E3 2012: Microsoft Headlines Halo 4

Posted by on June 5, 2012 at 19:22.
Categories: Features, News

We waited with baited breath and heightened anticipation for Microsoft’s opening at this year’s behemoth E3 conference.  Were we going to get a glimpse of next-gen?  Nope.  So now that we’ve put that one to bed we can concentrate on what we did see.

I hope you’ve all been following our feeds from our onsite reporter, Escoblades (good job that man); he’s been on hand to deliver up to the minute updates and the low-down on all the breaking news.

Microsoft kicked off their key note with a big entrance from Halo 4, first delivered by a live action short and followed up by a decent chunk of campaign action.  The live action sequence is set on the UNSC research ship “Infinity”; accompanied by a booming voiceover that informs us “mankind has left war behind to peacefully advance the cause of mankind through the discovery of new worlds”.  Of course, if you make a bold statement like that, it will inevitably come back and bite you right in the arse.

The 17,000 crew aboard the Infinity find themselves stricken by an unknown force that seems to render the ship powerless.  Unfortunately starships without power fly in exactly the same way a brick doesn’t (thank you for that one Mr Adams).  The Infinity, trapped in the gravity well of a nearby planet, is always going to head in one direction.  Down.

It’s at this point that the presentation cuts from live action to Halo 4 in-game footage; on the surface of an unknown Forerunner world we see the hero of the Halo trilogy, Master Chief, witnessing the cataclysmic descent of the Infinity.  The Chief picks up the distress calls across the comms, but there is nothing he can do but to watch the ship plummet over the horizon.  Almost instantly Cortana gives the calculated crash landing coordinates, then, without warning, a big orange glowing ball appears above Master Chief’s head and zips off in the direction of the crashed ship, shortly followed by fleets of Covenant light ships.  Yes, Master Chief not only has a new enemy, but the return of some familiar split-jawed faces as well.

The E3 demonstration then takes us through a section of the campaign where you, as Master Chief, must reach the site of the downed UNSC Infinity through a jungle environment.  The first combat encounter is with a small squad of Covenant, however this is interrupted by weapons fire from another source, which vaporises the final charging Elite soldier.

Further progress through the jungle level then sees first contact with a new foe, and yes, as you’d expect, they don’t introduce themselves, they just start firing nasty burning projectiles.  A few pops with what seems to be a modified DMR/Battle Rifle and then a quick burst of Assault Rifle fire is enough to vanquish this first wave of orange glowy dog type enemies.  Just as I was thinking “What are they?” Cortana pipes up and advises that they’re some type of automated defence A.I.  Just when it seems that Master Chief has got the upper hand and all the orange glowy dog type things are retreating, something even bigger, orangier and even glowier pounces on the Chief.  No, it’s not the fat guy from the Fanta adverts, but something far more menacing.  Cortana chips in with another piece of information “Whatever it is, it’s not organic.”  Err, so it’s not an orange then.

Back to the action and the Chief manages to finally beat this new tough enemy, his trophy from the battle…  A brand new weapon to the Halo franchise, a Forerunner Lightrifle, this seems to be a laser based equivalent of the DMR, only more orange, and yes, more glowy.  Another encounter and another weapon, this time a Forerunner shotgun, the aptly named Scattershot, anyone care to guess what colour it is?

Finally as the Chief nears the Infinity Cortana warns of yet more contact, we then get a peak at a new armour ability, a visor thermal vision.  The view switches to a Predator type thermal view, as you can guess there’s movement everywhere and that’s pretty much where the demonstration cuts.

So, what do we think?  The gameplay is typical Halo, the tried, tested and well-worn grenade, shoot and melee mechanic.  343 Industries have obviously stuck with the premise, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Beyond that, we have the inclusion of the new Forerunner enemy and the weapons they bring.

At this point in time we can only speculate on the objectives of the Forerunners, these near mythical beings are responsible for building the Halo installations that featured in the Chief’s previous trilogy.  As we have been led to believe, these installations were built to clear the universe of the parasitic Flood entity.  Quite why the Forerunners have a gripe with the humans (and perhaps the Covenant too) will remain a mystery, probably until Halo 4 is released in November.  Can this new story arc of Master Chief once again capture millions of fans for another trilogy, or will it all start feeling a bit tired?  I’m sure that 343 won’t drop the ball with Microsoft’s flagship franchise, but they’re really going to have to deliver to keep the fans happy.

The graphics in the demonstration looked very polished, unmistakably Halo, the lighting and detail seem to have been turned up a notch from those seen previously in Reach.  The Xbox 360 is nearing the end of its cycle, but somehow the developers seem to keep ever extracting a bit more from Microsoft’s veteran machine.  Impressive indeed.

Besides the campaign footage that Microsoft have shown, they have also released further details of the game along with some good reasons that you’ll want to keep playing Halo 4:

-   Spartan Ops. The story of the UNSC Infinity intersects with the “Halo 4” campaign, and then continues on in a brand-new, story-driven experience known as Spartan Ops. A first-of-its-kind, exciting new addition to the “Halo” franchise,Spartan Ops is an episodic adventure that blends immersive storytelling, high-quality cinematics and action-packed gameplay to deliver an unprecedented serialized experience.

Through a weekly series of cinematic episodes, Spartan Ops will tell the continuing story of the UNSC Infinity, following the events of “Halo 4.” These episodes will center on the UNSC Infinity leaders and crew as well as a new team of Spartans —Majestic Squad. These cinematic episodes will provide the backdrop for the weekly Spartan Ops gameplay missions. Playable in single-player or cooperatively with up to four players, Spartan Ops lets you explore the corners of Requiem in objective-based missions and help uncover the secrets of the mysterious Forerunner world.

A massive-scale adventure that builds off the “Halo 4” story, access to Spartan Ops is included with “Halo 4” at no additional charge —effectively delivering two campaign experiences in one game.

-   War Games. The competitive multiplayer modes of “Halo 4,” known asWar Games,take place on the combat deck of the UNSC Infinity and revive the visceral and immersive experiences that “Halo” multiplayer is famous for. Featuring 10 diverse and action-packed new multiplayer maps at launch, “Halo 4” introduces a broad variety of immersive new game modes and strategies to help you progress your Spartan-IV career, while delivering an experience that’s distinctly “Halo.”

-   Total combat freedom and player progression. “Halo 4” features a vastly expanded suite of new multiplayer modes, weapons, vehicles and armor abilities; a new loadout and player progression system; and a new armor modification system that introduces gameplay-enhancing customizations for the first time in a “Halo” game. These advancements can be used in both Spartan Ops and certain War Games matchmaking playlists, empowering players’ choices, vastly expanding their creative options, and making the experience deeper for core fans and more approachable for newcomers.

The “Halo 4” player progression system goes beyond simple aesthetic upgrades, encouraging players to invest time and effort to create a Spartan that looks and plays the way they want. Players can obtain and activate combat enhancements called “Specializations” based on the style of play they engage in, from stealth to all-out assault and everything in between.

·   Redefining the “Halo” game engine. Built on the backbone of the engine that revolutionized the shooter genre and console gaming, “Halo 4” provides a more visceral and visually stunning “Halo” experience than ever before, taking a massive leap forward with all-new engine technology, including state-of-the-art graphics, lighting, animation, audio, physics, motion-capture cinematics and AI. All these systems have been dramatically overhauled or redesigned from the ground up to deliver the most visually striking and immersive “Halo” game to date.

·   Gripping music and audio. From acclaimed producer and composer Neil Davidge of the famed trip hop group Massive Attack comes a sweeping musical score that captures the heroic spirit and emotional intensity of the Master Chief’s adventure. Combined with all-new audio recordings for every weapon and sound effect in the game, the action gets up close and personal, delivering an impactful experience that resonates as powerfully as an epic Hollywood blockbuster.

So there we have it, 2 campaigns in one, intertwining multiplayer and campaign experience, plus loads of new toys to play with.  It certainly looks like 343 Industries are doing their best to pick up where Bungie left off.  The future’s bright, the future’s orange (and glowy).

Check out the official E3 Halo 4 presentation.

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