"Halo 4" is nearly here and I recently got a chance to sit down with 343 Industries' "Halo" Franchise Development Director Frank O'Connor for a demo of the previously unseen campaign level Forerunner.
There hasn't been much shown of the campaign aside from some quick cuts in a recent trailer, and an earlier look at jungle themed level. Until now.
A quick refresher for that one reader who isn't familiar with Microsoft's "Halo" series. "Halo 4" continues where the Science Fiction story of "Halo 3" left off, and is not a continuation of the last Halo game, "Halo Reach," which was a side story. Got that? The original "Halo: Combat Evolved" was a day-one release for the first Microsoft Xbox, and the series is regarded as one of the all-time best gaming IPs ever.
I was one of those day-one buyers back in 2001 and have played every game in the Halo series since.
I bought an Xbox for "Halo: Combat Evolved."
The draw for me with "Halo" is that it leaves me equal parts exhilarated and frustrated when I play. Beating the campaigns on Heroic and Legendary difficulty settings feels like an accomplishment, and getting good enough to hold your own in the multiplayer is equally satisfying. At least until the dregs of Xbox Live rear their ugly, 14-year-old profanity laced heads and blow yours away.
Regardless, "Halo" has always been strong enough in story, production values, epicness and offered enough gaming value -- more multiplayer options than you can shake a sticky grenade at -- to overcome whatever weaknesses its had, along with whatever douchebaggery is exhibited in online multiplayer over Xbox Live. At least it isn't "Call Of Duty."
In my time with Frank O'Connor, I was toured through the new campaign level Forerunner, without getting a real shot at trying my hand at multiplayer against the main man behind one of the biggest gaming names out there. No complaints. Not bitter in the slightest.
As for Forerunner, here is a shot of Master Chief in said campaign level:
Master Chief is an armored sexy beast.
One more new image for the road, and yes "Halo 4" looks fantastic, especially on the huge TV O'Connor was playing on. (There's a full gallery of new shots in the slideshow below.)
What the heck is that?
Forerunner takes place on an unnamed landscape of which I was given few details. Sorry. Spoilers and all that.
O'Connor said the Forerunner mission is about halfway through the game and has some major plot points, which he gracefully avoided showing me (drat!) He did take Master Chief through a large, alien looking dome-like structure, which was very representative of the grand scope of the "Halo" Universe.
The look of Forerunner is grey-blue and dark, with Master Chief navigating narrow canyons broken up by rocky outcrops. Despite the dark color palette, Forerunner looks great and has a brooding feel to it.
The structure of the level made for some interesting game play situations. At one point, O'Connor moved Master Chief into a rocky outcrop that was immediately swarmed by enemies streaming down the canyon walls. Master Chief dispatched them with a new tool in his multi-faceted selection of death - a hovering sentinel drone. The drone laid down cover fire at the enemies, distracting them as Master Chief swung around their flank.
The ability to lay down what is essentially a hovering turret brings a new element of gameplay into the mix. What I can appreciate, is the ability to incorporate friendly fire from something other than an AI controlled friendly Marine grunt that follows you and shoots at walls or enjoys getting in the way. Hovering...great idea.
The build O'Connor was showing off was the most recent at the time, which was in late August when I saw it. It was a development build, but it still ran smoothly without a framerate hitch or stutter when the action got frenzied, which is encouraging. "Halo" has always had a good reputation for being a technically solid production, at least aside from the occasional pop-in texture issues in cut scenes.
Unfortunately, I was not about to navigate through the level myself, but after a little persistant cajoling I did get to control my way around one of the multiplayer maps. This isn't quite the experience some have gotten with full-on CTF multiplayer sessions, but it was enough to give me a taste.
I wanted to know if the controls feel like "Halo." Without having any real opponents to fire at in any number of the classic game types "Halo" offers, it was hard to really tell, but I can say it didn't not feel like "Halo."
One aspect that did stand out to me for both the Forerunner campaign mission and my brief stint aimlessly running around an empty multiplayer level and shooting at walls, was the sound. The sound is magnificent. The weapons have always sounded great in previous "Halo" games, and its no different this time around. Its one thing to see and hear them fired while you're watching a gameplay video, but an entirely different experience to hear them in action on a great sound system.
The weapons sound throaty, mean, nasty, like you really would not want to be on the business end of any of them, getting shot in the face. Like me when I play online.
343 Industries recently released this video of Covenant weapons a couple days ago, which gives you a sense of how the baddies toys look and sound. Don't mind the drum and bass soundtrack.
"Halo 4": Covenant Weapons
All said, my time was short and it was nice to get a first-hand look at an unseen level and to tool around in multiplayer, but the real verdict on whether or not this most recent installment in the "Halo" franchise lives up to the name still remains to be seen. After my quick taste, I'm salivating just a little bit more, and prepping my wife with a few hints here and there that a few days might disappear from my life when "Halo 4" review time comes, but that yes I still love her.
"Halo 4" drops November 6, 2012. Will you be voting, or playing?