Review Price to be confirmed
First Looks: Halo 4
Check out page 2 for our updated hands-on Halo 4 review based on final code, with new details and pictures.
Halo 4 is a game with an awful lot to prove. It needs to show that Microsoft's biggest franchise can thrive without the development skills of its original creator, Bungie, and that an FPS that once dominated the Xbox can still prosper in the age of Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare. Most of all, it needs to demonstrate that the Halo saga still has life left in it now that the arc of the first three games, plus ODST and Reach, has reached its conclusion. Halo 4 needs to prove that Halo still matters.
And based on what we've seen at E3, this won't be a problem. New team 343 Industries is almost ludicrously dedicated to Halo and its future. According to Producer, Kiki Wolfkill, the company is “really made up of a group of people who have a passion for Halo, and not just for Halo as it exists but a passion for Halo as it could be.”
Hail to the Chief
Of course, that means the continuing story of Master Chief. Kicking off five years after the end of Halo 3, Halo 4 sees everyone’s favourite Spartan on a mysterious new planet - Requiem - facing an equally mysterious new enemy, described in the demos we’ve seen and played as the Prometheans and wielding forerunner technology. Demo footage shows off jungles several times more lush and detailed than anything in Halo 3 or even Halo: Reach and rugged mountain scenery. 343 Industries is keen to go back to the feel of the first game, and its sense of scale, exploration and discovery.
The Prometheans currently appear in three forms: fast-moving doglike critters that can leap huge distances and swarm the player, heavily-armored Promethean knights that feel like tougher versions of the Covenant elites, and ‘watchers’, flying sentinels with the power to summon reinforcements and shield fellow Promethean troops. And on top of the Prometheans we still have the Covenant in all their forms, each one itching to put a hole in Master Chief he won’t survive.
The Prometheans also bring new weapons; weird devices that assemble on demand as Master Chief collects them. In gameplay sessions we’ve already experienced the scattershot, a high-impact shotgun-style weapon with a wide-ish area of effect, and we’re assured that there’s a whole lot more to come.
Introducing Spartan Ops
Halo 4 also goes further in pushing the series’s online options. It’s all based around the UNSC Infinity, the exploratory starship featured in Microsoft’s conference trailer, and which provides the UNSC with its HQ on Requiem. The Wargames mode provides Halo 4 with its traditional multiplayer option, as Spartans train against each other in simulated combat for their upcoming battles.
Meanwhile, the new Spartan Ops mode gives us something we haven’t seen from Halo - or any rival game - before: a series of episodic co-op missions which will become available over the months after launch, all tied into an ongoing story. CGI animated narrative episodes will be the backbone of the ‘season’, with each one followed by five co-op missions, playable for one to four players. 343 Industries is promising that this won’t be just a string of simple, objective-based maps, but real missions with real storylines that all tie into an overall arc, with characters you’ll care about and a plot you’ll want to follow.
Having played through the first Spartan Ops mission, there’s evidence to back that up. The episode begins with a simple infiltration and ends with the discovery of something more, and there’s action against both Covenant and Promethean forces along the way, Most importantly, though, it plays like Halo, with the kind of fast-paced, highly-mobile sci-fi combat we expect from the series, against unpredictable foes that give the gameplay that all-important dynamic and emergent feel. You can complete every mission as a solo player, but it’s all been designed to make co-op play more exciting, so that Spartans have to support each other in the field.
If you’d rather play Halo competitively, then the new Wargames mode will be very satisfying. Having only played one map it’s difficult to say anything definitive, but there’s a sense that 343 Industries has backtracked from some of the ideas in Halo: Reach. Jetpacks were not available and while armour abilities still exist in some form, they don’t play as central a role as they did in Reach. In a way, Wargames feels like a straighter run-and-gun experience.
That said, it’s a very good one; slick, fast and - in the tight internal map we’ve played on - with the emphasis on rapid-action firefights. Kills appear to be rewarded with new weapons that drop into the zone, with a sticky, remote detonate grenade launcher putting in one appearance, along with the Promethean scattershot. Once on the battlefield, these remain available for other players to grab on your demise. After a good few sessions, we can comfortably state that Halo 4 multiplayer will be as addictive as it has ever been.
Characters appear to be persistent across both Wargames and Spartan Ops, and we understand that weapons and armour unlocked in one mode will become available in the other. While there are no classes as such, there’s opportunity to customise with a huge range of loadouts, plus a solid selection of different armour components with which you can give your Spartan his or her own distinct appearance.
In a way, Halo 4 isn’t as radical a reinterpretation of Halo as the more gritty, downbeat Reach, but at this stage it feels like a triumphant return for Master Chief. Expect more details to emerge in the run up to its November release.
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