Halo 4: A Big Leap Forward For Master Chief?

I always felt like Microsoft's mega-hit Halo franchise let me travel, taking me to thrilling, never-before-seen vistas at crucial moments. Adventure-as-travel is a standard conceit within genre fiction but the imposing beauty of Combat Evolved's battlegrounds, the horror of various Flood-infested environments and shock of a ravaged, futuristic Earth stood out as high points on my video game passport.

Then came Halo: Reach. The mournful tour of that game's titular planet was a hell of a high note for developer Bungie to leave on, letting them wave goodbye in surprisingly poignant fashion as they left the fictional universe they created.

But that was two years ago, and while 2011's remastered Combat Evolved Anniversary was pretty, it was still a virtual place I'd been to before. I'm ready for Halo to take me to new places. And to show me new things. From what I saw of Halo 4 a few weeks ago, it seems like 343 Industries is ready to fulfil those desires.

Halo 4 isn't just giving you one world to explore in the continuation of Master Chief's saga. It's giving you a world within a world within a world. I saw parts of Halo 4's Forerunner level in my demo, which was played by 343 director Frank O'Connor. It's the third mission of the single-player campaign and it puts the iconic Spartan super-soldier starts near the core of a planet called Requiem. Concentric containment layers surround Requiem, O'Connor explained, like a smaller version of a Dyson sphere. My first thought as O'Connor spun the camera around was that 343 seems to be diving even deeper into the sci-fi aspect of the shooter series.

Requiem seems like a place that truly feels like you don't belong Soon after walking out onto the planet's surface, Master Chief was met by the Promethean Knights, one of the new enemy classes that players will facing up against in Halo 4. You've seen these guys before in various trailers for the game, but seeing them in action made them come across as really formidable.

The Knights command packs of Crawlers, smaller antagonists that attack in swarms. They climb walls and try to flank you, forcing you to assess threats all over your point-of-view. Knights can also summon Watchers that support the Promethean enemies with shields, healing and tractor beams that intercept grenades. Watching all of this unfold made Halo 4's combat appear more strategically varied than that of its predecessors.

But Chief's old enemies show up, too, and 343 are going out of their way to make the Covenant seem more alien in this Halo by no longer having them speak in English. They'll be fighting the Prometheans, too, which puts Master Chief in the middle of a two-front war. The game's new weapons look like they're tuned to offer more tactical options. The Boltshot is a pistol/shotgun hybrid that lets you fire charged rounds for greater distance and impact or a scatter of projectiles that atomizes enemies in close range.

Pulse grenades explode into a ranged effect that drains the health of enemies inside the blast radius. As evolved as the new armaments may be, O'Connor did say that at some point the enemy of my enemy might become your friend.

I've never found Master Chief to be the most compelling hero character. Yes, he's clearly in the mould of terse-and-tough protagonists like Dirty Harry where players never get to know terribly much about their internal make-up. While John-117 isn't going to be pouring his heart out in Halo 4, the relationship between he and Cortana takes centre stage in the game. I could hear some tremors of concern and even trepidation — mostly from Cortana, to be honest — in the dialogue that passed between the two characters, which again drove home that they'd landed someplace they aren't supposed treading on.

The new engine vaults the series' visuals forward significantly, with impressive cinematic tech for the cutscenes. For all the improvements in Halo 4, 343 clearly holds a high level of reverence for Bungie's work on the Master Chief franchise. But they also realise that preserving the series' fiction or gameplay in amber isn't feasible. Requiem seems more alive than any Halo environment players have marched through so far in the series. You're not supposed to be here and it feels like you're going to have a hell of a time rooting out the cosmic mystery at the heart of the planet's existence.

As the demo wasn't hands-on, I don't know what the journey is going to feel like. But the postcards make me more interested in booking a ticket than I was before.


Comments

    God damn I'm so excited for this! From all the footage I've seen so far, I really hope it gives that sense of 'new and unexplored' just as Halo CE did so many years ago :D

    I must be the only one who thought Reach was a huge let down, and a real low point for the Halo series in terms of almost everything. The story was shockingly bad/underused, the levels felt meandering and pointless... I'm actually excited to be going back to Chief just because of the super funtimes associated with Halo 1 2 and 3, and the let downs that were ODST and Reach.

      I feel Reach copped far more flak than it should have, and ODST didn't cop enough.

        You kidding? ODST got bashed left and right.

        Though, in my opinion, it was a much much better game than Reach was. Microsoft just shouldn't have charged full price for it.

          Agreed.

          I thought Reach was a very fine game. I don't understand the haters, except to know that most of them are young, and well, haters are hater. Going on about "bloom" and "armour lock" as if these things are truly important.

          ODST (apart from Firefight, the pistol and SMG) was a poor game. It was a truly bad idea to garner favour with geeks by adding celebrity voice talent. And the level padding, oh my. Level after level of fighting Brute packs, yaaawn.

            I would think that most of the "haters" aren't in fact young. Most of the people who dislike Reach are long-time fans who feel as if the bloom and armor abilities took away from the multiplayer experience as a whole. I have played since Halo 1 and I feel that Reach was a slap in the face to the competitive aspect of the Halo franchise. Everything from the ranking system to "class based" gameplay has attempted to make the series more adaptable to casual players and "youngsters".

          That's crazy loco! ;) Reach was a vastly superior game. (And certainly better than the very ordinary Halo 2.)

          ODST would have made for passable DLC, if they'd cut it down in size, reduced the padding.

      I agree about Reach, you're spot on about the underused story and meandering levels; it was a big waste of potential in my opinion, though Reach itself was a fantastic locale. I felt there was a serious lack of drive and engagement to the narrative, combined with fairly pedestrian gameplay.

      ODST on the other hand I absolutely adore, I feel it's the best Halo campaign and the visual design of the city environment was as memorable as Half-Life 2 for me. I've never understood the criticism really.

        ODST defiantely has the best campaign in a Halo game. The mood is pitch perfect - it has a very unique feel to it's atmosphere and pacing which I thought was really great. It's also quite short, which I actually liked. It feels like a good movie :)

    And multiplayer is looking more and more promising too. We could have a revival on our hands!

    As someone who thoroughly enjoyed playing through Halo 1 on PC when it first became available, and then purchasing an Xbox HUEG purely for Halo 2, I can not help but feel disgustingly ripped off that Microsoft never chose to bring the Halo series to PC, where it started.

    It really does feel like they shit on half their consumers. I was JUST okay with having to fork out the extra money for the Xbox, when I wanted to play Halo 2, but then they bring out Halo 3 and expect me to buy a 360 when I still have the fully functioning computer I played Halo 1 on. It just doesn't feel right.

    If they had done it right, I bet PC Halo series players would be some of their biggest fans.
    I know that they've released three-four games for the 360 but I am just not going to upgrade consoles for one series. I am a proud PC gamer, I like my modding options and extended graphics support.

    I don't buy games where Windows Live or Microsoft are concerned anymore, which is sad, because I did like Halo.

      Halo never started on PC, it was always an Xbox launch title. It wasn't until 2 years after the Xbox launch that it was ported to Windows and OS X. Frankly, it showed - poor performance and very average graphics for PC at the time.

      You also don't play Skyrim on the same PC you played Morrowind on, so your comparisons to Halo 3 on the same hardware as Halo 1 doesn't fly. There was enough of a graphical improvement to Halo 3 (even over Halo 2) to warrant new hardware. I love modding tools and graphics settings on PC as much as the next guy, but to bring it up in regards to a console game is irrelevant.

      I think another reason they decided to forget about the PC and focus on the Xbox was because of the chief's popularity on the console. Spartan 117 and the "Halo" franchise are synonymous with Xbox, and I'm sure when that phenomenon started and the popularity began to skyrocket, they recognized it immediately and capitalized on it. It's just good marketing. Think about Mario or Sonic, they're immortalized mascots for both a brand and an era, and in the same fashion, Microsoft wants to keep theirs as strongly associated with Xbox as possible.

    I am so excited about finally getting to play as master chief again. Its been forever, definitely going to need to replay halo 3 again before this releases.

    Definately cannot wait for Halo 4 to be released. I have all the games so far and I preordered the legendary edition because this game is everything to me. No doubt I love other series, CoD is great and I can't wait for Half Life 2 Episode 3. It's killing me waiting for it. But the stuff they have shown so far for Halo 4 has me absolutely pumped. I'm going to play through all the games in chronological order before I even touch Halo 4 to really immerse myself in the storyline before hand. It's going to be awesome.

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