Halo 4 reveal leaves us wanting more
They've got the Forerunner architecture right, which is a start. 343 Industries, now stewarding the series after inheriting it from Bungie, has a lot to prove - it's got to make the next entry in one of the most celebrated gaming franchises of all time, for a start.
A behind-closed-doors session at Microsoft's Spring Showcase last week saw the studio giving away the barest minimum amount of information that could possibly pass as an announcement. The studio seems reserved, perhaps understandably so, and is determined to hold its cards as close to its chest for as long as possible. No doubt agonising for fans desperate for information about the future of Halo, but understandable perhaps for a team of people still very much existing in the shadow of the series' former developer.
At least nobody can accuse this plucky young upstart of lacking ambition, and if there's one thing 343 Industries has emphasised time and time again it's a desire to reinvent the series. "In some ways you can think of Halo 4 as a reboot," says creative director Josh Holmes at the event, "but it's different than reboots you might think of in, say, the Hollywood film world, where you've got film franchises like Star Trek, Batman or Bond." How, exactly? "The difference here is that we're not resetting the story, we're not resetting the state of the universe. This is very deliberately the continuation of events started in Halo 1, 2 and 3 - this picks up exactly where Halo 3 left off. So for us it's really important that we have the fictional connective tissue and we have the consistency with all the established canon that's gone into the series to date. And, of course, at the centre of this story is this iconic hero in Master Chief."
But Master Chief is nowhere to be seen today; he's being kept far, far away for an announcement in the future. With a tentative focus on multiplayer, the team revealed two of its multiplayer maps - Warhouse and Wraparound - alongside the revelation that Halo 3's beloved Battle Rifle will be returning for the fourth game.
The latter map, Wraparound, brings me back to that cold Forerunner architecture. The new graphics engine shows the traditional angular bleakness of their worlds, with minimalistic glass plates and rigid lines illuminated by the soft haze of the map's artificial light. It is a far more successful attempt to capture the spirit of the Forerunners than the messy and unnecessary detailing of last year's Halo: Anniversary, and to see it in motion (albeit briefly) suggests a team that fundamentally understands the spirit of the series they've inherited.
The other map, Warhouse, takes place in the traditional trappings of a civilian mining colony. This one is located near a gas giant, meaning you've got a gorgeous looking sky framing the carnage, and the map is designed - with man cannons, cat walks and corridors - to revolve around the centrepiece of a massive Cyclops MK II cannon.