It’s been five years since Master Chief finished the fight and saved the earth in the events of Halo 3. Since, there have been an expansion turned spin-off, RTS, prequel and an HD remake of the original, but no proper sequel. As hyped as Black Ops II may be, no game’s fanbase may be clamoring more for a sequel than those of the XBox 360 exclusive Halo 4.
This is the first new proper Halo title made by 343 Industries and the start of a new trilogy for Master Chief called the Reclaimer trilogy. With the lofty task put on this new studio, the results so far have been amazing.
The biggest fear of Halo 4 was if the game was actually going to still feel like Halo. After all, it has been five years and a new studio working on the game. At the same time, the first person shooter genre has evolved by leaps and bounds since Halo broke open the floodgates of FPS shooting to consoles. Luckily, 343 Industries was able to take both into effect and comes up with a compromise that feels modern while not just trying to be another Call of Duty clone.
Halo 4 retains most of Halo’s signature control elements. Zooming in with a weapon comes from pressing down on the right stick. Melee comes from the right bumper. And the grenade toss happens from the left trigger. If you haven’t played a Halo since Reach, it will only take a few minutes to reacclimate yourself with the controls. There is a reason they have worked so well for the series in the past and continue to hold true to this version of the game as well.
As mentioned though, there are improvements to the Halo 4 system. Most notable is the ability to sprint. In any combat scenario, it doesn’t make sense that a soldier that is bigger, stronger and FASTER than the normal soldier wouldn’t be able to run. There are times that this sprint ability will save the player’s lives too to get them around a corner or into cover with their shields down and one more bullet would have taken them out.
Also added to Halo 4’s single player are the armor abilities of Halo: Reach’s multiplayer. Some have returned like the Jetpack or Hologram. Other new abilities like a portable shield, thrust, the Promethean Vision which allows players to see the environment around them and through walls in an almost infrared state or even a flying sentry that follows the player around. While none of these are necessary, they add an extra dimension of gameplay and customizability for players during the single player campaign. All of them carry over to the game’s multiplayer as well.
Halo 4 launches with ten multiplayer maps. As long time fans of the series will vouch, multiplayer has always been the bread and butter of Halo. These maps are no exception. There is a wide variety of both large scale and smaller maps for players to go from in the ten different multiplayer modes. Standards return like Domination and Capture the Flag. Others make their debut like Flood mode in which a player starts off as an ultra fast moving Flood character who hopes to infect the rest of the players until all of them have either been infected and become Flood themselves or is able to survive until the end of the match.
Thankfully, this is the only spot in the game that involves the Flood as most people were pretty tired of them after the original Halo trilogy concluded. The leveling system has been changed in multiplayer with a constant barrage of rewards for players with experience, levels, accolades and new unlockable items for their loadouts much in the way that proved to be successful in Call of Duty.
At the end of Halo 3, John-117 told Cortana to wake him when he would be needed again before going into cryosleep aboard a UNSC wreck. He is awoken to find out that four years later as Covenant forces are trying to board the ship. While some people may be disappointed by the Covenant playing such an important role after the war with them ended in Halo 3, it makes sense that there would still be remnants of the Covenant army of religious zealots who would not have accepted the cease fire and continue to worship the Forerunners as gods.
After fending off the attack, players find themselves near the Forerunner planet requiem where they first encounter the Prometheans, a technological race that at first is battle both Master Chief and the Covenant forces for control of the planet. When the Master Chief encounters the Forerunner known as the Didact (who was first introduced in the Halo Legends DVD). The Didact becomes the main antagonist for Master Chief for the remainder of the game as it sets its sights on destroying humanity. At the same time, Chief must confront the problem that Cortana, his trusted AI, has been dealing with. After 8 years, AI begin to overthink themselves into insanity and Cortana has hit this point and at certain parts of the game begins to lose control of herself.
The storytelling of Halo 4 does a great job of sharing the attention of the player between both the conflict with the Didact and the tragedy that has begin to fall on Cortana. For the first time really in the series, the Master Chief has real conversations with Cortana as the two travel throughout the Forerunner world as they race to save earth. The world of the silent protagonist has ended and we are actually able to experience a more human side of the Master Chief for the first time. Without spoiling it, Chief doesn’t operate like the machine one would expect.
There are actually fantastic touches of youthful naiveté that one wouldn’t expect from a hardened soldier. By far, the character of the game goes to Cortana though. As the AI comes closer to what she believes is the inevitable, the emotion portrayed in the character’s voice acting, animations and writing is fantastic on all counts.
In addition to the game’s campaign, Spartan Ops is a batch of weekly content drops that continue the story of the Halo world after the events of Halo 4. Since Halo 3, the Spartan program has been restarted and Spartans are now being used again in field ops. In Spartan Ops, players are able to make use of their same Spartan from multiplayer, including gaining experience and using their customized loadouts to complete various story based objectives. Each episode consists of five chapters with a new episode rolling out each week and each chapter being about a half hour of content.
So far, the first episode does a good job of giving players, who can tackle the missions either solo or with a group of other Spartans online, a good extension to the Halo universe. Instead of playing as Master Chief, the players are put in the role as if they were one of the Spartans. This extra free content is another great reason for players to keep going with Halo 4 in addition to the competitive multiplayer. One thing to note though is that these can be challenging solo and though they can be completed, the waves of enemies feel more like they are geared towards group efforts.
Finally, you can’t talk about Halo 4 without talking about the amazing visuals. Working with a console that is seven years old, it is amazing to see what may be the most beautiful looking game on the XBox 360 come from 343 Industries. Whatever they did with maxing out the hardware’s power or the graphics engine gives not only the XBox 360 its best looking game, but one that rivals most anything else from the current generation on any platform.
The levels are diverse with their own fantastic looks along with beautiful lighting and particle effects that make the game world feel like you are looking into a work of art (speaking of which, stay tuned for an upcoming review on Awakening: The Art of Halo 4 from Titan Books soon on the Flickcast). Even the effects used when the Promethean weapons disintegrate enemies or the first time Master Chief gets up close and personal with the Promethean are visual masterpieces.
and the Short
Halo 4 proves its worth to Microsoft and the XBox 360 as an exclusive franchise. Despite the number of players that PlayStation has in motion, it is difficult to find any single one that can stand up to the fervent fan base or overall quality of Halo. While there have been spin-offs, the wait between Halo 3 and its proper sequel Halo 4 has only made the reaction that much sweeter as it was able to live up to expectations. Also touching is the message that 343 Industries left for players at the end of the credits that give a longtime Halo fan a moment to get choked up on. 343 Industries did an amazing job filling the big shoes left behind by Bungie but have also ensured that Halo fans will be returning for the rest of their Reclaimer trilogy.
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios