Thursday, June 14, 2012
Unlike Microsoft’s Spring Showcase earlier on in the year - you know, when 343 Industries came armed with one minute of B-roll for the press who had travelled halfway across the globe to see Halo 4’s gameplay debut - E3 2012 was a different kettle of fish for the platform holder. With more Halo 4 content than you can shake a Battle Rifle at for this year’s E3, we finally got a chance to go hands-on with the game and jump knee deep into the nitty-gritty of the game's Spartan Ops mode and even get downright dirty in some War Game action. Whether that decision was made with Microsoft already knowing the fate of its Gamescom and TGS presence, who knows? What we know is, we played Halo 4 and we liked it. Nay, loved it.
Spartan Ops on the face of it might sound like some shameful knock-off of Modern Warfare 2’s Spec Ops mode, but that couldn’t be any further from the truth. Spartan Ops is in fact a weekly Halo 4 co-operative TV show of sorts, in which you’ll be one of the stars as you guide the story from start to finish, with new episodes being uploaded every week.
With the story of the UNSC Infinity – that big ol’ ship from the trailer – intersecting that of the main Halo 4 campaign, Spartan Ops follows on that journey as you follow the leaders and crew – and a Spartan team known as Majestic Squad – into the unknown and to a Forerunner planet called Requiem, which incidentally is where we pick up with our squad of Spartans.
We headed to the surface of Requiem, a planet infested with rocks oozing with luminescent lava and tall Forerunner structures. It’s a planet where the Covenant also believe they’ll find one of their gods, so you’ll be faced with multiple foes from multiple fronts. “We’ll make them see God,” one of the crew mutters as we embark on our mission to interrupt the dig and recover the core.
Before heading out to battle, we tinkered with our loadout, which is the same loadout you can use in multiplayer, but more on that shortly. Being able to choose your tactical package, your support upgrade and your armour ability is 343’s new way to tailor the experience to anyone who picks up a controller. Want more ammo? Equip the ammo support upgrade. Want to carry two primary weapons? Select the relevant tactical package then. They’re all incredibly handy in truth and you can even customise your loadout to suit the mission.
There are tactical supports that allow you to pick up grenades from downed allies; one that improves the recharge speed of your shield; one that allows you to fire primary weapons; and one that will speed up your armour ability.
In terms of support upgrades, there is one that gives you more ammo; one that improves the distance of your sensor; one that allows you to see your radar whilst you’re looking down the scope; and one that allows you to sprint uninterrupted.
That’s without mentioning the armour abilities too, four of which were in our demo: the Hologram; Promethean Vision that allows you to see enemies through walls; the Thruster which enables you to move quicker in a horizontal direction; and the Hardlight Shield, which gives you an additional shield for a short period of time.
In terms of the actual gameplay, it’s all standard Halo fare: move through various environments, dispatching foes as you see fit, before defending a point at the end before taking the core to the extraction zone. What isn’t standard though is the enemies you face, and although you might come across patrols of Grunts and Elites – this time with a slightly new rogue look – the Spartans will spend more time facing off against the Promethean Crawlers – panther-like creatures who are extremely agile and fight together in packs; Promethean Watchers – who are like flying sentinel AIs; as well as Promethean Knights – who are huge robotic advanced AI sentient beings. The new beasties make for much more of a challenge than the traditional Halo enemies i.e. the Covenant, and it makes working in a team much more important. With fresh new cinematic cutscenes and five new chapters every week, Spartan Ops looks to continue the Halo storytelling experience long after the Halo 4 campaign has finished and is set to delight fans.
In terms of the actual War Games though - which is a posh umbrella term for multiplayer - we managed to delve into some classic Team Slayer on the Haven map. It’s classic Halo multiplayer action for the most part, but with players able to tailor their experience, which funnily enough, actually makes the gameplay somewhat more enjoyable. It’s not something that one could actually explain, but it sure makes a difference and even better, it doesn’t actually unbalance the gameplay one bit.
Armed mostly with a Battle Rifle and a Magnum – opting to use the Promethean Vision as well – we set to explore the multi-levelled, yet symmetrical Forerunner structure and see who we could dispatch. With a central platform and two multi-levelled circular platforms surrounding it, it’s a map that really doesn’t take too long to learn. 343 even makes a concerted effort to point out power weapons on your HUD should you be in the vicinity.
That said, the introduction of Ordinance Drops should delight fans, as they're rewarded to players for earning a certain amount of points. They're not just granted for one life either, as your points tally isn't reset. This can result in a choice of a few different drops, whether it’s a defensive perk or weapon, or an offensive perk or weapon. When we had the option though, we always opted for the offensive route, choosing the Scattershot whenever we had the chance – a powerful Forerunner shotgun that can disintegrate foes. Sure, these may be subtle changes by 343, but they sure make things a lot more frantic and fun. Just how we like it.
We're not sure whether the multiplayer tweaks are as game changing as 343 would have you believe, but they do add a certain level of personality to the gameplay. Being able to pre-set your loadout to suit you allows you to go into battle with your own tailored custom experience, and that can make all the difference. Spartan Ops is surely going to please single-player and co-op gamers, but the introduction of custom loadouts and Ordinance Drops add a level of – probably much needed – unpredictability to the multiplayer proceedings. It’s no longer a matter of charging towards the same power weapons now, instead, it becomes a much more tactical battle. No wonder it won our Shooter of the Show award!
Halo 4 is scheduled for a November 6th, 2012 release worldwide.
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