Halo 4

Halo 4 Campaign Hands-On Preview - The Hardest Halo Yet? Me Thinks So!

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Before I go on further, let me start by clarifying a few things: I have completed Halo 1, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo: ODST and Halo Reach, all on legendary and all on my lonesome. Despite all of that Halo experience, upon going hands-on with Halo 4, one thing struck us about the title and that was how hard it's shaping up to be. And we only played it on normal difficulty as well!

If you ask 343 Industries' Frank O'Connor, he'll tell you that's because of the new enemies and us not being used to their nuances just yet. If you ask us, we'll agree somewhat, but we'll probably tell you that it's because the AI of the new enemies is pretty damn relentless and will not let up until the big MC is in a body bag. No more hiding behind a rock to let that shield regenerate, folks! And before you say “being hard isn't a bad thing,” you’re right. It's just the one thing that really struck us about 343's foray into the latest Master Chief tale. That's not to say we died a lot during our hands-on either, it’s to say that we had to think a little more about our surroundings and our tactics. Let me elaborate…

Taking place 4 years, 7 months and 10 days – yes, we like to be precise – after the events of Halo 3, Halo 4 picks up exactly where our gruff hero finished the fight: in stasis in a giant test tube aboard the Forward Unto Dawn frigate. With a surge of activity on the UNSC light-frigate, Chief's trusty sidekick Cortana, fresh with a more accentuated chest and curvaceous figure - she must have had a hardware upgrade, if you know what I mean! - is forced into bringing the Chief back into action.

"Wake me when you need me," the Chief once said… “Wake up, Chief, I need you!” harps Cortana in the opening few minutes of the game.

Much like the opening sequences of Halo 1, Halo 4 sees Master Chief fight his way through the mechanical inner workings of a floating death trap, in this instance, the UNSC Forward Unto Dawn. With the Covenant invading and docking the ship, Chief naturally questions the presence of them following the armistice between the two races. A lot can happen in almost 5 years, but these aren't your typical Covenant bunch, and the fact that they don’t recognise Chief poses more questions than it answers. This new crop of alien scum are more aggressive, a tad more raw, a little dumber and more impatient. These aren’t the organised foes we’re used to.

The first chapter sees you, very nostalgically, cleaning out docking bays, kicking grunt and Elite ass, unjamming blast doors, hitting switches…you know, the usual Halo stuff. That’s where everything changed for us. Sure, the opening chapter is that classic Halo experience, but jumping forward to chapter 3, it's abundantly clear how new an experience 343's first proper outing truly is.

Chapter 3 sees us head to the core of Requiem, a supposed Forerunner planet, as the Chief is tasked with shutting down a series of pylons to save the UNSC Infinity from its impending doom. First things first, the level is absolutely huge and takes well over an hour to complete and is a good example of the “Promethean sandbox,” as 343 is calling it. It’s broken down into multiple stages: stage one, take out the first pylon; stage two, take out the second pylon; stage three, head to the relay satellite. While the two largely similar stages have the same objective, 343 has managed to keep them both rather fresh. The first pylon, for instance, focuses largely on on-foot sections, while the second pylon throws vehicles – mainly Ghosts and Banshees – into the mix.

This is, of course, our first real experience of combat situations with the Prometheans, and it’s where our insinuation that this could potentially be the hardest Halo yet comes into its own. The first of the creatures we come up against are the metallic, savage, dog-like beasts, the Promethean Crawlers, who can not only fire at long-range, but are relentless at short range too. They often work together in packs and look to give you no respite. That means when you want to hide behind something to restore your field, they’ll often come and find you to spoil the party. Then there’s the Promethean Knights, who are effectively Elite-style Prometheans with heavy armour and lots of firepower. If that wasn’t bad enough, you’ll find the floating Promethean Watchers protecting them, sentinel-like beasts who can summon Crawlers, repair and protect Knights, and more annoyingly, when they’re close to death they fly off to repair themselves before getting back into the thick of battle. Combine all three of those together and it can get a tad tricky. Yes, even on normal.

The fact that you’re in a three-way war of sorts can make the gameplay a little easier at times though and definitely poses more questions: why are the Covenant going after the relay? Why are these other two races at war with one another? And so on. The fact that the Covenant will engage in full-out war with the Prometheans allows the Chief to apply a few more tactics on the field – for instance, letting them wipe each other out, or at least thin each other out, is a good tactic, but sneaking round and assassinating the more powerful Promethean Knights from behind is an even better solution. Plus, the assassination animations of taking down a Knight is something to behold and soak up. Brilliant and brutal.

Then there’s the Promethean arsenal; a selection of weapons that easily have some of the best reload animations of any guns and rifles in the history of video games – they were that impressive that after we’d cleared the area of immediate danger, we’d fire them and reload just to marvel at their sheer awesomeness. In essence, the Promethean range of weapons have human and Covenant counterparts they can be likened to and are obviously rather similar to. The Boltshot is like the bastard child of a magnum and plasma pistol, with a powerful charge as a secondary fire mode. The Suppressor is a more fierce and erratic UNSC assault rifle. The Light Rifle is essentially a burst-fire sniper rifle. Like any Halo weapon, they all have their time and place to be used and they’ll definitely take the place of many of the Halo world stalwarts.

One of the more concerning aspects of the sandbox is the lack of signposts though. There’s usually a lot to do in these sections, whether it’s to take out three shield cores or make your way through heavily populated and wide-open areas to the pylon itself, so the fact that the signposts are a little lacking at times is quite disconcerting. Funnily enough, we got there eventually without them anyway. We’re not sure how though.

Reaching the final stage of the level also introduced the game’s antagonist: a huge, grotesque Forerunner beast, who is also the commander of the Prometheans. His introduction is fairly startling, as he has the verbose and hyperbolic crazy-man chatter that is synonymous with all good super villains and he’s a huge monstrous figure… In short, he’s the perfect Halo antagonist. Better than that floating octopus, anyway.

If I'm being perfectly honest though, the Halo story hasn't been as gripping since the mighty tin can, also known as Master Chief, left the franchise either. ODST failed to make us care for the characters we were meant to be saving; and Reach... well, we all knew the bloody ending before it started, which makes it hard to care for that rag tag squadron of Spartans who are all going to see their final day while we're at the controller. No matter how much we wanted to, it was a big ask from Bungie. I mention this for the simple fact that Halo 4 doesn't have the most engaging of starts, but come the end of chapter 3 you'll be on the edge of your seat hankering to see where this new tale is going to take you. No spoilers here folks, but let's just say that the new villain's appearance, some startling revelations and Master Chief's ascension to the planet's surface perfectly sets up what is surely shaping up to be an epic Halo experience this November. Seriously.

Halo 4 is scheduled for a November 6th release.


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Game Info
343 Industries


US November 06, 2012

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