Welcome back, Chief - Why I "believe" in Halo 4
- Halo 4
- E3 2012
- 343 Industries
Regardless of the new games at this year's E3 – even the really exciting ones like Watch-Dogs, Beyond: Two Souls, Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, The Last of Us, Black Ops 2, Nintendo Land – the one that I was secretly waiting to see more than anything, even more than brand new announcements, was Halo 4.
As a huge fan of the Halo games – and I emphasise games as I can pretty much take or leave the extended universe of any franchise (with the exception of The Old Republic), I've been looking forward to seeing how 343 Industries would bring back John-117 in a believable way. While story details are still thin on the ground, the broad strokes are encouraging.
For those who don't know (recent coma patients and suchlike) the new Reclaimer trilogy will focus on the Master Chief's battle on and around a world called Requiem against the Forerunners, the ancient race who built the Halo installations to wipe out all life in the galaxy in the event of an outbreak of the parasitic Flood. More interesting than that is the news that sharp light will be thrown onto the Spartan's relationship with Cortana, his AI. Having now gone a year past the standard AI "Use-By" date, she's beginning to show worrying signs of Rampancy, the machine equivalent of (to quote Arnold Rimmer) "foaming dog fever". Right when the Master Chief needs her the most, she could be at her least trustworthy. Halo with emotional dilemma? Sign me up.
Story elements aside, everyone's real concern was with the gameplay. When any beloved franchise changes hands there's an inherent worry that the new caretakers will neglect something fundamental and sacred, and with the Halo series nothing is more important than the unique sandbox-style firefighting and exceptional pacing.
Thankfully, 343 have treated the name with the respect it's due, even going so far as to use the original Combat Evolved as their benchmark and ramping up the mystery and exploration elements. Until I saw gameplay I was never going to be convinced, and so I was as giddy as a fanboy when Microsoft unveiled the five minute gameplay demo in LA last week. I am no longer worried. Apprehensive, maybe, until I have the disc in my tray and the fate of mankind once more in my hands, but not worried.
The elements that make Halo what it is are there: the gruff Chief, the slightly-disturbing-but-we-don't-know-why Cortana, the assault rifle, the comforting rhythm of a 1,000lbs super-soldier's confident stride, the HUD, the palette, the feel – but with the added mystery of the Unknown, something not enjoyed by the franchise since 2001. New enemies with tactics we know nothing about, new weapons we've never hefted, new emotional depths we've never plumbed.
Stirring it all is the familiar sense that no matter what happens, no matter who dies along the way or how many planet-sized installations explode, the Chief will sort it out In the end – despite assurances from 343 that the tone is more mature and the new trilogy will get way darker before its conclusion. Yeah, right, I expect it will, but the Chief will still kick the galaxy's ass in the end. I know. I believe.
That said, there are a few things I'm unsure about, mostly involving the overhauled multiplayer. I'm not sure that Combat Enhancements (read: Perks, CoD fans) don't threaten to unbalance a playing field that, in the past, has always been dictated by player skill and operational knowledge rather than by the guy with the highest prestige and the nattiest Perks (I'm not digging into CoD here, but few can argue that the system is entirely balanced). I am, however, keen to see how the UNSC Infinity integrates with the multiplayer and how the much-vaunted narrative works. Reach's online mode is, to my eyes, perfect (and developed and maintained by 343 to boot), so it will be interesting to see just how much they can improve on it here.
In summary, I feel better having watched the gameplay demo. I feel reassured, I feel excited, I feel impatient again in a way I haven't felt since Halo 3 was announced (I never got hyped for Reach for unknown reasons, then fell head over heels for it after launch). But...
What 343 must, must, must nail is the sense of shock and awe and majesty that we all felt playing Combat Evolved, Halo 3 and Reach for the first time (I won't pretend I liked Halo 2 offline all that much, but it had its moments). They must bring that grandeur, that proud self-confidence that led Bungie to create Reach's "Believe" marketing campaign, that sense of scope and sacrifice and adversity that always defined Halo.
I'm not saying I'm 100% confident they can do that yet, because the thought of anyone handling Halo other than Bungie is akin to letting someone else drive your car for the first time. You know they know what they're doing, but you watch them until they reach the end of the street anyway. But I do have more faith now, certainly. The core of Halo remains and, while factors like plot pacing, combat mechanics and multiplayer balancing can't be judged until I've actually played it, I can happily say I believe in 343 Industries' ability to deliver a Halo experience worthy of what has gone before. But please, guys, don't introduce another Guilty Spark, and don't ever force me to play as a fucking Elite...
I'm kidding. I know you won't.
Because I believe.
Halo 4 is being developed by 343 Industries and will be published by Microsoft Game Studios. It is currently slated for launch on November 6th. For more information, visit the official website.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
The Xbox One made me appreciate my 360 all the more. Here's why.
“And it’s on.” Countdown for the new Xbox?