I’ve never owned an Xbox, but I’ve logged more hours of Halo than I can count — I played through the first few games at a close friend’s home one Saturday afternoon at a time, purposefully arriving during his weekly guitar lessons so I could have Master Chief all to myself. So last week, when a Microsoft representative handed me a virtual reality headset and asked if I wanted to try the new Halo demo I jumped at the opportunity.
Unfortunately, Halo Recruit is a bit of a letdown. It’s definitely not the Halo VR game you’ve been dreaming of, though it’s an exciting taste of what may be coming down the road.
One second I was standing in the middle of Microsoft's holiday showcase, the next I was toe-to-toe with a hulking Elite. Except, it wasn’t an actual enemy. It was a hologram, a simulation inside a simulation. Cortana quickly cycled through incredibly detailed depictions of the classic Halo bad guys (Grunts, Jackals and an angry Elite holding a massive energy sword). Then I reached for a pair of guns and the game began.
Unfortunately, the actual game was a lot less exciting that the introduction. A screen lowered down in front of me in the virtual room and simple drawings of those same enemies moved across the screen. Each one was adorned with one or several targets, like a carnival arcade game set in Halo universe.
I held up a pair of motion controllers to aim and unloaded a steady stream of bullets into the targets, quickly picking them off. There was no need to reload so I never stopped shooting, only moving my arms slightly to track the targets as they flew across the screen. Eventually, a giant Hunter with eight targets across his body popped up on screen. I gasped, worried he might fight back. Instead, he just stood there as I make quick work of what should have been a difficult boss fight.
The game was over, but Halo Recruit had one more surprise in store. From the corner of my vision I saw Master Chief walk up behind me. Then a bay door opened and a Warthog pulled up to the entrance. Get in, he told me, directing me to the mounted anti-aircraft gun on the back of the iconic vehicle. My mind started to race, and I reached out, hoping that the demo would continue, but it was over. The screen went blank and I removed the headset.
My immediate reaction was disappointment—Was that it? Really?—but that may not be fair. 343 Industries made it clear this isn’t a full game or even a full level, calling it a “light introduction to the world of Halo” in VR. Even so, this feels like a missed opportunity. Halo Recruit left me wanting more, but it’s not clear that we’ll get anything beyond this short tutorial anytime soon.
Until then, Halo Recruit is a cool little demo without much replay value—and an exciting teaser for what 343 Industries may be working on. But for now, it’s definitely not enough to validate buying one of the Microsoft Mixed Reality branded VR headsets. You can get the full 5-minute experience at a friend’s place (or a Microsoft store) when Halo Recruit launches on October 17.