Halo 4 review
Since Halo’s very beginning it has seen many twists and turns, whether it is the epic events in the solo campaign story boards that invest you, or the chaotic action in co-op that keeps you coming back for more and more – the Halo series have been at the forefront of the FPS genre since it’s creation in 2001.
So have Microsoft and 343 Industries accomplished what they set out to do? Has the multi-billion dollar franchise blown a Halo sized hole amongst the First Person Shooters once again and set the bar even higher?…
It’s taken 5 years, a change in developer and a whole lot of wishful thinking from Halo fans, but Halo 4 and the return of Master Chief and Cortana has finally arrived. 343 Industries took on the gigantic task of bringing Halo and its offerings up to date when taking over from Bungie, and when the 1st instalment of a new trilogy was announced, tales of awe inspiring graphics, intense and ground-breaking combat and an emotional story driven narrative began spreading like Flood.
This review is completely spoiler free.
Halo 4 is set 4 years after the destruction of The Ark and UNSC frigate Forward Unto Dawn, and with the ever faithful, ever ageing AI Cortana and Master Chief floating through space aboard the crippled remains of the ship, Chief breaks out of hibernation and dawns the beginning of a new encounter with a Forerunner planet known as Requiem. Running the story straight from the familiar will ease fans right into Halo 4, with the tight corridors of Forward Unto Dawn being massively reminiscent of Halo, but giving you enough space to breathe and enjoy the sights through the massive graphical upgrade.
Any good soldier checks his kit and, as always, you start off with your trusty Assault Rifle and the ever illuminous Cortana. 343 have taken the time and put in the extra effort with the interaction between Chief and Cortana. It is an absolute delight to listen to your faithful assistant through all the gun fire, and the cut scenes are truly sublime. It is the first time in the Halo series that the voice actors for Master Chief and Cortana – Steve Downes and Jen Taylor respectively – have recorded their parts in the same booth together and the passion is clear to hear.
Being such an established cult game, it is evidential as you play through the solo campaign that 343 have stayed as close to the original concept as possible but taking the environments, weaponry and enemy encounters (more on that later) on a much grander scale. The solo campaign, like it’s ‘forerunners’, is split into a number of missions and those missions have several checkpoints which are waypointed by Cortana. In the opening mission, Dawn, you will find yourself battling through Covenant soldiers and weaving through familiar corridors to access the ship’s main command centre. Nothing up to this point will take you out of your Halo comfort zone.
But you didn’t come here for comfort, right?
Halo 4 takes the generic and turns it on a grenade. Saving humanity is usually top of the ‘list of things to do’ with Master Chief, but with Cortana well past her use by date and the AI cancer equivalent Rampancy taking over, priorities change as you will see the story unfold. The emphasis on an emotionally led Master Chief will be a surprise but it only adds to a sense of humanity to Halo 4, true morality.
It’s only after gaining your first achievement and racing with hot anticipation to the second mission, Forerunner, when you start edging close to the telebox. It is here, hiding among the mammoth yet majestic map, and the hostile yet intriguing landscape that 343 have set this game apart.
It is also where you are re-introduced to those pesky Forerunners - Grunts, Hunters, Jackals and Elites and some new faces…
Let me introduce you to the Promentheans
Upon getting your bearings on Requiem you are called to assist the stranded UNSC Infinity and her crew who are under attack by the Forerunners, but as the case becomes clear, they are not any Forerunners encountered before. The Prometheans are an ancient caste of the Forerunners lead by Didact and they inhabit the planet Requiem. It is here that the plot starts to unravel and the seemingly endless mission that lays before you really begins.
With any new race comes it’s own set of problems, and the ones you will face come in the form of Knights, Crawlers and Watchers. Knights are reminiscent of the Covenant Elite but with the ability to teleport around the battlefield (sometimes within melee distance), and they will take a well aimed shot or a few rounds to down. Crawlers are machine-gun-wielding dog-like creatures with the ability to climb walls and move at high speeds – the stuff nightmares are made of and the Watchers are the glue that holds this whole outfit together. They are flying mechanical drones that circle your every move, giving shield defence or recharging health to enemies on the ground and spawning new ones if you work through a defence line. It doesn’t take a military genius to work out flexible strategies against a varied and well positioned opposition here, but if you’re a rigid Spartan you will struggle – being less intelligent than the AI will be a hard pill to swallow.
The addition to a new type of enemy will take any hardened Halo gamer by surprise and the added gene pool in the battlefield will make you question your strategy. Even mid mission. With new enemies come new weapons and the Prometheans have brought a jolly good array of new tech. The Light Rifle, Boltshot and Suppressor will be your life line if your loadout has run out and finding them strewn about the battlefield from fallen enemies is like finding a new toy.
The solo campaign is one of the most solid and engrossing FPS campaigns I have certainly ever played and with the ability to play co-op, and with achievements for doing so on higher difficulties, there is a definite replay value to be had.
War Games played to Infinity
With any FPS it is the multiplayer that gets the attention of the avid gamer, and when all is said and done with the solo campaign, thoughts drift towards co-op. The ability to bring fellow gamers together in custom built maps or to gain extra skills and upgrades is a siren to FPS addicts. 343 has taken Halo 4 multiplayer and pumped it full of steroids. War Games is a place to congregate, and battle and train against other Spartans in the Xbox LIVE battlefield. The roster of maps will keep you gunning for hours and the added ability to set up your own game with your friends is generic enough from previous titles but you shouldn’t fix which isn’t broken.
Having played against the 343 developers during the review process, the maps are contained and well designed with little hiding places (not that I was hiding), and gameplay has no choice but to be fast paced and electrifying.
What is that humming surrounding Halo 4? You would have heard it.
Spartan Ops is the Halo 4 equivalent of Firefight mode in Halo: Reach and Halo 3: ODST, which supports 4vs4 and ties into the campaign story and the Spartan-IV program. Having met up with UNSC Infinity, the Spartan Ops episodes will revolve around Master Chief defeating the Covenant and Prometheans with the Spartans known as the Majestic Squad. There will be chapters with episodes to complete, either solo or co-op as they are released by 343 over the coming weeks after Halo 4 is launched. Episode One is included with Halo 4 and contains 5 challenging and complex chapters.
Wake up John
Is Halo 4 the gameplay god you are anticipating it to be? Will it excite fans who have been playing the series since it’s birth and quite possibly collapse our economy with ‘sick days’ being taken November 6th ? Will it exclude newcomers to the series with it’s intricate history and high speed references to the past? The answer quite simply to all these questions is YES.
The effortless gameplay within Halo 4 can not be faulted, the storyline is often ballsy in its approach, the scenery and atmosphere was frightening and still serene. The graphics are like an eye bath on a corneal abrasion and the musical score was unobtrusive and encouraging. This chapter in the Halo franchise has leapt galaxies ahead and it’s a story of ‘what you put in, you get out’. The effort and attention to detail 343 have nourished on Halo 4 will make it a beacon among the FPS titles. Even if you are looking towards this title as a multiplayer game, try the solo campaign and for those new to the series I only heed you this warning – prepare to develop a deep friendship with a fantastic franchise.