Once you’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 there’s a majority then a new map and scenario will be chosen, though I’ve yet to encounter an occasion where this actually happened.
Upon entering a match you’d be forgiven to think you’re having a Life on Mars moment. Haven’t I seen that before? Did I load Halo 2 by accident? Why am I wearing flares? In its essence Halo 3 Beta feels just like Halo 2 multiplayer: frenetic and unforgiving.
But this is all surface noise, and delving a little deeper reveals a fair few changes. Immediately apparent are the subtle changes in the control scheme. Reloading has been moved to the bumper buttons, allowing independent reloading while dual-wielding; while the right bumper is held down to pick up guns and other items. This frees up the X button for new functions, the Bubble Shield, Portable Grav Lift, Trip Mine and Energy Drainer.
Their usefulness is up for debate. The Bubble Shield is an intriguing idea, but once you realise this impenetrable shield can be entered by anyone it quickly becomes less a great advantage and more a mill stone around your neck. That said there’s leg room for some intelligent experimentation with the new abilities, particularly in team scenarios where the weaknesses can be offset with teamwork.
Another area that’s seen some expansion is the weaponry. The Brute Spiker is a simple variation on the age old nail gun, and is lightweight and especially effective at close range while dual-wielding. There’s also a new grenade, the Brute Spike, which rather like the much beloved – or despised depending on which end you’re on – Plasma grenade, sticks onto enemies and other surfaces. Machine Gun Turrets can be also be ripped out of the ground and carried on the hip for Rambo like results, while the Spartan Laser is devastatingly powerful but painfully slow to charge.
Regrettably, nothing about this new weaponry feels especially innovative or rewarding. It’s just new stuff for the sake of new stuff, it neither attracts nor detracts: it just exists.
It exists and that says everything about the Halo 3 Beta. Hesitating to make judgements at this stage is only natural, but from what has been shown so far Bungie seems to be playing it safe with Halo 3 multiplayer. All of which means if you liked Halo 2 multiplayer you’ll probably like Halo 3, and if you didn’t you won’t. There’s nothing inherently wrong about this, but one can’t see the multiplayer in its current form garnering lots of new supporters. But then this is only a Beta, and it’s worth remembering that.