Review Price to be confirmed
Halo 4 final code preview
By Ardjuna Seghers
Halo 4 is the hotly anticipated sequel to what can easily be considered the most successful Xbox-exclusive franchise around. Unless you’ve been living under a rock on a distant desert planet (in which case you probably won’t be reading this preview anyway), you’ll have heard of the Halo universe, where a space-faring humanity fights against aliens and zombie-aliens with elite cyborg warriors called the Master Chiefs, on artificial ‘planetary’ rings called Halos.
That’s what the first three games were about anyway, and the original trilogy is what we will compare to, as Halo 4 picks up where the third game left off. And it’s hardly a spoiler to say that once again you’re in the role of a massive armour-clad hulk called Master Chef Chief, with the trusty AI Cortana by your side.
Halo 4 is a key title for the billion-dollar franchise, as it’s the first of the numbered Halo games not created by founder studio Bungie. Instead, 343 studios is at the helm. So the question is, have they managed to maintain the subtle magic that made the original Halo trilogy one of the best first person shooter experiences to ever grace a console? Well, mostly yes…
They’ve certainly put in enough effort, with apparently 300 people working over three years to bring the latest Halo to our Microsoft consoles. The game starts off in a very similar way to the first Halo, with Master Chief in a pod inside the wrecked remains of the UNSC space ship Forward Unto Dawn and the Covenant invading. You even start off with the same weapon set, including the well-loved Assault Rifle. Obviously though, graphics are a major step up.
There’s more detail in models and textures than ever before, but where you really notice the difference with Halo 3 is in the lighting. Halo 4 is a contrast-rich game, with many and varied light sources. Graphically it comes close to pushing the Xbox 360 to its limits, and there are a lot of cool new features, weapons, enemies, environments and more - but not all the changes are for the better.
Cortana is more luscious than ever, but she has become a little too sexualised compared to her more innocent predecessor model. She also looks too human somehow, as if she’s just a ghost or semi-transparent blue human rather an AI hologram. And something bothers us about her teeth, but there we’re just being picky (pun intended)
The Covenant grunts are also no longer quite the exuberant and almost cute critters they once were, mainly due to a subtle but noticeable change in their ‘dialogue’, which is now more monotone and sibilant, and completely incomprehensible, rather than the witty jibes and exclamations of before.
We didn’t spot them running away in the same comical manner as before either. Remember MDK (Murder Death Kill)? That’s the vibe we got from the original little critters, and that vibe is gone. We want it back…
While we’re on a streak of comparing Halo 4 unfavourably with its predecessors, the intro soundtrack is as hauntingly beautiful as ever but we felt the nonetheless impressive in-game soundtrack had a bit of a Star Wars vibe to it, perhaps just a little more ‘generic’ than the original trilogy’s sountrack.
Anyway, onto more of the good stuff. Aside from its graphical beauty, Halo 4’s environments are richer and larger than ever, maintaining the epic feel that Halo has always managed so well. One particularly impressive scene near the beginning had several Covenant battleships floating along the Forward Unto Dawn’s ‘horizon’ with Grunts and Elites raining down en masse.
There are also many new enemies – a whole race of them, in fact. They’re called the Promethians, and they’re pretty tough. Not wanting to spoil anything we can say that these beasties will provide quite a challenge even for hardened players, as they run, jump, climb walls and even phase in and out of your surroundings.
As 343’s Frank O’Connor put it, “a lot of the habits you might have learned fighting the Covenant will be moot when fighting the Promethians”. In fact, you’ll be frustrated by how quickly enemy corpses, along with their precious weapons and ammo, disappear – as you’ll expend quite a few clips trying to put these enemies down.
Speaking of new weapons, as per the usual Halo rules you’ll be able to loot new ones from deceased Promethians, and they’re a lot of fun too. Subtly different from human or Covenant arms, they add yet another layer to Halo 4’s tactical slaughtering.
There are also new vehicles, of course. Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to tell you about the most fun one, but suffice to say that it makes competitive multiplayer more thrilling than ever. And its multi-player is where Halo 4 really shines. Whether you play with linked consoles or online, or even split-screen local, few FPS titles can match Halo for sheer fun and tight pacing. New arenas are also as superbly designed as ever.
One interesting new addition is Spartan Ops, which appears to be episodic multiplayer co-op content that will be released on a weekly basis just like a TV show. However, from the brief amount of time we spent with it, it seemed just a little underwhelming and too easy. Hopefully 343 will be able to use it as a narrative tool to enhance the Halo universe even further.
Overall then, as Stuart Andrews said in his E3 preview of the game on page 1, Halo 4 is shaping up to be a worthy successor to the original trilogy. Despite a few niggles, 343 has done a great job with the latest instalment in the franchise, and we can’t wait to get our hands on the full game – only to bring you our definitive verdict, of course.