Since the launch of the original Xbox, Bungie had a single focus: Halo. Passing the torch on one of this generation’s most popular franchise, 343 Industries has proven themselves capable of not only developing a Halo game, but one that feels better than any of the previous games.
As we last saw Master Chief at the end of Halo 3, he was frozen in stasis floating on a disabled frigate through space. Sounds pretty familiar to one Ellen L. Ripley after blowing a xenomorph out the airlocks at the conclusion of Alien – if you haven’t seen Alien yet shame on you. Our favorite Artificial Intelligence – Cortana – keeping watch over Chief, has begun to slip into a terminal state called Rampancy – she describes it as thinking herself to death.
After Covenant forces attempt to board the ship, Cortana has no alternative, but to wake up Master Chief. Before you know it, you found yourself at the center of a conflict to determine the fate of the galaxy from the threat of the Prometheans. 343 has gone to great lengths to further develop the characters in the series that have previously felt one dimensional. No longer will Master Chief feel like a generic space marine as his personality shines through throughout the campaign along with Cortana who is slowly going insane.
The action-packed cinematic campaign will end around the 6-8 hours mark – add a few more hours to the total if you are tackling it on Heroic. By large the gameplay is what you would expect from a Halo title with vehicles playing a dominant role in between the on-foot sections. The new Mantis mechs which are available during the campaign and in multiplayer matches looks like the spitting image of Metal Gear Rex when viewed from the front. A short campaign usually isn’t a problem if the pacing works out from start to finish, but in Halo 4 you seem to fly through the missions. Generally Master Chief will start exactly where he needs to be instead of traveling between locales.
Halo 4 is the best looking Halo game hands down and one of the best looking games on the Xbox 360 to date. Character models in the game have been dramatically improved – especially character faces. The detailed faces help with the character development 343 was going for as emotions and dialogue shine through during the cinematic cutscenes. The environments are full of brightly colored locales that range from lush jungles to very sci-fi looking space stations. On the audio front, 343 has improved just about everything in the game from the sound effects to the music that mixes in some electronic effects.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, 343 has crafted a Halo game that will feel familiar to Halo fanatics that just want more Halo without changing the formula. This is a good thing to a degree, as the overall experience hasn’t evolved that much. Don’t expect a revolution in the series at least until the next game after 343 earns the trust of Halo fans. There are elements that do bring Halo closer to modern day shooters such as zooming in and out with a handful of weapons as well as sprinting whenever you want. If you try and zoom with a weapon such as Needler, MC will pull out his binoculars. While annoying at first, it doesn’t take long to remember which guns have a zoom and which do not. If you are coming from games like Call of Duty or Battlefield where you are use aim down sights (ADS) with every weapon, Halo 4 may feel different. Should 343 add ADS to Halo? I hope not, as not every game needs to follow the COD formula for first-person shooters.
Every since the original, Halo has been all about the multiplayer for millions of people. Besides the aforementioned sprinting – which can be done at anytime – and the addition of a kill streak rewards system the customization of your Spartan soldier is absolutely phenomenal. Unlocking many and I mean many different armor variations, helmets, color schemes, I doubt you will ever run into the same looking Spartan twice. It’s really refreshing to not be playing against the same old looking Master Chief style Spartan armor with a different color hue. While people may not even notice, but the multiplayer has a purpose this time – at least from a story/lore viewpoint. The UNSC has once again begun the Spartan project with each character in multiplayer taken part in wargames to improve their skills. Everything else that you would expect from Halo multiplayer is still there including matchmaking, playlists and the Forge editor.
The biggest addition to the series revolves around the cooperative story mode: Spartan Ops. Adding five new mini-mission each week, for 10 weeks, Spartan Ops could be considered an entirely second campaign to the overall package and if you enjoy playing with your friends, you will enjoy the story developing right in front of you each week.
343 Industries and Halo 4 has given me new hope for the beloved series. No longer do I think of Master Chief as a generic character wrapped in average experience. The character development is exactly what was missing in the series for me and I am truly excited to see where the game will go with the inevitable sequel.
Note: The Halo 4 review was written based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.