Hands-on: Halo 4

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Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft
Platforms: Xbox 360

There’s no denying that the Halo series has seen a lot of love this generation – some would say too much – but following the phenomenal success of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 on Microsoft’s original hulk of a console, we’ve been treated to no less than five instalments on the 360, propelling the space-hopping FPS to worldwide phenomenon status, and cementing the series as Xbox’s, and indeed Microsoft’s, flagship franchise.

Originally planned to be a trilogy, Halo has seen spinoffs in the form of Halo Wars, tangential releases such as Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach, and of course last year’s Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Now, 343 Industries intend to extend the series with another three mainline games, so you can finish the fight. Again. Starting with Halo 4.

We recently sat down with the most recent build at the Eurogamer Expo in London for some quality hands-on time. For about ten minutes. Microsoft had set up a swanky booth for 32 players, each with his or her own Samsung LED TV, all of which had their brightness and contrast settings turned up way too high, and all of which came supplied with a plastic stool placed approximately twelve millimetres from the 37-inch screen. Not ideal playing conditions as you can appreciate, but we still managed to get a good view of the action.

If you value your eyes, don't play like this

Players were split up into two teams of four – Red vs. Blue – and plunged into a game of Infinity Slayer, a new addition for this instalment. The aim is simple – standard Team Slayer, but with an added incentive: ordnance. Spartans can earn points during combat which will eventually allow them to call in a randomly generated powerup or weapon from above. It’s not too dissimilar to the killstreak setup in Call of Duty; purists might not like it, but it does manage to keep things fresh and lends to the carnage on show.

Gameplay was typical Halo fare as you’d expect, sharing more in common with Halo 3 than the more recent Reach. Loadouts were predetermined and un-customisable during the expo, featuring such series staples as the battle rifle, assault rifle and covenant rifle. One lucky swine managed to acquire a Sticky Detonar via ordinance, another grabbed an energy sword.

The only map on show was called Solace and felt very similar to Guardian and Lockout from Halo 3 and 2 respectively; a small, tight map with two levels and a crap load of man cannons. It was devilishly frantic and sure to be a favourite with fans of Close-Quarters gameplay.

Despite the aforementioned-less-than-ideal playing conditions, Halo 4 still managed to impress graphically with much improved textures, character models and, particularly, lighting. At times, we felt it could do with a lick of anti-aliasing, but again, Microsoft seemed intent on making the game look as ugly as possible with the blindingly bright TV setup which highlighted any jaggies that may have been present. Rest assured, though, this is the best-looking Halo game ever made.

The Microsoft reps on-hand were particularly secretive and tight-lipped. Filming was strictly forbidden within the booth, and my questions went largely unanswered, so we didn’t know whether this was finished code or not. The game has recently gone gold, granted, but there’s no guarantee that this was the finished article. If it was, it’s not the end of the world, but there were a few issues that we’d like to see cleaned up before launch day, particularly one concerning grenades.

It may have just been a case of us not being used to the controls, but the trajectory of the grenades seemed to wildly vary and was very inconsistent with the on-screen reticle. Additionally, the grenades would travel where you were aiming after the throwing animation was performed, not before. A few times we would look up to lob a grenade into the distance and quickly look back down to focus on the action once more, and the frag would travel a whole of five yards before rolling back to our feet and granting us a swift entrance into ER.

Technical bugs aside, Halo 4 is damn good fun. If it manages to uphold the same level of polish as its predecessors whilst simultaneously offering one of the most robust and enjoyable online experiences on consoles, then 343 Industries will be more than worthy of flying the flag for Microsoft for the next decade.

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Rating: 5.0/5 (3 votes cast)

  • killermoose

    Gahhh that booth looks sexy. wish i could go to expos. Lucky journos :(

  • whatsyonumber

    Awesome, can’t wait! Less than a month to go :D