Like God of War: Ascension, some gamers may view Halo 4 as that extra step you try to take when there aren’t any stairs left, the one that makes you almost trip going up or suddenly thud to the ground going down. 343 Industries, who took over the Halo franchise after Bungie moved to greener pastures, is now looking to prove that the grass isn’t necessarily greener, and that there is still plenty of story to tell in the Halo universe. The developer intends to do just that, in every regard.
Halo 4 is an entirely different adventure from the previous games, one with a new perspective but the same characters as the original series. The Master Chief and Cortana both return, and find themselves on the planet of Requiem after an unknown period of time in cryogenic stasis. How long it is after the events of Halo 3 is unclear; it could be as little as a few months to as much as twenty years. What is certain is this: part of the game’s plot is Cortana going crazy (because most AIs last about seven years before doing so, and Cortana is already eight), and that the UNSC ship that crash-lands on Requiem took twenty years to build.
The Infinity is the largest man-made spaceship ever built, and at the start of Halo 4 it goes down almost without a fight from an entirely new enemy, which is later revealed to be the Prometheans. The Prometheans are, according to Franchise Development Director Frank “Frankie” O’Connor, a race built by the Forerunners as an ancient defense mechanism, a sort of AI-driven robotic species that emerges to protect certain things. Their involvement in the game is still very unclear, but the Master Chief is still known as the Reclaimer, and while O’Connor stated outright that the Flood, the zombie-like species from the previous Halo titles, will not make an appearance in Halo 4, their legacy lives on in the game through the Prometheans, specifically through their weapons which come together and break apart almost magically.
Three types of Promethean classes were revealed at E3: Crawlers, which are dog-like creatures that travel in packs, can climb on walls and ceilings like the Aliens from Sega’s Aliens vs. Predator, and are easy to kill individually but can be trouble in numbers; Watchers are quadro-copters that provide fire support and protect against grenade throws by hurling them back to their enemies; and Knights, which are tall and powerful like Elites, have shields and weapons that can be picked up, and have the ability to teleport anywhere instantly. Two Promethean guns have also been revealed, a scattershot weapon that’s shells can bounce off the ground, a la Unreal Tournament’s flak cannon, and a one-shot rifle similar to Halo 2’s carbine.
Some Halo weapons return as well, including the standard assault rifle, BR55 triple-shot rifle, and DMR single-shot rifle. The DMR has been made much more powerful to complement the BR, while the BR’s burst is less punchy but still highly accurate.
Little else about the single-player campaign or competitive multiplayer has been revealed at this time, though one new interesting gametype was revealed at E3: Spartan Ops. Spartan Ops are five single-player or co-op missions that will be released every week from day one. These DLC missions average at 15 minutes in length each, meaning players get around 5 hours of unique campaign gameplay a month, or 65-hours of campaign a year, not including the on-disc story campaign. Spartan Ops will have its own fully realized story, featuring a completely different team of Spartans known as Majestic Squad. Missions can be anything from finding an alien artifact and securing it to, well, anything 343 Industries desires. O’Connor promises that all of the gameplay will have equally pertinent plot, and that it will all be free DLC.
Spartan Ops is part of the all-new multiplayer, dubbed “Infinity” multiplayer, after the name of the ship. One point O’Connor heavily stressed is bringing all of Halo’s properties and stories, from the books to the upcoming live-action TV series to the games, together, and that includes multiplayer. Competitive play all takes place as war games simulation aboard the ship Infinity, which will launch with 10 maps. Players will take the roles of Spartan 4s.
What remains unclear is the effect of the Spartan Ops DLC on player’s hard drives, and whether the DLC will be playable after the week it’s downloaded. I’ve reached out to Bungie and Microsoft for a follow-up, and will update when I hear back. Microsoft does, however, list 8GB of space required “for Halo Infinity Multiplayer”.
One major change to the series are customizable loadouts, something most gamers would expect from a realistic or semi-realistic war simulation title like Call of Duty or Battlefield. These aren’t partial loadout selections like in Halo: Reach, but fully customizable loadouts, from weapons selection to abilities, down to special items like additional ammo. These loadouts will be used across Infinity multiplayer, from Spartan Ops to traditional PvP competitive play.
I had a word with O’Connor and Kiki Wolfkill, Director on Halo 4, after our demo, and O’Connor assured me that the same thing that happened with Halo 2, where Bungie revealed their demo of the game only to completely change everything, from the story down to how weapons sounded, won’t happen with Halo 4. The team, which started at around 70 now hovers around 230 employees, is hard at work to make Halo 4, and a new Halo saga, a franchise not to be feared for ruin, but to be loved for its deep universe and fun gameplay.
Halo 4 is set to release on November 6 exclusively for the Xbox 360.