Next in the beta preview, multiplayer designer Derek Carroll introduced Headhunter, one of two new "party mode" game types in Reach
that can be played in both Free For All and Team modes. Players collect skulls like gruesome footballs and take them to scoring goals that change locations throughout the match. Each skull deposited nets one point -- kills don't count toward winning -- and skulls can be scored in batches. Hoarding skulls can be dangerous, however. As Carroll explained, "When you get skulls in your inventory, you get a nav point showing everybody in the game how many skulls you have and how much you're worth."
Saving up skulls in Headhunter becomes a gamble: Can I make it to the goal before someone caps me and ganks my ill-gotten booty?
The tension is ratcheted up with an this all-or-nothing shortcut to victory. Score ten skulls in one goal and you automatically win the game -- a feat designer Luke Smith dubbed "Skullamanjaro." There were howls of anguish throughout both conference rooms every time a player with nine skulls died, his hopes of a quick victory dashed and his ghoulish prizes lost.
I first played Headhunter on Swordbase, a four-story map with walkways connecting the opposing sides' spawn points and plenty of ledges from which to rain down fire onto exposed enemies. Bungie revealed that the map was first designed as a multiplayer arena, and then integrated into Reach's
story Campaign. Swordbase features multiple Man Cannons to quickly move players to higher positions, but the Jet Pack ability can also be key to navigating the area.
It may seem alien
to strap a rocket onto a Spartan, but in practice the Jet Pack is invaluable. My play style changed as I sailed effortlessly across runways searching for action. I became more aggressive, and with an eye on the pack's rapidly declining fuel meter, I glided down behind an enemy for a surprise kill. Then, I blasted upwards to quickly gain the high ground on another. Eventually my soaring feats gave way to easy target practice for more skilled opponents, and I was blown out of the sky -- several times.
Headhunter plays as a fast, explosive experience, particularly in the tight, confined areas of Swordbase. Weapons are strategically placed along the map's corridors, like the new Designated Marksman Rifle, a replacement for the Battle Rifle, which requires precise timing for its single-shot bursts. The payoff, I found, is when you land a gratifying headshot dead on
. Equally satisfying, are the new Assassination kills. By holding the trigger and timing a sneaky melee strike just right, you can initiate a devastating kill animation depending on your angle of attack, making for a gloat-worthy finishing move.Editor's note: Joystiq contributor Xav de Matos, who previewed the beta at a separate event, found that the Assassination animations were quite long and could be subject to the type of issue that plagued Gears of War multiplayer, whereby an opposing player could line up to kill you while you were in the middle of performing the chainsawing animation. Xav doubts Assassinations will be a staple of "elite" competitive play, considering the length of the animations and that the standard behind-the-back melee strike still counts as a quick instant kill.