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Why We’re both Excited and Scared to Death of Halo 4

by William Schwartz

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It’s been nearly a year since the startling announcement that the most beloved console FPS franchise of our time would be returning for not one, but three fully-fledged sequels. As yet another E3 draws closer, we’re now just weeks away from seeing Halo 4 up close and personal. Though newcomer 343 Industries has done an outstanding job of keeping the heavily anticipated title under tight wraps, quite a few details have seeped through, and while some fill us with an eager elation, others have us scared sh**less.

Big changes mean big questions for longtime fans

From what we know about Halo 4’s single player campaign, it should be robust enough to satiate the appetites of Halo fans yearning for a new experience while keeping in line with the game’s traditional FPS roots that have kept gamers engaged with the franchise for so long. What’s certain, is that the game will place the Chief and Cortana at center-stage. Expected, of course, but the distinguishable characters will not be the same valiant Spartan and female AI companion that you met back in 2001. Halo 4 will chronicle the decline of Cortana as she gradually slips into the rampancy that eventually befalls all sentient AI units. Her relationship with Master Chief, as well as the exploration of the Chief as a man rather than the heroic super-soldier we’ve come to identify him as, will present an analysis and portrayal of the two characters vastly different than what we’ve seen in the series’ prior installments.

We also know that when the Chief busts out of his cryo chamber (a brilliant homage to the way in which the original Halo: CE began its campaign, and the legacy and iconic cultural status that followed), he’ll be doing so four years after the Forward Unto Dawn split into two, with the Chief’s half drifting toward a mysterious planet. We’re now aware that said planet is called Requiem, a Forerunner “shield world” that was created to protect the ancient race from the destruction of the Halo rings, also a product of their handiwork. As such, it is very possible that Requiem could contain Forerunners themselves, or at the very least, remnants of the enigmatic civilization. Couple the intriguing Halo mythos with a brand new class of enemies to take on, and Halo 4’s campaign is shaping up to be a fine addition to the legendary franchise.

Now, if only we could say the same for the Halo 4’s multiplayer component.

Can 343 keep players engaged with a single title amidst a crowded and often oversaturated market.”

Multiplayer is as intertwined with Halo as explosions and poor plot conception are to a Michael Bay film. Bungie built and expanded a multiplayer aspect that has come to be renowned and respected as one of the best that gaming has to offer. Though Reach was criticized in some regards for changing some the game’s core assets, it was relatively well received by the community for most of the additions. 343 Industries is taking the series’ multiplayer to a whole new level with Halo 4, and before you slap that pre-order money down and spend your month’s rent on H4 memorabilia, note that some of the changes 343 is implementing will naturally cause a wide divide amongst the Halofaithful.

It’s been revealed that Halo 4’s multiplayer will for the first time tie directly into the game’s campaign. Players will take on the role of a Spartan IV, the evolution of the UNSC super soldier. These new Spartan breeds are deployed aboard the UNSC Infinity – the human fleet’s single largest spacecraft. As a Spartan IV, you’ll be training for combat on the ship’s combat deck which is equipped with all varieties of terrain and environments to prepare you for the Infinity’s ultimate destination, which is yet to be detailed. Essentially, the multiplayer’s “backstory” finally gives Red and Blue Spartans a reason to kill each other. It’s a clever way to rationalize what has been an unaddressed perplexity and gives a method to the carnage.

While this component is sure to please more fans than it infuriates, the same cannot be said about all of 343’s imposed changes to a tried and true formula. So, which ones excite us, and which ones want to make us go on a hunger strike outside of the developer’s headquarters in Kirkland, Washington?

What excites us about Halo 4

Spartan Ops:This new co-op mode (supporting up to four players) follows a weekly updated, episodic campaign in which each episode gradually unfolds a new chapter in Infinity’s mission. The episode itself will reportedly be a CG sequence, but each week, five objective based missions will be released as a supplement to the episode. You can think of it in this way: it’s like watching a TV show, but also being able to participate in its story interactively through game content. You won’t get that with AMC and Don Draper from week to week.
Note that the Spartan Ops mode is not DLC, it’ll be included on-disc at launch. Though 343 has stated that the first “season” will be free, they haven’t spilled many details as to how the content would be made available to players after that.
If Spartan Ops is implemented and handled correctly following the initial few months after Halo 4’s release, 343i will be doing much more than simply adding a new and innovative component to an already celebrated multiplayer. They’ll have discovered the ever-elusive formula as to how to keep players engaged with a single title amidst a crowded and often oversaturated market. Spartan Ops is undoubtedly one of the most inventive multiplayer elements to hit the FPS genre in years, or any genre for that matter. Time will tell if the aspect will look and play as good as it sounds.

“We’re hoping that the BR will offer the same distinguishable skill gap in Halo 4 as was apparent in Halo 2 and 3”

Return of the BR
True Halo veterans rejoiced at the announcement that the Battle Rifle would be making its glorious return to the franchise. Reach’s DMR has a number of fine points that make it the most deadly and unquestionably most notorious weapon in the game. However, as many pros as the gun has, it has just as many cons…and then some. Bungie’s original concept was to create a starting weapon for competitive gametypes that took not only skill, but patience to out-shoot opponents. While the idea was noble in theory, it didn’t necessarily translate in practice.
You’ll notice that when firing the DMR with default settings, the reticule gets bigger depending on the number and speed of your trigger pulls. This “Bloom,” as it was deemed, was intended to punish “spammers” who in previous Halo games would mash the right trigger as if they were attacked with a fit of epilepsy every time they came in contact with an enemy. To a degree, the concept works, but it’s completely negated by spammers who are smart enough to crouch, which delivers your shots with pin point accuracy. You’d think that you would have to sacrifice your mobility when doing so, but no, the good players will jump, and crouch in midair to give them both advantages. You’ll also run in to a few players who have realized that crouching and shooting from a distance turns the DMR into a less-powerful, but just as accurate Sniper.
Aside from the fact that crouching negated any pacing the DMR was supposed to initiate, the competitive Halo circuit gradually came to the conclusion that Bloom needed to be nixed if the game was to be balanced as host and one shot (when a player’s shields are down and is one shot away from being killed) registration became causes for concern. You’ll notice that the “MLG” gametype within Reach has done away with Bloom entirely.
Enter the BR – the competitive player’s best friend and worst enemy. The BR in Halo 4 will feature hitscan and will have recoil which “causes it to rise slightly in a predictable and suppressible way.” 343i has stated that the game will not have Bloom as it currently exists in default Reach on any weapon. Though BXRs and BXBs will sadly not be making a return, we’re hoping that the BR will offer the same distinguishable skill gap in Halo 4 as was apparent in Halo 2 and 3.

Joining games in progress

This matchmaking feature may not seem like much, but you have to consider the advantages that such a facet will bring to a game like Halo which has lacked the component’s rewards for so long.
Often times, when a team in a game of Team Slayer is destroying the other and one player from the losing side quits, a domino effect will occur in which one by one, every member of the losing team quits out. In the same scenario, the last remaining member of the losing team will play the role of a**hole and purposely stay in the game, unnecessarily elongating the other team’s inevitable victory. Hopefully, the new feature will help to prevent such situations. Even though you’re bound to join a few unfortunate games in which the score is 40-17, every player who doesn’t opt to quit out will now have an incentive to stay and finish the match.

What worries us about Halo 4

“Specializations” or “activate combat enhancements”:Call them what you will 343i, because gamers realize that for all intents and purposes, these are “perks.” They’re the same kind you can find in CoD or BF3, and their implementation is a blatant disregard of what has made Halo unique and has saved it from joining the pack of generic cookie-cutter shooters that are now flooding the FPS market.

“343’s decision to include perks is an unashamed attempt to transition Halo into a position of mainstream accord.”

343’s decision to include perks is an unashamed attempt by the developer to transition Halo into a position of mainstream accord. The ranking system worked well in Reachbecause it only determined the player’s aesthetic appearance. Now, the gameplay itself will be altered by rank – an enormous mistake on the part of 343i. Ranking up grants you “Spartan Points” which you can use to unlock new abilities, specializations, and items for loadouts. It’s the same system that is available across every other FPS in your game library, and it’s one that most FPS veterans can’t stand.

The concept of perks in Halo is more mismatched than the Lakers looked playing the Thunder Monday night. Ask any Halo competitive player what they think the most balanced game in the franchise was. Chances are they’re either going to name Halo: CE or Halo 2. The reason for that being? Both games, when played in any gametype, featured settings close to default. What many of us loved about Halo: CE, 2, and even 3, was that you could easily play a few rounds of regular Team Slayer following an hour or two in a custom gametype (like that of MLG, for example) and the two would still feel like different elements of the same game. The disparity between the competitive and causal gametypes of Reach was significant, and it unfortunately looks as if Halo 4will wedge that gap even further.

Customizable loadouts:In the same breath as the perk system, loadouts that differentiate between players breaks another core aspect that has prevented Halo fans from migrating toward other mainstream FPS games – equality. 343i is allowing players to customize everything from their primary and secondary weapons, grenade types, armor abilities, and specializations. Though they’ve stated that power weapons will not be available to include into loadouts, what about other weapons that Halo gamers fight for control over and give equipped players a distinct advantage? For example, the Covenant Needle Rifle is not by definition a power weapon, but it is often thought to be more lethal than the DMR as it features less recoil and a faster rate of fire, not to mention a little burst of extra damage when the needles explode.

“Loadouts that differentiate between players breaks another core aspect that has prevented Halo fans from migrating toward other mainstream FPS games – equality.”

Similarly, think of the repercussions of allowing an experienced player to begin games with a Plasma Pistol. With the help of the “noob combo” as it is so often referred to as, even an average Halo player can take out entire teams by releasing a full charge of the Plasma Pistol, taking down the enemy’s shields, and finishing him/her off with one shot to the head. It is situations such as these that we hope 343i is taking into account, or at least ready to come under fire for royally screwing up.
It’s also worth noting that 343i plans on doing away with set positions of power weapons like the Sword and Rocket Launcher. Instead of being set at a fixated place on the map when the game begins and having a set respawn time, they’ll be dropped at random places throughout the match. Yet again, 343 seems to be ignoring a very essential component of team Haloplay: controlling the positions and respawns of a map’s power weapons.

No longer can teams meticulously strategize on how to best control a map’s key points, and it would appear as if skill, practice, and planning are being negated completely. Dropping random power weapons essentially equates to “luck of the draw” and a team could find themselves utterly helpless if the enemy is fortunate enough to have an effin’ rocket laucher dropped a foot away from them. We’re praying that the developer has already set in place a system in which this aspect can be altered, or nixed entirely.

No respawn time after a death: Yep. You read right. If adding a system of perks and customizable loadouts was not enough of a barefaced effort to make Halo fashionable amongst causal FPS audiences and sway a sector of CoD fans toward the franchise, deliberately implementing one of CoD’s core features takes the cake.
Now, instead of waiting those “excruciating” five seconds after a death, pressing “X” now instantly puts you back onto the battlefield. Even assuming that at the very least, the respawn time for Capture the Flag remains unchanged, Team Slayer is now severely altered for the worse. Traditionally, winning a 1v1 situation gave a substantial advantage to the winner’s team and bore sizable consequences for the loser’s. That five seconds is crucial time that the team of four can use to gain territorial and vantage positions over the team of three. With the implementation of instant respawns, 343 is taking away yet another core facet of Halo’s competitive balance.

With E3 just weeks away, we’re hoping 343 Industries can make believers out of us and show us that the customary, time-honored Halo experience that we’ve come to know and love remains largely unaffected. More importantly, we’re hoping to affirm that 343 has not sold Halo’s soul in a desperate attempt to convert the casual CoD audience to a long-established multiplayer that has habitually been unconcerned with the genre’s growing and most popular trends.

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