The Halo series is an interesting one to look at under a microscope. Generally, successful console shooters are designed with competitive multiplayer in mind, even occasionally built that way first with a linear ‘campaign’ attached as the last ingredient. Other shooters focus on narrative first, throwing players into dense fiction for a single playthrough, before being placed with reverence upon their shelf.
Yet Halo seems to walk both sides of the line. Rather than question a good thing, the developers of Halo 4 have decided to give each side a bit more of what they’re lacking. Story-focused players now have a cooperative campaign in Spartan Ops, while multiplayer fans now have an all-encompassing Infinity War Games, placing competition in the game’s fiction. How did 343 Industries manage a feat like that? That’s the subject of the latest trailer, ‘Making Halo 4: Infinity Multiplayer.’
Obviously the expectations are always high when a brand new adventure is being built for the Master Chief, and Halo 4 has been no exception. The only answer for 343, it seems, was to overhaul nearly every aspect of the Halo experience both in singleplayer and multiplayer. New weapons with startling effects, new Armor Abilities that reward ingenuity, and a progression system that the developers claim is more refined and deeper than what Call of Duty is sporting. Oh, and completely tweaked and redesigned vehicles just for the fun of it.
But that’s just changing the nuts and bolts, not the entire basis and context for the experience. The real trick was, as the developers say, to make the multiplayer “speak to fantasy,” in much the same way that the campaign always has. In other words, make the competitive modes tell its own specific story, not showcase the game’s mechanics in an abstracted form.
The solution to that problem doesn’t begin and end with the cinematic cutscenes glimpsed in the trailer – Spartan-IV’s suiting up for War Games. In a rather inspired move, 343 has expanded their systems for recognizing player actions during matches, thereby ackowledging players for more than just the most straightforward strategies or events. It isn’t just what players do, but how they did it.
The overall impression given: someone is watching, and understands there’s more to this experience than kills and deaths. That can go a long way in making a game feel inspired and fine-tuned instead of basic, and the footage shown in the trailer pays testament to that. Carrying that even further, the approach being taken can really give a player the sense that they’re competing in tactical and disciplined War Games, not being abused by online strangers.
Vehicles and larger team sizes can take strategy and cohesion from being a source of competitive edge to a downright necessity, which is exactly why they’re more important to Halo multiplayer than ever. The map walkthroughs released so far have shown that Halo 4 multiplayer is vehicular multiplayer to a large extent, be it Complex, Ragnarok, Meltdown, or the wide open spaces of the new Forge Mode. If you’re not already getting the picture that competing online will demand the same level of stress and strategy as the singleplayer campaign, you should be.
That doesn’t mean skirmishes on foot have been overlooked, either, as the developers clearly outline the method to their madness in taking even the smallest details into consideration when designing smaller maps, like Adrift or Abandon. Come to think of it, even Grifball and the Infection variant haven’t managed to escape 343’s commitment to bringing every aspect of gameplay under the same umbrella of developer-refined mechanics and story.
But the biggest addition that 343 has brought to the already award-winning formula is, hands down, the episodic, story based co-op campaign known as Spartan Ops. The developers are expecting the combination of animated web series and mission-based cooperative gameplay to change the entire industry, and it isn’t hard to see why. The new mode isn’t just a surprise bonus, but a campaign confirmed to be longer than that of Halo 3: ODST all by itself. In case that wasn’t enough, it allows players to level up their persistent multiplayer avatar as well, leading to new Specializations, tailoring the gameplay to each player even further.
We’d like to say that fans shouldn’t get their hopes too high, but with everything being shown, and 343’s obvious dedication to redefining what ‘Halo’ means to the industry, it’s hard not to. If nothing else, the amount of content proves that Halo 4 will be one of the most complete gaming experience on consoles this year, if not this cycle.
Which of the modes are you most looking forward to: the Spartan Ops? Multiplayer? Or Master Chief’s first chapter in the Reclaimer Trilogy? If you’re speechless, we can understand that too.
Halo 4 will be released on November 6, 2012, exclusively for the Xbox 360.
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