How Does it Play?
At its core Halo 4 handles well, it’s a smooth experience and it presents a sense of predictability. Everything works as one would expect, which is essential if a game is to thrive. More importantly, we never felt as if we were being punished for some questionable mechanic, we were being punished for our mistakes and our poor choices.
Halo 4 improves on Reach’s responsiveness and player feedback, but at the same time, feels closer to the original trilogy in terms of player movement. The HUD in Halo 4 is fairly busy, but not intrusive. The HUD does a great job of informing the player about almost anything; things such as abilities, objectives and weapons/vehicles on map are clearly and effectively indicated. We think that these elements actually speed up the game and keep the intensity up. So for players who tend to forget that you’ve only used 2 of your 4 rockets or don’t understand what to do with the flag, fear not.
One gripe we do have is how frequently the announcer is used when the game is alerting the player. He seems to narrate nearly every action. Hopefully it doesn’t get to the point where he starts announcing yards sprinted. Speaking of sprint…
Sprinting is now a default player trait. This means that every player has sprint ability as well as armor ability. There are a few aspects of Halo 4 that don’t make sprint feel like a game breaking mechanic. When sprinting, play now slows down considerably when taking shots. This hopefully gives equal advantage to a player who uses a weapon over a player who uses the sprint-melee combo. It also seems as though the maps now accommodate sprint as default. Small to medium maps seem slightly larger than in past games. Not drastically so, but extra space is given for the player to maneuver while sprinting.
Another change in Halo 4 is how the player is handled when in scope. Players are no longer knocked out of scope when shot; instead they have to deal with kick back and adjusting aim accordingly. We found that we spent more time dealing with the game’s mechanics and less time with the physical mechanics of a controller, which was welcome. Gun fights are more focused and less frustrating, but still require work to keep reticle on opponents.
Weapons each have their uses, whether UNSC, Covenant or Forerunner. Nothing feels completely irrelevant; rather, each weapon has its own unique role. We really didn’t try to avoid certain weapons and we never felt that any of the weapons we picked up were useless. Some returning weapons may even surprise you, such as the Needler. As a weapon we used to classify in the “I think I can” or “it’s the effort that counts” category, it’s now bordering on power weapon status. Seriously, pick that thing up!
This new philosophy of making every weapon strong, useful, and meaningful could make Halo 4′s campaign the first Halo game in a while to actually encourage a player to use weapons picked up throughout a campaign mission instead of sticking with the weapons given to the player at the start of any given mission. Hurray for variety!
Grenades are another important part of the Halo equation. Grenades are tuned so that they don’t become a tool that players can rely on for kills. Grenade damage is closer to that of Halo 3 and grenade placement requires more precision. These simple changes encourage players to use grenades appropriately and not to spam them in hope of a single kill. By default, you cannot pick up any player’s dropped grenades, which lessens the amount of grenades being flung around.
Forerunner Weapons are Good for Your Health
Typically a Halo game introduces a few new weapons and/or tweaks pre-existing weapons. With Halo 4 there are several new additions. It was interesting seeing how a whole new weapon class would fit into the already large sandbox.
The Promethean Suppressor sits alongside the UNSC Assault Rifle and the Covenant Storm Rifle. Like the UNSC and Covenant assault variants, the Suppressor feels a great deal more powerful than the automatic weapons in previous Halo games.
The Light Rifle was probably the biggest surprise in terms of weapons. The weapon has dual firing modes. Out of scope, it’s similar to the Battle Rifle as a burst weapon and takes 5 shots to kill an opponent. In-scope, it works almost like the DMR: a single shot weapon, but unlike the DMR, it’s only 4 shots to kill. It may make the DMR and BR seem irrelevant, but it doesn’t. The Light Rifle had a slower rate of fire when out of scope and an even slower rate of fire when scoped reveals the balanced trade-offs present between primary weapons.
The Incinerator Cannon was the only Forerunner weapon that we didn’t have hands on time with, however we did witness it being used a few times. It’s definitely similar to the rocket launcher, but it looks like it had a greater area of effect. After the initial explosion, a few smaller particles are dispersed that create smaller explosions within a certain radius. We witnessed a few people kill themselves because of the splash damage; this baby is lethal. We overheard talk that the residual explosive particles are actually physics based, so you had better be aware of your surroundings–We’re talking about teammate killing prone players. In fact, we believe one such community manager might want to take note.
The Binary Shot is the Forerunner equivalent of the sniper. I shot this weapon once, though a satisfying shot it was. My time was so brief with the weapon that I really can’t comment on how it handles, though out of scope the reticle seemed bigger than a shotgun and the ammo clip was shallow. Just know that my opponent was greeted with a “Snaphot” and that he slowly disintegrated right before my eyes. Heck, I’m not going to lie, I felt sorry for whoever was on the receiving end.
The Boltshot is the Forerunner pistol with dual firing modes. The standard firing mode works similarly to the UNSC pistol, but it shoots much faster and may be a little weaker overall. The nicest aspect of the weapon is when you hold the trigger to allow the Bolshot to charge. Like the plasma pistol, you can charge the Bolshot up for a more powerful shot. Unlike the Plasma Pistol, the player isn’t able to hold the charge, it automatically fires. This means that you really have to be careful and confident with the charged shots when using this weapon. We definitely took a liking to this weapon as a Mauler-Pistol hybrid.
The Scattershot is pretty well known by now. It works like a shotgun, but allows you to bank projectiles off surfaces. Since E3, the weapon seems to have been toned down. Much to my dismay, it seemed considerably weaker. Still, it is one of the more satisfying weapons in the game and can provide some interesting moments. Its evaporating effect along with its high rate of fire makes it a nice contrast to the UNSC Shotgun.
You’ve Got Your Armor in My Abilities!
Armor abilities have been cause for concern for Halo multiplayer and rightfully so. When we look at the landscape of Reach, there are several underlying problems that detract from what is otherwise a very good game. The problem that is most apparent is the inclusion of armor abilities, or at least how they were implemented.
Let’s talk about each Amor Ability individually…
Thruster Pack is the perfect tool for quickly getting out of the enemies sight lines, strafing and avoiding grenades. Since E3, the thruster pack has been changed to third person, which better communicates the distance traveled. The Thruster AA would be better suited on smaller maps with more complicated geometry, allowing a player to quickly drop in and out of combat.
Promethean Vision has been causing much concern amongst fans, but we still maintain that it isn’t as useful as many believe. In fact, we found that Promethean Vision was a great ability to help you learn the layout of a map, but in combat scenarios against skilled players it didn’t provide any significant advantage (editor’s note: the previous statement was spoken by mastrbiggy who doesn’t know how to use Promethean Vision properly. -Domino), especially for players who are used to using motion trackers and have any situational awareness. One neat aspect of Promethean Vision is that a player can use his battlefield awareness to callout enemy players on the map, creating an optimal supporting role.
Something we recently discovered was that motion tracker will in fact inform you if an enemy player is using Promethean vision by displaying an expanding red wave. Some changes we noticed include faster drain and longer recharge. It also seems to have a cool down even if you didn’t drain the entire AA meter.
Jetpack performs similarly to Reach’s jetpack, which is unfortunate. Jetpack was the most frustrating armor ability for us to deal with. It greatly nullified map design and combat flow. While it does seem to have less juice when compared with Reach, it still provides an unsettling height advantage. We were actually hoping that jetpack would return as a jump-pack, similar to a double jump; a vertical thruster pack if you will. One thing we would like to see implemented is a mechanic that makes shooting less precise for someone using the jetpack high in the air.
There isn’t much to say about Hardlight Shield. It works like a shield that drains fairly quickly and can only take so much damage. In terms of countering this ability, the Hitbox is still very vulnerable to attack. Well-placed grenades/shots will do the job. The only annoyance we found was how fast one is able to equip it. It does slow the gameplay down a little, but it doesn’t come to a grinding halt. The positive side of Hardlight Shield is that it’s treated as a quick block, unlike Reach’s Armor Lock, which is a pause.
Regeneration Field is certainly not as strong as it was in Halo 3. We caught a few players trying to deploy it right before they died. Sorry, not going to work! It takes a while to deploy, and if you’re one or two shots away from death, Regen is going to be enough to prevent that from happening. We see the Regen AA as a great support AA that would be useful for defending objectives. Regen also seemed to push nearby enemies away.
I used Auto-Sentry once, but didn’t really have enough time to experiment with it. It didn’t seem to have that much range, though. Like Regen, Auto-Sentry seems to be more of a defensive AA, it certainly isn’t an ability you can rely on for kills. The DragonBall Z-like power-up animation to activate the Sentry balances out its ability.
Hologram is very similar to Hologram in Reach, though we found it to be more effective in Halo 4. Now when you shoot a Hologram your reticle turns red and hit markers appear, making the fake Spartan a little more believable.
We never encountered the invisibility armor ability being used during my time with Halo 4. I (Domino Theory) used it for a couple of lives and noticed the removal of radar jamming which is a welcome change, but aside from that, it functions relatively the same as Reach’s camo.
“I am your Tactical package. I am your Support upgrade.”
These modifications are abilities that enhance your unique play-style and allow you to further customize your Spartan, but don’t expect these mods to be game changing as they simply give you passive edges to your existing play-style.
Where we really see these modifications taking form is on a team level. On an individual basis these mods don’t feel too threatening, but when it comes to coordinating player roles for a team, these packages come in handy. The main slayer of the team might chose ordnance priority or the ability that allows for carrying two primary weapons. A support player who stays further back might pick extra ammo and sensor for better team callouts. The combinations are fairly robust and should provide some interesting dynamics. There are some concerns, such as unlimited sprint. Couple that with the thruster armor ability and the sword, and you may have an issue.
It’s maps! It’s vehicles! No…it’s still Halo
We haven’t enjoyed Halo’s Big Team Battle offerings in a while. We would attribute this lack of interest mainly to map design. What we liked about Exile was how the map was compartmentalized into sections of encounter. Instances where a player has to fight multiple battles from various sections of the map were few. The map allowed for smaller, more intimate encounters that took place within a larger battle. That isn’t to say one won’t find those larger encounters, but there are enough alternate routes and cover to allow a player to pick and choose their firefights.
I did encounter a few problems on the map, specifically spawns. There were too many instances where someone in a Banshee or Scorpion would simply sit at a base and pick off players who had just spawned. We never hopped in a Banshee or Scorpion, but we did notice a few changes just from watching other players. The Scorpion shoots a much slower moving projectile that seems to do less damage when compared to Reach. A new addition to the Scorpion is the introduction of bullet travel, which is when, depending on the distance of the shot, the projectile of the Scorpion falls after a certain distance. This adds a small layer of complexity and timing to your shots. The Banshee seemed to be less powerful as well, as we noticed that the Banshee’s aerial combat rolls/flips were slowed when compared to Reach. Grid-lock!
Flag, Meet Pistol. Pistol, Meet Flag!
We found that the new CTF mode not only speeds up CTF, but it also encouraged greater focus on the objective. Players seemed to naturally coalesce around controlling capture points, escorting and defending. For the more hardcore player, this all seems obvious. Now Imagine that the PAX Halo 4 booth was like the matchmaking lobby, mostly random people without mics, playing together for the first time. Yet somehow each game of CTF we played went very smoothly. Both teams were continuously trying to control portions of the map and counter capture. We would attribute some of the focus to the added on-screen icons and visual indicators, but it has to be said that players were automatically organizing who would be the flag carrier and the appropriate times to pull the flag.
There is an extreme sense of risk and reward presented in the new CTF mode. It seems that players were a little more cautious about their actions and the state of the battlefield. I’m not advocating that the new CTF mode completely replace the current model, but we did find some interesting aspects that the new mode presented.
And in Conclusion…
Halo 4 brings back the core gameplay you fell in love with in the original trilogy while introducing new mechanics to start the Reclaimer trilogy off with a bang. Rest assured that your Halo is back, your Halo is strong, and your Halo burns bright, while your Halo is new. Because of the core gameplay returning in Halo 4, communities such as MLG and classic playlists only have to do simple, minor tweaks to the gameplay settings in order for the game to match their unique vision.
For screenshots, renders and more, head over to the official Halo 4 site.