Right then, here it is, Halo 3’s multiplayer, albeit a beta, but the Halo 3 multiplayer nonetheless. It’s been opened to the press until the upcoming public release for lucky owners of ODST on May 3rd.

On first play it certainly feels familiar to anyone who’s played a previous incarnation. Indeed, if the game was changed too much then there’d most likely be riots in the streets. An exaggeration perhaps, admittedly, but there’d certainly be some very angry forum posts. Neither of which would be good for Bungie anyway so it looks like they’ve decided to make the changes to Halo’s multiplayer fairly subtle, at least to begin with.

The maps are set across pretty familiar terrain and you’ll notice that the weapon loadout you begin with includes that old friend of the Halo player-the assault rifle. The HUD’s fairly similar to Halo 2’s and much of the old game modes are back. Slayer, Oddball and Crazy King are all there but this time round we’re given four new modes: Stockpile, Headhunter, Invasion and Generator Defense. We’ll detail these in a forthcoming and more exhaustive preview so keep your eyes peeled.

Bungie have, of course, crafted us a few new weapons to play with: The Brute Spiker is an automatic weapon that fires superheated metallic spikes and works well in close range, though it’s best when duel-wielded for maximum carnage. Speaking of duel-wielding, a nifty new mechanic allows for reloads specific to each hand with a tap of the appropriate bumper button.

The new Brute Spike grenade gives us some pretty devastating assaults, often on multiple players at once. It’s helped massively by its ability to stick and the sizable blast radius it boasts. Also new on the scene is the Machinegun Turret, which, while normally stuck to the ground, can actually be ripped out with your hands or even blasted out of its fitting with a few shots.

Parading around with this is expectedly slow due to its massive size and makes you stick out like a sore thumb but it boasts some pretty impressive firepower and worth a stint for a bit of short-lived fun.

Often found on vehicles and land is the Missile Pod that can be used in much the same way as the Machinegun Turret whilst boasting lock-on, again, it’s a joy to operate but will weigh you down.

Bungie have also given us a brand new vehicle to play with that takes the name Mongoose. It’s a two-man job suited brilliantly to the task of dashing across long distances in order to reach or deliver flags.

I’d attribute the major game-changing award to the new equipment items though. Along with the traditional Overshield and Active Camo, these three new treats are deployed with a tap of the X button, with LB assigned to cycling between them. There’s the Bubble Shield, the Portable Grav Lift, the Trip Mine and the Energy Drainer.

When dropped, the Bubble Shield protects players from fire and explosions, though still allows vehicles and other players to pass through. It’s a two-way affair though, so will also stop bullets fired from the inside. It lasts for 20 seconds before disintegrating so it’s best to keep it to appropriate special occasions.

The Portable Grav Lift is a lot of fun and when deployed fires a beam into the air that sends anything that crosses its path flying skywards. This includes players, vehicles, Bubble Shields and grenades. There’s loads of potential with this one: it can be used as both an escape route and an offensive weapon.

The Trip Mine is fairly self explanatory (though it’s worth noting that it’s actually proximity rather than trip wire in style) but lord knows these have been a lot of fun in multiplayer FPSs since Goldeneye.

The Energy Drainer is a high-powered EMP grenade that has a negative effect on any nearby shields, vehicles and even people. Brilliantly, it actually overheats and explodes when burnt out (after roughly 5 or 6 seconds) which will cause damage to anyone or anything in the vicinity.

Also new to the game is the Spartan Laser, a massive one-shot-kill device that takes an age to reload so it’s obviously important to get that shot right. This beast of a weapon will undoubtedly be deadly in the hands of those more experienced twitchy players with a dab hand at console shooting.

Bungie have updated the online features and included some cool new stuff such as Saved Films, which, if you’ve got your detective hat on, you’ve probably guessed allows players to save and view films of personally picked standout moments.

At beta stage these replays are only presented from a first-person perspective but apparently this will change and we’ll be given complete freedom with the camera positioning. Said movies will be saved on Bungie’s severs, and these will be replayable from anywhere with an Xbox Live account and a copy of Halo 3.

The matchmaking has been given an upgrade too, and now features a “Playlist” feature with a bunch of defaults that make sure you’ll be playing the style of game you’d like. Included in this is the option to veto each match if you so desire.

It’s possible to party up with other players if you’ve taken a particular liking to someone you’ve played a game with too. The matchmaking has been improved, meaning you should be playing against players of your own or similar caliber, meaning it’s a little less likely you’ll be continually be fragged to the point of hurling your controller at the TV.

We’ve been told by Microsoft that there’s a whole load more to come in the full game when it arrives. The single-player’s set to look a lot different to the multi and we’ll also be getting more match types with extra weapons and vehicles. We’ll be bringing you more on the beta as soon as we’ve had a little more time to play so watch this space…