Game Review: Halo 4 [Xbox 360]
Halo 4‘s announcement at E3 2011 heralded mixed emotions. On one hand it would be great to see Master Chief in action again, but on the other hand newcomers – 343 Industries – would be developing it, no longer Bungie who had created the franchise and came to know its strengths and weaknesses. This brought about my main concern: could 343 Industries create a game that would stand up there with the other Halo games? As it turns out, 343 Industries not only achieved this but they exceeded expectations, creating not only the best Halo game to date but also one of the best games of 2012 on any platform.
The story of Halo 4 takes place four years after the events of Halo 3, wherein Master Chief and Cortana are aboard the vessel known as ‘Forward Unto Dawn’, where the Chief is woken up to combat a new threat, the Prometheans. This is the basic premise of the game, interestingly though this is a much more character driven story between Master Chief and Cortana as opposed to previous games where it was only based around the mission objectives. Cortana is experiencing rampancy, an AI disease, due to the fact that AIs only service for seven years and Cortana has been going for eight. The initial prologue defines Spartans not as war machines but as humans and this becomes more clear throughout the eight hour campaign as we see the interactions between Master Chief and Cortana. For an AI, Cortana shows a lot of human emotions and you will be finding yourself wanting to save her more than the rest of humanity. As a whole this is a much more coherent and heartfelt story, resulting in the best one yet.
Every single Halo game has a distinct feel to it that makes it different from the rest of the genre. You know when you’re playing a Halo game, and this is no different with Halo 4. The controls feel incredibly refined and there are simple touches that make a big difference such as the ability to have a default sprint, a much needed addition that makes all the difference. The gunplay has always been an aspect of Halo that has defined the series for its greatness in the genre and with Halo 4 it might just be the series’ best. Previous weapons in the Halo series, such as the DMR and Battle Rifle have been given more potency to them, which make them feel more substantial than before. The reason they have more potency is not just because they have more kick to them but also from the astoundingly good sound design that make them feel more powerful. Halo has always had outstanding sound design but with Halo 4 the guns feel more realistic than ever. It’s not just the old weapons that have more kick to them, but also the new Promethean ones. These new weapons often mirror that of the human ones, for example a shotgun in Promethean form is the Scattergun, but the difference is the Scattergun has a short rebound effect and does a bit more damage. All in all, the gun designs are very well done, offering a fantastic update look to previous weapons in the Halo franchise. The Promethean guns in particular are very nice additions, especially the animation that appears when you pick one up for the first time.
The campaign is amazingly well paced, it does not throw an explosion in your face every 30 seconds. 343 know when to take a break from the action to concentrate on the story between Master Chief and Cortana, when to place sandbox action, and when to offer the epic moments that only Halo can do. The level design is well thought out; there are sections that are very wide and open that offer different elevation points with plenty of vehicle combat and different styles of play. Each level is a playground that welcomes experimentation. The new enemy you will face are the Prometheans, marking a significant change to the series. Initially I didn’t feel they fit in with the style of Halo, though after having played it I can safely say that they are a lot of fun to fight and have better attack patterns compared to the Covenant. For example, a Knight can teleport around the battlefield to either get behind you or in front of you, and can also be reconstructed if you don’t shoot out the Watchers. Of course this all comes down to the AI. Halo is known for its intelligent AI and it is no different here: enemies will flank you, are aggressive when they need to be and use their weapons in a very strategic manner. For example, if you play on Heroic or Legendary the Grunts will charge their Plasma Pistol to do the ultimate damage. Skulls are back too, but this time you don’t have to find them in the levels, as they are all unlocked from the start. For me this is the best campaign that has ever graced a Halo game, of course every fan will have their opinion as to what is the best campaign, but rest assured you won’t be disappointed with it.
Multiplayer is a huge part of Halo too and 343 have really done it justice. There are enough changes to the formula that it leaves its own distinct mark from the rest of the Halo games. The first thing that you will notice is the ability to customise your own loadouts, you can change your primary weapon, secondary weapon, grenade and armour ability. New to Halo are tactical packages and support upgrades, Halo’s equivalent to perks from Call of Duty, however with Halo these are not anything that will give you a substantial lead over other players, and instead they might help with reload speed or allowing you to recover grenades from fallen foes. Ordinance packages are the equivalent to kill streaks, instead of getting a certain amount of kills without dying to get your reward, with Halo it is done with points that are earned with assistants, kills, headshots, double kills etc. This is a great way of doing it as you feel like every action you do will help towards getting you your ordnance package. Within the packages you will find better weapons, over shield or a speed boost. New game modes like Dominion and Regicide are an excellent addition to the already adequate game modes. The thirteen maps that ship with the game are very well designed and should please fans of the series. Overall the multiplayer feels much more refined and balanced than before.
The new co-op mode, Spartan Ops replaces Firefight and offers story-based missions that play out in episodes, with new ones to be released every week. This is a nice idea but the lack of a score based system seems rather odd, as it offers no re-playability and the episodes themselves will only last about ten minutes. Even stranger is the fact that you can’t really die – you can get killed but there is no punishment, you just re-spawn again and get back to the action. This would not have been an issue if there was a score system, but because there isn’t it offers no real challenge.
Back when Halo 2 was released, it was the game really showcased what the original Xbox was capable of. Since then, whilst they are still great games, the Halo franchise has not really achieved the same milestone on the Xbox 360, but now Halo 4 revives the franchise and really impresses with fantastic visuals and the best CGI cut scenes you will ever, ever see in a game. This really is one of the most visually stunning first person shooters you will see on the console. It’s a shame I can’t really praise the soundtrack of the game however, as Halo has always had incredible music that reflect the actions seen on the game. Halo 4 though offers a more atmospheric score, which is by no means a bad thing but it doesn’t make it a very memorable one either, which is a shame.
Halo 4 manages to deliver a deep and meaningful story in an excellently paced campaign as well as the perfect online experience in a Halo game. Nowadays, it’s hard to find a good balance between the two in the drowned market of first person shooters that often focus more on the multiplayer or single player. This is not just the best Halo game to date, but one of the finest shooters of this generation.