While Microsoft kicked off its Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2012 press conference with a look at Halo 4's single-player campaign, Master Chief's latest saga isn't the only part of Halo 4 on display at the show this year. We got a chance to take a quick spin through a bit of Halo 4's competitive multiplayer mode, too.
We'll save the real nuts-and-bolts discussion for a later date, but in the meantime, let's talk about the five things we noticed right away about 343's handiwork:
Break out your sunglasses
Depending on which map you play, the first thing you'll probably notice about Halo 4 is a much more dramatic use of lighting. The series has always been fond of painting dramatic skies above players' heads, but in Halo 4, it feels like those skies are reaching down and grabbing you. This effect was especially dramatic on the Forerunner-themed map we played, which mixed austere architecture with extensive gold rays, bathing the play field in a golden light. It almost had a heavenly look to it — if heaven were populated by Spartans trying to kill one another.
Finding your own style
One of the ways Halo 4 deviates most from previous games is through the use of customised loadouts. What this does to the overall balance, and its effect on the gap between new player and veterans, is the subject for a later discussion, but one thing we can definitely say right now is that they really do let you carve out your own unique playing style on the battlefield.
Say you're a defensive player who prefers to avoid risks. You can equip the "Mobility" support upgrade that grants you infinite sprinting, allowing you to hightail it to safety whenever things get too hot for your liking. Or, if you like to get inside the enemy's head, you can turn on the Promethean Vision armour ability that lets you temporarily see players through walls, then watch as they react in horror when you keep banking grenades around blind corners and into their laps.
The warthog has been (somewhat) tamed
Hop into the driving seat of the Warthog and you might notice that Halo's signature method of wild joyriding has become a little more — dare we say it — reliable. It's a subtle difference, compared to previous games, but it did seem like the Warthog in Halo 4 felt less floaty and squirrelly. It's not the sort of change that everyone is going to pick up on, but it did feel like the Warthog has had some modest tuning upgrades applied to it in the ol' auto garage.
The animated art of dying
Halo 4's lighting isn't the only visual change you'll notice when you first pick up a controller to jump into a fight between red and blue. The character animations are now much more elaborate and nuanced. When the camera pulls back to show you dying, you no longer just sort of fall to the ground as a lifeless husk of your former self; instead, you'll often see yourself stumble, reach out in desperation and shuffle this mortal coil in dramatic fashion. Those death animations aren't terribly longer than the old ones, and you can still skip them to respawn right away, but they definitely add a bit more grim weight to the act of seeing your character die.
Your guns are more reliable
Folks who complained about weapon bloom in Halo: Reach, are probably going to be happy with what 343 has done to the armoury in Halo 4. In the time we spent playing multiplayer, gunfire seemed much more accurate in extended bursts. This was especially the case with the single-shot DMR. When engaging an enemy from mid to long range, we were able to fire off a quick succession of four or five rounds without feeling like our fifth bullet had taken a detour to Antarctica and back. The result is a game that moves a little more quickly, with kills coming faster and more often. Not a dramatic difference, but one that veteran Reach players will probably pick up on.