Welcome back to Beta’d, dear reader! Now that the dust has settled from SDCC and I have been convalescing thanks to a nasty bout of San Diego Nerd Flu (a con exclusive!), I’ve had plenty of time to think and fever-dream about my hands-on time with a little game called Halo 4.
Under the sleek green lights of the Hard Rock Hotel’s Xbox Lounge, which looked like a nerdier version of the Men in Black offices, several colleagues and I got to sink our proverbial teeth into Halo 4‘s Spartan Ops, a new episodic four-player co-op campaign, and our actual teeth into Halo-themed cake pops, which I cannot rave about enough. For those concerned about the transition of power from series veterans Bungie to 343 Industries, you can sleep easy. This ain’t your slightly older brother’s Halo; it’s sleeker, smoother and has a shiny new coat of graphical paint.
Story: Rather than get into the specifics of the story line, let’s focus on the most intriguing part of the Spartan Ops mode: the promise of free, weekly episodic DLC updates. Did we mention that it’s free? Because it’s free. For the first season of DLC anyway, that is. As Microsoft announced at E3, each season will run for ten weeks, and each episode will have five new levels, meaning a grand total of fifty new levels of multiplayer content per season. This is an interesting move on 343’s part, and, if they deploy it well, it could make Spartan Ops one of the most compelling new additions to the game. While online co-op campaigns aren’t new per se, the promise of being able to tackle new story-based content each week with three of your Xbox Live buddies is a tantalizing one. You can only play the same missions over and over so many times before you lose interest and head over to Slayer to practice your “victory squats” on fallen enemies.
Gameplay: Speaking of victory squats, one of the first things you’ll notice about the game is that Master Chief’s workout routine seems to be working; he feels weightier – in a good way. You feel more like you’re wearing a suit of combat-ready armor and less like a Cirque du Soleil performer. It isn’t a huge impact on how you play, but it feels good nonetheless. Not only is this Master Chief less agile, but aiming is less forgiving; you’ll need to line up your shots more carefully because the hit boxes and recoil have been adjusted accordingly. Series veterans may complain at first, but as with any shooter, adjustment comes quickly and naturally.
During our play-through, our team of four went up against wave after wave of familiar Covenant enemies and a few of the more aggressive Prometheans, who, much like the Engineers in Prometheus, will rip your head off if you’re not paying attention. The A.I. seem to have improved since Reach, flanking our squad and swarming those of us foolish enough to charge in headlong with nothing but an Energy Sword (but what a charge it was!). This is definitely a mode that rewards smart, team-oriented play rather than lone-wolfing your way to the objective. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but you’ll quickly find yourself waiting on a respawn timer if you’re not careful with your movements.
Graphics: If you took off your headphones, the constant refrain of “this looks great!” could be heard every so often around the room. From a visual standpoint, 343 Industries has done anything but dropped the ball; this game looks gorgeous and the huge, menacing Promethean enemies are similarly spectacular with their terrifying lava lamp-like glow. We don’t know how they managed to overhaul the graphics so wonderfully yet again, but this game looks mighty fine.
Impressions: I may be a bit biased since I’m a huge fan of co-op multiplayer campaigns, but Halo 4‘s Spartan Ops mode looks like the real deal. From what we played, it seems like 343 Industries is living up to the Bungie’s frustratingly high standard. It may not handle exactly like you’re used to, but there’s a lot of horsepower under this game’s hood. Throw in free, weekly DLC and we’re sold (or at least pre-ordered). This November, we’re voting for Master Chief.
Are you excited for Halo 4? Quemment below and let us know what you are (or aren’t) looking forward to from 343 Industries’ latest offering.