At a glance...

Previewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Release Date
Matt Bailey Xbox 360 Microsoft Studios 343 Industries 1-16 (Xbox Live) 6th November 2012

Halo 4 preview

Halo 4 is a fresh start with a familiar face. It's certainly not a reboot of Microsoft's most prominent Xbox-exclusive franchise, but this is a new era for the series. There's a new studio - 343 Industries - at work here, with original creators Bungie off to MMO-pastures new. This is also the first game in what will become the new trilogy, a break from the previous story arc, without dumping all the core characters.

Yes, Cortana is back too

Yes, Cortana is back too

A new enemy race, the first since the series began in 2001, provides the fresh start; the Promethians (unconnected to Ridley Scott's film from earlier this year) were a highly-respected group of warriors in the Forerunner civilisation that existed a long, long time before humans and the Covenant got into a war with one another. Since their truce at the end of the original trilogy they have been adopting Forerunner technology, although in the game it will be particularly prominent because Master Chief and Cortana have found themselves on a Forerunner planet, Requiem.

Yes, after a five year long gap, you get to take control of John-117 again, and despite enjoying the change or characters and pace in ODST and Reach, it's nice to get back to the series' main protagonists. They're not the only returnees; the Covenant are back, and if you thought that the truce had ended all battles with them, think again. Frank O'Connor, Halo's franchise director, explained in a talk at the Eurogamer Expo that, like human society, some parts of the Covenant aren't following their leaders. They are a faction who are considered more religious about the Forerunners, and seem to have their own plans on Requiem. Spartan Ops, the set of co-op orientated side-missions that will run alongside the main campaign and multiplayer in Halo 4, is set to explain more about this.

You'll still be fighting the Covenant in some situations

You'll still be fighting the Covenant in some situations

Many will be pleased to hear that 4-player co-op, online and offline, in that main campaign will continue to be a feature in Halo 4, although unlike previously where the host played as Master Chief and everyone else was a mere spartan, this time there will be four versions of Master Chief. Jetpacks will also return, although O'Connor was only willing to promise their presence in multiplayer. They will be curtailed a bit since their previous appearance in Halo Reach, so you won't be able to hang around and simply fling grenades from on-high constantly.

O'Connor demoed a section of the campaign, narrowly avoiding death on a few occasions, as he demonstrated some of the tight battles that Master Chief is set to have with the Promethians. They seem more dynamic and more interesting than most of the Covenant opponents, although the campaign section also featured familiar Covenant vehicles such as the Ghost and Banshee. While bits of Forerunner technology were on display, we'd also like to see some of their vehicles in the mix too.

But it's the new enemies you really have to watch out for

But it's the new enemies you really have to watch out for

The multiplayer portion was playable on the show floor, showing how a mixture of weaponry and other technology from the three races was being used in battle. In both single and multiplayer there seems to be a step up in the visuals, despite remaining on the same platform. 343 Industries have talked about building on Bungie's technology, but it seems they have been able to pull off a few tricks that the series' previous developers weren't able to, such as getting the game rendering at a full 720p (instead of a lower resolution being scaled up), and using the enhanced engine, which allows for more polygons on-screen, to make visual tweaks to both Master Chief and Cortana.

If you think you've grown tired of the series, you might want to take another look at Halo 4. It's a return to the game's sandbox roots, while also offering a new opponent that aims to give the series that fresh start ahead of it's next-generation jump.

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