Halo: Reach

CVG chats to Microsoft's Stephen McGill about the biggest Beta in history...

Unless you've been living under an Xbox-deflective rock for the past year, you'll know that tonight sees the launch of the multiplayer Beta of Halo: Reach.

And if you're a regular to CVG, you'll know that it's shaping up to be the biggest console Beta of all time - with Bungie itself predicting three million players across the globe.

We caught up with director of Xbox and Entertainment at Microsoft Stephen McGill to ask what the firm's ambitions are with the beta - and where its success could take the platform holder...

What reaction are you expecting from gamers when they finally get their hands on the long-awaited Reach beta?
We hope they love it... Seriously, the Beta really is incredibly impressive. We've been talking about how Bungie have completely rebuilt the game engine from the ground up, and this is a real step up in terms of both graphics and gameplay from the last Halo title, and now consumers will finally get to see this for themselves.

People that have experienced the game so far, from internal staff to media, have been genuinely blown away by the experience, so we're thrilled to let this loose upon the wider LIVE community.

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How popular do you expect the title to be? Could we be looking at the most popular open Beta in Xbox history?
We absolutely expect it to be popular. The Halo 3 Beta was a real success for us three years ago, and we're definitely hoping to surpass those numbers this time around. The Xbox installed base has grown significantly since then, the Halo community has in turn grown in the UK, so we're expecting great engagement when the Beta goes live.

There's a load more activity happening to drive even more people towards the Beta, so, in terms of numbers and engagement, it's probably fair to say it will be the biggest Beta to have ever hit Xbox LIVE.

How many people are you expecting to trial the title on day one?
We're fully expecting the first day to be pretty popular. Bungie have come out and talked about three million people participating worldwide - I wouldn't be surprised if this is indeed the case, and as soon as we have stats we can share with the public, we will do.

What key gameplay elements are you most looking forward to fans getting their hands on?
I think fans will be pleased with the all up experience. The new maps are awesome - Sword Base and Boneyard are my two personal favourites - each suited to different game types. On that note, along with the standard Team Slayer/CTF game types, we're introducing a load of cool variables of those games, with unique twists.

"Headhunter" is a riot - players collect skulls from killing fellow players, and deposit them at various moving points over the map; Stockpile is a cool new mechanic around the much loved CTF game type, where players collect and defend flags at their base until a timer counts down and triggers point scoring. And my favourite game type is absolutely "Invasion" on Boneyard.

It's Defending Spartans vs Attacking Elites in an objective-based game that sees players gradually more empowered as they lose/ gain ground across the map.

The other huge tweak are the Armour Abilities, which you may have seen covered in recent press coverage. Players choose their loadout every time they spawn, allowing them a special ability in the form of Jetpacks, Sprint, Active Camo, Additional shield resistance etc - at first we were just picking Jetpacks all the time and zooming all over the maps, but as you become more familiar with each ability you really start to understand the tactical implications of each, and you'll find yourself exploring the strategic benefits of each ability dependent on map and game type.

And of course let's not forget about the fearsome new weapons - the Grenade Launcher and Needler rifle being the favourite here - and new vehicles. All up we think this will be a comfortingly familiar, yet refreshingly different Halo experience for existing fans and new consumers alike.

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