The Halo series has always been iconic; from its sound track and scenery to its energy swords and vehicles. Everything about it has always been recognizable, none more so than the series main protagonist, ‘Master Chief.’ With 343 Studios taking up the gauntlet from Bungie, they were met with controversy. How does one take such a huge series like Halo, mindful of its massive fanbase and develop something fresh, while maintaining the elements which have gained so much popularity. With increased pressure from fans in general, seemingly more so since the infamous ‘hold the line’ movement following the Mass Effect 3 controversy, a lot was expected from 343. They have not disappointed. In fact, they have managed to give us exactly what the community wanted and a little more. An impressive feat, given the circumstances.
If you’re a fan of the Halo series, you won’t be disappointed with the game’s mechanics. The game stays true to its original roots, and 343 have successfully recreated the look and feel of past Halo titles. It still has the same first-person shooting controls, the same progression based waves of enemies, and the iconic vehicles you know and love. This being said the game still feels refreshing and new. The inclusion of the sprint function (as used in Halo: Reach) is a welcome addition as well as the use of interchangeable abilities such as shields, holographic decoys and a personal turrets, all which can be summoned at the click of a button.
Without giving too much away, Halo 4 returns us to Master Chief’s armoured boots once more for an approximate 6-7 hour campaign. While saving the world from alien races is the Chief’s specialty, the real focus here is on Cortana and the pair’s unique relationship. The events of Halo 3 gave us a glimpse into the mindset of a deteriorating AI. This is expanded upon in this installment, becoming a major plot point as Cortana reaches her 8th year in service. This is referred to as ‘rampancy’; when an AI reaches its expiry date and their increased knowledge causes them to overload and essentially ‘think’ themselves to death.
As the story progresses we’re introduced to a new alien race, the Prometheans, synthetic beings created by the mysterious Forerunners. There are three different forms of Prometheans – Crawlers (four legged creatures who can cling to walls), Knights (deadly creatures that emit an insect-like glow and are capable of teleporting) and Watchers (who are capable of regenerating enemy shields and health, while reining cover fire). New enemies of course means new variations of the weapons we’ve come to know and love – pistol, machine gun, shotgun, sniper rifle and rocket launcher – each one with their own pros and cons.
There are a few plot holes left unexplained, though apparently some of these things – such as Dr. Halsey being alive and well – were explained via the expanded universe novels but still will leave uninformed players confused. Other things (without spoiling any plot) will hopefully be covered in future titles. The only other qualm with the campaign would be the “destroy X amount of targets” or, “flip X amount of switches” objectives which can seem a little repetitive and tedious, though not so much so that it detracts from the story or the pacing of the game itself.
Halo’s multiplayer has always been the bread and butter of the franchise and the addition of ‘Infinity Mode’ cements this further with Spartan Ops (mission based Co-op mode, reminiscent of the ‘Spec Ops’ found in the Call of Duty games) and War Games (the competitive Multiplayer Mode). While the reference to the Call of Duty multiplayer is on the tongue, Halo 4 has made adjustments to their own online play which sees the inclusion of ordinance packages,similar to killstreak rewards, and the ability to join a game mid-way; something that was previously unavailable but comes as a welcome surprise.
Halo’s open ended maps maintain and enhance the freedom experienced in previous titles, both on a large and small scale. Grifball (one of my personal favourites) and Flood Mode (think Survival Mode) have also been added to the War Game’s extensive list of playable game styles. Halo’s multiplayer has, and will continue to be its lifeline long after the campaign is complete, and both veterans and newbies alike will not be disappointed.
The graphics in Halo 4 can be summed up with one word: stunning. Long gone are the days of blocky corridors and stiff, clumsy movements; replaced instead with breathtaking landscapes and intricate visuals. One of the first changes you will notice in the campaign is the work that has gone into faithfully creating facial expression and detail. Cortana’s expressions in the opening scenes will leave you in awe, and this awe does not subside but instead replicates in all characters you come into contact with. Even as simple as it sounds, we even see Chief exerting some key head tilts, turns and body language that gives us some idea of what he’s thinking or feeling in those moments.
Gameplay itself is smooth and movements are fluid, bodies move and participate in believable combat and rarely does moving about feel clunky or unresponsive. Designs for the new antagonists are in line with the series overall theme, and the art style never once feels out of place or unusual.
If there is one thing to fault within the game, it would unfortunately be the game’s sound. While the score is amazing, it becomes difficult to hear the dialogue in particular scenes over the crashing sound effects and striking musical chords, so much so that subtitles were required to make any sense of it at all. It just so happened that playing with the subs proved rather beneficial as there was a scene in the campaign where words were appearing on screen via subtitles while Chief and another character stood awkwardly not uttering a word.
Touched upon above, the score used for the game is beautiful, hauntingly so at times. It manages to find that perfect balance between empowering pulses and quieter, though equally intriguing melodies that create an amazing musical fusion; one which leaves you completely entranced by the scenes unfolding in front of you.
As mentioned previously, the value associated with the game is exceptionally high. You will get what you paid for, and more. While the campaign is rather short, and somewhat expected from an FPS, a variety of difficulties will give some a challenge, while others will indulge in Halo’s biggest factor when it comes to replay value – its multiplayer mode. The addition of Spartan Ops adds hours of enjoyment with added missions, including cutscenes and can be played with co-op parties of 4.
The War Games multiplayer modes are where you will find the most longevity within the title. With new additions already mentioned, 343 has definitely made Halo 4’s online one of the highest rated FPS’es on the market, fortifying it for months to come as players strive to increase in rank and unlock a number of weapons and character customization.
Putting aside personal opinions, there isn’t much to fault about the game itself. Sure there are a few minor flaws here and there, but if nothing else taking on a project such as this is admirable. It plays just like any other Halo game and without a doubt 343 Studios have earned a great deal of respect for their treatment of such an established (and popular) franchise. Granted, if you’re not a Halo fan, you probably won’t like this one either. Those of you who are, and were worried about the treatment of your beloved game, well rest-assured you’re in good hands and in for a hell of a ride!
AAG SCORE: 9/10
+ Beautiful Visuals And Animation
+ Engaging and Well-Paced Plot
+ Well-Rounded Multiplayer With Plenty Of Options
- Overly Loud Musical Score And SFX
- Minor Plot Holes Unexplained
- Campaign Could Be Longer