First, let me say: I asked when Halo: The Master Chief Collection would start to make its way to PC and was told “We’re not talking about that today” by someone at 343 Industries, so there’s your answer. Originally due to begin testing in April, the debut of Halo Reach on PC has been pushed back a few times and is now set to start later in June.
That’s pretty damn close though, and thus as you’d expect there’s a work-in-progress build of Reach on PC here at E3 2019. I had the chance to go hands-on with it yesterday after Microsoft’s press conference, and while there are a few quirks I still came away excited.
343 let me mess around with the game’s settings, which is a rarity at shows like this. I didn’t see anything in the way of graphics settings, though I assume those will be in there at release. I did get to play with field of view though, which from what I understand is one of the more complicated hurdles 343i’s been struggling with for Halo’s PC version. The console versions of Halo were all designed to run at a specific FOV, and animations were rendered with that in mind. Changes can theoretically lead to some bizarre behavior, like Master Chief’s arm detaching from his shoulder as he throws a grenade. (There’s some discussion of it around the 14-minute mark in the video below, and screenshots here.)
No surprise then, the FOV slider in Halo Reach seems fairly limited. (I thought it was vertical FOV at first, actually.) The default is about 75 degrees, but you could push it to around 90 degrees in the build I played. I didn’t notice much animation jank at that setting, so I’d expect that cap to carry over to the final build. It’s a bit tighter than a modern PC shooter, but nothing you can’t get used to.
The other oddity: Weapon selection defaults to a “Swap” key instead of your arsenal mapping one-key-per-weapon. It makes sense, given Halo only lets you carry two weapons at a time. Tapping “1” switches to your other weapon, and then tapping “1” again switches back. I understand in theory.
As someone who plays PC shooters a lot though, it felt weird. I kept unconsciously hitting “2” to change to my second weapon, then getting confused, remembering I had to swap instead, and correcting to “1.” This happened over and over, no matter which weapon I had in each slot. I’m sure 30 or 40 hours with The Master Chief Collection will make it habitual, but I’d probably prefer each weapon slot mapped to a corresponding key.
Those were the only rough spots in an otherwise flawless demo though. I played the fifth mission, “Tempest Perimeter,” the one where you start with a grenade launcher and take out a nearby Covenant anti-air installation. It’s not my favorite Reach mission, but did give me a whole range of experiences in a short period of time. Firing the super-accurate DMR felt great with a mouse, and my Spartan felt a lot more mobile than I remember thanks to the increased ease of strafing, jump-shots, and so on. Like playing Gears of War 4 on a PC, I think you’ll probably want to bump the difficulty to offset better aiming.
After a short storm-the-hilltop sequence I also popped into a Warthog. Driving is a bit frustrating with a keyboard, given the Warthog follows your WASD input and not the mouse, but I’m not surprised. Spinning the camera while driving’s a time-honored Halo tradition and while I wish the car simply followed wherever you looked I understand why it doesn’t. And even with WASD, the Warthog is so floaty I still found myself able to drive about as well as I ever could with a gamepad.
I didn’t play much further after taking over the AA gun, dying to the Wraith tank that spawns right after and deciding to give someone else a chance to play. It felt promising though, or at least as promising as you’d expect from a port. I did confirm you can remap pretty much any key, immediately putting Melee on Mouse 4 and Grenades on Mouse 5 like I do with most PC shooters. There are tons of mouse sensitivity options as well, including mouse acceleration and smoothing for those who want it. (Disabled, for those who don’t.)
And while Halo Reach still looks like a 2010 game even on PC, the increased resolution and improved antialiasing certainly make it look crisper and cleaner than it ever did before. There are occasionally some muddy-looking textures, especially one close-up shot of the inside of a Warthog during the “Tempest Perimeter” intro cutscene. Those felt few and far between though, and while playing I didn’t really notice much except “Yeah, it looks a few years old now.”
I can’t wait, honestly. It’s been a few years since I’ve played the Xbox 360-era Halos now—I bought Master Chief Collection for the Xbox One and then barely touched it, thanks to the onslaught of issues at release. What I played of Reach seemed incredibly promising, and I’m looking forward to playing through the rest of the series again (especially Halo 2’s multiplayer and ODST) before Halo Infinite arrives next year. Best of luck to 343i sorting out the lingering technical issues, and good on them for taking the time to give the PC port some love. It shows through, from what I’ve played.
Hayden writes about games for PCWorld and doubles as the resident Zork enthusiast.