Halo 4 preview - Raising the bar a few miles with Spartan Ops mode

Microsoft shatters out expectations of post-launch coverage

We know that you're excited for Halo 4's singleplayer campaign, and we're aware of how much you're looking forward to losing a few hundred hours into competitive multiplayer. But Halo 4 will include another element - one that sets it apart from literally every other FPS ever released. It's called Spartan Ops, and it's one of the most advanced concepts of this generation. We had a chance to see exactly how it will work at E3, and walked away thinking we had seen the future of gaming. And yes, it came from Halo.

Spartan Ops is a series of short, 15-minute cooperative missions, tied together with a loose narrative and prefaced with a stunning opening cinematic. While this alone isn't all that impressive, the way Microsoft is planning on rolling it out is what genuinely impressed us. After the game's launch, five new missions will be released each week, giving Halo fans over an hour of new co-op action a week. That's four to five new hours of Halo every month for the rest of the year - and, at least for now, it's going to to be free.

Worries that these missions would be watered down were quashed when we saw one in action, being played by franchise development director Frank O'Connor and producer Kiki Wolfkill (who handily wins the "coolest name in the world" award), each of which had chosen a different loadout of weapons and skills.

The duo of Spartans were sent to a Forerunner (the name of an old, ancient, mysterious alien race) planet, where Covenant soldiers believed to have found one of their gods. Though the UNSC doesn't actually believe in this religious nonsense, they're set to stop the covenant from finding whatever it is they want to find. The mission started out almost like a regular mission in Halo 3, with a sergeant giving the Spartan troops an order to "kill anything that moves" - an order they gladly obliged.

Eventually, however, they found what the Covenant had mistaken for godliness - Forerunner tech was on the planet, and activating it brought the massive Promethean Knights, the creepy Crawlers, and the flying Watchers scrambling to battle. Fighting them looked unlike anything from past Halo games, and using their weapons (like new grenades and an awesome new shotgun) to take down the different foes.

It wrapped up after about 15 minutes, concluding with a big firefight. Knowing that the game would come with an assortment of Spartan Ops would be cool enough, but the fact that it's going to be released weekly for months at a time and broken into seasons turns it into something truly innovative. It's episodic Halo content, and that's really, really cool.

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