Playing Halo 4 was a very interesting experience. It represents not only a new beginning for the franchise, but also over a decade of console FPS dominance in a new package.
Being a Halo fan myself, I didn’t expect to be playing a reskinned version of Halo 3 or something that felt completely different like Halo ODST. Halo 4 appears to be more than a continuation of a legendary franchise or simple fanservice to sell a game. 343 Industries seems to try to bring an experience that is brand new to the series but feels completely familiar to the fans that have supported it for so long.
At PAX, only multiplayer modes were present on the show floor. The mode I was able to play was the Capture the Flag gametype, which is the same as previous versions. Perhaps it isn’t that surprising, but Halo 4 does not feel exactly the same as the previous five games. The staple Assault Rifle and DMR feel pretty much the same, while one of my all-time favorite weapons, the Battle Rifle, handles a little different. I had a ten-minute match to get the hang of things again and by the end I was BR-ing a little more like my old self.
But there are some things I am uncertain about with the game. Maybe its combat effectiveness has been reduced or scope is different. Or it could be the new hit-markers that have been added. I’m not sure what it was, but it feels a bit unusual to be playing Halo 4.
With that being said, Halo 4 was still a blast to play. Combat pacing was similar with the most successful players using range and smart tactics to their advantage. Fans will be happy to hear the Sniper Rifle and Rocket Launcher are just as devastating as before, while new weapons like the SAW will demolish foes at close to medium range. Unfortunately, there were a number of weapons present that I couldn’t get my hands on, but from what I’ve seen, gamers will not be disappointed by the selection of arms at their disposal.
Vehicles were present on the map as well, including returning favorites like the Banshee, Scorpion, Warthog, and Mongoose. The one unannounced vehicle that was present was the Gauss Warthog, a vehicle that has a devastating railgun mounted on the back. Although I never was able to pilot a vehicle myself, 343 Industries said at their Halo 4 panel that the driving controls were switched over from the Halo Reach controls, which were admittedly clunky, in favor of the simpler Halo 3 controls.
The new visuals and audio were fantastic. Halo 4 really looks like it jumped a console generation in comparison to Halo Reach. The new textures are clear while the color palette is much more varied and bright. There are many more visual effects that make it stand out from previous games in the series. While I thought the new audio gave Halo 4 a cleaner sound and a distinct feel, I did run into a major problem. I had a bug that caused the lowered shield beeping sound to ring through my ears for almost the entire game. The sounds I did briefly hear were very mechanized and sharp, but it was unfortunate that I couldn’t hear more of the game’s audio.
There were also some other new noticeable differences like displaying weapons on the HUD and the class creation before matches. Each player is allowed to outfit their Spartan with a primary weapon, secondary, grenade, and three abilities. The abilities range from Promethean Vision (which grants seeing through walls at short range), unlimited Sprint, dodging, and a deployable shield to block incoming attacks. The new abilities will create some interesting strategies in the upcoming months.
Finally, I didn’t get to try any of these modes, but I attended the Halo Reborn panel where they showed off some of the new modes of Halo 4. The two modes that were played live onstage at the panel were returning from previous games: Oddball and Grifball.
Oddball is a keep-away mode that is going to try and introduce more team involvement by allowing throws to teammates. 343 Industries also said they were designing maps specifically around the mode, which is something that had not been done in previous games.
On the other hand, Grifball is a sport popularized through a playlist in Halo 3. The highly-important Hammer was demoed and seems to have a very satisfying thud to it. There were some important gameplay tweaks discussed, such as a ball reset after scoring, and new maneuvers, including smashing the ball with the Hammer to send it sailing across to teammates.
After seeing the amount of effort the entire team at 343 Industries is putting into Halo 4 and how badly they want to please fans, it’s seeming less and less likely that the Master Chief’s return to gaming will be anything but a smashing success.
Halo 4 will be released November 6, 2012, for Xbox 360.
[Screenshots via Halo.com]