Microsoft released a pre-recorded presentation Monday to mark and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original Xbox. As part of the celebration, Halo developer 343 Industries released a playable beta for Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer mode.
Players on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Windows can download the first season, Heroes of Reach, which includes all of the new maps and features planned for the full release. In Heroes of Reach, players are put in the role of a new generation of Spartan warriors, training at a specialized academy to join the same elite force as the Master Chief, Halo‘s traditional protagonist.
343’s creative lead Joseph Staten came onstage briefly, accompanied by 343 multiplayer creative director Tom French and a masked crowd of 343 employees, to describe the surprise launch as “a thank you, and to celebrate the 20th anniversary.”
Writing for the official Halo blog, Staten clarified after the broadcast that Heroes of Reach is planned to last until May 2022. This is a change of plan from 343’s original goal of shipping a new season of multiplayer content every three months, and was done “so we can finish development for Season 2 in a healthy and sustainable way for our team.”
The extension of the season will also include additional content for Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer, such as a free collection of cosmetic items with a 20th-anniversary theme that will be awarded to anyone who logs into Infinite in the next three weeks.
The official opening event for Heroes of Reach, “Fracture: Tenrai,” is slated to begin on Nov. 23, which will give players their first opportunity to earn the samurai-themed Spartan armor that caught so many people’s eyes in the first official trailer.
Part of the Xbox anniversary presentation was a certain tacit admission that the story of Halo as a franchise is more or less inextricably intertwined with that of the Xbox as a platform. From gameplay montages to cosplayers at launch parties, Halo and its characters have been part of Xbox from the beginning, and much of the gameplay footage shown during the presentation was taken from one Halo game or another.
This carried over into the debut trailer for a new documentary, Power On: The Story of Xbox, which will debut on IMDB TV, YouTube, Roku, and other streaming networks on Dec. 13. This plans to tell the story of the original team that created the Xbox, the opposition it encountered from within Microsoft, and the “pure chaos” that surrounded the development process.
Other Halo news at the show included a very brief teaser of next year’s Halo TV show on Paramount+, which is a prequel to the games’ storyline. The seconds-long clip showed a shot of a young Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber, Orange is the New Black) as he put on his battle armor.
Microsoft also used the anniversary celebration to release a surprise new batch of backwards-compatible titles. The program, which was paused back in 2019 in order to focus on what eventually became the Xbox Series X|S, uses custom emulation packages so old games will play on disc on current-generation systems. Games that have made it onto the backwards-compatible list are also made available for digital purchase via the Microsoft Store.
This last batch of games includes some genuine classics, as well as a few out-of-nowhere choices (Oneechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad?!). The full list was made available through Microsoft director of programming Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb’s website, and while there are still a few notable omissions (Fatal Frame, Lollipop Chainsaw), there are just as many obscure resurrections.
Notable games on the list include:
- The full Max Payne series, a self-conscious action/noir mash-up from Remedy, the Finland-based developer that would go on to make Alan Wake, Quantum Break, and Control
- F.E.A.R., an action/horror first-person shooter from Monolith Productions in Kirkland, Wash., as well as all of its sequels
- 2011’s Mortal Kombat, which rebooted the series, as well as the much-derided Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, which lets you perform fatalities on Batman
- The first four games in the Dead or Alive series, which means the entire franchise is now playable on a single Xbox for what might be the first time
- Sega’s deeply underrated Binary Domain and mostly forgotten Gunvalkyrie
- The time-bending first-person shooters TimeSplitters 2 and Future Perfect
Several of the newly-released games will benefit from the FPS Boost feature on Xbox Series X|S, which allows them to run at 60 FPS. This includes F.E.A.R., Binary Domain, and NIER. Several other games that were already on the list, including Gears of War, Dead Space 2, Alan Wake, and Fallout: New Vegas were also updated to benefit from FPS Boost.
In a blink-and-you-miss-it addition to the news, as written on Xbox Wire by project lead Peggy Lo, the Nov. 15 drop is described as the “latest and final addition” to the backwards-compatibility program. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the last of the overall project; Lo goes on to write “we are excited to explore new ways to preserve our history and bring the catalog of the thousands of titles available in the Xbox ecosystem to more players.” To be continued, I suppose.
The overall not-Halo message of the presentation remains consistent with Xbox’s current mission statement for the year. “Gaming is all about people,” said Xbox head Phil Spencer. “That’s it. Games are all about real people coming together to create experiences and relationships.”
“We continually invest in making games easier to make,” said Sarah Bond, head of Xbox Creator Experience. “We collaborate with creators to ensure representation of diverse characters, and to make it possible for anyone to play any game, anywhere.”