When Bungie Studios parted ways with Microsoft, fans (and I as well) were a bit concerned about our beloved Halo series being in the hands of a new developer. 343 Industries proved their capabilities and respect for the series with the outstanding treatment of Halo: Anniversary and with Halo 4 they’ve managed to implement the best traditions in the series while introducing some innovations of their own.
Halo 4 picks up four years after Halo 3, with Master Chief floating through space in a damaged spaceship while his companion Cortana stands watch and slowly deteriorates. After being attacked by a Covenant ship, he is awoken out of stasis and once again begins his onslaught against anything non-human, this time on a Forerunner planet called Requiem. Besides taking out the standard Grunts and Jackals, Master Chief will face the Prometheans as well as a powerful, main villain known as the Didact. This Foresunner’s motives slowly comes to realization through your communication with the crew of the stranded UNSC Infinity as well as another oracular newcomer, The Librarian. It’s a compelling and emotional story that is heavily driven by Master Chief’s desire to save Cortana from an AI breakdown called Rampancy.
The introduction of the Forerunners and Prometheans are a welcome addition to the series. The Prometheans look and behave distinctly different from the Covenant and the Flood. Players will face dog-like Crawlers that climb along the walls and attack in packs, as well as armored Knights that deploy small flying units called Watchers as they teleport across the battlefield. Taking down these enemies will require you to revise your usual tactics, especially when you play on the Legendary difficulty.
The story is complimented by a campaign that keeps things fresh by sending Master Chief to a variety of interesting locations. Trading in the gloomy browns, grays, and dark purples of past entries, Halo 4 showcases brightly lit fields, dense jungle locales, and shiny, futuristic indoor arenas. The overhauled graphics are simply impressive, with richly detailed character facial expressions that convey emotion to dialogue and a consistent frame-rate throughout. The basic gameplay didn’t need much work, but 343 managed to upgrade and include features – like sprinting – that help make Master Chief’s movement feel more fluid. The audio has been completely retooled, including sound effects and a score by new composer Neil Davidge that ties everything together nicely.
The presence of three distinct factions in Halo 4 means Master Chief has a variety of weapons to choose from. On the UNSC side, both the Magnum and the Battle Rifle are included, along with heavy weapon favorites such as the Rocket Launcher and Spartan Laser. A new addition is the Railgun, which fires a mini explosive when fully charged. Forerunners supply most of the new and fun weapons (except those awful plasma grenades), with guns fitting into the standard archetypes of weaponry. Many of these weapons mirror some of their UNSC or Covenant counterparts – the Boltshot for example, is essentially a Covenant Plasma Pistol, while the Scattershot acts like an upgraded Shotgun with ricochet ammo. While some may argue these new weapons are just rehash of classic weapons, this is more a realization that certain styles are basis to Halo‘s combat dynamic.
Halo 4 technically has two campaigns. Besides Master Chief’s campaign, players can also play Spartan Ops. Starring a squad of UNSC Spartans who have arrived on Requiem, gameplay is split into a series of 15-20 minute missions that feel more like standalone combat challenges rather than a story-driven adventure. Alone or with three friends, you run around the map and complete a series of objectives before heading to the extraction point. Spartan Ops can certainly stretch out your Halo 4 experience – the game ships with 5 missions and will receive 45 more over the coming months.
War Games is Halo’s more traditional multiplayer modes, which — along with Spartan Ops, the map/game-type editor Forge, and the video-replaying Theater — is backed by an overarching experience-points system. All the while, the new points system lets you level up your Spartan’s rank and unlock new weapons, Armor Abilities, Tactical Packages, and Support Upgrades. Loadouts make their return, but now include the ability for some customization for both passive and active skills. There are some new armor abilities like thruster pack which allows a quick burst of speed to evade quickly, and Promethean Vision which gives players the ability to see enemies through walls for a short period of time. On top of the armor abilities there also are tactical packages like Resupply which lets players pick up grenades from fall foes, and the support upgrades like Dexterity which lets players reload and swap weapons faster.
Although 343 Industries plays it safe with Halo 4, they have firmly established themselves as being capable enough to handle the future adventures of Master Chief. In every aspect, this is the most complete Halo entry, boasting dazzling visuals, masterfully designed levels, refined gameplay, extensive multiplayer, and the most compelling story to date. I cannot wait to see where 343 Industries is ready to take the Halo series once Microsoft allows them to remove the training wheels.
Release Date: November 6, 2012 • Publisher: Microsoft Games • Developer: 343 Industries • Genre: Action • Multiplayer: 2-16 players • Achievements: Moderate • Cost: $59.99 • Replay Value: High