They say Call of Duty's rough on the new guy, but Call of Duty ain't got nothing on the glistening alloy of real-world, far-future technology and evil-mindedness that is 343's Halo 4. Halo 4! Where men brandishing platters of compacted photon advance on terrified rookies while other men circle to the rear, hiding their ill will beneath shrouds of shimmering semi-visibility.
Halo 4! Where some targets rocket back out of swiping distance, Vanquish-style, and others explode like Catherine wheels at your approach, buffeting you into the fists and elbows of their comrades. Halo 4! Where one out of every four tangos is a hologram and the other three are standing right behind you, looking on in amusement as you waste your ammo on empty air.
In a bid to save a new generation of recruits from the ravages of competitive play, I've thrown together a rough-and-ready guide to the game's new Armor Abilities - recharging secondary gizmos which convey dramatic tactical advantages. For tips as to the returning Armor Abilities - Jetpack, Hologram, Active Camo - read of my buffoonish antics in Halo Reach.
It's a spangly sci-fi version of Modern Warfare's Riot Shield, basically, but there are a few crucial differences. Most obviously, it's not indestructible and can only be activated for eight seconds at a time. The shield is quick to deploy, and is thus a useful way to ward off a grenade at close range, but the fact that it only covers the front half of your body makes it a poor choice when you're right in the enemy's midst. You can't fire while wielding the shield, either. All in all, anybody looking to batten down the hatches and out-last the opposition should probably think twice.
On reasonably open ground, the Hardlight Shield pays into some straightforward but extremely effective team strategies. Simply have one player advance with the shield up, drawing the enemy's fire, while the others shoot past him. Make sure you leave the advancing player somewhere to retreat to, mind. It's also worth remembering that the Hardlight Shield pops you out into third person - a useful side-effect when you're leading the team, and want to keep as much of the battlefield in view as possible.
This is the Armor Ability that's going to annoy those caught out by it the most, I suspect. Hold the button to spark a radar wave which flags up enemies as red silhouettes, even those tucked behind walls or using Active Camo. At proximity, you should be able to make out which way the enemy is facing and what they're armed with, too. This is advantageous when coordinating manoeuvres - one player could hang back in a side chamber, spotting tangos for the others - but the most immediate benefit is that you'll be able to get the drop on people at corners, lining up a headshot before they're even in view.
There are downsides to Promethean Vision, however. The ability doesn't distinguish between holograms and real players, drowns out environmental detail in a potentially disorienting fashion, and emits a loud noise which may alert nearby foes to your activities. Also, the radar wave takes a crucial fraction of a second to hit maximum range and anything it hasn't touched will be hard to distinguish from the backdrop.