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Previews

Halo Reach: MASSIVE Campaign preview 3/3

Hands-on: We play 'Long Night of Solace'...

Yesterday we brought you a hands-on preview of 'Tip of the Spear', a traditional Halo experience featuring explosive combat in sandbox scenarios.

The third and final mission we experienced in our hands-on, Long Night of Solace, takes Halo in a new direction by introducing a series first - space combat.

LONG NIGHT OF SOLACE
Kicking off with a helmet-less conference between Noble Team, cunning Kat comes up with a plan - rig the Covenant Super-carrier with a faulty slip space drive in lieu of any nukes, and watch it go 'boom'.

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To get into orbit, though, our Spartans have to penetrate a small Covenant army. Once again, this mission environment seems utterly fresh and unique; the UNSC space centre is situated in a scenic coastal region.

It's still predominantly desert-like, but the odd verdant pasture punctures the rocky outcroppings, gentle breezes sweep over the terrain and the sky is purest azure.

As the team sweeps down the beach, we can't help but marvel at the friendly AI. It's infinitely improved from the days of the rambling Arbiter, and your allies genuinely feel like a valuable resource instead of mere babysitting fodder.

Indeed, we were saved from a few near deaths by powerhouse Jorge - with our health bar teetering on the brink he was often on hand to step in and save the day. The way you'll see them deploying various Armour Abilities in the midst of a scrap ramps the realism right up... making you proud to fight alongside Noble Team.

Again, the sheer sense of scale is mind-blowing - Bungie's use of smoke and mirrors to convey that concept of a larger conflict raging in the background may have been ripped straight out of the Infinity Ward textbook, but it's undeniably effective. What you all want to know about though really are those space battles, right?

Well, the good news is your Sabre handles like a dream - barrel rolls and 180-degree flips feel intuitive and you'll soon be swatting the cannon fodder Covenant Banshees from the skies like one-winged bluebottles, flitting between cannon and missiles with aplomb.

The left trigger delivers a welcome oomph of afterburner, but overall - while the craft itself feels nippy and manoeuvrable - it's lacking a certain sense of speed. The possibilities in four player co-op, though, when everyone is piloting their own Sabre, are mouth-watering...

Things pick up considerably as the Covenant start warping in the larger Seraph craft, which require numerous cannon blasts to weaken their shields before a Medusa Missile-based coup de grāce into their exposed hulls.

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Our brief is to defend the UNSC Space Station Anchor 9, but it's a formidable craft and as the battle cranks up several notches its lasers start lighting up the blackness of space, filling the screen with the remnants of Banshees and Seraphs.

It's at this point - gagging for more - we're forcibly dragged away from our 360s... that's all Bungie are willing to reveal for now.

Are we gutted? Most definitely, but we've also played more than enough to suggest that Halo Reach has a remarkable raft of tricks up its armoured sleeve - and that it bests its predecessors in every conceivable department.

The 360 might have struggled against Sony's first party onslaught this year, but in Halo: Reach, Xboxers will have the perfect riposte.

This is shaping up to be the best shooter we've ever played.

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