Our Hopes (and Yours) for Halo 4 «

Microsoft gave the press its first glimpse of Halo 4 a couple of weeks ago — not only the first chapter of a new trilogy for the series, but also the first original Halo to be developed by new series caretakers 343i — and long-time fans Jose Otero and Jeremy Parish had mixed feelings on what they saw. While the game is easily the most gorgeous Halo title yet, the multiplayer left us with questions. And we’ve seen nothing whatsoever of the single-player beyond some impressionistic concept art that could represent practically anything. That’s OK; it simply leaves us free to imagine what Halo 4 could be, and what we’d like to see for the Master Chief’s next big adventure.

Jeremy: So here’s my Halo conundrum: I love the way the series plays, the way it looks, the atmosphere its music and design create. But man, am I ever tired of fighting Covenant and Flood. As well-designed as Halo: Reach proved to be, it was all I could do to push myself through the game (though the payoff was worth it). Without question, the thing I want most from Halo 4 is a new sandbox to play in. Well, a new set of bad guys, anyway; if they change the way combat works in Halo, I don’t think it would be Halo anymore. That oh-so-satisfying delta of guns, grenades, and melee has been imitated endlessly, but no one has ever quite matched it. So give me more of that, but new targets to use it again.

Jose: I love Halo for the all the same reasons as you (art, music, atmosphere), but the sandbox is probably my favorite part of the series. The blend of weapons, enemy behaviors, and mostly open combat spaces made re-playing campaign missions a blast. In the Bungie era of Halo games, combat scenarios never felt rote or held together by tightly scripted sequences, and enemy behaviors were a large part of the fun. If you saw a pack of wimpy grunts surrounding an Elite, you understood the value of taking him out first and then watch as terrified grunts panic.

I agree that Halo needs a new enemy, but I’m half hoping that part of the ancient threat revealed in Halo 4 can stand on the same level as the Covenant Elites of the previous games. The Elites are easily the Master Chief’s most formidable foe. A group of two or three of these shielded holy warriors could make mince meat of an unprepared Spartan in minutes. I enjoyed the heck out of Halo 3, but without Elites (or an enemy that could stand as strong as they did), it felt like there was a gaping hole in the sandbox — boarding and blowing up Scarab tanks helped cover it up though. Just be clear, I don’t need to fight Elites again in the next Halo, but I’m hopeful that something equally as powerful will be there to keep combat interesting.

Jeremy: Oh, absolutely. The Halo bestiary has always been great, and Halo 4 absolutely needs to maintain that standard of combat strategy (or, ideally, improve on it). But the series needs a change. Given the state of things at the end of Halo 3, the Flood should be well and truly out of the picture, and the Elites and their allies should be done as well. There’s still room for familiar foes like the Brutes, and I wouldn’t mind fighting them from time to time… but what we really need is bad guys with a new bag of tricks. I know how to take down Brutes, Jackals, and Grunts. The shock value of suicide Grunts or a room with four Hunters has worn off.

I guess what I am really saying is that I want Halo 4 to hit me with the same sense of wonder I felt when I first touched down on the ground in the original Combat Evolved, or when I realized that I was controlling an Elite holy warrior in Halo 2. The familiarity of the Halo universe works for 343i in some ways — whatever they build is going to be established on a solid foundation of gameplay — but it also places a huge demand for creativity on them as well.

The fact that the series is delving into its history is promising. What do were really know about the Forerunners and Precursors except that they decided the best way to stop the Flood was to kill everything everywhere? They were clearly an advanced race, but their senses of priorities and morality aren’t exactly in line with human expectations. I’d love to see the Chief face a threat that’s as psychological as it is physical. Series honcho Frank O’Connor has talked a lot about how we’re going to learn more about the man beneath the shiny gold visor this time around, and what better way to truly understand how he ticks than with in-game exploration of his psychology. Can you imagine how daring and amazing it would be if Halo 4 were half-shooter, half-survival-horror? What if the game’s structure mimicked Halo ODST’s, except the sandbox portions became more about solving inscrutable alien riddles and dealing with an artificial world constructed from a perspective totally unlike our own? It’s hard to imagine Microsoft letting the series explore such an offbeat direction, but I would absolutely buy a game like that.


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