall--on the ground and in space--in this gameplay look at Halo: Reach direct from Microsoft's 2010 E3 press conference and private demo.

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Halo: Reach is without a doubt one of the most anticipated titles for the Xbox 360 in 2010, and Microsoft didn't wait long into its E3 press conference this year to unveil some more details about the game. Bungie creative director Marcus Lehto took to the stage to tout the success of the recent multiplayer beta (more than 2.7 million players) but more importantly showed off a section of the single-player campaign that featured some of the action gamers can expect when the game ships in September this year.

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As a recap, Halo: Reach focuses on events that occurred before the first Halo game, specifically on the planet called Reach that has become the last line of defense for humanity from invading Covenant forces. Reach is also where the Spartan program was developed (the same program that made Halo series protagonist Master Chief). The 2010 E3 demo began with some views of outer space, with a slow, lingering shot of the planet Reach. The demo then zoomed above a mountainside, where a Hornet-like dropship was in flight before dropping off four Spartan warriors (including what looked like some of the characters glimpsed in the Reach trailer released late last year).

The game's HUD looked quite stripped back, with a map on the lower left, shields along the top, and weapon and ammo indicators in the top right. The Spartan being played during the demo was sporting an assault rifle and soon had to make use of it as hovering Covenant ships began to eject drop pods with Elite Covenant soldiers. The action was pretty frenetic, and there seemed to be some extra armor abilities in play (the demo tester seemed to sprint at one stage). The Covenant were attacking a human base near the top of the mountain, and the group of four Spartan soldiers had to battle their way up to the installation. At the top, a sizable group of Covenant had taken hold, where quite a few Jackal enemies sporting shields were camped. The Spartan in the demo then pulled out the grenade-launcher-type weapon that was seen in the multiplayer beta--this weapon could explode its projectiles on contact or could be held off until it bounced into a more advantageous position, as the demo showed when the Spartan launched a projectile but waited to detonate until it bounced under the shields of some Jackals.

Once the Spartans were inside the base, we were treated to a close-quarters execution kill, with the main Spartan soldier sneaking up behind an Elite, stabbing it in the back before finishing it with a brutal strike to the neck (all with the camera zoomed out to third-person perspective to view the action). Over the in-game comms, the Spartan soldier was ordered to "get to the Sabre before the Covenant wrecks it." The Sabre turned out to be a multistage rocket, which the Spartans quickly boarded.

The Sabre then launched straight up, eventually breaking the atmosphere of Reach and flying into space. At this stage, the Sabre's booster rockets ejected, leaving a much more maneuverable ship, which then flew directly into a Covenant fleet, lasers firing at every enemy it saw. That's right--space combat looks to be one of the big new additions in this latest Halo offering.

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Halo: Reach looked quite good, with an impressive level of graphical detail that looks to surpass previous efforts. We're excited to see more of Halo Reach, and we should have more impressions on this Xbox 360-exclusive soon as part of our extensive E3 2010 coverage.

UPDATE: We got a chance to take a look at an extended version of the space battle sequence in a private demo of the areas we saw during Microsoft's E3 press conference. The first thing we took note of is the HUD surrounding your ship where you see information for machine guns, thruster heat, shields, and hull integrity. After some quick maneuvers (it looks like you can do an immediate loop-the-loop), we saw the Sabre (your ship) engage the incoming Covenant fleet. In addition to the standard weapon, the Sabre also has homing missiles, which you can use by targeting an enemy and locking on to them. The initial barrage of enemy Banshees was then followed by a rather large squad of Seraphs, which appeared to be slightly more difficult to deal with than the Banshees.

After those first waves of enemies, the space station's (the thing you happen to be guarding) defenses come back online, unleashing an impressive array of fire on incoming Covenant forces, but just about as things were turning south for Noble Squad, the demo came to an end. Halo: Reach's space battle looks mighty impressive and the thought of being able to play it cooperatively with four other human players makes it even more enticing.

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