Halo 4 both familiar and fresh
When Halo 4 gets into the hands of gamers on November 6, it will mark the first time that a major release in the franchise has been developed by a studio other than Bungie. The former Microsoft subsidiary created the universe populated by Master Chief and a collective of alien races, known as the Covenant, bent on the eradication of humans.
343 Industries, a division of Microsoft Studios that was originally set up to manage the Halo franchise and now makes video games, has been working on Halo 4 for three years. Vancouver native Josh Holmes, who is the creative director for all things Halo, explained that the new game honours what made that first game, released in 2001, so special.
“There’s a real spirit of heroism that is at the center of Halo,” Holmes told the Georgia Straight at a September press event held near 343’s studio in Kirkland, Washington. “The very fabric of the lore of the universe is that humanity will ascend to something greater.…So heroes should be willing to sacrifice themselves in service of humanity, because in doing so they are preserving humanity’s ability to ascend.”
It helps that gamers step into the guise of a genetically and technologically modified soldier who is able to survive against all odds. Halo 4 takes place about five years after the events of Halo 3, which ended with Chief going into stasis and telling Cortana, the artificial intelligence who has been his constant companion, “Wake me when you need me.”
The story in the new first-person shooter is as epic as ever. Master Chief finds himself on an alien world confronting both the Covenant and a new enemy, machine-based life forms known as the Prometheans. But in Halo 4, that adrenaline-fueled adventure is juxtaposed with the more intimate, personal story of the relationship between Chief and Cortana.
In a separate interview with Bonnie Ross, studio general manager, and Kiki Wolfkill, executive producer for the game, Wolfkill elaborated: “In some ways, she reflects the more human side of Chief. And in her needing to deal with what is a very human condition, which is mortality, I think it brings some things out in him that maybe you haven’t seen in the games before.”
Ross said that a main theme of Halo 4 is choice and consequences. In previous games, she explained, Chief has been a pawn of the United Nations Space Command. “But he’s never really had to make his own decisions.…He’s on his own, now, and I think…he has to make some hard decisions.”
In addition to the single-player campaign, which tells the story of Master Chief, Halo 4 also includes a multiplayer mode called Infinity. It provides a connected story and context for both competitive and cooperative multiplayer gaming. Players create a Spartan IV soldier deployed on the UNSC Infinity, and can customize and improve that character in either of the two multiplayer modes, including the more traditional, competitive War Games.
Spartan Ops, the cooperative multiplayer mode, will be put out episodically, for free, after Halo 4’s release. Each week, a new computer-generated animated short film will debut along with five missions that are meant to be played with friends. 343 won’t say how long Spartan Ops will be delivered, but the speculation is that 10 episodes, amounting to about 12 additional hours of gaming, are likely.