343 Industries’ E3 Halo 4 presentation, led by franchise development director Frank O’Connor and executive producer Kiki Wolfkill (who has an awesome name), focused entirely on the game’s new Spartan Ops mode. Spartan Ops is an episodic game mode with weekly downloads that consist of a lengthy video introduction followed by five playable missions.
The best way to describe Spartan Ops is that it’s a mix between the single-player campaign mode and the multiplayer Firefight mode. (Firefight was an open-ended survival mode confirmed not to be appearing in Halo 4.) The scenario shown was a bit more abstract and a bit less focused than a story driven campaign mission, but it still had a clear objective and endpoint. Prior to playing the demo, the new loadout system was explained. Players can create custom classes, selecting the weapons and abilities they believe to be best suited to their situation. This loadout system is driven by unlocks, which open up as the player gains experience and progresses through their career. We were not shown any armor or emblem customization during the demo, though has been confirmed to be present in the game.
Halo 4 reopens its gameplay sandbox to that of its numbered predecessors by once again engaging in a three-way conflict. The humans, Covenant, and new Forerunner enemies battle over the fate of the Forerunner world Requiem. The demo shown was a simple setup – travel to the objective while pressing buttons and shooting bad guys. This simplicity was the perfect way to display Halo 4‘s retention of classic Halo gameplay: weapon-based roles, intelligent enemies, and big, open spaces.
This mission placed a team of two Spartan super-soldiers into a metallic outdoor structure surrounded by jutting rocks and flowing lava. Wolfkill sprinted ahead while O’Connor swapped out his Assault Rifle for a Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR). This created a weapon combination Halo players have been longing to see: placing the Battle Rifle and DMR into the hands of a player at the same time. Both are mid-range precision weapons, together in the same game for the first time. I noticed that when fired, the DMR’s reticle bloomed outward in a way similar to Halo: Reach, but this feature was not retroactively added to the Battle Rifle. Reticle bloom was on nearly every weapon in Reach, so I asked O’Connor why 343 chose to be less consistent with shooting mechanics this time around. His answer was that 343 intended to keep the previously established functions of weapons from prior Halo games, but with a little bit of extra balancing. The Battle Rifle will remain consistently accurate but have additional vertical recoil, while the DMR will lose accuracy after firing to a lesser extent than in Reach. A new Forerunner shotgun-type weapon was shown off, too.
After a short battle against the Covenant, O’Connor and Wolfkill timed a simultaneous button press to open a door and move forward. We’re told that although Spartan Ops can be played alone, there will be many situations that have a stong emphasis on cooperative play. Another clash with the Covenant leads to yet another button press, this time activating a Forerunner device. Interacting with Forerunner technology will alert their defensive AI system, spawning groups of the new enemies. These new foes will take new strategies to defeat, since different classes can teleport, attack you in packs, or even throw your grenades back at you. I took the opportunity to ask if these new enemies would be susceptible to certain kinds of attacks or weapons.
“The Crawlers do damage to their allies when they explode, and headshots are definitely the best way to take them out,” O’Connor explained. “There will be a location-based weak point system and other effective ways to defeat each Forerunner class. Discovering those strategies is part of the fun of Halo‘s sandbox.”
The graphics were marvelous, as screenshots and video have already demonstrated. The demo ended soon after the fight against the Forerunner, with players successfully fending off both enemy factions. Spartan Ops will be included with every new purchase of any edition of Halo 4, and will run for at least several months, providing a consistent stream of new content that follows a coherent story set after the events of Halo 4‘s single-player campaign. Fans of the series and newcomers to the Reclaimer Trilogy, of which Halo 4 is the first, can check out the game for themselves on November 6, 2012.