Halo 4 Preview (Xbox360)

It’s funny how you can go from seeing nothing of a game to seeing a lot of a game all at once. It’s not that Microsoft have been that secretive about Halo 4, but it’s taken a while for them to get confident enough to let us wordsmiths close enough to get our hands on not only the improved multiplayer, but the single-player narrative AND the co-operative Spartan Ops mode. It was a lot to take in all at once, and my only wish was that I could have spent longer with it – but there was enough to leave me confident that this will take the franchise to new heights.

First up, we had the single-player story – whilst we won’t spoil any specific plot points, we can tell you we did the first and the third mission of the campaign. The first level especially is a deliberate homage to the first level of the original Halo, and the third mission allowed us to get a real taste for the new ‘Promethean’ enemy types, which are incredibly fun to take on in a perverse sort of way. The way the AI differs from type to type, and the way some of them work together and interact, each skirmish won makes you feel really chuffed for having gotten through it. The only comment we’ll make at the moment is that everything feels smaller… we’ve yet to see evidence of the more bigger, more open maps that previous Halo games have shown, even Reach, but there really wasn’t much to go on – we’re generally just hoping it’s not indicative for the rest of the game. One thing’s for sure though, the campaign will be entertaining – Halo 4 seems to have finally discovered the QTE, and along with more, grander set-pieces and scenarios, you should be in for a fun time here.

The new visual style for the Covenant is jarring at times

Next, we can talk a little bit about Multiplayer – you’ve probably all seen the press material that Microsoft has been pushing out regarding this, they’ve definitely been eager to ‘modernise’ it. It’s not that Halo’s multiplayer was ever out-dated, it was just different, and even though they’ve been blasted a bit for ‘conforming’ to the other shooters of the day, it works, you know? It’s nothing drastic, nothing that really screams out at you that says “THIS IS NOT HALO MULTIPLAYER”, but a few key subtle changes just makes the whole experience better, somehow. Plus, with the new (and old) maps, more weapons and vehicles (there’s a nice surprise waiting for you there), and some very interesting game modes (like Dominion) Halo’s multiplayer side seems rejuvenated and ready to take on the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield.

In a way, Spartan Ops as a game mode has the most potential – replacing the Firefight mode from ODST/Reach (which is a shame because I always kind of liked Firefight). Spartan Ops is purely a co-operative game-mode where you and up to four friends go through weekly, episodic missions that are around half-an-hour in length. We’re not sure what the full range of missions is going to be, and the missions we trialled seemed very standard, but the fact that each individual mission has fully voiced and scripted intros and outros, as well as the usual banter thrown in during, you can at least tell 343 are serious about this mode. The key thing though will be what the rest of the season (plus any future seasons) turn out to be – it was reported recently that they want people to think of Spartan Ops like they think of TV Shows. Well, TV Shows need a wide range of scenarios (within context) to stay fresh, and Spartan Ops will be no different.

The new Prothean weapons are pretty nifty

We hesitate to say something as banal as “so far, so good” (even though I’ve used that phrase more times than I should), but we’ve yet to see anything genuinely worrisome yet. The only thing that may not be quite up to par is the graphic engine. From what we’ve seen, it’s not necessarily looking any better or worse than Reach is, and some people who may have been a bit spoiled by all of the promising tech coming out of E3 may stop and pause - to be honest though, we’re talking about a console that’s nearly 7 years old now, so the game is probably doing the best with the hardware it’s got. There were other question marks we had as well: not to spoil the story, but a lot of it can be found in the Forerunner Saga of books they’re releasing right now – have to say, not a personal fan of some of the stuff they are doing, but we’ll see how much it affects the game.

Halo 4 is up against some stiff competition – not only from the other Christmas ‘blockbusters’ but also from its fans – the fans who only liked the original Halo, the fans who are worried at all the changes that are being made by 343 (they’ve gotten rid of the Gregorian monk theme song), the fans who love Halo multiplayer as is… the only thing we’ll say for now is that there’s enough promise here to give it a chance. The Halo universe has so much more to offer, and with any luck 343 and Microsoft are marking the start of a new, glorious chapter that will take the franchise into the new generation with Halo 4. Balls in your court Microsoft, don’t let us down.

Most Anticipated Feature: Hard to tell – Spartan Ops or the single-player Narrative.