X10 Impressions: Halo Reach

Before we get into this let me just get one word out of the way: wow. There, I’m glad I got that off my chest. It’s been pulsing in the back of my head since yesterday’s demo at X10 by Bungie.

Now, let me justify my unprofessionalism: Halo Reach looks extremely impressive. I was one of those people who were slightly disappointed at the look of Halo ODST. I thought it wasn’t enough of a step up from Halo 3. It was passable and there were improvements but I had expected more. So I went in expecting Reach to be something similar; decent, solid but a tiny bit rough around the edges. It surpasses all my expectations.

Brian and Marcus from Bungie talked about how the game engine was pulled apart and almost entirely refreshed to give them a bit more muscle. They spoke of increased polygon counts (by three times) and massive improvements to particle effects (thousands of particles at a time, compared to Halo 3’s one hundred) and they spoke of the redesigns they made to the characters and weapons. It was standard “developer speak” for how great their game is going to look. Then they played a bit and my metaphorical jaw hit the floor.

Textures and lighting are impressive with separately-modelled bolts sitting proud of the girders they support and general background textures looking much less garish than previous Halo games. The guys talked about how this was to be a darker story, a more human story and that is reflected in the surrounding visuals.

Where the game really impresses, though, is the character and weapon models. They zoomed the camera into an assault rifle (which has been redesigned, along with new weapons added – Needle Rifle, with scope, anyone?). The serial number was clearly visible. It’s hard to describe and they wouldn’t let anyone film or take photographs but the rifle model looked completely real. I know that may sound like hyperbole but I mean every word. It looks real.

They spoke about trying to make a more immersive world too. Filled, not only with enemies and allies but with the people of Reach. Areas are to be completely unscripted, with the re-worked AI taking care of how characters behave. They spoke of how the Beta (launching May 3rd with access via an ODST in-box code) was to be a “real beta” with plenty of content but also plenty of testing required. They spoke of single player night time maps cropping up as multiplayer maps in the daytime.

Finally, they stressed (heavily and repeatedly) that this was to be a “full featured Halo game” with a launch much bigger than the ODST launch. They talked about mechanics (health packs are back and there are pick-ups that give talents like sprinting and stay with you rather than expiring) and they showed concept art. The most vivid memory I brought away, though, was of those models and visuals and how much of an improvement they had made.