Review: Halo 4
343 Industries have inherited one of the most beloved game franchises and Xbox 360 exclusives. The question that has nagged every Halo fan’s mind is: what would happen to Master Chief and Cortana with Halo 4?
- Worth The Time?Halo 4 is worthy of any gamer's interest. Halo fans will not be disappointed.
- Things LovedThe character interactions between Master Chief and Cortana, the varied combat, the different settings and the depth of Halo 4's story.
- Things HatedWith Halo 4, the lack of development and backstory for side characters was pretty noticeable. However, the primary focus of the game is on Master Chief's and Cortana's relationship.
- RecommendationIf you are a Halo fan you will love this game. If you aren't you should give this game a try. It is that good.
- Name: Halo 4
- Genre: Shooter
- Players: 1-16
- Multiplayer: Yes
- Platforms: Xbox 360
- Developer: 343 Industries
- Publisher: Microsoft Studios
- Price: R 499
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
343 Industries had much to prove with a game steeped in as much history as Bungie’s former brain child. Halo 4 needed not only to redefine Master Chief and his story for a new generation of gamers, but also maintain the old Halo fan base simultaneously. The result with 343 Industries’s effort is a great success story. The game surpasses some of the latter instalments from its original inception, with a singleplayer campaign that bests Halo 3 in many ways as well as Reach and ODST. The game redefines who Master Chief is and his relationship with Cortana, his personal AI, who is the driving force of Halo 4’s story. As anyone would expect the multiplayer is for many players the heart of the Halo experience, and the reason they pick up each and every Halo game.
However, Halo 4 demonstrates strength in a single player experience (which is also co-op) that undoubtedly is one of the best revivals of an ageing franchise, revitalising Master Chief with new energy and purpose. Master Chief has often been thought of as a vehicle for gamers to become a super soldier fending Earth from intergalactic menaces, and partaking in the role of Master Chief. That is an essential part of why Halo is ‘Halo’. But Master Chief’s depth as a human being and a person who inhabits super-powered armour was never fully realised, and greatly explored, in the first three games. This new trilogy, known as the Reclaimer Trilogy, beginning with Halo 4 is 343 Industries attempt at giving human depth to Master Chief. This was realised through the game’s primary focus on the relationship between Master Chief and Cortana. This relationship is central to the plot and motivations of Master Chief. The driving force this time around is the rampancy of Cortana who has reached the end of her life as an AI, and is slowly peaking into a state of insanity. Master Chief and Cortana are filled with self doubt about their fate and as a consequence of this new development the game’s story is peppered with touching and moving moments. Particularly those moments between Master Chief and Cortana that resonate the taxing emotional journey that Master Chief, and Cortana, endure throughout the game.
Of course, the story is still concerned with a galactic threat, an enemy who wants to destroy humanity and threatens life as Master Chief knows it. However, the core of the game’s singleplayer experience is pinned on the shoulders of both Master Chief and Cortana. This is a bold move by 343 Industries to focus increasingly on this dynamic, and effectively you are exposed to the humanity of both Master Chief and Cortana. Halo 4 is an epic flight of fancy and an emotional journey for Master Chief. Yet here are a few story details for those wondering what exactly the state of affairs is.
The fourth game in the main Halo franchise finds Master Chief and Cortana stranded in space upon the UNSC frigate Forward Unto Dawn. The ship is alerted to the presence of a nearby Forerunner planet, later revealed to be Requiem, and receives a mysterious transmission from a UNSC vessel bound for Requiem. Master Chief along with Cortana make their way to the planet following the transmission to its source, and that’s where the fun begins. They encounter a new enemy known as the Prometheans who bring with them an assortment of new weaponry and the ability to teleport, among other interesting abilities.
In the singleplayer campaign, you are able to use three different weapon sets ranging from the aforementioned Promethean weapons which are energy based weapons that come in a host of flavours like a shotgun, sniper rifle and battle rifle. These weapons are greatly powerful in comparison to the typical UNSC armoury which remains basically the same. With the exception of a sticky grenade detonator which launches highly explosive sticky grenades at unsuspecting enemies. The Covenant is still there and their weaponry is still intact. I felt that the Promethean weaponry whilst following the standards of the other weapon sets from the UNSC and Covenant did have some intriguing deviations. Of particular interest was an incinerator weapon which launched a chain grenade (similar to the one found in the Gears Of War franchise) engulfed in laser energy. The Promethean weapons also have a nice heft to them and satisfyingly give a great way to approach the new enemy class. All the weapons likewise are surprisingly great to use, and with the update in audio samples and visuals they feel more vibrant than in previous Halo instalments. The Prometheans themselves are a formidable enemy with different classes of unit within their ranks. The higher class enemies known as Knights, and variants thereof, have guardian units that are generated by larger Promethean units and shield them from weapon fire. Lower class units within the Promethean ranks consist of dog-like grunt units that are armed with laser weapons that can decimate Master Chief’s shielding within a few seconds. This becomes starkly apparent on harder difficulties such as Heroic where Halo 4 truly shines and the gameplay itself becomes varied.
This is another aspect of Halo which is great, relative to its gameplay design, which didn’t feel traditionally Halo and allowed for a more stealthy approach to combat with enemies than in previous games. It wasn’t just a case of run-and-gun and having to ‘Rambo’ your way through a mess of enemies because you’re Master Chief. A more cautious approach was needed because of the change in setting. This was something that the first Halo game, Halo: Combat Evolved, did so well with the introduction of the Flood. It changed the game from a typical FPS experience, to a survival horror FPS throughout that segment of the game. The same has been done with Halo 4 where the game focuses on the exploration of Requiem, and rewards the player with caches of weaponry and other rewards that unlock extras. It gives the game effective pacing and an added layer of incentive for a player playing through the singleplayer campaign. There are also vehicle sequences with a mech, tank, space jetfighter and flying air unit. Sequences like this break up all the intensive gunplay in between and give moments of calm before the storm that follows in the next mission, or chapter point.
The combat is still fast paced, but like I explained previously as the enemies change, and as the mission objectives differ Halo 4 meanders from the typical Halo route. I found the change in combat to be a refreshing addition. Staunch Halo fans may take this as an abominable choice on the part of 343 Industries, but it gives way for more poignant moments and character interactions with Master Chief and Cortana. It aids in setting the tone and you need to remember that this isn’t Bungie’s Halo, or Bungie’s version of Master Chief. 343 Industries wanted to redefine Halo and Master Chief. They have achieved this with slight tweaks to the core gameplay mechanics which the most dedicated of Halo fans may not even notice. Furthermore, characterisation has been vastly improved than in previous games with both Master Chief and Cortana. Yet if I had any qualms with the game it would have to be that side characters were not given enough backstory and development. But I think that 343 Industries were making a concerted effort to focus Halo 4 primarily on Master Chief and Cortana. In contrast, Halo Reach and Halo ODST have focused on such endeavours in the past.
In the multiplayer experience, Halo 4 does well to maintain the popular multiplayer mode Slayer, now called Infinity Slayer, and ditches Firefight mode in favour of Spartan Ops. Nearly all the multiplayer modes are included under the option of “War Games” which is where you can choose between: Infinity Slayer, Big Team Infinity Slayer, Dominion, Regicide (which is FFA essentially), Flood (an infection zombie mode of sorts), Capture The Flag, Oddball, King Of The Hill and Team Slayer Pro. All of which provide extra content above and beyond that which the singleplayer campaign and Spartan Ops have to offer. The most popular mode in War Games by far is Infinity Slayer which is still as adrenaline-filled and fast paced as previous iterations of the mode, and the execution is greatly improved. In playing, you have to learn what play-style suits you, including the ins and outs of particular weapons, all of which are necessary in the fast paced deathmatch that is Infinity Slayer. Powers also make a return in Halo 4 including the new addition of a Hard Shield which replaces the armour fortification power from Halo Reach, as well as an Autosentry which is a mobile air unit that can shoot down enemies and comes in pretty handy. You can also pick tactical packages which benefit certain stats on your Spartan, like shielding or mobility, as well as other perks which can be selected in your Spartan Hub menu. The Spartan Hub is the central command for the customisation of your own unique Spartan where you can make loadout selections, change your unique ID and select armour variants for your Spartan. In regards to customisation, the old points system from Halo Reach has been revamped in favour of a skill points system that is essentially XP gained from bouts online, and within Spartan Ops. The points accumulated can be used to buy weapon, power and perk upgrades in the Spartan Hub menu all of which depend on the level of your Spartan.
Spartan Ops improves on Firefight by actually creating a side story to compliment the main events that occur in the singeplayer campaign of Halo 4. Spartan Ops follows the adventures of a group of Spartans journeying upon the UNSC Infinity which is making its way to Requiem. Spartan Ops is planned as an episodic co-op campaign. With the first episode out, consisting of a couple of chapters, you are exposed to an array of combat situations and story elements. All of which your own Spartan experiences and battles through. Spartan Ops has battles that range from tank battles to duelling sniper wars between yourself and the Covenant. In the process, you accumulate a wealth of points which all go towards upgrading the same Spartan that you use in both War Games and Spartan Ops. So in essence, the incentives and rewards are never ending in Halo 4. This gives the game great longevity and replay value in the long run, and doesn’t feel tacked on like in other games which try to implement similar systems.
Visually Halo 4 is impressive for an Xbox 360 game as the game pushes the envelope in its approach to the Halo universe. Halo 4 aims for a greater amount of realism than previous instalments of the franchise and does so with a vast selection of settings and locations that create an impressive in-game world. Requiem feels both vibrant and threatening with lush jungle environments and barren wastelands. It becomes obvious that much visual inspiration for the jungle locales has been taken from the Predator films and it shows in the distinct visuals of Halo 4. Everything is extremely detailed from Master Chief’s armour, to Cortana’s digital representation, to the UNSC Infinity. Textures and character models don’t feel dated and there were no noticeable visual bugs, glitches or anti-aliasing issues to be had. It is clear that a great amount of effort was put into the development of Halo 4 and this leaves a mark long after you finish the game.
The visuals are further enhanced by the score and audio design which is well executed and dramatic when necessary providing the support for the emotional chops of the voice actors. The voice acting in Halo 4 is also commendable and sets a bar of excellence that is missing in many other FPSs and games overall. Every character feels believable even though the circumstances may be unbelievable, and like I said before there is greater depth in the characterisation of both Master Chief and Cortana. As a result, I could not fault the audio design. Halo 4’s score was uplifting and emotionally powerful throughout. This is a soundtrack I would consider buying separately. It is just that good.