May 12, 2007 - Hey, you all know how great the http://xbox360.ign.com/objects/734/734817.html beta is on the battlefield, but don't forget about the clever presentation options off the battlefield that have helped make the Halo franchise what it is today. The menu screen might not be the sexiest thing in the world, but it's here that you can join up with your party and start mashing heads with plasma pistols.

Just as Halo 2 spoiled us with an excellent matchmaking system as well as clan support, Halo 3 will shine with even more options in this Web 2.0 era: refined matchmaking, persistent rankings, character customization, a ton of multiplayer game modes, different button configurations, movie sharing, different stick configurations, and the most revolutionary Halo feature ever: the toggle crouch.

Fine, maybe we're a little too excited about this, but being able click once to duck and click again to stand makes a lot more sense than the old click-and hold -- a little to slow for out taste. But moving on, here are some of the more important features:

Matchmaking

Your first step in the beta is the Matchmaking lobby. Here is where you join up with friends and get your party together. As of now, you can hit Y to instantly jump to your friends list. There, you can invite players to join you in the lobby, and you can even check your buddies Halo 3 service record and their uploaded movies right there in the dashboard.

For network mode, you can choose between system link, local and Live, currently the only mode available. Although you can play split screen online, there's no local multiplayer yet. You can also set the max party size from one to 16 players.

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Start matchmaking. If only hot girls thought this way.

Game modes are currently divided into playlists of ranked and social matches. In ranked, you choose between Rumble Pit (basic deathmatch), Team Slayer (team deathmatch with up to four players on each team) and Team Skirmish, which randomly chooses one of the three available maps and specialty game modes, such as Capture the Flag.

The social playlists include rumble training and team training.

When you start the matchmaking process, Halo 3 begins to look for players near your skill level, known as Spartan Rating. Then it will slowly widen the search parameters, looking for even better (and worse) players to fill up your match. With so few people online on Friday, the matchmaking process took a bit longer than expected -- sometimes five minutes. But usually, it's a quick process -- about a minute or so.

After the player slots have been filled, you'll be assigned a map and game mode. If you don't like what you see, you can hit X to throw up a veto. While it's not as powerful as, say, George W. Bush dropping the hammer on the Democrats, it is nice that you can switch map and mode if enough players join in with a veto. Rock the vote!

Of course, the ultimate goal of this matchmaking system is to stick players together with players of similar skill levels. This will help make the game more accessible to John Q. Gamer. Who knows? Microsoft may even sell a few more copies.

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