According to the Urban Dictionary, to "pwn a noob" is to completely obliterate your opponent in any event where there is competition.

Booting up my Xbox 360 last week, I could barely wait for the loading screen to pass so I could initiate some serious pwnage of my own on the highly anticipated beta release of "Halo: Reach."

A multi-player version of "Reach" -- the fifth incarnation of the "Halo" first-person-shooter, mega-hit franchise by Bungie Software -- was released May 3 to Xbox Live.

The beta, designed to allow millions of players worldwide to test the forthcoming game's infrastructure, playability and quirks, also gives a glimpse at what the final game likely will entail.

The conclusion of this diehard "Halo" fan -- several cans of Red Bull and a bag of Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos later -- is that "Halo" has lost its soul.

While the basic objectives remain the same -- kill as many of the blue or red guys as possible -- the experience has been hijacked by designers who have played way too much "Gears of War."

In "Reach," your avatar can sprint insanely fast, fly on jetpacks, cloak at will and turn into a nearly indestructible ball of blue light. "Halo," this does not make.

Since the industry-shaking 2001 release of "Halo: Combat Evolved," the gameplay has been consistent, the controls glued to muscle memory and the bloody gore kept to a satisfying smattering.

"Reach" detracts from these longtime values by adding superfluous abilities, confusing control schemes and sneak assassinations from behind that no Spartan worth his Warthog would approve of.

A scene from the "Halo: Reach" beta.
A scene from the "Halo: Reach" beta. ( Copyright, Bungie Studios, 2006. )

Some of the concepts are fresh and fun, such as the objective-based "Headhunter" and "Invasion" game modes. The presentation is also flawless, with improved menus, customizable characters and smooth loading.

But concept and presentation without heart or execution isn't enough to convince this longtime "Halo" fanatic to drop the $150 for the forthcoming "Halo Reach Legendary Edition" -- even if it does come with a kick-ass 10-pound statue.

Bungie has said it will take the feedback of its estimated 3 million beta testers to heart and make changes appropriately before the final version ships this fall.

In the meantime, games such as "Modern Warfare 2" and the "Gears" series continue to improve upon what made them great games to begin with. They are not, in short, trying to reinvent the wheel.

Unless "Reach" leaves a similar taste in the mouths of enough testers, I may have to go back to pwning noobs somewhere else.

Heath Urie can be challenged to a duel on Xbox Live under the gamertag "Reporterman."