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Play Expo 2012: Halo 4 multiplayer hands-on

HaloPlay Expo 2012

I’ve dipped in and out of the Halo franchise over its years. I played a chunk of Halo: Combat Evolved but found something lacking overall. Sci-fi settings have rarely interested me – I’d take Silent Running over Avatar anyday – and there was no umph. My memories are of shooting aliens that looked like ladybirds with unmemorable weaponry. The grass was nice, though.

My time with Halo 3 was much more positive and it remains the only entry in the series that I’ve completed, with the later additions completely ignored. It was an accurate genre piece that knew what it was doing. And this leaves Halo 4 as an inevitability.

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There’s no way a franchise with such a huge fan base will ever be laid to rest; there’s too much guaranteed income to be made. During my hands-on time with 343 Industries’ latest entry into the saga my main goal was simple: walk away with a strong hypothesis on whether this was playing it safe or attempting to do something more.

em>Halo’s aesthetic design remains strong and is defined by broad strokes of lighting and texture work. Guns possess a suitably metallic sheen, and beams of ambient lightcast deep shadows that provide a cinematic angle. As we approach the end of this console generation it’s the little aesthetic tweaks and decisions that make the difference and catch the eye.

The multiplayer demo pitted two groups of six against each over on a compact two-tier arena in the standard team deathmatch. As combat commenced there was that Halo feel from the get-go. The strong design philosophy of capturing the dexteritial constrictions of a warrior contained within a powerful exo-skeleton combatative outfit is present once more. It treads the fine line between accuracy and cumbersome without falling.

The control schematics were different to the genre standard and took half the match to figure out, skipping into the option screen between deaths. Most of the players hadn’t figured out it was ‘A’ to run during the demo; which gave me an advantage. Those in the queue behind me probably found my rapid flinging in and out of the control options screen useful too.

The battle itself was tight and claustrophobic. The small locale provided both corridor skirmishes and a less restricted environment up top. As first blood was shed the preceeding boom of machine gun fire roared out. This was the only title at Play Expo I played that provided everyone with their own headset, which was a wise choice as the audio design was something to be proud of. Not quite as astonishing as the sonic design for F.E.A.R. 3 – its best and most underrated element – but it did a great job of pullingme straight into the battlefield.

I recalled that the standard assault rifle was well balanced and not a typical starting weapon. Zooming in, I rattled off short bursts of fire aimed at the opponents’ head level and began racking up the kills. Due to the realistic movement within context, I died many times too as you’re unable to speed strafe or dive down into a prone position and back up again whilst firing. Stepping out into the open means just that; the pace and style of combat separates Halo from the pack.

One augment could be used to cast a Predator-esque wavelength out that changed the visual display and highlight the enemy in red through walls. I used this on a few occasions to spot exactly where the enemy was above me and it proved an important tactical tool.

It wasn’t soon before the commentator called out ‘one kill remaining’ and three seconds later we’d achieved victory.

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From the loading screen, first gun burst, respawn and leap, it’s clear that 343 Industries’ have drilled deep into the core of the franchise to understand its idiosyncrasies. There was nothing essentially new, but all of it was refined and pitched perfectly at its audience. Everyone on both teams walked away with a smile on their face. This felt very much a continuation of the Halo 3 formula.

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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