I like Halo; I like the epic universe and mythos that Bungie had created. But, as much as I enjoyed ODST and Reach, I always felt something was missing, they just didn’t feel right without Master Chief. But the iconic, laconic John 117 is finally back where he belongs at the helm of this blockbuster series.
I have played everything Halo, but I am not a rabidly obsessed fan boy and was excited at the prospect of a new development team, rather than worried.
This is less of a direct reboot and more of a steroid injection straight to the heart of the franchise, it is a reimagining and reinvigoration of the series and the hype surrounding 343 Industries work has finally proven to be well justified.
Halo 4 is set in the year 2557, four years after the events of Halo 3. Master Chief is currently in a cryogenically induced sleep when a frantic Cortana wakes him up, but not because she misses his dulcet tones. The Forward until Dawn is under attack and yes, it’s those persistently pesky Covenants again. The Dawn eventually crashes onto the Forerunner planet Requiem and Master Chief is soon under attack from a new enemy the Prometheans, a smarter and more agile enemy than the Covenant. The Chief is eventually tricked into releasing the ancient Didact, a Forerunner villain, who has a lot of hate for humanity and is hell bent on the total annihilation of human kind. However, as if the imminent destruction of Earth is not enough, you soon find out that not all is well with Cortana either; because of her age (A.I’s only have a limited life span) your best friend forever Cortana is slowly going mad and will cease to exist due to something called ‘Rampancy’. The Rampancy is causing Cortana to act erratically and she will eventually, due to her vast amount of knowledge, think herself to death. So the race is on, will Master Chief manage to stop the Didact, save the world again and prevent the demise of his virtual friend Cortana? Only time will tell.
Cue what is probably the best and most emotional storyline in the series yet. Master Chief’s humanity is explored in a deeper way, sure he is still one laconic dude, but his relationship with Cortana is really quite touching, after all it is a kind of love story.
The plot will grab new and old fans alike and has a great twist. It is all in all a great piece of science fiction writing and has an epic ending; what an ending!
And for those complaining that the storyline is nothing new, what else is Master Chief supposed to do? The character is an iconic hero, he has saved the world before and he will save it again (although, admittedly it might be nice if he got a little bit more recognition for his efforts from his superiors)!
The new enemies in Halo 4 are machines (kind of, without giving too much away) created by the Forerunners for protection. The Forerunners are the ancient alien race that built the Halo rings and are worshiped as Gods by the Covenant. The Forerunners may be long extinct, but their constructs are a force to be reckoned with. The Prometheans come in a variety of types, with your major foe being the Knights. They have the ability to teleport and reappear to give the Chief a face full of melee and are total bullet sponges, headshots are the way forward though. There are also the weaker Crawlers, which resemble robot war hounds, albeit weak they appear en masse and it is quite easy to get mobbed by them. Finally there are the Watchers. The Watchers are a support type enemy and a total pain in the arse. The Watchers have the ability to give the Knights and Crawlers shields and can even revive fallen Knights. There is nothing worse than having painstakingly taken out a group of Promethean Knights, only to have some of them reassembled, hell bent on soaking up more of your precious ammo. You will soon learn that dispatching Watchers is priority in both the Campaign and Spartan Ops.
These new enemies to the franchise add a lot to the game play and combat. The Prometheans are more relentless than the Covenant and are tough enemies to take down. They cannot just be by-passed.
Players need to use the right combination of weapons in each mission of the campaign in order to succeed and of course the Covenant is back. Whenever they show up, your strategy needs to be changed again. Which makes Halo 4 the most strategic Halo game yet, as dealing with these new enemies requires some thought and not just running and gunning.
Vehicle wise your trusty four-wheeled steed the Warthog is of course present, and late in the game you even get to fly a Pelican. The new mech type vehicle the Mantis is awesome, I mean who doesn’t like rocket-firing mechs? The new Promethean weapons are a blast; the Binary Rifle being a stand out for me, there is nothing better than pulling off a sweet headshot and watching your enemy being disassembled before your eyes, which is supremely satisfying. There have been complaints that the campaign is on the short side, but I personally found it right on the money. Seasoned single players should jump into the Heroic difficulty setting and there is always Legendary to complete, plus you can play the campaign cooperatively with up to four players. There is a lot of fun to be had playing through again with friends. So the campaign is great, what about the multi-player, which is arguably now the bread and butter of the Halo franchise. Gladly it does not fail.
The multi player is a hoot and there is a myriad of game types and options to play around with. It's easy to pick up, fast, frantic, frenetic fun, but if you are a n00b to the series you are going to have to work at it. The multi-player is accessible but tough to master, but don’t be disheartened if you at first continuously find that you are getting your arse handed to you on a plate, get some friends in on the action and work co-operatively.
As you progress through the ranks (XP is gained by scoring kills and pulling off multiple multiplayer feats as well as assisting in kills), you will unlock points to spend on weapons, perks and customisable armour as well as unlocking Specialisations after you hit level 50. The Specialisations give you bonus armour and more importantly bonus attributes once you have mastered them. These are a welcome addition and give you something to work towards as you are fragging enemies over the long hours you will inevitably rack up. There are an additional 8 Specialisations to unlock (each with 10 ranks) making the final level cap a healthy 130.
343i have also included perks and load-outs, this is definitely going to irk some Halo fans, but I found these a welcome addition, even if they have been ripped directly from CoD. For the longtime Halo fans the skulls are back, turning these on will make things decisively difficult for the masochistic among you or very amusing, it’s not a party without exploding head party grunts!
Spartan Ops replaces Firefight from Halo Reach, and sees you and up to three others fight through wave after wave of Covenant and Promethean forces. The story line in Spartan Ops also fills in some plot gaps in the main campaign too. It's an amalgamation of the campaign and multiplayer/co-op modes that works well and is a lot of fun. However the game play isn’t exactly original, you mostly have to kill a lot of enemies and after a while you realise that you are just replaying levels from the campaign, albeit from different start points, but don’t let that put you off, put the difficulty setting on Legendary and invite some friends to the party and it will easily take up quite few evenings of your life.
At the time of writing the Crimson map pack DLC is out and 343i have released the next set of Spartan Ops Episodes, which promise to be less repetitive than the first lot. This can only be a good thing.
Without doubt Halo 4 is one of the best looking 360 games ever. Considering the aging hardware 343i have proven that the 360 still has a trick or two up its sleeve. A slight niggle is that the Forerunner architecture can become a little repetitive, but this only a minor gripe.
The cut scenes are jaw droopingly awesome and really do flesh out the story line. When the first scenes were playing out I did a double take , I thought I was looking at full motion video, not rendered character models on screen. That might seem like a bold statement, but believe me they look fantastic.
The draw distance, environments and level design are great. Likewise the musical score is suitably epic and is just as good as any major Hollywood movie release. Weapons sound heavy and you can really feel the damage you are doing as you pop off headshots from across the map, Halo 4 is best played with the bass up!
I don’t really have anything negative to say about the game, except perhaps that the story is a bit too convoluted for the Halo novice and does expect you to know about the Halo universe. If you aren’t familiar with Halo, you may find it difficult to follow. Also whilst 343i have done a sterling job with reinventing Halo, it can’t really be called a revolutionary game changing FPS, there are no truly new innovations, and some hardcore fans will not like the introduction of the CoD elements. But like having a nice hot bath, it’s a warm, comforting familiar feeling that I have missed and it’s a not as repetitive as some other big FPS franchises I could mention.
343 Industries have truly achieved a great game that in no way does disservice to Bungie’s accomplished work.
There is so much game here for your money, with even more DLC incoming and with the lure of more Spartan Ops, it will keep you occupied for the foreseeable future, the multi-player replay value is very extensive. It’s the best Halo since Halo 2 (but no dual wield!) and in my opinion way better than Reach. The Halo franchise is getting on in years, as is the hardware it is running on, but this proves that there is life in the franchise and the hardware yet. I can’t wait for the next two parts of the new trilogy.