By Steve Wright
Of all the parties of E3, I was most excited about Microsoft's Halo 4 VIP event. Do I even need to explain why? It was freaking Halo, man! Not only that, the game marks the start of a new trilogy AND 343 Studios' first (proper) solo Halo endeavour. Needless to say, there's a lot riding on this one.
Oh, and I got called a "VIP" at E3. It was kind of exciting.
At the event, we got go hands-on in two different multiplayer modes: the standard team vs team "Infinity Slayer," plus the first mission of the new "Spartan Ops" program.
Halo 4, first and foremost, looks like Halo. Whilst 343 are taking steps to make the franchise theirs, the game isn't wholly reinvented. Spartans look more or less the same, as do Covenant baddies. Old weapons return and behave as you'd expect, and sound crisp and awesome…with the notable exception of the plasma pistol, which just sounds wrong. It's got a clunky, mechanical handgun sound to it, which I hope is just a place-filler and corrected by release.
Overall, the team versus mode was great fun. The game has definitely been sped up, compared to Halo 3 or Reach, but in a good way: not too much, but just right. The newfound extra speed you have really make the games you play with others frenzied and fun, but still very Halo. That all being said, the Spartans do feel like they've got a bit more weight to them, and the addition of their sprint ability as a standard asset was a great decision.
The "Spartan Ops" mode has some merit to it, but was less enjoyable than straight up multiplayer. I like the idea of episodic romps through the Halo universe, but the episode we played through just seemed a bit uninspired. If you're supposed to be mounting huge campaigns to upset the balance of power in the region, the episodes need to feel far more epic than they do. Also, and it could have just been because we were playing at a nightclub (and Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk were also around and were quite distracting!), but there wasn't a sense of team at all with the people I was playing with. Lone Wolfing it though "Spartan Ops" just makes the whole experience a bit bland.
As part of "Spartan Ops," we got to take on a few new Forerunner enemy types, first witnessed at Microsoft's press conference. They fit well within the universe, but feel very different from the Covenant. The baddies have an orange glow and spit projectiles; some even have teleport abilities. They'll present a bit of a challenge to returning players, as tactics you'd apply to normal Covenant baddies won't be as effective.
On the whole, Halo 4 was an enjoyable and positive experience. The series looks to be in great hands, and I can't wait to continue Master Chief's story come this November.