Halo 4’s launch is just over a month away, so VG247’s Dave Cook checks out two full campaign levels, Spartan Ops and multiplayer.
“Ready to get back to work?”
Master Chief pops Cortana a hypothetical as he emerges from his four-year cryo sleep and starts blasting Covenant as if nothing has changed. It’s business as usual for the Spartan, and the same can be said for developer 343 Industries.
Although Halo 4 is the studio’s first crack at the franchise, it wasn’t about to take everything Bungie had built and turn it into something different, just to match a military shooter-obsessed industry.
As Chief blasts his way through the fractured bowels of the UNSC Forward Unto Dawn, you ease into the experience, and all of the old gameplay traits and tactics start coming back.
The ship is under attack by Covenant forces. They attack the same as they did in previous Halo games, use the exact same weapons and come with the same AI. It’s an ingenious tutorial stage, because just when you get comfortable again, 343 pulls the rug out from underneath you.
Throw out what you thought you knew about fighting Halo’s alien menace, because Halo 4’s main enemies the Prometheans are a more aggressive and ruthless bunch. When you first encounter them on the game’s mysterious metal planet, you’d be forgiven for thinking that someone had upped the difficulty while you weren’t looking.
Old tactics won’t work against these guys, because 343’s enemy AI is whip smart, enabling foes to truly work together as an organised, lethal unit. Despite beating relatively weak, the airborne Watchers are perhaps your biggest threat as they’re the medics of the Promethean ranks.
They hover just above enemies, flitting back and forth quickly – which isn’t ideal seeing as all Promethean weapons come with bullet delay – and they wait for you to attack before repairing enemies that shoot, deploying hard light shields in front of your targets and tossing away your grenades.
They’re a total pain in the bollocks, but after a while you get into the groove and start realising new ways to take them down with ease. Go for them first, that’s the golden rule here. But on top of Watchers you have Knights and Crawlers.
Crawlers are comparable to Wretches in Gears of War. They scuttle along the ground and up walls, firing at you with Boltshot pistols and the unarmed variety even explode when they get near you, so melee strikes aren’t really an option here. They’re pesky and come in large packs.
Knights are the toughest, smartest enemies of the bunch. There are a few flavours of these guys but they all pack powerful guns, from the Suppressor assault weapon to the ranged Light Rifle. They can also teleport out of harm’s way whenever their shields drop, so you really do need to give chase before they regenerate or a Watcher heals them.
All three enemy classes force you to push on fast and with precision, especially when there are Watchers about. So how does Chief go about killing these tricky buggers? The only way he knows how – with a shitload of guns.
New Weapons, Firearms In Disguise.
Say the above line to the tune of the Transformers cartoon theme song. We mean it, these are some seriously cool guns that – like the Prometheans that wield them – are robotic, and come with transforming reload animations that would make Michael Bay’s trousers grow tight.
As we mentioned before, Promethean weapons come with bullet delay so you need to improve your aim if you have a hope in hell of surviving the campaign. The Boltshot is your standard pistol but it fires faster and straighter than most weapons in the game, so it’s not weak by any means.
The Scattershot is a mean shotgun that spews glowing orange rounds across a massive spread and at great speed. It’s slow to reload though so using it when being pursued by a pack of Crawlers isn’t advised. It also has bullet delay, which is odd for a shotgun.
The Suppressor is your standard assault rifle and it comes with a ferocious rate of fire that tears through Promethean shields, but again, that bullet say makes hitting Watchers difficult unless you get close. So you’ll ideally want to get them at range.
Speaking of which the Light Rifle is Halo 4’s new sniper rifle and it’s a beast. It has less bullet delay that other weapons but it’s a slow shot per round, so picking targets well is advised.
On top of that, you also have the same load-out of Covenant weapons thrown into the mix because at the start of the campaign, the Covenant show up and start waging war on the Prometheans. So, here’s what you really wanted to know – the story.
The Eye of Light
We’ve saved the campaign story details until now, because it really is vital to stress how different the new weapons and enemies feel, even if most of the gameplay mechanics remain unchanged. Hopefully any fears you had about 343 rail-roading the franchise – from a gameplay perspective at least – have been put to rest.
So then, Chief awakens four years after the events of Halo 3, on board the UNSC Forward Unto Dawn, a hulking space cruiser that is drifting listlessly in the darkest regions of space. Thanks to a mysterious scanner that begins sweeping the ship, Cortana activates and gets Chief back in the game.
You then guide Chief to an elevator shaft that you climb up in first-person, shimmying left and right to dodge debris. It’s sort of like Mirror’s Edge but without the red glowy things. Anyway, once you get to the ship’s bridge the Covenant appear, you whip out your assault rifle and start wasting them. Luckily they don’t speak English in this game, so Grunts aren’t laughably shit any more.
With the Covenant dispatched you see what was causing the red scanning light earlier. It’s the Forerunner world – a massive metallic planet that serves as Halo 4’s main environment. It’s absolutely massive, and it starts to open up, sucking you in with a powerful gravity well.
As the light pierces through the ship, you turn tail and sprint back the way you came as the ship crumples and disintegrates around you. Chief’s dash to the escape pods is cut short as an explosion knocks him out into space and into the planet’s vacuum.
The game’s title then flies up on the screen along with some thunderous and impressive music. It’s one hell of an opening stage, and it shows that 343 isn’t messing around. But what’s on the other side of that glowing light?
Suck it, Cybertron
Our campaign hands-on then skips to Halo 4’s third mission, which takes place in a rocky, metallic environment that smacks of High Moon’s depiction of Cybertron in its Transformer titles. It’s darker than the typical Halo environments you’re used to, and packs a real sense of menace.
Cortana patches a radio message to Chief from the UNSC Infinity, a friendly cruiser fast approaching the Forerunner planet. It’s homing in on the Forward Unto Dawn’s last known location, and if Chief doesn’t hurry, the ship and its crew will be sucked into the world as well.
So the race is on to disable the planet’s gravity well, and to do that you’ll have to blast your way to two beam generators and shut them down. The Prometheans start emerging slowly and in small waves.
First the Crawlers come, then a few Knights, and before you know it, you’re running round huge open areas taking on about 20-30 enemies at once. This leaves you free to approach the beam generators as you see fit, similar to large areas in previous Halo titles.
As we said before, the Prometheans pose a real challenge and their tactics may take some getting used to, but it all comes with practice. Then the Covenant arrive and start battling Promethean forces, causing all hell to break loose.
Wading through a skirmish between both sides is utterly chaotic, as you skirt in and out of about 30 enemies battling each other at once, picking off straddlers or anyone in your way. In the end you’ll have to clear the area to pass, but if you’re smart you can avoid detection and get them to mostly kill each other off first.
We fight our way through many of these encounters before reaching the end of the stage. We won’t spoil what happens at the end because trust us, you don’t want to know yet. All we can say is that the plot has us intrigued, and Cortana’s glitching in particular has us wanting to know more. So what comes after Campaign? Multiplayer of course.
Us Against The World
We’ll keep this section brief because if you know Halo well, you already know how Halo 4’s multiplayer handles. At its core the gameplay remains unchanged, but you’re given a new set of tools, modes, vehicles and maps to enjoy. First off, we played a Spartan Ops mission.
If you aren’t familiar with Spartan Ops, it’s a 10-week season of co-op missions that tell their own story. In fact 343’s Frank O’Connor told us before our session that the studio likens this season to watching Breaking Bad or Lost. It’s full of cliffhangers and plot twists to keep you hooked.
We didn’t see much, but we tried ‘Land Grab’ – a vehicular skirmish in a rocky plain, and ‘Sniper Alley’ – a mad canyon environment littered with overwhelming Covenant forces. They’re big areas full of enemies, weapons and vehicles, so they’re ideal for a laugh in co-op.
Spartan Ops aside, we played a game of Team Slayer on a map we can’t officially reveal yet, but it was fun and best of all it felt at home in the Halo series, so again, if you like the franchise, you have a lot to look forward to come November 6th.
Stay tuned for our full Halo 4 interview with 343 Industries’ Frank O’ Connor soon. You won’t want to miss it.