Xbox 360 Trifecta: ‘Halo 3’, ‘GoW’, Messenger

by W. Andrew Powell

Halo 3 Beta

This has been a very busy week for Microsoft and their Xbox 360. So busy in fact that I couldn’t keep up with all the news, so in an effort to tackle it all at once, I decided to summarize what’s been going on. To put it simply, the Halo 3 multiplayer beta arrives on May 16, Gears of War has a new multiplayer mode, and you’ll soon be able to chat with your Windows Live Messenger friends from the Xbox 360.

On the Halo 3 end of things, Microsoft and Bungie Studios announced that the multiplayer beta will launch at 5:00 AM (PT) on May 16, giving gamers who qualified a chance to play the game – and thus also give Bungie some much needed data to finish developing the title. In Halo 3, Bungie has promised fans a chance to step back into the role of Master Chief to battle the Covenant and fight the looming Flood threat.

New vehicles for the game include the Mongoose, an agile all-terrain vehicle, and new weapons like the improved Assult Rifle, the Brute Spiker, a Spartan Laser – not to mention the new Spike Grenades.

Gamers could qualify for the beta in a couple of ways, the simplest being that they could buy a copy of Crackdown, which comes with a special download link to get the beta. Alternately, gamers could qualify through the “Rule of Three” promotion that basically required them to play three hours of Halo 2 and then be one of the first 13,333 to register on the website.

The only catch in any of this is that you’ll need to have an Xbox Live Gold account to play the Halo 3 beta. For anyone who does get online to play, they’ll find what the studio is describing as, “richly detailed, action-oriented maps” dubbed Snowbound, High Ground and Valhalla, “which represent a mixture of large- and medium-scale combat environments”.

For a glimpse into the future, head over to Bungie’s website for behind the scenes video. Halo 3 is set to hit stores sometime this fall.

Then, over at the Gears of War camp, fans were treated with an update earlier this week which not only changed the online gameplay a bit, but also delivered a new multiplayer mode called Annex.

In Annex, gamers can only win one way – they have to capture on of five special locations on the map, and hold on to them long enough to score their team enough points to win. Each location, or objective, has a maximum score level that can be given out, and then a new objective will become active and the teams will have to scramble to take control of that location.

In addition to this add-on gameplay mode, there have also been some updates to the core of the game. These changes include:

  • VGA Cable Support: Monitor resolution widths greater than or equal to 1280 now render as letterbox. In particular VGA users running at 1280×1024 will now see the game in full 720p (1280×720) resolution in letterboxed form.
  • Adjusted Assassination Multiplayer Gametype: Leader no longer has to unlock weapons and now has to be executed to die.
  • Adjusted Boomshot: Splash damage to be more effective rendering targets down-but-not-out
  • Adjusted Hammer of Dawn: Aiming will be more forgiving of moving targets
  • Adjusted Roadie Run: Reduced frequency of accidentally grabbing cover while running
  • Kill Message Ticker: Ticker can now be seen while down-but-not-out and spectating
  • General: Addressed a number of possible exploits in multiplayer

    And finally, beginning the week of May 7 Microsoft will launch the Xbox 360 Spring Update which will include the addition of Windows Live Messenger to the system. Once the patch is added gamers will be able to text message their friends while they play games, listen to music, or watch movies. That’s in addition to the ability users already have to send audio and video messages to their buddies.

    To make life a little easier, users can plug in any USB keyboard to type out messages, but Microsoft will also start selling a QWERTY mini keyboard this summer that will connect directly to the Xbox 360 controller.

    Along with this, the Spring Update will also include the following enhancements and changes:

  • A richer Achievement notification pop-up will showcase the name of the unlocked Achievement and the gamerscore value without needing to leave the game to check the Achievements list.
  • Enhanced family settings features for Xbox Live communications enable different defaults for video chat and voice chat.
  • A new Xbox Live Marketplace blade lets Xbox Live members access the content they seek – whether it is game content or TV shows and movies (available in the United States) – from one place on Xbox Live.
  • Updates to Xbox Live Arcade allow owners to quickly see which Xbox Live Arcade games their friends are playing and join in the fun. Xbox Live members can also compare progress of leaderboard scores and Achievements directly with all friends on their friends list. Expanded Tell a Friend capabilities make it easier than ever to boast about Achievements and high scores.
  • A new option in Auto Downloads provides faster access to the entire collection of free, trial-version Xbox Live Arcade games.
  • New progressive download controls provide easy access to optimal viewing options by letting people fast-forward, rewind, pause and resume as their video is downloaded from Xbox Live Marketplace.
  • Extension of the background download functionality will allow owners to set their Xbox 360 console to turn off automatically after downloads are complete.

    Check out for more on any of the stories above.

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