An In-Depth Look at Halo 4 @ E3 2012

An In-Depth Look at Halo 4 @ E3 2012

  • By: CM Boots-Faubert
  • Posted 26th Jul 2012

Halo 4

The first taste that the world had for Halo 4 came in the form of a demo trailer on the big screen at the Microsoft Xbox Pre-E3 Press Briefing -- a video and demo that not only highlights the game play in Halo 4 but also offered a revealing glimpse into just what happened to the Master Chief between Halo 3 and Halo 4, and how he ends up back in the loop as it were, and an active member of the resistance once again!

The focus of the demo/trailer was to highlight the single-player story mode side of the game, and in doing so we not only had the opportunity to see how game play was structured in the next Halo, but we also received a taste of some of the enemy -- old and new -- that we would be encountering in the game, among which is a new sort of enemy from a faction other than the ones we have so far experienced, and later in the presentation process on the show floor this was fleshed out even further in order to firmly reinforce the fact that the new element -- which is called the Prometheans -- will serve as a mixture to the additional Forerunner tech that will have a much more significant (but so far unstated) impact on the game and the story this time around.

The Halo 4 experience on the show floor was focused almost entirely on the multi-player and co-op side of the game -- no surprise there, that was how they did it in previous years with the other games -- and the hands-on portion largely consisted of the Spartan Ops Mode, and the all new War Games Mode (which is the competitive multi-player mode), and while we would have really liked to take a bite into the first level of the story mode, what we saw in Spartan Ops and War Game was more than enough to demonstrate that there will be no disappointments with the next Halo in spite of concerns among the community.

The origins of the undercurrent of worry with respect to Halo 4 largely spring from the worry over the development side of things -- and the fact that Bungee has pretty much removed itself from the Halo franchise, turning their iconic baby over to the newly-formed development house 343 Industries. Bearing in mind that the game that Bungee built made it through not only its first three-story-arc trilogy and the spin-offs and prequel titles having set a very high bar indeed with respect to treatment, story, and the characters, so fans of the series will be relieved to learn that everything that we have seen from 343 at the show, from the Microsoft Presser reveal, the public demo, and the private briefing has served to reinforce the notion that 343 knows what it is doing and, far from simply managing to deliver a game to open the next three-story-arc that meets with expectations, is bent upon wowing the faithful by out-Halo-ing Halo!

In that respect the new game engine combined with the stunning art in the game certainly helps -- in fact it is fair to characterize it as almost a shock-and-awe effect -- but the important bit from the game journo point of view as we took in what was on display and then retreated to the press room to eat lunch and tear apart what we saw in discussion with each other was the simple fact that other than the very cool and more advanced bits (that only serve to make the experience more intense) we could not really tell that it was another studio doing the game -- which if you think about it is pretty much a compliment to 343.

The Hands-On Demo

While more than a few of us were sort of expecting to see at least a bit of the story mode as part of the hands-on demo, the fact that we did not was easily overshadowed by what we did get to play with, which was Spartan Ops and War Game.

Spartan Ops is basically a four-player cooperative mode in which in place of the wave-based play that we know so well from Firefight Mode in the previous game we are instead given a highly-structured mission-based challenge that, far from being a simple co-op romp turned out to be a sort of fusion of the usual hunt-and-kill setting with goals that reward strategic cooperative play. Now we don't have to tell you that is pretty cool, and yet here we are telling you that is pretty cool!

While this has not been fully confirmed yet, the word was passed by our hosts that in addition to the weekly and monthly challenges that will be a foundation for the online multi-player side of the game, the Spartan Ops Mode will get its own love and support in that regard, and they say that the program of challenges and new maps/story elements will be an ongoing process, and not simply a tow or three month and then nothing sort of deal following release. The ongoing content will be structured as episodic, and will include multiple elements -- we heard it said that they will come in a series of four or five bite-sized missions per episode, and they will include a comprehensive piece of video that will tie everything together so as to present it as a story rather than a disembodied set of missions, and we have to admit that has us pretty excited.

The complexity of the mission we were allowed to play seems to be a balanced approach, as players are not entirely dependant upon organizing their mates to play the sessions -- the co-op mode is completely fitted into the online pickup system, so gamers will be able to play in much the same fashion as they did with Firefight, but better, since the co-op mode has elements of the story-mode play in its style, challenge, and to some extent, its weapon and kit load-outs.

Speaking of the weapons in the game, there are naturally some new ones and some new-old ones -- meaning new weapons to us but presented as old-tech in the game. In fact some of the weapons we got to play with during our hands-on time in the game struck us as almost un-Halo like in their form and power, but then we have to remind ourselves that we only had a brief time to play -- too brief to be declaring a considered opinion about anything really other than a general impression of play, which we have to admit is favorable in every respect, and left us wanting more, which is always a good sign.

One other service that the co-op play provided was reassurance that the new enemy in the game will not turn out to be a disappointment... Whenever an established game series makes a change -- and putting what is basically an AI enemy into a major role in the game certainly qualifies as a change -- there is going to be concerns, but from what we experienced (and what we saw in the public briefing the day before E3 and the private briefing at E3) there is no need to worry. The enemy is there, they are good at making us dead, and they will certainly present the sort of challenge that has become the highwater mark for the series.

A Return of the Forge

Forge is making a return in Halo 4! The Forge Mode, which is being created by Certain Affinity (the same developer that did Halo: Reach Map Packs and Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition), a group that has demonstrated that when it comes to Halo they know their stuff. Perhaps it would be enough to just know that Forge is returning, but how about a Forge that has been tweaked and upgraded to take into account the plethora of wants, wishes, and suggestions that series fans have requested? Yes, that is in there, with new and enhanced features that make the process of not only creating maps but updating and adding to them oh so much easier.

In addition to tweaks too numerous to mention, one of the very cool changes that they have made to the Forge manifests itself in the map editing process -- anyone who really got into creating maps in the previous game will recall that the act of editing a map that you have already completed was fraught with peril as placing new objects often upset old ones and messed with the layout. Well, that is no longer a concern with the new Forge, because objects can be locked into place! Not only that, but the new editor includes copy and paste, and the ability to select an object already in place in order to place more of them on the map, which basically brings Forge on par with the best of the modern game map editors.

In the End

Perhaps the best aspect of E3 is that it presents a cornucopia of gaming goodness and provides us with insight into an incredible number of games that are in the pipeline and soon to be the next big thing -- but that is also the worse part of E3 at least when we find ourselves presented with what are truly iconic and important games and, naturally, we do not get as much time with them, or receive as much information about them, as we would like. But honestly even if they had dedicated hours and revealed the secrets of the game, it still would not have felt like enough because it never does, but that is the nature of the beast.

If that sounds like there was no satisfaction to be had, that would be wrong. We were very satisfied with what we saw, and what we experienced -- and if we collectively sighed and wished for more, well, that is all to the better because it suggests that what we saw was so good that more would be better -- and in the end the highest compliment we can pay then is that they presented us with the next Halo game and it was, recognizably, the next Halo game.

Halo 4 is being created by 343 Industries and will appear exclusively on the Xbox 360 with an official release date of November 6, 2012. Halo 4 is the first of a new trilogy of Halo series games called the "Reclaimer Trilogy" and once again presents the Master Chief as the protagonist.