343 Industries showed off the first footage of Halo 4 and revealed its creative strategy for the game at Microsoft's Spring Showcase in San Francisco last week.
Creative director Josh Holmes said the game is "the beginning of an epic new sci-fi saga that will define the next decade for Halo … We don’t want to imitate what’s gone before. We need to find our own voice and give ourselves the freedom to take chances and push things forward. In some ways you can see Halo 4 as a bit of a reboot."
It will run on an updated version of the engine that powered previous games in the series. "We are overhauling the engine top to bottom to provide significant technological advances in service of the experience we’re trying to create," Holmes said. It will also feature updated vehicles, weapons, enemies and audio, and the return of the Battle Rifle.
Set directly after the events of 2007's Halo 3, the game will have the Master Chief facing a new, "ancient, very dark" threat. It will feature a greater concentration on characterising John-117, the man in the Spartan-IV armour, and a "deeper, more emotional, impactful story, and a darker, more sophisticated theme," according to Holmes.
343 intends, according to Holmes, to "redefine what Halo multiplayer is and make it something that’s indisputably Halo at its core but is evolved in important and innovative ways … Our design goal is to dramatically reinvent the multiplayer experience – both the core element and surrounding modes."
The only footage 343 showed of Halo 4 was of the Slayer multiplayer mode over two maps. It revealed faster play, smoother animation and a slightly cleaner, more coherent visual style. As in Reach, armour will be customisable, both aesthetically and with a set of abilities that will mark an evolution of Reach's Armor Abilities performance-enhancing choices. 343 won't yet reveal how.
When we asked franchise director Frank O'Connor why multiplayer was the focus of last week's demo, he said, "Our community was really curious about multiplayer in a way I hadn’t seen before. I think some of that is that they want something new and new ways to play. Not just Call Of Duty and Reach and Battlefield and all that, but I think people are just looking for something new online and with their friends.
"I think we’re going to be able to achieve that somewhat with some of the stuff we haven’t talked about yet. We’re not trying to change the world and reinvent the wheel but we’re going to do something appropriate to Halo and its fiction that will be really compelling social experience."
Look out for a full preview in our next issue, out April 11.