Preview: Halo: Reach (Firefight)

I'm one of those rare gamers who prefer shooting computer controlled bad guys instead of good old-fashioned human beings. Competition doesn't bother me as much as the jerks on the other side; the whiny pre-teens, racists and cheaters. Forget about deathmatch. I'd rather cozy up on the couch and enjoy single-player.

Halo 3: ODST changed that, thanks to Firefight mode. Bungie took my love for slaughtering AI bad guys and fused it with team-based play, where up to four players work co-operatively to outlast progressively difficult waves of Covenant. It was essentially the best of both virtual worlds, where I satisfied my desire to murder bots while cracking jokes with friends.

That's why Halo: Reach is high on my radar. Firefight returns, but with a slew of new options that make it even more rewarding, starting with online matchmaking. Now you can play this mode 24/7 with anyone in the world. Yes, that means I could randomly wind up with three jerks, but at least one thing remains constant, and that's the Covenant. Even if my team goes rogue, I can still set off and murder aliens.
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That said, I strongly suggest sticking together, because the enemies (be it Grunts, Elites, Jackals or a pu pu platter of bad guys) stop at nothing to make you dead. In Halo 3: ODST, the Covenant slowly trickled onto a map before eventually transforming into a tsunami of pain. During a Reach demo, I felt like the buggers appeared all over the place right from the start, forcing me to backtrack, take the high ground and, in most cases, run like a wimp.

On the positive side, Bungie gave me plenty of opportunities to man up, starting with a box of grenades that I practically dove into. Just one of those suckers can send a small group of aliens into orbit. In addition, some new toys made dealing with the Covenant a bit easier, starting with the Target Locator. This powerful device let me "paint" targets (not in a Mario Paint sort of way) and then unleash tons of hurt from a UNSC orbital fleet; if that sounds familiar, it probably reminds you of the "Hammer of Dawn" from fellow Xbox shooter Gears of War. There's also a Grenade Launcher, complete with a cool alt fire that allowed me to decide when the rounds exploded by holding and then releasing the right trigger when I wanted them to go boom.

None of that, however, prevented me from dying multiple times, but those deaths were more about stupid mistakes than overpowered AI. Clearly, it's a bad idea to drive a Warthog (sans gunner) into a small army of Covenant, and a worse idea still to get out of said Warthog, man the turret and make a horrible last stand with aliens chucking grenades and two Wraiths set to unleash hell at the same time. Of course, it's tough to fear the enemy with multiple respawns.

That is, if multiple respawns are available. Although I didn't get a chance to customize the match, Bungie assured me that the new and improved Firefight comes with a host of options, giving users the chance to adjust the number of lives, the wave limit, the ability to toggle active camouflage, radar, friendly fire, recharging health and finally, to select available weapon load-outs. Then they can save that particular game type and upload it through Xbox Live for others to experience.


Bungie also plans to include its own game types. Firefight Classic plays exactly like the mode in ODST, where players battle endless hordes of Covenant. Generator Defense, meanwhile, introduces objectives to the mix, as everyone attempts to prevent the AI from destroying generators. Rocketfight is just as it sounds, rockets only, and Default Firefight lasts for one set, with Black Eye removed from the third round; Bungie did this to make things run smoother, but our play session was too short to identify a noticeable change.

Skulls return, but now you can create up to three custom skulls per match. So, if you want things crazier, you can make enemies tougher (damage done, immune to headshots) while messing with your friends' shields and health; we didn't see this in action.

All of this is bittersweet, since we only played one round, but Firefight in Halo: Reach already feels better than its predecessor, and it will only enhance what's already shaping up to be a worthwhile send-off to Bungie's critically-acclaimed sci-fi franchise.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.