Halo 4: A Hands-On Preview by a PS3 Journo
My editor thinks he’s funny, but I get the last laugh
by Nicholas Capozzoli
©2012 Nicholas Capozzoli
My editor has asked that I, devout Playstation gamer and archbishop of the church of Kevin Butler, preview Halo 4, an exclusive 360 title.
I’d be a tad worried for his sanity, but it’s possible that he was hoping for a fresh look at a series that has been such an ingrained feature of the Xbox for two gaming generations.
Either that or he thought it would be fun to taunt me with a game I will not be able to play on release.
Well, for better or worse, here are my thoughts on how Halo 4 looks to be shaping up.
Before you go to crucify me in the comments section, please know that I’ve always admired the Halo series, and I’ve at least a little experience with the games to my name.
All things considered, I’ve now actually had a decent amount of time with Halo 4, even among my fellow writers here at OXCGN.
In addition to firsthand coverage at Microsoft’s conference and demo time at E3, I was lucky enough to attend a “VIP” event for Halo 4 at the Exchange nightclub in Los Angeles to see what the game looks like after you’ve overindulged at a comped bar (spoiler: kinda blurry).
Now that Halo 4 was playable at last weekend’s RTX 2012, and new details emerged at San Diego Comic-Con, it’s a good time to review what we know about the game, and what impressions I’ve managed to garner from my time with controller in hand.
Since playing through Halo 2 in 2004, my firsthand experience with the series begins and ends with noting that the RFI in Infamous 2 looks like Guilty Spark.
I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed Halo 2, though I do recall losing the beat a bit when Master Chief started parlaying with the plant from Little Shop of Horrors.
I’m a bit more up to date now, though brain capacity limitations forced me to discard my knowledge of differential calculus to make room for what a “Kig-yar” is. I hope you’re happy.
AI: Artificial Insanity
Indeed, most of the reveals to this date, and our own experiences with the game, have been focused primarily on the multiplayer, and the new “Spartan Ops” cooperative mode.
We’ve seen that events in 343 Industries‘ new trilogy will focus on the mysterious Forerunners, and we’ve seen that neither they, nor the planet of Requiem, appear all that welcoming to Master Chief or the humans aboard the UNSC Infinity.
I have to say that I’m a little skeptical of the “Cortana going insane” subplot that Halo 4 looks to be introducing. It strikes me as a bit contrived.
It can be off-putting when one can too-easily read a designer’s hand at work behind a game, and this narrative choice seems to have been jerry-rigged on in the name of “adding something a little different”.
I just can’t shake the feeling that the idea of AI’s going insane after 7 years is a bit…well…artificial.
Spec Ops…I mean Spartan Ops
Putting aside Halo 4‘s campaign mode for a bit, our hands-on time has been with the game’s robust “War Games” competitive and “Spartan Ops” cooperative multiplayer modes (the latter sounds rather like “Spec Ops”…is nothing safe from Call of Duty‘s influence?).
Both have left quite a strong first impression.
The Spartan Ops “episodes” will see a regular drip of content after Halo 4‘s release. San Diego Comic-Con brought the reveal that content will extent for ten weeks post release, with each week including five new missions.
Each drop adds storyline content through gameplay and cutscenes.
While the cutscene that preceded our demo of the mode was an anime placeholder, I actually found it to be pretty neat. Obviously, it speaks well to the final version of Halo 4 that the placeholder content is already compelling.
Once that cinematic finishes, you’re dropped onto Requiem to do your thing.
In this case, that meant getting to a point of interest, and then defending it from attackers. My teammates dutifully moved towards the destination, taking on the enemies in the way. I brought up the tail end, too focused on looking around and taking in the surroundings to be much of a help.
What I was most struck by is just how smooth the game looks; “silky” seems like an apt modifier here.
I may be an Xbox neophyte, but I’ve certainly seen my share of shooters, and Halo 4 easily stands out for its visuals.
Halo vs Killzone
While I appreciate the grittiness of the former’s hi-fi graphics, the latter impresses with a cleaner, but no less remarkable look.
There’s no dizzying motion blur, or pronounced rocking motion to simulate the effect of running.
Textures have a high contrast that makes them easy to differentiate at a glance, and the environments lack clutter in both the literal and figurative sense.
The glowing neons that color Halo 4‘s particle effects and bullet trails look snazzy, and help to make battles easy to process visually.
Regarding their behavior, they’re a mixed bag.
Promethean Knights are challenging, and they flit around the battlefield quite a bit. Watchers are an oddity, acting largely in a support role and augmenting other enemies around them. The Crawler, however, seems to just be brainless cannon fodder. While they attack in large numbers, they seem to spend a lot of time idling, making them rather easy to kill.
Lock and load
From among the Forerunner arsenal, the standout is a powerful new energy shotgun, whose pellets ricochet off of walls. There’s also the Light Rifle, a sort of hybrid battle rifle that alternates fire depending upon whether it’s shot from the hip, or down the sights.
Turrets can again be ripped off of their posts for a mobile minigun, which I made use of to great effect in my Spartan Ops playthrough.
My teammates drew the attention of an attacking group of Crawlers as I mowed them down from an overwatch position on a nearby structure.
In addition to the Forerunner shotgun, I was also eager to try the DMR: a returning single-shot rifle from Halo: Reach that’s suitable for medium-to-long encounters.
My love for single-shot, mid-range rifles stems from weapons like Call of Duty‘s FAL/MK14, or Killzone 2‘s Sta14 (my favorite gun in any video game, period). I’ll admit though, the DMR didn’t provide me with the returns I was hoping for.
With Halo 4‘s longer time-to-kill, I had trouble making use of such a weapon. Players with more familiarity with Halo‘s mechanics will undoubtedly find the weapons more accommodating, however.
While I think I’ve performed admirably at the mode considering my unfamiliarity, I’m awed by the abilities of some of the Halo veterans that I’ve watched.
Many were present at the E3 Halo 4 nightclub event; I made a drinking game of sorts where I’d take a sip whenever one particularly skilled player got a kill. When his killstreak hit 30, I decided to abandon the endeavor.
What was remarkable was the familiarity that he, and many others, had with Halo 4 only minutes after picking up a controller. Even with other shooter sequels, I typically experience a bit of a “breaking in” process as I acclimate myself to the new surroundings and weapons.
With Halo 4, most people seem to take up right where they’ve left off, and I’d call that a success for 343 Industries.
I think that their foundation has easily met the standards that fans have come to expect from Bungie’s entries.
I’m excited to see what else they can build onto it.
I’m sure my editor has had a good laugh at my expense, hanging me out here for all the world to see my Halo newbishness.
But I’m not going to complain; I’ve been thoroughly impressed with what I’ve seen from Halo 4. Will I finally buy a 360 for this title?
I’m certainly not going to tell him if I do..
©2012 Nicholas Capozzoli
Follow Nick on Twitter at @NickCapozzoli for quips and musings about what it’s like to write about games, and the industry at large.
Filed under: 1st Party Titles, 3rd Party Games, Console gaming, Demo impressions, E3 2012, Game Impressions, Microsoft Games, New Game Information, New Xbox 360 Games, Oxcgn Special feature, Xbox 360, Xbox 360 Game Previews, Xbox 360 News, Xbox 3rd party exclusives Tagged: | 360, Halo, Halo 4, Halo 4 Preview, Halo War Games, Master Chief, Microsoft, Spartan Ops, Xbox 360