You've heard the haters: "Halo never changes." Halo 2 was just Halo 1 moved online. And Halo 3 is just Halo 2 with slightly prettier graphics. And ODST is just Halo 3, minus Master Chief and plus a smoky saxophone solo.
While this complaint ignores some major, game-altering additions over the years – like Forge, Theater, Service Record and Firefight – you can't say it's entirely wrong. The basic Halo multiplayer formula hasn't evolved that much since 2001, for better or worse.
Until now. Halo: Reach is different… in many ways, drastically so. Here are the 11 improvements that will shock and surprise you most when the online beta begins May 3.
1) You can fly
Yes, fly. Through the air. Up, down, left, right, anywhere. With a goddamn jetpack pulled straight out of The Rocketeer and strapped to your back. As you simultaneously shoot, snipe, scout, toss grenades, reload, recover your health or whatever else you feel like doing while soaring dozens of feet above the ground.
Sound fun? Trust me, it is. Easy and intuitive, too. Once you've chosen the correct flight-enabled class, or "loadout," all you need to do is hold down the LB button and wait a half-second for the engine to kick in. Suddenly, you're launching smoothly into the sky, with a staggering 360 degree bird's eye view and all the other players scampering like tiny ants below your feet.
The advantages and entertainment value are obvious, but don't think you're invulnerable up there. Jetpacks require cool down, gravity still hurts and shooting players out of the air is equally as satisfying as shooting them from the air.
"You could do that before!" Yes, know-it-all reader, but not like this. Although earlier Halos included a camouflage power-up that made your shimmering, see-through form difficult to see, the effect was a temporary perk and not something you could plan an entire strategy around.
By choosing one of the stealth classes in Halo: Reach, however, you can play entire matches as a silent and deadly ghost. The power does require occasional recharging, but otherwise, you can use it as often as you like. Plus – unlike previous games – the invisibility can be switched on or off, increases as you move more slowly and jams nearby players' motion radar.
Yet the coolest thing about Reach's camouflage has to be the immersive sound effects… or complete lack thereof. Whenever the power is activated, the surrounding world is muffled and drained of noise, so that you feel almost like a shark swimming underwater, secretly stalking your unsuspecting prey.
3) Seriously, you're a superhero
Flight and invisibility are merely two of five "armor abilities" you select at the start of every match or between every respawn. The other three powers may not seem as spectacular on the surface, but they go just as far in rewriting Halo's overly familiar multiplayer formula:
- Super speed: Finally! After nearly a decade of sluggish Spartans, you can finally run in Halo. With the "Sprint" ability, hitting the LB button causes your character to automatically start hustling… you don't even have to hold down a stick like in Modern Warfare. You're faster than in that game, too, zipping across the battlefield at near-vehicle velocity. For a short time, anyway.
- Super agility: During the Halo trilogy's campaign missions, did you ever notice how Covenant Elite were able to dance around your bullets using a "blink and you'll miss it" dodge maneuver? Now that power is yours as well. A combination of the LB button and any direction of the controller will launch your character into an evasive roll… appropriately referred to as "Evade" in the game.
- Super defense: If you like to play dangerously and take risks, this will be your power of choice. No matter how close you are to certain death, you can activate "Armor Lock" and survive at least a little longer. Your character smashes his fist into the ground, throwing up a shield that protects from all attacks. And by "all attacks," I mean that if a Warthog happens to run over you, the Warthog is the one that will be in trouble.