343 Industries' hotly anticipated shooter is nearly upon us, and after publisher Microsoft Studios was generous enough to get us out to Seattle for a sneak peak, we came back with more than a few things that had us salivating over Master Chief's rampant return on November 6th.
Halo 4 is chief (hah) among some massive releases in what has been a huge year for gaming. And with Call of Duty: Black Ops, Dishonoured and Assassin's Creed 3 still to come, Master Chief definitely has his work cut out.
If you want a more in-depth look at the game, head on over to our full Halo 4 preview.
Guns, guns and more guns
The presence of three distinct factions in Halo 4 means this games has more weapons than any of its predecessors. On the UNSC side, pretty much every weapon is back for number four, including standard fare like the Magnum Pistol and Assault Rifle and heavy weapons like the Rocket Launcher, Spartan Laser and Sniper Rifle. Both the DMR and the Battle Rifle are in, along with the new 'Railgun' - a chargeable heavy weapon that fires high-yield explosives.
For the Covenant, the Plasma Rifle has been replaced by the 'Storm Rifle', though it is essentially the same weapon. The Needler has also been upped in terms of damage, with needle supercombines now capable of taking out multiple targets.
The real news here is the addition of a whole arsenal of Forerunner weaponry. Many of these weapons mirror some of their UNSC or Covenant counterparts - the 'Suppressor' for example, is essentially a UNSC Assault Rifle, while the longer range Forerunner 'Lightrifle' is the spitting image of a Covenant Carbine.
Rather than lazy design, this is more a recognition that certain weapon styles are core to Halo's combat dynamic. Fear not though, there are other weapons that are really changing the game. The 'Boltshot' pistol is a revolver by nature, but when charged it discharges all barrels for a close-range shotgun blast, while the 'Scattershot' is a shotgun that fires projectiles that can bounce off walls (and therefore, around corners).
New chapter of the story
Kiki Wolfkill, 343i Executive Producer, and winner of our new ‘Best Name in Gaming’ award, introduced the single-player story as the first of three “Pillars of Halo” – the nuclei of the Halo experience.
“We wanted to make sure that the return of Master Chief felt meaningful”, she says. “We have this grand, epic sci-fi story on a galactic scale. But there’s also a smaller, more personal story… the story of Chief and Cortana that’s been evolving since the first Halo.”
From what we saw, get ready for plenty of different environments, and a real shift from linear to sandbox gameplay in both combat and environments.
Halo 4 is our first true encounter with the Prometheans – explained by Franchise Director Frank O’Connor as “Forerunner military units”. In our brief experience of the single-player campaign, they offer a very different, and rather trickier challenge to Covenant Elites, Jackals and Grunts.
The most common Forerunner units are the Crawlers - wolf-like beings that will attack in packs and are extremely fast across the ground, armed with fast-firing Suppressor.. Whilst the Crawlers are harrassing you, The 'elite' Forerunners (called 'Knights') will happily attack you from afar, commanding floating 'Watchers' which can both fire at you, or shield and regenerate Knights when in close proximity.
The dynamic here is totally different, and you'll have to prioritise your targets differently depending on the situation. For those who feel as though constant battles with the Covenant have made the single player story a bit stagnant, Halo 4 should offer something completely new and engaging.
Multiplayer is Halo's true calling, and the reason why most will head out in their droves to snap up number four. 343 has been careful to get the mix of innovation and tradition just right, whilst improving some of Halo's best assets.
Match-making is now faster, both getting you into a game, and between games with playlists being customized for specific game types and players from casual to hardcore.
Although 343 couldn't say much about future maps and game modes, stalwarts like Slayer, Regicide and Capture the Flag have been confirmed, and we'd be surprised if any other favourite game modes we're left out. Infection has also been included, which sees speedy, unshielded, sword-toting flood taking on Spartans. Get caught by the Flood and you become on of them - turn the radar off and this becomes really quite dangerous for your heart.
Speaking of fiddling with game modes, Forge mode is back, with a raft of small changes to make building levels and game modes easier than ever. There's also new dynamic lighting that will have your hand-made levels looking like professional game content.
Hit a killstreak and you'll be able to call in an 'ordinance packages', which can be one of two weapons (both chosen as being useful for that particular map) or an ability boost (damage, shields or something similar). Like Call of Duty, you say? Well, yes, and it's not the only thing that's been borrowed from Activision's blockbusting FPS series, but thankfully it doesn't affect the gameplay too much - this is still Halo, raw and uncut.
Spartan customization still includes a huge range of cosmetic options, but now you have a Call of Duty-style loadout that lets you pick a primary and secondary weapon, and a grenade type, followed by an 'Armor Ability', a 'Tactical Package', and a 'Support Upgrade'.
The latter two are similar options to Call of Duty, including increased explosives damage, shield regen, faster reload times and the like, mainly a case of fine tuning your Spartan to suit your play style.
Armor Abilities are more Halo-oriented, and include jet packs and boosters, 'Promethean Vision' that allows you to see nearby enemies through walls, the ability to project a hologram to distract enemies, an automated sentry turret and many others.
Your customized Spartan will carry all of his or her loadouts, experience and upgrades across the entire Infinity mode, Spartan Ops included so everything you unlock will always be available to you, unless you're stepping into Master Chief's metal boots in the campaign