As Frank O’Connor, the franchise development director of Halo 4, explained to me the importance of strategy in the long-awaited addition in the Halo series, all I could think was, “Naked naked naked.” That’s because I had just met the 2012 version of Cortana, the Master Chief’s AI companion, a character who is brilliant, capable, loyal and happened to be completely sans garments. Because of Halo 4’s excellent graphics, her body, rather than her personality, is in the forefront. Naked naked naked.
The Master Chief is back, and Cortana is with him every step of the way to keep him abreast of the situation. There’s some extremely exciting action here, butt the game also explores Cortana’s over-extended lifespan, which results in an AI insanity, rampancy. Action and emotion: It’s the breast of both worlds.
And if I’m milking this imagery too much (<–see what I did there), perhaps it’s because I didn’t expect everything to look as crisp and real as it did (especially so soon after I had written two articles about sexism and gaming, here and here.) Halo 4 is shaping up to be an adrenaline-producing game that happens to be extremely, um, eye-catching.
Unsurprisingly to Halo fans, the action is absolutely astonishing. The intensity, the flow, the precision at which the enemies struck—none of it compared to the moment when O’Connor, at the controls, tossed a grenade at an enemy, only to see our opponent pick the grenade up and fling it right back at us.
Let me repeat that: An enemy flung our own %^*@! grenade right back in our faces.
That (and the naked naked naked) was the stand-out moment in a demo that was full of gorgeous gunplay, brightening Halo 4’s multiple shades of black with muzzle flashes.
The enemies we were facing at that moment, according to O’Connor, are called Crawlers, AIs devised by the Forerunners. “They’re pretty easy to deal with, but their pack behavior make them challenging some times. The fact that they can crawl on any surface means they can flank you.”
Flank they did. The Master Chief had a helluva time trying to shut down a communication’s relay, but thanks to some advanced weaponry, he managed it. It turns out that killing Crawlers doesn’t just lead to personal satisfaction at keeping the galaxy safe from infestation: Crawler-killing can lead to some very cool loot, something the Master Chief will obviously need in his fight on Requiem, a Forerunner planet, against the Prometheans, the enemies of the new “Reclaimer” Trilogy.
“They obviously come with their own technology.” O’Connor pointed out a pistol and a rifle of the Forerunners, something you can loot from an enemy corpse. “Halo fans like getting new equipment to play with.”
These nice new additions to your arsenal may also include a “hardlight shield.” “A lot of alien technology is based on the fact that light has mass, like a physical object. That will become part of the story.” (As we know, regular light, as in photons, has no mass. But alien tech is allowed to Higgs it up.)
But Halo 4 isn’t just about guns and shields. The story also involves Cortana, and the relationship between the AI and the mostly silent Master Chief has given the series a depth that has engaged the players on an emotional level. O’Connor said, “AIs have a life span of seven years, and she’s almost eight, the time when an AI starts to decay and overwrite itself. [Halo 4 is] about her degenerating condition and its effect on her relationship with the Master Chief and on the game itself.
“The Master Chief is a little stiff and robotic and she’s the more human of the two. Cortana is an unusual AI because she was cloned from the brain pattern of her creator, a scientist named Catherine Halsey, and she’s the only AI based on a human brain pattern, which has its advantages and disadvantages.” What kind of disadvantages? “You’ll find out.”