Previews

Halo 4: First look at 343's 'dramatically different' Halo

First footage looks familiar - but is there more than meets the eye?

If Halo 4 really does introduce the "dramatic" innovations promised at a first look event in San Francisco last week, then new developer 343 Industries certainly wasn't ready to show them to us.

Assembled around a large table in a room lit only by blue neon lights, Halo 4's creative director Josh Holmes, franchise overlord and ex-CVG editor Frank O'Connor, and amazingly named exec producer Kiki Wolfkill prepared to show us Microsoft's 2012 trump card for the very first time.

And they did that via a pair of 'behind the scenes' videos, one of which will undoubtedly make its way online by the time this article has been published.

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The focus of the Xbox Spring Showcase reveal was squarely pointed at multiplayer, aside from a few hints at how its making the single-player gamplay "faster paced and more intense".

Creative director Holmes kicked off the presentation by expressing 343's desire to push the Halo series forward, and not dwell too much on what previous games have done in the past.

"As a team when we embarked on this creative journey one of the things that we really wrestled with is how do we balance the respect that we have for the legacy of this game that we love so much, with our desire to innovate and push things forward," he said.

"As a team we came together based on our shared love for the universe and the games that are at the core of this universe, and yet we don't simply want to innovate what's been done before."

343 says it sees Halo 4 as something of a reboot - not in terms of characters or story, but the gameplay that will lay the foundation for an entire new trilogy. And that means more Master Chief.

MASTER AND CHIEF

As suggested in last year's CGI trailer - and as you can see in the in-game shots on this page - everyone's favourite Xbox space marine's undergone something of a makeover. Master Chief's once hulking armour has taken on a sleeker, more "functional" appearance, making the super solider look less like an extra from Quake and more like a sci-fi space ninja who'd fit in shooting through the next Crysis.

The purpose of the new look, says 343, is to emphasise Chief's humanity; gaps in the sleek armour expose the underlying body suit that confirm, indeed, there is a man underneath that heap of green metal - and apparently he has feelings and stuff.

"There were two goals in thinking about what we wanted to do with Chief," explained Wolfkill. "One of those was very gameplay focussed; providing a really visceral first-person experience and what it feels like as a player to embody Chief, really delivering on that fantasy of being a 900 pound Spartan.

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"The second goal revolved around storytelling and character development," she added. "There is such a rich fiction around Master Chief and John that exists in other mediums that haven't traditionally been experienced through the games. So we're going to really try and pull the curtain back on Chief as John, but also his motivations and what's really going on behind the mask."
The producer claimed 343 plans to do this not through cut-scenes, but using first-person perspective and the characters around Chief to reflect on his character.

"Cortana is a huge part of that," she adds, "she's obviously his closest friend and ally. The fact that in a way she's more human than he is is a really interesting device for us.

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