When GamesMaster was offered the chance to get a taste of three campaign missions in Halo Reach (coming up on CVG in the next three days) well... it was the mother of all no-brainers!
The Halo marathon that ensued purged any doubt from our minds that not only is the forthcoming Reach every inch the sterling sign off from Bungie, but it's also set to blow its shooter rivals off the face of the planet this September.
So dive into our three MASSIVE hands-on previews - packed to the rafters with exclusive (and frequently SPOILER INTENSIVE) Reach info. First up, it's Nightfall...
To ease us into the world of Reach, Bungie chose a stealthy Recon mission set during the dead of night. With just Noble Six (and sniper Jun on point) in action, the emphasis was on the softly, softly approach as we pushed forward into the Covenant dark zone.
Straight away you'll clock the gigantic leap in visual quality from Halos 3 and ODST. Bungie hasn't confirmed 60 frames a second - but it certainly looks that way. It's a lot more fluid than Gears Of War - and in-game action runs as smoothly as Modern Warfare 2. This one would have Marcus Fenix and Captain Price going green around the gills.
Brooding thunderheads crackle with lightning as we knife an unsuspecting Elite Officer using the new third-person assassination mechanic, before capping some fleeing Minor Grunts with our trusty M6G pistol.
Truth be told, this rather funnelled opening feels decidedly more Modern Warfare than Halo, but that soon changes as we stumble upon a Covenant installation and our stealthy approach goes down the swanny...
With Phantom dropships rumbling into view to discharge hordes of baddies (tip: find cover whenever you see one of these titans approaching), the shooting quickly reverted to classic Halo.
Bungie's level design is simply a cut above; the enemy base was relatively compact, yet still crammed with corridors, alcoves and vantage points to exploit. After clearing out the joint, a series first awaits: indigenous creatures! Turning a canyon corner, a detachment of Covenant are being mullered by two gigantic Rancorlike creatures called Guetas, so we sit back and watch the two species duke it out before mopping up the remnants.
A Pump Station is our next waypoint, where Recon Team Bravo needs to rescue a posse of human militia pinned down by Jackals and Spec-Ops Elites. It's the purest example yet of a set-piece-that-isn't-a-set-piece; in that despite Bungie ostensibly setting up the scenario, it'll play out entirely differently depending on your tactics, difficulty setting, whether you've got co-op buddies in tow, etc.
The AI on show is simply staggering, a decade of experience and familiarity with the universe right there on screen to test your gaming mettle. It's also a chance to unleash some of our new Armour Abilities - specifically Armour Lock and the hugely handy Sprint - and appreciate just how seamlessly they've been integrated into the gunplay.
Once the baddies are history, we team up with our new pals to explore a Hydroelectric station that's home to a Covenant Stealth Pylon. It needs to explode... and quickly.
While Jun plants the explosives, we get busy covering him as two gigantic Hunters packing T52 Plasma Canons roll up. Virtually immune to melee and packing chunky armour and shields, these monsters are a 'mare to best - but once we finally kill one we simply swipe its hulking T52 (wielded in third-person) and turn it upon its pal.
As the Pylon explodes in an awesome display pyrotechnics, the action fades to black... it's obvious a mere Recon team won't stem this Covenant tide.
Check back tomorrow for our hands-on with another all-new mission, Tip Of The Spear...
Check out the latest issue of GamesMaster for more. The mag is in stores now. Subscribe and get it posted to your door here.