Halo 4 Gameplay Preview -- Setting the Stage for the Next Decade of HaloBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Mar 05, 2012
Before I get your Halo-loving hopes up too high, you should know that the folks at 343 Industries, the inheritors of Bungie’s uber-franchise Halo, still aren’t entirely ready to spill all the space beans on what they have in store for Halo 4, the studio’s first wholly owned and developed entry in Microsoft’s juggernaut of a shooter franchise.
However, several key members of the 343 team--specifically franchise development director Frank O’Connor, executive producer Kiki Wolfkill (aka the greatest name is gaming history), and creative director Josh Holmes--met with the press last week during Microsoft's Xbox 360 Spring Showcase to shed a little light on 343's overarching plan for the next phase in the Halo saga and give us our first in-game look at Halo 4.
It should come as no surprise that it has been a significant challenge trying to figure out how to take an established and beloved series like Halo and give it a fresh and innovative voice unique to 343, especially given the legacy that Bungie has established with Halo. Balancing what fans love about their space marine simulator with what 343 themselves want to see from the series going forward is no enviable task. Still, it does help explain why the team has taken an almost across the board stance of stripping Halo down to its core components and building from scratch everything surrounding those key pillars.
So in terms of gameplay, Halo 4 will be a much more visceral and physical experience than previous entries. Master Chief will move with more convincing weight this time and the stunning sound design from audio director Sotaro Tojima will make sure your ears understand that weight as well. Seriously, when our character jumped and landed in our demo, I could feel my bones rattle a little bit as if he had landed right beside me.
To whet our appetites for what the final experience will look and sound like in action, the 343 folks booted up one of Halo 4’s new multiplayer maps, Warhouse, a civilian manufacturing plant with a towering mech being built in the middle of it, for a super brief in-game demonstration.
As soon as the demo starts, there is no doubt we are looking at a Halo game. The battle rifle in the Spartan IV’s hand is new, but its sharp-lined design and distinct ammo indicator are undeniably Halo-ian. The same goes for the new, somehow cleaner looking HUD that wraps elegantly across the top and bottom of the screen.
Even in the relatively quick bit of gameplay we were shown, Halo 4 looks very much like what you’d expect the next/best looking Halo game to look. Sharper textures, better lighting, and all around more polish were to be expected, and they were all present and accounted for. The color pallet looks to be in line with previous games, but given how much 343 is talking about how much darker and “more sophisticated” the tone will be this time, I’d expect there will be a markedly grittier edge to the traditionally vibrant art direction.
When the Spartan walks along the metal catwalks of the space-based facility, his feet clunk as his metal foot collides with the metal grating. When he pulls the trigger, his gun lets out a crisp yet hefty roar that legitimately made me jump a little in my chair. As far as I’m concerned, and this is nothing against the game's improved visuals, but for me the audio design was the star of the gameplay demo. (Check out our panel write up from PAX 2011 for more info on why this statement isn’t totally random and absurd).
Next, we were shown a flythrough video of another new map, Wraparound, which is set on a Forerunner facility built to provide artificial sunlight for a nearby system. A thick fog hovers across the whole map with rays of fake sunlight cutting through it. The circular layout of the corridors feeds players into a centralized arena, which is where most of the action will take place.
All of the multiplayer maps have been “purpose built” from scratch. As a result, the maps will have a much better sense of flow and multiplayer will be decidedly faster and punchier than previous games. A lot of this newer feel will also have a great deal to do with how the multiplayer gameplay has evolved as well.
For starters, in addition to customizable loadouts, players will now be able to choose from an unspecified variety of abilities/perks that go far beyond the rather limited options seen in past games and that will “fundamentally change” how your character plays. Not surprisingly, 343 isn’t sharing any details on what this might mean just yet. You’ll also be able to once again fully customize the look of your Spartan as well.
Also, you now play as Spartan IVs, non-augmented soldiers who have volunteered for service; unlike Master Chief, a Spartan II, who was genetically altered to be a super soldier. While the Spartan IV’s don’t have the genetic boost that Chief does, they are still formidable soldiers. So when players assume the role of them in multiplayer, expect it to feel almost identical to the way Master Chief feels in single-player.
Also, as Josh Holmes cagily explained, multiplayer will also feature a “new way to experience multiplayer with your friends that’s unlike anything you’ve ever played before and allows you to make an impact on the story of the Halo universe.” Cryptic, no?
Your guess is as good as mine as to what this might mean as far as gameplay is concerned. Holmes and company went on to reveal that the single-player and multiplayer portions of Halo 4 will connect in some fashion, even beyond the carrying over of XP from one to the other. The fact that multiplayer will have a unique narrative this time around suggests perhaps some sort of cross-narrative linking between the SP and MP campaigns, perhaps even along the lines of Mass Effect 3’s co-op. Whether or not this has anything to do with the mysterious “new experience” remains to be seen.
Aside from teases about Master Chief facing off again a new mysterious and diabolical threat and the fact that it picks up directly following the events of Halo 3, little is known about Halo 4’s larger story. We know we’ll be getting to know a lot more about John 117, aka Master Chief, and his virtual lifesaver Cortana, but as for the conflicts that will forge these characters going forward is something we’ll hopefully find out more about moving into E3 2012 and beyond towards Halo 4’s release this holiday.