When I heard Halo 4 would have a presence at New York Comic Con this year, it became clear which booth I would be visiting first. The next installment in the megaton series was showing off its version of Team Slayer at the show. so it was time to dust off my Halo skills and see how 343 Industries is innovating this established multiplayer formula.
Expanding on the customization options of Halo: Reach, Halo 4 gives players more freedom with their weapon loadouts. Instead of just choosing from a list of predetermined weapon and armor ability sets, gamers will be able to pick a primary weapon, secondary weapon, grenade type, armor ability, tactical package, and support upgrade. It’s essentially the Call of Duty format in Mjolnir Mark VI armor. There will be limitations, however, as each player will get only five loadouts to customize. Furthermore, most weapons, armor abilities, and perks will need to be unlocked through playing matches. Of course, every other shooter game needs to unlock weapons and perks as well, so there won’t be a need for too much adjustment.
As for my loadout, I chose the DMR, magnum, extra ammo, mobility for a constant sprint, and the hardlight shield. The shield acts in a similar fashion to the ones used by Jackals in previous games, being deployed for an extra bit of cover while trying to survive. As implied by the mobility perk, sprinting is now available from the start (another idea brought over from CoD) and no longer relegated to an armor ability. Score one for progress!
As my match started, I quickly identified with the map I would be fighting in: formerly known as Valhalla in Halo 2, which itself was the remake of Halo: Combat Evolved‘s Blood Gulch, I fought in a long valley with two bases known as Ragnarok. It’s been given a visual facelift, but the arena is basically the same. Once I got my bearings, I took to the side of my base to find a vehicle (because everyone knows there are vehicles outside of the base) and discovered something…quite surprising waiting for me. I feasted my eyes upon the Mantis: a bipedal mech with a machine gun, rockets, and a foot-stomp move I could use to tear into and flatten foes. Unfortunately durability is not its strong suit, as other Mantises and Covenant vehicles can tear it to shreds fairly quickly, not to mention the possibility of being hijacked by enemies and blown useless via grenade a la Scorpion tanks.
When I finally engaged the enemy, the action got intense. Every gun screams its presence across the map thanks to the sound design, while recoil and reloading animations have a feeling of weight and power. It creates a visceral experience unmatched in any Halo game to date, which says a lot given the series’ history.
Significantly absent on the map was the presence of predictable power weapon locations due to the inclusion of Ordnance. These will drop power weapons randomly, eliminating the franchise-long problem of one team camping these locations for an easier win. Ordnance also acts as a call-in reward for players who accrue a certain number of points during a match. These points, like other top FPS properties, can be gained through a variety of means and aren’t limited to kills.
Despite all the changes, additions, and improvements that seem to move away from a traditional Halo experience and towards that of Call of Duty or Battlefield, my demo session still felt distinctly Halo. The pacing, animations, and other mechanics still stick to the roots that made this FPS franchise the giant it is today. So long as 343 keeps that going, it should have a winner on its hands come November 6 when Halo 4 launches exclusively on the Xbox 360.