SAN FRANCISCO--If Master Chief means something to you, then get ready. The Halo: Reach multiplayer beta will open up on May 3.
"Reach," as it's being called, is the latest iteration of the hugely popular Halo franchise for Microsoft's Xbox 360. The game is expected to ship sometime this fall, but before that, "millions" of Halo fans will get a chance to play the game and help its developer, Bungie, get the title ready for the masses.
Just this week, Halo: Reach entered private alpha, and on May 3, fans who already have Halo: ODST will be able to access the Reach multiplayer beta using their ODST discs.
For Microsoft and Bungie, Halo: Reach is a crucial title this year. The Xbox has been performing strongly over the last year, but Sony's PlayStation 3 has finally begun to make up some ground on it over the last few months. For Bungie, the game is an opportunity to take on the success of Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which has set records as the best-selling console game of all time.
According to Bungie creative director Marcus Lehto, Reach is a standalone prequel to the existing Halo series, offering fans of the hit franchise an entirely new story and new characters on a scale unlike what Bungie has done with the game before.
Lehto explained that Reach will have a much darker story line and will focus on a "key turning point in the Human-Covenant War." Halo: Reach takes place in 2552.
In the new game, the planet Reach is humankind's last line of defense against the Covenant. But the planet is also home to the Spartan program, the heart of the human military. The game focuses on one group of Spartans known as Noble Team, led by Carter 259.
In order to set Halo: Reach apart from its predecessors, Lehto said Bungie essentially had to rebuild the game's engine, a process that included engineering significant visual upgrades, more artificial intelligence, and better-looking characters, he said.
One big difference is in the level of detail. Where in Halo 3, the game maxed out at about 100 colliding particles, Halo: Reach will have thousands. Ultimately, it's a sandbox game, meaning that players will be able to experience the game in their own unique way and not have to follow any particularly scripted path.
The Halo: Reach announcement was the biggest news at Microsoft's X10 event here Thursday, where the company took the opportunity to brief a large contingent of the video game press about its forthcoming lineup of games. Those on hand got the chance to try out all the titles that were discussed.
In addition to Halo: Reach, one of the other big titles being talked about at X10 was Alan Wake, from Remedy, which will be released on May 18 in North America and May 21 in Europe. Activision will unveil the first of two Modern Warfare 2 content packs for Xbox and Xbox Live this spring.
Dead Rising 2, from Capcom, will launch on August 31 in North America, September 2 in Japan, and September 3 in Europe. An Xbox Final Fantasy XIII special edition bundle hitting store shelves on March 9 is set to include an Xbox 360 with a 250-gigabyte hard drive, two wireless controllers, some exclusive content, and a copy of the game, from Square Enix.
In addition, Ubisoft's Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Conviction is scheduled to launch April 13 in North America, April 16 in the United Kingdom, and April 28 in Japan. Similarly, Fable III, from Microsoft's Lionhead Studios and Peter Molyneux, is said to be slated for a holiday 2010 release.