I felt it was worth playing more than a handful of games before commenting on Halo 3 as it takes time to get used to some of the more subtle changes. The most noise on the net at the moment is with the quality, or lack of, of the graphics. I’ve been happy with them but they aren’t mindblowing. I’ve been impressed with the bubble shield, the increased detail on all the maps, the water effects and the higher res that everything is presented in. While it’s a beta I don’t expect them to change much between now and September although the single player may have an extra sheen as seen in previous Halo games when compared to multi-player.

The three maps in the beta are all very different, new and provide fresh challenges. Most disappointing is Snowbound as it’s fairly small with not much detail. The snow effects are nice but there isn’t much cover on the map leading to quick deaths. Still, the Ghost on this map does allow me to mow down folk.

Highground is a fantastic map consisting of a beach, with a main path heading up to an abandoned base. Lot’s of hiding places, multiple routes to the base and also the chance to try the Mongoose. Think smaller, aster more vulnerable Warthog. Great fun. Finally there is Valhalla which is a more traditional Halo map – large with a base at each end and in a valley with undulating terrain and a stream running through it. The water really slows the Warthog down and when you die in the water your body is carried by the currrent and the sound is muffled…a great touch.

First Halo 3 Match

The new weapons are a mixed bag at the moment. The Spartan Laser is very powerful but balance is provided in that it takes 5 seconds to charge. Machine gun turrets are now removable but really slow you down – still makes an effective weapon for mowing down groups. The Brute Spiker is a great new weapon close up – dual wielding seems to be most effective and does a lot of damage.

Most notable is that the pace has dropped slightly. It feels a tad slower than Halo 2 but if anything this has made the game feel even better. One of the early rumours was that the game physics could be altered by the host so that gravity, speed, weapon power etc could be altered so if true it would be easy to adjust running speed. I’m not convinced by offerring these variable options though – every game could feel different, odd even for all those playing apart from the host. I guess this won’t apply to ranking matches if there is such a feature.

Certainly the first 20 or so games for me have been excellent and are a great taster for the full release in September. In an attempt to beat the de-rankers you now have experience point (Ranking Points) which allows matchmaking to be refined and be based not just on your current skill level but also your experience.

After the lack of party features in Gears of War it’s great to form your own party and take your friends into a game. If this was in Gears of War I think I and many of my friends would have played it more. It makes for a great game online when it’s your friends rather than strangers your fighting with. The speech is a little awkward though. By default team speak is off with only proximity chat on. Most games with strangers have been fairly quiet so far. With friends in your team it’s a bit more vocal but I would have preferred that team speak was default rather than a button press.

I guess the most annoying feature is the time limit as the beta ends on June 10th. The last three nights have seen some fantastic online games – mostly close games and a great laugh. Maybe it’s for the best as no doubt we would be tired of the maps by September. I’m in no doubt however that this is another classic that will eat up as much time as Halo 2 did. Roll on Sep 26th – my pre-order has already been made.