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Posted by Brad

Halo 4 is probably the most interesting thing that's happened to the Xbox's most crucial first-party series in ages. I mean that from a faraway, academic point of view, though. It's the first time in the franchise's long lifespan that anyone other than Bungie has taken a stab at creating a core Halo first-person shooter. Will it play like Halo? Will it feel like Halo? Is there any more room for fresh storytelling in a decade-old franchise that already wrapped up its initial trilogy with a nice tidy bow? Those were the questions that swirled in my head as Drew and I flew up to 343 Industries in Washington last week to get our hands on just about every aspect of the game Microsoft's flagship studio has been slaving over.

Campaign. It's what I personally care the most about in Halo 4, and it's what 343 has shown the least of since that banner gameplay demo kicked off the Xbox press conference back at E3. So let's talk about it (unless you're sensitive to very light, first-couple-of-mission-type spoilers--but if that's you, why are you even reading a Halo 4 preview?). What we got to play was mission one and mission three of the Halo 4 campaign. There's a prologue at the very beginning the contents of which I know not, and then 343 said some momentous stuff also happens in mission two. So I don't have the whole picture yet, but I've started to form a concrete idea of what Halo 4 is actually going to be about, and how the story bridges the gap from the natural conclusion of the last game.

Maybe my expectations for the starting premise of this game were a little overblown, but there's really no great mystery to it. Master Chief and Cortana were adrift at the end of Halo 3, with Chief entering cryo-sleep against a promise to Cortana that he'd wake up when needed. Five years later, with rogue Convenant forces boarding the ship for unknown reasons, he's definitely needed, so you pop right out of that cryo pod and get down to the business of mowing down grunts, jackals, and even elites (!) as you make your way through what's left of the UNSC Forward Unto Dawn. While the greater organized Covenant was handily dealt with at the end of Halo 3, this splinter faction doesn't seem too worse for wear; they've surrounded the Dawn with half a dozen capital ships, and getting Chief and Cortana the hell out of there is your immediate priority, nevermind the giant Forerunner vortex that's rapidly sucking all these ships in...

Playing Halo 4 in that first level is like pulling on an old pair of gloves pretty much from the second you pop out of the pod, and maybe that's not surprising since Halo steward Frank O'Connor told me that Bungie's existing codebase served as a starting point for every aspect of this new game. The basic movement and shooting are pretty much exactly like you remember, to the point that I immediately went into settings and adjusted my look sensitivity the way I remembered liking it. I also played that first level on Heroic to get a better sense of how faithful Halo 4 is to the "combat puzzle" that's so central to the series. Most of that first level is a lot of tight corridor-crawling where you're only taking on a few enemies at a time--punctuated by a couple of scripted first-person action sequences that felt out of place, if not unwelcome, in a Halo game. But the end culminates in a wide-area low-grav battle in the part of the Dawn exposed to space. Out there with enemies coming at me from all sides and a couple of jackals sniping me from up on a ledge, I died several times, and each time it felt like the battle played out noticeably differently as I tried different positioning and going for different weapons. It was a relief getting that big battle in at the end of the level, since that kind of fresh replayability is exactly what I'm looking for in the Halo combat experience.

As familiar as the game feels in that first level, though, the little things here and there that aren't the same really stick out like a sore thumb. Why does the assault rifle sound like a different gun? That one really threw me off.

It's in the third mission, "Forerunner," where things really get interesting. Having missed the previous level, I don't know how Master Chief and Cortana got from that vortex into a dark, rocky canyon area full of Forerunner technology and architecture. But you don't have much time to think about it, because you almost immediately start fighting the new Promethean enemies 343 has devised as an entire new faction for Halo 4. These guys obviously behave completely differently than the Covenant and create some different combat dynamics as a result. The knight seems to be the Promethean heavy, the way he strides around with a giant energy sword and can leap at you from far away to beat the crap out of you. He's hardly invincible though, as I found one point-blank shotgun blast was often enough to end a knight, assuming one of the flying watchers wasn't hovering nearby. I made a point of going after the watchers first in every new encounter since they can generate shields around ground-based Promethean enemies, as well as grab and return your thrown grenades. The four-legged crawler can also cause a lot of problem, since they tended to show up in packs and can swarm you pretty readily. Oh yeah, they can shoot at you from a distance too. The Covenant and Prometheans aren't fans of one another, so I found myself in more than one three-way battle with everyone shooting everyone else in that third level.

Halo 4 will have a pile of new weapons, of course, like the Covenant storm rifle, an energy-based popgun that I didn't find especially powerful or fun to use. (All the old hardware is still there and still perfectly useful, of course. Drew thinks the needler is especially potent this time around.) But it's the Promethean arsenal that's most exciting, since it's a whole new class of weaponry the likes of which we've never seen before. Visually, the orange-trimmed Promethean weapons look amazing, the way they defy gravity and form together out of component parts right in Master Chief's hands. Functionally, the five weapons in the level I played fell into familiar categories, though with a twist or two here and there. The boltshot acts as a basic but powerful pistol, unless you hold down fire, when it will build up charge and automatically fire a burst more akin to buckshot. The scattershot actually is a shotgun-type weapon, and it seems like its shot might ricochet off of walls a bit. The light rifle seemed like the backbone of the Promethean arsenal, with its rapid fire and light zoom. There's another automatic weapon called the suppressor which is more like a submachine gun; it felt uselessly inaccurate at more than a couple dozen feet away. Lastly, the binary rifle, which I only picked up so close to the end of the level and didn't get a chance to use. As the name implies, though, it's an on-off weapon. If you hit with it, you get a kill; if you don't, you don't.

In the midst of all the new enemies and weapons, some familiar scenes played out here and there. There were multiple vehicle sequences in this level alone, first letting me plow through an open battlefield on a ghost, then later giving me a banshee to fly around and wreak havoc with. The third mission was capped off with another ghost sequence that had me hauling ass out of that desolate area as the walls were all crumbling around me. It wasn't entirely dissimilar to the ending race sequence of the first Halo.

There are some things I'd love to know more about after playing these two levels. What the hell is the nature of the Prometheans? Are they robots? Is there anything alive in there? What's with that weird skull? Cortana also makes references in the third level to her encroaching rampancy, the Halo-universe idea that artificial intelligences don't stay sane forever and eventually become super-smart beings of malevolent, all-powerful contempt for everything around them. That sounds like a bad state for a computer program that lives in your head, so finding out how Master Chief plans to deal with this particular story thread should be interesting.

Some significant plot stuff happens at the end of that third mission that makes me think I know exactly what the broad premise of Halo 4 is going to be, but since Microsoft asked us not to talk about it and really just let us see it for context (with missing music and sound effects, no less), there's not much point in worrying about whether I'm right or not. I will say it creates a particular narrative dynamic that Halo hasn't really dabbled with before, and that's exciting. The cutscene in the next level picks up right where that E3 demo began, and for whatever reason, it felt comforting to see Master Chief running around those rolling green hills that have provided the backdrop for so much of the series so far.

Thinking about the feeling of comfort that a simple familiar environment brings about, I realize I'm in a weird spot with Halo 4's story mode. For a big-budget shooter that sells millions of copies, Halo always struck me as a series with an oddly high degree of quirk, from the manic, childish screaming of the grunts to the UNSC's bizarre ship-naming conventions to the fact that so many of your weapons are purple. There's a lot about Halo that's just weird. While some of that personality will transitively carry over to Halo 4, it also feels a bit more serious and grounded than past games. You know, the new enemies are less droll and more just grimly intent on murdering you. The lovably janky old cutscene animation has given way to modern performance-captured characters (that admittedly look fantastic). Infinity isn't an especially weird name for a ship. Everything I saw of Halo 4's campaign looked great, so I have to tell myself these reservations are merely the result of that pesky knee-jerk fear of things that are new and different. "You didn't want them to coast, right? You wanted them to do something original, didn't you? So suck it up and give it a chance." And so I shall.

We also got to run through two of the five missions from the first episode of Spartan Ops, the 10-week co-op series that will be rolling out as DLC after Halo 4 hits stores. As I expected, the story elements within these missions aren't particularly strong and mostly consist of some voiceovers from your commanding officer (though there may be some external cinematics in this mode I didn't see). But the missions themselves seem to be picking up the slack by offering some pretty diverse combat scenarios. The first one, Land Grab, took place in a wide-open desert area with multiple warthogs and wraiths around, and had us in two-man teams fighting waves of Covenant coming in on dropships. The second mission, Sniper Alley, had us navigating a complex series of walkways and fighting enemies largely at great range, though at the end we had to hold off waves of enemies on the ground while we planted some explosives. At a dazzling 50 missions, Spartan Ops seems like it will offer a staggering amount of co-op combat for anyone who wants to keep playing Halo 4 for more than two months after release. Again, though, it's the campaign that's got me most interested here, and I've seen enough, and been impressed by enough, to be eagerly ready to get my hands on the final version.

Edited by villainy

Halo? Halo!

Holy crap 4 years and finally here I am at the top of the posts.

I have nothing useful to add except that I used to put fratboys to shame at Halo 1 on a nearby college LAN even though I never owned an Xbox. Co-op was awesome as well. I have to work in a few hours so I should probably sleep... Halo!

Posted by zombie2011

Since the E3 demo this has been the game i'm most looking forward to this year.

Posted by big_jon

Looks amazing.

Posted by Marz

Halo 4 graphics look pretty good, must be the lighting.

Posted by notdrew

I never really cared for the Halo series story, but after reading this i am intrigued about Halo 4's story arc. I suppose that was the mission of this article, even so, it sounds more interesting than the weirdly religious past Halo games.


MY limited editon has been payed NOW WE WAIT

Edited by DharmaBum

Great write-up. Impressive what they've pulled off with the aging 360 hardware.

like pulling on an old pair of gloves pretty much from the second you pop out of the pod


punctuated by a couple of scripted first-person action sequences that felt out of place, if not unwelcome


Edited by EmuLeader

The graphics look fantastic, but I am sad to hear alot of the quirk has been cast aside. I really enjoyed the chatter of the grunts. Was also hoping for a few more eccentric weapons. The new ones look cool, but if their basic functionality can be easily classified into the typical shooter classes with minor tweaks, then I am disappointed.

Posted by RPGee

Still not quite enough to capture me, but it's getting there.

Posted by Kowalczyk

I'm very much looking forward to sitting down and playing through the campaign with my roommates, we've done it since Halo 2 and I didn't really think about it till reading this story.... I kinda care about the fiction. Or a least I really want to see where it goes.

Posted by Chaser324

Wow! The graphical bump is really impressive. The direction the campaign and plot are going in sound pretty good too.

Posted by Caliginous

Can't believe I lived long enough to see a Halo story that doesn't sound like Halo 2's bullshit.

This sounds like what I wanted out of the series when my hype about the story in Halo 2 and 3 disappeared as I rattled off missions of the campaign. If they can match the narrative pace of Reach and even create a few levels that rival the nostalgia I have for the original, then I'll gladly buy into the trilogy that 343 has started. Sucks that I won't know til I play it, but I'm glad to see them trying to move away from the story perspective that Bungie took.

Posted by Zajtalan

metroid prime: halo

Posted by bkbroiler

Excited for any Halo game. Reach was particularly great, I thought. Hope this one pulls it off too! The screens look really impressive. Nice to know it feels familiar, but I think the series could do with a bit of a shaking up.

Posted by Vinny_Says

It's probably a stupid question but did it feel like the Cortana plot is going to be resolved in Halo 4 or will we have to wait until Halo 6 for that whole problem to be resolved?

Otherwise, I'm really looking forward to this game, more than I cared just a few months ago.

Posted by two_socks

Still can't get over the fact that MC has a totally different look despite being frozen for 5 years.

Posted by Jackel2072

2 and 3 I really didn't care for much. But ODST and Reach brought me back. So yea I will dust off the old 360 just to play some halo.

Posted by freakin9

Been playing a bit of Reach after thinking I was completely done with Halo, and have been having a good time. I've basically been playing a variety of modes, rather than going through the story, and it's definitely a quality game after some definite stagnation in the series. I don't know that I plan to get 4 though, I know Reach is going to take me awhile to get through given how little I play games these days.

Edited by bybeach

I've learned to appreciatte Halo. There is something about the way the game controls that sometimes gives me difficulty..thats just how it is for me. I started to take the Series seriously since 3 really, and Reach finally hit that top floor note. Also i would not mind an excuse to turn the 360 on, pretty much been all pc lately... and halo would be the game worth it. I haven't had the PS3 on either, not being rude that way, though Resistance 3 was already suppossed to have happened.

Cortana keeps looking hotter...

Posted by Evercaptor

For the first time in my adult life I've been forced to REALLY ppick my games and my One is borderlands...

Posted by barberforce

Awesome Job Brad!

Well looking forward to this. I've always been a massive fan of the series and the whole surrounding Universe. I think i've always like Halo, because its good Sci-Fi, just like Mass Effect.

......and in todays world, we dont get much Sci-Fi (Tv/Movies)

Posted by AiurFlux

I really wish that they wouldn't have done ODST, or Reach, or even this one. Even though I couldn't give less of a fuck about the series the way Halo 3 ended tied into Marathon and had ambiguity in it. It worked. Then they got greedy and couldn't leave well enough alone and just think up another idea instead of going back to the same cash cow.

I'm sure this is a fine game gameplay wise. All Halo's are. But ultimately there does have to be something more when you're on your 6th iteration. I personally feel that something more would have been letting it go at the logical conclusion that was building up with the whole "Finish the Fight" motif instead of the "Start Another Fight" theme that developed because of the two other games (even though it was technically the same fight, but you get what I mean).

Or maybe I'm just bitter because everything is a fucking sequel. One or two is fine. Once you hit 5 then I start to cringe. Once you hit 10 then you should kill yourself for milking gamers like you are.

Posted by Winternet

That's a lot of Halo 4, Bradley. I'll read it when I have more time.

Posted by Dad_Is_A_Zombie

Good work, Brad. I haven't been eagerly awaiting a game release this much since the lead up to GTA IV. Nov. 6 can't get here soon enough!

Posted by Eyz

More of the same thing then?

Which is a good thing in its own. Though I can already imagine haters hating it~

Posted by mbr2

Is it OK to bring back 'Micro$oft'?

Posted by peritus

I was never a halo man, but i imagine it will be just fine. It certainly looks like more halo.

Posted by TruthTellah

Nice to see virtual Jessica Chobot in there.

Posted by Colourful_Hippie

More of the same thing then?

Which is a good thing in its own. Though I can already imagine haters hating it~

Not exactly if you read that article thoroughly. It's the core mechanics that are staying the same. The rest is getting some new treatment that looks exciting.

Posted by SeanFoster

This is the second robot lady this year that I want to make love to.

Posted by Nilazz

I need this game...

Posted by SomeJerk

What was wrong with simple wireframe lady back in Halo 1? Why did they have to sexualize her just like Mass Effect 3 gave titjobs and lipos to FemSheps? Why did Dead or Alive 5 move back to realistically built women with realistic breasts and realistic looks and making sense?
Because videogames.

Posted by DukesT3

I'd never thought I'd be excited for a halo game but I'm excited for a halo game since 3.

Posted by Phatmac

Nice preview Brad! I love the halo series for its puzzle combat and for its weird quirks like the color purple. I've been worried about 343's attempt at making a halo game so I'm to hear that it seems to be cool. I'm stoked to get my hands on it.

Posted by algertman

Are we sure those aren't Metroid Prime screens we're looking at?

Posted by AssInAss

What I really liked about this preview is that Brad is more than willing to point out the things he didn't like, unlike most previews that seem to be mandated to be positive only, giving you the wrong expectation for what the review might entail.

Posted by KaneRobot

Looks good. 
I really don't want to see bitching when this game ends on a cliffhanger. The amount of shit people gave Halo 2's ending was ridiculous. If it is going to bother you that much, don't buy this game. You know damn well they are going to have an unresolved ending (and possibly a sudden one) to try to hook people in for the next console.

Posted by Masakari



This. Looks stunning!

Posted by Lazyaza

Halo 4 Cortana makes me feel funny in the pants.

Posted by hollitz

Hope they go lean on the story. Only character less interesting than Masterchief is Gordon Freeman. Also hope the gameplay is more of the Halo 1/Reach variety.

Franchise is so hit or miss for me, I'll either love it or hate it, but neither on day one.

Posted by galloughs

I know it's kind of besides the point, but when I see screens of this game, I can only think how much better it'd look on PC.

I won't ever play this, since at this point there's no reason for me to get a 360 this generation, but it looks like the 343 dudes are doing right by the series.

Posted by Humanity

I still don't get why in the world Halo is considered such an expansive "combat puzzle" when literally almost all modern games have light, medium and heavy enemies that require varying methods to deal with them.

Posted by bigstrat2003

So... apparently rampancy is a thing in the Halo universe now? Because that was never how it worked before, that was a Marathon thing. In the Halo universe, a smart AI (like Cortana) just would think itself to death after ~7 years.

Maybe it's just Brad misunderstanding, but giving him the benefit of the doubt, I'm not feeling that upbeat about the story in this game if it's going to ignore previously established story material like that.

Posted by HKZ

The graphics look okay, but the glow around everything is pretty awful. It looks exactly like what happens when I take a short nap with my contacts in, and I don't like that at all. I hope that's not final.

Edited by Korolev

Will probably get this for the co-op. I'll play just about any game, even bad ones, if they have co-op. It's one of the things my brother and I do all the time. Even with bad games, we'll have fun if we play together.

Halo is alright. I wouldn't play the franchise if it didn't have co-op though. But it's not a bad series by any means.

Posted by Capum15
@bigstrat2003: I'm pretty sure that rampancy was always a thing, it's how they break down while "Thinking themselves to death". And 7 years was mostly just an estimated time, as some AI's could hold on well past 7 years. The Rampancy we've seen in the games has only been, as far as I can remember, with Spark at the end of Halo 3 (though his attitude in battles during the first game could have also indicated it) and Cortana in random moments throughout 3. It doesn't even have to be due to age - isolationism, for example. Even Mendicant Bias went rampant due to the Flood messing with it, though he became stable when he reactivated.

And apparently, just looking at the wiki for it, Cortana and Mendicant Bias are the only known ones who have seemed to pass through Rampancy to Metastability.
Edited by falling_fast



Posted by Vegetable_Side_Dish

I think by Halo 7 Cortana will just be a blue blob of digital tits and ass.