Halo Recruit Hands-on: Short but sweet Windows Mixed Reality experience

Bonnie Ross Halo Recruit

As an avid video game player, the first thing that came to my mind when I heard Microsoft was developing Windows Mixed Reality devices was how the company would incorporate its gaming IPs into the new devices. Specifically, I was curious how Xbox’s flagship series Halo might look behind the lens of a virtual reality headset.

Sure enough, Microsoft technical fellow and HoloLens creator Alex Kipman confirmed in late August that a Halo mixed reality experience was indeed in the works. This week, the project was formally revealed as Halo Recruit by Kipman during a media event in San Francisco.Alex Kipman Cliff House

I was fortunate enough to be in attendance and I got to play through two sessions of Halo Recruit. To be quite clear, it’s a very short experience, lasting around five minutes. That said, I certainly did enjoy what I played.

Halo Recruit has players assume the role of an unnamed United Nations Space Command (UNSC) recruit, who’s put through a virtual reality shooting simulation against the Covenant — the original Halo trilogy’s villainous group of aliens.

Aiming feels incredibly intuitive and precise with the Windows Mixed Reality motion controllers. Dual-wielding pistols feels and works great, especially when targets come from various directions and sometimes disappear if you fail to shoot them.

Windows Mixed Reality controller

However, outside of a later-stage Covenant Elite, who came to life and roared in my face, all of the other classic Halo enemies were effectively relegated to static targets on a screen. I wish that these foes were a little more mobile, or even fully rendered in 3D, instead of looking like cardboard cutouts. If this is what UNSC training consists of, then it’s no wonder their soldiers have traditionally been of little help against the Covenant forces.

Thankfully, there’s a surprising amount of fan service packed into what’s essentially a five-minute shooting gallery. The perpetually chatty 343 Guilty Spark and ever-helpful Cortana serve as your guides for the simulation. The two characters also run a brief slideshow highlighting the different types of aliens you’ll fight throughout your training. These are all gorgeously rendered large 3D models that, as a nice added touch, are supplemented with information from 343 Guilty Spark’s database, telling you their species, home planet, physical size and more.

Naturally, the experience ends with none other than Master Chief entering the room, walking over to a Warthog vehicle and telling you to man the mounted turret. Marty O’Donnell’s iconic Halo theme plays and the screen fades to black, marking the end of the experience.

Master Chief with a pistol

Interestingly, to announce Halo Recruit, 343 Industries head Bonnie Ross joined Kipman’s presentation through a pre-recorded holographic replication of herself. While this was a clever way to demonstrate an application of Windows Mixed Reality, it’s what she actually said during the recording that caught my attention. Ross mentioned that Halo Recruit is “only scratching the surface of what a Halo mixed reality experience can be,” suggesting that this is just the first step of what’s to come.

Additionally, 343’s Kiki Wolfkill took to the Halo Waypoint blog to write the announcement post for Recruit, and also hinted at more to come. In her post, she mentioned that it “was a great opportunity for us to work with Alex and his Windows Mixed Reality team” and that 343 is “inspired and excited to do more which Alex and Bonnie may have hinted at already ;-).” She also said mentioned they “are just starting to dip our toes into the mixed reality space but we are hugely passionate about the potential to truly explore and play in our universe with this technology.”

As it stands, Halo Recruit is merely intended to offer a short, free-to-download taste of the series for those who buy a Windows Mixed Reality headset. Wolfkill even admitted as much in her blog post.

“Let’s be clear, this isn’t a game or even a part of a game — it is a light introduction to the world of Halo and some of its most iconic characters,” she said.

The experience releases on October 17th, 2017, alongside the first wave of Windows Mixed Reality devices, so it’s understandable a launch title would be shorter in length. 343 also confirmed that you’ll be able to try out Halo Recruit in various Microsoft Store locations across North America.

However, it’s a solid proof-of-concept of what Windows Mixed Reality can do with a massive series like Halo, thanks to impressive attention to detail and tight, precise shooting mechanics. I’m looking forward to seeing how Microsoft and 343 Industries build upon this foundation and make mixed reality combat truly evolved.