Saturday, June 9, 2012

E3 Best in Show: Halo 4

Revolutionized and Revitalized--this is what fans of the Halo series are looking to see in the next release. Based on the warm reception Halo 4 is receiving from E3 goers, it appears as though the staff at 343 Industries have done just that.

The Official Commercial Trailer of Halo 4 released at E3

343 Industries took over the franchise from the famed Bungie Studios - producers of Halo: CE, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 3 ODST, and Halo: Reach. After a dismal disappointment in the form of Halo: Reach, Bungie had a massive fall-out from its fan base, who claimed Bungie had ruined the series. Perhaps the biggest problem for fans was not the poor multiplayer game or unbalanced add-ons, but a campaign storyline that didn't include Microsoft's flagship character: Spartan 117, The Master Chief. 

I include myself in a list of Halo fans that have been around since the beginning of the series more than 10 years ago, and I know how sensitive and committed Halo fans are to this game and to the Master Chief. With that being said, the Halo community has come out in full support for 343 Industries to take over the franchise and deliver the storyline and gameplay that was lost in Reach. From what has been reported and seen at E3, 343 Industries has re-instilled hope to fans of the series. Because of my history with this game (playing more than 10 years and playing on the MLG circuit) I consider myself an expert on the series, particularly the multiplayer gameplay aspect. With that being said, this article will deliver a comprehensive breakdown to what was seen at E3, and what Halo 4 needs to do to reclaim the video game throne that once belong to it. 

343 Industries had an open booth at E3 where fans could play 
one of the missions from the Halo 4 campaign. Here is an 
official video walkthrough of that gameplay.

The campaign is a huge part of what makes the Halo experience what it is, and it isn't just about the gameplay. The storyline of Master Chief and his heroism is what has engaged fans in such a way made the series so popular. In Reach, the presence of Master Chief was missing, and the game's campaign was considered a failure largely in part to this. 343 Industries learned from Bungie's mistakes, continuing Halo 4 right where Halo 3 left off, with Master Chief floating endlessly in space after saving the universe and ending the war against the Covenant. This is really important to the campaign because many fans are going to invest themselves into this game simply just to find out what has happened to Master Chief. The type of rich story-lines present in the previous games will need to be in Halo 4 if it is to re-emerge as Microsoft's flagship game once again.

A screenshot of the HUD from Halo 4. Notice in particular the
updated design to the health, ammo bar, and target reticle.
Now for the gameplay: what features look good, and what may need further improvement or perhaps even removal from the final product. From a technical standpoint the game looks revitalized. The visuals and sounds are just stunning, and the environments are rich and immerse, making for by far the biggest visual update to series thus far. The huge question remains though: does it play as great as it looks?There are thousands of components that go into Halo to make it a great video game, but the most important is balance. It was the feeling of balance that lacked in Reach and turned away many fans of the series. Balance will always promote skill-gap, and skill-gap will always promote competitive and engaging gameplay. From what was seen at E3, and what 343 Industries has been saying to the press, it appears as though balance was one of the most important considerations going into the Halo 4's development. 

A look into the new feature "Promethean vision" in Halo 4
which allows you to see your enemy using a sonar radar.
343 Industries was also keen on adding new features to the game while maintaining the classic Halo feel that separated it from other shooters. Let's look the features: The Battle Rifle (or BR for short) has returned to the series. This is huge because it is the best standardized weapon for competitive play, and probably the favorite weapon of fans in the series. It appears as though the faster charging shield has also returned in place the health bar used in Reach. This is another positive, the health bar isn't necessary because of the shield bar, and a faster shield recharge will make for faster competitive play. The HUD and game interface looks great, with new features to better keep track of ammo and a feature that shows when you bullets are hitting your target. Another positive because these features will help competitive players make quick adjusts during battle. 

The best competitive look at Halo 4 multiplayer by MLG pro 
Mason "Neighbor" Cobb. Notice old school Halo feel in the 
movements and map style.

One concern by fans is that they are keeping the armor upgrades from Reach, which is very understandable. But they are undergoing huge updates to them. There will still be sprint and jetpack, but upgrades such as a shield and "Promethean vision" will be available. I am skeptical of these add-ons as well, but 343 Industries knows the problems they caused in Reach, so if they are truly developing a balanced game they will foresee  the problems to make sure the armor abilities are fair, balanced, and fun. 

I could go on forever about the list of features that have been revealed for the new game, but if you want to see all the features than check out the commentary below by Pro Gaming Legend "Walshy."

  Full multiplayer analysis of Halo 4 by former MLG Pro Halo player 
David Walsh, or "Walshy." This is perhaps the best insight into the 
multiplayer of the game from a competitive standpoint.

The feature most important to making Halo 4 better than the previous game is a player ranking system. Reach did not have a player ranking system and that is almost entirely to blame for the game's multiplayer failure. A ranking system provides for the most fun and competitive matches; pitting players of similar skill level against each other for the most balanced match. It also gave players something to work for, and the motivation to work on their game and improve their skill and ranking. 

It is my belief that if 343 Industries reintroduces a competitive ranking system along-side a balanced multiplayer experience with a strong campaign story, that Halo 4 will put the series back atop the gaming throne where it belongs. 

Be sure to be on the lookout for more Halo 4 news closer to the release date on November 6th. 

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