Image courtesy 343 Industries

Hands-on: ‘Halo: Recruit’ is the First Taste of Halo’s True Scale

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Today Microsoft revealed the Halo: Recruit experience, launching on October 17th for Windows VR headsets. I got to go hands-on with the experience during an event today at the company’s San Francisco developer hub.

Among a number of exciting announcements Microsoft made today, including open pre-orders for their range of VR headsets, the company revealed Halo: Recruit, the first official Halo experience made for VR. It’ll be available (for free, as far as we know) beginning on October 17th through the Windows Store. I got to give the experience a go on the new Samsung Odyssey headset.

Up front, let’s set the expectation—this is not a Halo game. It’s an experience—so it’s going to be short and simple, but it’s both a first taste of Halo in VR, and a commitment from Microsoft and Halo studio 343 Industries that they are exploring the medium. On stage at Microsoft’s Mixed Reality event in San Francisco today, 343 Industries boss Bonnie Ross said that Halo: Recruit “is just scratching the surface of what Halo could be in mixed reality.” On the studio’s official Halo blog, they write, “we’re inspired and excited to do more.”

Though 343 Industries was overseeing the project, it seems the company worked with VR studio Endeavor One to bring Halo: Recruit to life.

Image courtesy 343 Industries

Halo: Recruit is a quick five minute experience that boils down to a Halo-themed shooting gallery. Sounds boring, and it probably will be for people who don’t have any investment in the Halo franchise, but as a long time fan myself it was definitely a special moment to get my first true-scale taste of a fictional universe that I’ve spent hundreds of hours viewing through the window of a TV screen.

When you play as the iconic Master Chief on a TV screen, you assume his massive seven foot stature; enemies, vehicles, and world around you thus look small by comparison. On a TV screen, Grunts, the game’s undisciplined cannon fodder, look like they might be three or four feet tall, while Elites, the premiere soldiers of the Covenant, feel about as tall as ‘you’. Shield wielding Jackals seem to be about 5 or 6 feet, the size of a normal man.

But that’s all way wrong. The books and games have alluded to the scale of these creatures, but never been able to truly convey it. Halo: Recruit however, is your first opportunity to see this universe at its proper scale.

Note: At times the mirror output (filmed from a computer monitor) appears choppy in the video above, however the game remained perfectly smooth inside the headset.

I was introduced, in encyclopedic fashion, to each of the aforementioned Covenant aliens by standing in front of an animated model of each, at true scale, with a few facts and figures floating nearby. Those ‘little’ Grunts, it turns out, are about as tall as an average man, while Jackals stand at a menacing 7 or 8 feet tall, with their vicious bird-like beaks. Elites truly tower over the player, standing 10 or 11 feet tall, with shining armor, energy sword, and spiked mandibles sprawled. The Master Chief has made defeating these beasts look so easy over the years that standing before them in VR gives entirely new meaning to their deadliness, and I didn’t even get to see the Covenant’s largest foot soldier, the massive Hunter.

Though I would have been happy to browse a huge model library of the game’s enemies, vehicles, and weapons, unfortunately you only get to see the three aforementioned aliens briefly before moving onto a simple shooting gallery mini game.

A table rises up in front of you an open pops a heavy case hiding one of Halo’s iconic pistols. I reached out to grab them with the motion controllers and one snapped into each of my hands. What followed was a shooting gallery with a few rounds of moving ‘cardboard’ cutout targets shaped like Covenant aliens. It’s clear that this was meant to flesh out the experience with a little ‘action’ but it wasn’t terribly compelling; the pistols had unlimited ammo and required no reloading and little precision aiming.

Following the shooting gallery, Master Chief himself enters the scene as a ‘Warthog’ jeep pulls up behind you. “You’ve got the turret,” he says. And just as you get excited about the prospect of firing the vehicle’s tri-barrel gatling gun, the scene fades to black. Master Chief, you tease!

Sure it wasn’t extensive or highly produced, but it was polished and the models all looked authentic; indeed a look at things to come. Here’s to hoping it won’t be too long before 343 Industries puts more resources behind a Halo VR project and builds a proper VR game.