Article: Halo 4 UK Preview
Halo 4 UK Preview Write Up
As the rain held off on a week that had otherwise been dreary with the typical British Rain a small but determined English queue started to forming outside the British Film Museum. This wasn’t any other English queue as can be in Covent Garden any other day of the week however, this was the queue to get into the very first UK public hands on for halo 4 for those of us lucky enough to win invites.
Descending down the stairs through the dark doors the familiar blue neon lights glow in the short corridor with the Forerunner arches towering over the doorway leading to the glass doors to the main event. Sign the paper work, collect your goodies and drop off your coats and away we go.
Halo has grown up, taking on board that which it has observed from its siblings in the FPS genre but at the same time putting its own spin on things. Old game types have had revamps and new game types have been added. This is Halo, but not quite as you know it.
But it’s not just the game types that had a make over but the way the game plays also, it’s still Halo, but subtle differences make you adjust your play style to suit your environment, team mates, game types. Think of every time you said ‘it would be cool if..’ or ‘I wish we could do..’ and the chances are that those changes are in there.
Frank O’Connor pointed out how nervous 343 staff were about the pending release asking us to lie to him and talk instead to PR if we didn’t like what we saw. The good news for Frankie is that there’s really no need to lie because all the worry has paid off.
To make this a little easier I have seperated my various observations into seperate catagories to try and ensure that I cover as many details as I possibly can in a way that’s easier to read (oh and rest assured, no spoilers to be found here):
The Halo 4 default controls are a little tricky to get a grasp on at first, melee is no longer on B instead moving to right bumper and allowing crouch to take its place (which itself gave up the left thumb stick to the sprinting ability).
The best description for how the controls feel is almost a splice between the Battlefield 3 controls and the Halo Reach controls. (and this feeling extends somewhat into the way the load out system works which I’ll explain a little later)
For most players it will probably take maybe 15-30 minutes to get your head around the swapped buttons but once you do it will just become second nature. In fact I actually had more problems going back to Halo Reach controls for our most recent Customs Night than I had moving over to the Halo 4 controls.
The user interface of Halo 4 (at least, what we saw of it) is impressively crisp and clean. There’s no denying its a departure from the system that we know that has hardly changed over the last few years but it isn’t so jarring that you can’t find everything you need.
Most of the menus interact in a similar way to their Halo Reach counterparts and the design is uncluttered and mostly niggle free. My only real issue on the GUI is that if your in the load out customization screen there isn’t any way of knowing the game is counting down (or if there is it wasn’t apparently obvious)
The Load out system
Perhaps one of the most controversial changes to the Halo 4 sandbox is the changes to the load out system. Many people have accused 343 of ignoring the roots of Halo by implementing the levelling system and the introduction of specializations and enhancements but the truth is, while there’s a chance 343 looked at the FPS genres current front runners for inspiration, nothing is a straight copy paste of any other game. Particularly not from the Call of duty series.
If you want to say that they took inspiration from anywhere I would point you towards Battlefield 3 but that would be an injustice to the balancing that 343 appear to have put into the system.
Armour abilities, as they always have been, provide you with temporary abilities that aid you on your encounters. Specialities work something akin to a ‘class’ system helping to reward those that tend to be the driver in encounters for example. And finally enhancement work almost akin to Battlefield’s enhancements providing a touch quicker movement or slightly buffed shields (and I do mean slightly).
As for choosing weapons this too is well planned out. Available to use as starters were the assault rifle, DMR, BR and storm rifle. The Secondary weapons were similarly pruned down including the Magnum, plasma pistol and Boltshot. This means no one (as I understand it) will be starting with needlers, rockets etc instead they have to be either picked up on map or earnt through the ordnance system.
I think of all the things I was skeptical about, 343 managed to put a big issue at rest for me here. The system does work, it is still Halo, consider it almost as version 2.0 of Reach’s load out system.
More bells and whistles then you can shake your pointy FOTUS helmet at.
If you like the amount of customisation Reach provided you won’t be disappointed the sheer number of combinations available was astounding. I will be interested to see if this is expanded any in DLC also, perhaps as Spartan op rewards etc.
On display for attendees to visit were Spartan Ops, Dominion, Capture the Flag, Regicide, Infinity Slayer and Flood.
Each has its own nuances and requirements but each is very definitely Halo. While it was impossible to go through everything here’s an overview of what I did see.
The two Spartan Ops maps on display played as a linear ’mission’ meeting objectives as set by the NPC radio commanders and an interesting ‘liniear/objective free form’ where you have a group of objectives to meet mostly in an order of your choosing (I say mostly because some things can’t progress until other criteria are met). Both much shorter than a normal level (the latter would be on a similar scale to the section for finding the Marines on the Halo 1 level ‘Halo’).
These are tasty morsels with some interesting character portrayals that will be intriguing to watch unfold and see how they fit into the bigger picture of the universe.
As for your enemies some things have changed (namely the visuals) and some things have stayed the same (ie they still want to kill you). One thing I did notice is they aren’t as dumb when a vehicle is heading at them, they will move out of the way, repeatedly. No easy roadkill to be had here you’re going to have to earn those hood ornaments.
Oh and watch out for the suicide grunts!
Of all the game types this is perhaps the most interesting for me to look at in terms of expectations vs actuality. It seems that a lot of people are worried that infinity slayer would be a different ball game in comparison to regular slayer that we have come to know. The truth is, that isn’t so. At least not in the context we were playing. The biggest changes in this mode as I saw were actually game play mechanic changes caused by the new options of Armour ability and specializations etc
This is Halo Slayer, pure and simple. The only real difference is the levels and the new game mechanics (which I’ll come to later) or so it seemed in the 20 minutes I played.
Capture The Flag
Again, this is classic CTF but with a few changes that do actually improve the game play despite how it might sound in the preview we had seen. Auto pickup works well, it aids your concentration to a degree because you spend that extra fraction of time positioning for your run instead of prepping to hit the pick up button. Sounds like it’s a split second, it is, but it makes a difference.
The flag carrying with the magnum while in preview videos always looked rather unnatural to me actually works much better than I expected. The flag magnum IS a touch more powerful than the regular Magnum and makes for a useful tool when being chased down. It bought me enough time to duck behind a teammates vehicle and continue my run back to base unabated.
Unfortunately I didn’t get any hands on time with “Flood” however I was able to observe some of the matches. It’s very similar to infection as we know it except now when a player is infected as the flood a visual change will come upon them.
Remember the ‘infected’ armour colour that turned out to be just another name for the same colour, well, no longer. Becoming the flood will show a visual disfiguring change on your screen as you fight to lash at the remaining humans and kill them off, bringing them into your infected fold.
Unfortunately I can’t comment much more on ‘flood as I didn’t get any personal hands on time with them.
Regicide and Dominion
Unfortunately I didn’t get any hands on or visual time with these but if the showings I have seen thus far have been anything to go on I look forward to getting my hands on these when Halo 4 does drop.
In total I got my hands on 2 multiplayer Maps and 2 Spartan ops maps.
The Spartan ops maps I discussed above but the multiplayer Maps I played were Haven and Adrift, both of which we have seen plenty of footage on which has been analyzed and picked apart by so many that I wouldn’t be adding much to the discussion and so I will refrain apart from to say this.
Adrift plays a whole lot differently than I thought it would. While Haven feels like a map that wouldn’t be out of play in Reach in terms of layout and play style Adrift feels very new. Not in the ‘it’s not Halo’ sense, but in the same way that the maps in Halo 2 had a different complexity to them over Halo:CE.
Halo 4 is definitely one of the most gorgeous Halo games to date with environmental detail to a level we haven’t seen before. Metal sheets now show their studs and screws, computer screens are legible and wires are, well, wirey. One shot we did see for example showed us a Covenant control panel being manipulated by your character which was pretty interesting to see from a first person perspective.
There are times in the games production where I had worried about this games visuals as we got fed looks at the armour, enemies etc but it does all seem to fit (almost). My only snag now in the visuals is the enemy designs for the Covenant. While playing on Spartan ops I got a good close look at the Covenant and while the Covenant is still the Covenant its going to take me a little time to get used to their new outfits.
As for the sky boxes, from what I have seen (not that you get much time to admire the view when playing against each other) they are well placed amongst their counterparts from previous Halo games. No one could accuse the 343 team of overlooking the Halo series’ lengthy history in that department which I will also admit I had, for a time, been worried about.
Boom, bang and schwoooop!
The game sounds pretty sweet in the middle of frantic battles. Each gun has some very definite distinguishing sounds which can mostly be distinguished (I think my only problem was telling DMR’s from BR’s in the hectic 2v3 round-the-corner focused firefight). The grenades are almost scary in terms of audio and there is most definitely bang for your buck. The Covenant weapons also sounded appropriately alien however, I didn’t get any real hands on with the Forerunner weapons so at this moment I can’t comment on them.
If you really are desperate to point out somewhere that you could maybe say that Halo 4 borrowed from the Call of Duty series then perhaps the death camera is it. However, since death cameras have become a pretty regular staple with the FPS genre then your setting yourself a pretty narrow point of view if you do.
The death camera shows you about 5 seconds leading up to your death and a couple of seconds afterwards (which can be satisfying if you found yourself in a mutually assured death situation). In infinity slayer this can be skipped with a quick press of the “X” button, alternatively this time can be used to change your load out with a press of the “Y” button.
The death camera is “Point of View” from the person that killed you so it could be useful to find that sniper that has been dogging your team all game or maybe when you find yourself in one of those “who shot first” moments so regularly seen when say, two shotguns face off on each other.
One thing that was apparent is that the ability to “choose when you spawn” as it were, doesn’t appear in every mode by default. However not much information was available on which ones did allow for that setting and which didn’t nor how much customisation we would have over this option.
The weapon sandbox is something that has been of hot debate amongst some of the more competitive circles of the Halo 4 fan base and I think that most people will be pretty satisfied from what I observed.
There is no need for example to be concerned about having the BR and the DMR in the same game, both take on very different roles and from my testing have noticeably different effective ranges. Taking on a BR with a DMR for example is not recommended unless you have a nice bit of distance between the two of you and either will fall down when challenging an Assault rifle in close quarters.
The sticky detonator is tricky to learn but I can see this being used to great tactical advantage in objective for example. However if you’re using it over a long distance you will need to learn the way it arcs much like you do with the rocket launcher.
Grenades certainly seem to have more potency this time around however grenade spam is kept to a minimum by having no grenade pick-ups on the map as default. The grenades will at first however feel like mini nukes if you forget (as I did) that shield bleed-through has returned.
The Promethean Boltshot was one of the weapons available as a secondary weapon however I really couldn’t get to grips with how it functions in the short time we had. It does require a couple of seconds of holding the trigger to charge the shot and seems pretty ineffectual if you don’t do so. However your probably going to want to practice on your accuracy with this gun until you get the hang of its nuances.
The shotgun is perhaps one of my favourite weapons from the original weapon sets that has made a comeback and now seems to work much more like it should, no more 5 mile shotgun sniping. You need to be up close and personal with this weapon but, get it right and it’s a one shot kill like it should be (little need to follow up with a punch to the face though I’d understand if you did).
Most weapons were on display and they all felt like they were just on the sweet spot in terms of where they sat in the sandbox and from what I could see I don’t think that we are at risk of seeing a “one gun to rule them all” situation as we have done in previous Halo games.
And finally, despite what we have seen in the preview footage this doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as bad as first impressions made it out to be. I can certainly say I didn’t notice anything that felt particularly out of place.
If anything it sounds like the team have listened and scaled back just how many audio cues we hear (or at least it seemed to in the build we played which appeared near final). Coupled with this, the amount of distracting text also appears to have been reduced so it does appear that 343 have listened to the criticism they have received.
So that about sums it up, I think I have managed to detail most of my impressions on my time playing with the game and would like to extend my thanks to Microsoft for holding the event and OXM for picking me as a winner.
By all means if there is something you wish to know that I have neglected to mention ask in the comments below and I’ll be sure to answer what I can.
Correction: I previously refered to the “Boltshot” weapon as the “Bolt Launcher” in this article, this has now been corrected.. In addition a few gramatical and formatting errors have also been corrected for better legibility
September 28th, 2012 Customs Night: