Gunning an opponent down in 343 Industries' Halo 4, I couldn’t help but feel as if I were playing a reboot rather than a sequel. That’s the rule of changing creative teams: sensibilities will shift and even if things may look similar on the surface, there’s plenty of room for key alterations.
One of the most evident is the integration of sprint into movement, akin to that of Call of Duty, along with nearly every other FPS on the market. To account for this, 343 has slowed walking down to exaggerate the boost given when clicking the thumbstick. It’s subtle, but incredibly effective in accomplishing their goal of making the player feel like he’s actually in a half-ton suit of armor.
Weapons have also been tweaked, like the Spartan Laser and its now-shorter startup time. The grenade launcher from Reach is back as well, though now a different model with an attached motion sensor (think the heartbeat sensor from Modern Warfare). The much-maligned Magnum pistol is making its return with a little more punch and much slower rate of fire. Meanwhile the assault rifle is the closest its been to its original version in Combat Evolved since Microsoft decided it wanted sequels. It’s a deft balance of old and new that 343 is seemingly pulling off with ease.
At times during my 10 minute demo, I couldn’t help but feel like, for all the things 343 has chosen to stuff into the game (and there’s a lot, perhaps more than any other), Halo 4’s multiplayer might be one of the most balanced in recent memory, other franchises included. Assuming your dexterity is up to par, you can survive a shootout with almost every weapon on the map. And though things get hectic quickly, the game, as the series always has, provides you with enough cushion that you might recover and perhaps tilt the tables in your favor.
Equipment has been replaced by Armor Abilities, mapped to the same button on the controller. Sprint, as mentioned, is no longer a customized ability, and armor lock has become a charged, protective barrier called the Hardlight Shield (clever) that switches the camera to third person. Jetpacks are also making their return as Thruster Packs, which send the player skiing across the map much like Tribes: Ascend. Holograms do what they’ve always done: annoy and distract, while Promethean Vision gives a tactical advantage by outlining objects and enemies in the nearby FOV.
343’s biggest addition to multiplayer is its Packages, which act as rewards for feats such as killing a certain number of players. Their effects can range from boosting motion sensor radius to giving players an overshield, and even providing an additional boost to speed for a certain period of time. Packages remain on-call until activated, taking a page out of Call of Duty’s
Overall, it’s hugely different but entire similar, and for any fan of Halo’s multiplayer experience, there’s no reason for them to be disappointed. It is Halo, much like Batman Begins was still Batman, only better.
Multiplayer is its own experience. It feels as tight as the best online games out there, doing everything it does as well as it can. All the tweaks are effective and more importantly, it feels as if there is a reason for their implementation beyond just the pressure of being different.
343 has nailed the rhythm of Halo multiplayer, capturing that feeling that there is always more than just one way to survive an encounter. Things like a warthog rearing over a hill, the gunman spraying bullets at any area that has his reticle glaring red are a familiar site for anyone hesitant of abilities like the Hardlight Shield.
The campaign looks to be the most dynamic of the entire series, and much of that can be attributed to the fantastic graphics engine the team has cooked up. It took them only one game to make Halo look better than all the previous installments, and I already buy the experience more because of it. The small differences, like Chief talking to Cortana outside of cutscenes, promises more narrative opportunities and room for Chief himself to become his own three-dimensional, albeit still faceless, character.
The enemies are fresh water in the desert for players sick of howling Elites and grunting Jackals. In fact, the entire game feels this way. No more Halos, the Covenant are now secondary. Cortana’s doing more than just giving advice, and finally Chief looks a little more than out of his element when facing these new Promethean enemies.
Combine that with a new composer, and 343 is promising not just a sure blockbuster, but something more different from what it’s known for than any other sequel of any recent franchise – while somehow remaining true to itself.
Any fan of Halo will enjoy Halo 4. It’s as much its own adaptation as it is a worthy sequel to Microsoft’s billion dollar franchise. The mechanics and narrative are rooted in those established by Bungie, and there’s no reason for anyone to feel uncomfortable in the direction 343 Industries plans to take it. It takes adjustment, but after a few minutes everyone will feel right at home in their Spartan armor.
If these short previews of the campaign and multiplayer are anything to draw from, 343’s promise for a worthy sequel is now even more enticing. Halo 4 is shaping up to be one of the better, if not best, Fall release of 2012, and will certainly give Black Ops 2 and other contenders a run for their money. It's already earned my $60.
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