Bungie's upcoming prequel to the Halo trilogy will bring players back in the timeline but forward in functionality and features. One particular new option being introduced in Halo: Reach is that of space combat. And we're not talking running and gunning on the outsides of a space station.
Halo: Reach's campaign will involve the player having to pilot a new space-capable vehicle, the Sabre, to battle it out against Covenant fighters and other larger spacecraft. The Sabre features a booster engine to travel fast and as a primary weapon, fast-firing cannons. For the larger enemy vehicles, you can also make use of the Sabre's target-acquiring rockets.
It is important to note that while you are in full control of your Sabre during space combat, it is restrictive in how you can maneuver around space. Like Star Fox, you are seemingly restricted to a particular axis and instead of being able to roll your the Sabre by actually controlling the spinning of the vessel, you instead hit a button to initiate the action. In the demo we were shown, you could hit a button to do a barrel roll and another to perform a loop-de-loop.
For a game that sets to do what it does the best, I was disappointed that this awesome new feature is limited in this way. I'd rather be able to hold back on the analog stick to continue flying upward to perform my loops, partial loops, etc. Perhaps it's my affinity for the classic X-Wing series on PC where you have full control over the direction and pitch of your starship, but I'm not fond of the arcade style press-a-button-to-roll-your-ship mechanic.
As with Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST, Reach includes 4-player co-operative play (a must!) for its entire single player campaign and for the mission(s) where you need to pilot a Sabre spacecraft/starfighter into the orbit, each player gets their own ship. While you each will get a chance to pilot one of these heavily armed vehicles, you will not get to do so in competitive multiplayer. It is strictly limited to use in the campaign and due to the way this gameplay mode was implemented, that makes sense however, I would not be surprised to see multiplayer modes involving this in the future.
Like the rest of the game, the visuals of the space combat were stunning and it flowed perfectly. This will no doubt be a popular feature in Halo: Reach, especially in co-op play. We don't yet know how many missions involve the Sabre vehicle or what other vehicles you may or may not be able fly in space.
The mission we were presented with, extended from the end of the gameplay trailer demonstration at the Microsoft Xbox 360 keynote presentation, involved the player having to protect a space station with several other Sabres against a barrage of Banshees which could quickly be disposed of with the ship's cannons. This was followed by a wave of large ships, called Seraphs, which gave the players a good reason to play with its homing missiles.
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Halo: Reach arrives on the Xbox 360 exclusively, September 14, 2010. If you're excited for Reach, check out our Halo: Reach multiplayer beta impressions.
Sabre image courtesy of MTV.