E3 2012: Halo 4 [Preview]

6 Jun 2012  by   John Robertson
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The Halo 4 E3 demo begins with all the pomp and masculinity we’ve come to expect from Microsoft’s crown jewel of a space marine series. Master Chief stands atop a severe looking mountain, green armour and golden visor glinting heroically in the sun, his face hidden as it always is – a mystery we, deep down, do not want to uncover. He’s as mysterious, as shiny and as generically lone-soldiery as he always was.

If you were worried Master Chief was going to see a reduced role in Halo 4, you’re going to be happy. If you were worried Master Chief was going to remain the hero, you’re probably already bored.

From his mountaintop vantage point, Master Chief is looking at the arrival of UNSC Infinity, the gem of the military’s starfleet, as it comes crashing through clouds in a maelstrom of lightning sparks and noise. The Infinity’s phallic shape does nothing to mute the series’ testosterone fuelled story and gameplay.

Halo 4 picks up after the events of Halo 3, starting with Master Chief crash landing on the planet of Requiem. It’s his job to get his shit together.

The level were shown on Requiem takes place in a mountainous jungle area, against a backdrop of stark sunlight. Think dense trees, royal greens, shy local fauna and steep drops-offs into oblivion. Initial impressions are that it looks stunning, perhaps the 360 still does have a few graphical tricks up its sleeve after all.

This particular missions sees Master Chief attempting to rescue the Infinity, which has crash landed – presumably because its pilot was blinded by the glint from the Chief armour upon entering the planet’s atmosphere. Things begin with a trek through the jungle towards the Infinity, but before long the (surprise, suprise) Covenant are there to ruin the pleasant stroll.

They present little challenge, the battle rifle making short work of them.

Alongside the Covenant are Prometheans, natives of Requiem who come in various forms, shapes and sizes. Some are small, pack creatures that present little challenge alone but are dangerous when they sneak up on you in groups. Others are much larger; Knights pack dual weapons (swords and/or guns, or both) and are able to call in ‘Watcher’ support drones that can set up a shields and throw your own grenades back at you.

The idea is clearly to pack in as much variety as possible and to provide something a little different for a series that, for many, is getting stale. In all honesty, variety is certainly evident, the throwing back of grenades, on-the-fly shield creations and other Promethean tactics – such as the ability to spawn helpers whenever they like – give the Promethean Knight/Watcher-combo a different feel than anything we’ve seen in previous Halos. Hopefully that will be delicately balanced with the elements fans want to return unchanged.

Also new is Promethean Vision, an ability that allows Master Chief to send out a pulse that turns the screen blue/white while highlighting enemies in red (including those that are positioned the other side of solid cover). Promethean Vision is available in multiplayer although, in the interest of game balancing (according to 343), were assured that its use will be extremely limited.

Speaking of multiplayer…

343 are aiming for an extremely ambitious setup that links single player and mulitplayer together in one big sphere that it’s calling Infinity – yes, like the aforementioned space ship. Using the ship as your hub, you can keep track of your stats from single and multiplayer, as well as access the new Spartans Ops features.

Spartan Ops is an interesting idea; a mish-mash of gameplay and downloadable TV episodes. Each week five gameplay missions and a video episode can be downloaded through the game, the two linked in some way by story and characters. Those missions are available in single player and co-op.

From what we’ve seen so far, it looks as though Spartan Ops missions will take the form of AI bot battles that has some degree of story worked in – through a pre-mission cut-scene or post-mission roundup of how your victory (or defeat) has affected the area and your control over it. Although it doesn’t look likely at this point, we’ve still got our fingers crossed for proper, fully-fledged missions, rather than tarted up co-op multiplayer matches; although the latter is still a welcome addition.

The idea is a clear and, arguably, natural progression from the daily/weekly challenges that the likes of Halo (and more recently Fifa) has featured and is designed to give a reason to come back to the game over the long term.

As far as competitive multiplayer goes, the game will launch with 10 maps plus Forge mode support. Irritatingly, it’s been confirmed that those that choose to purchase the limited edition of the game will get access to three map packs (totalling nine maps) early. It’s a sign of the times that three DLC packs are being promoted before the game has even been released.

DLC complaints aside, Halo 4’s E3 showing was largely impressive mainly because 343 seem to have a solid grasp on what the fanbase wants and is not trying to reinvent the wheel. Yes, there are those that will complain that the game looks too similar to previous entries. However, those dissenting voices will likely be drowned out by those eager for more of the same.

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