The keys to the Halo engine have been passed on from Bungie to 343 Industries and for the first time since 2007, Master Chief is back! With the Chief of course comes Cortana and the usual sense of feeling that if those two were not in the right place at the right time, the universe would be a whole different place.
“Wake me when you need me” – Master Chief, Halo 3
The game begins with a bang, quite literally, as Master Chief is woken by Cortana warning of a mysterious breach on the ship which is barely holding itself together with string. Cortana seems almost regretful that she has to wake the Chief under such conditions, but after a quick explanation and a friendly smile it is back to business aboard the Forward Unto Dawn. Halo 4 begins as it aims to continue, delving into the relationship between the Master Chief and Cortana and her increasing instability.
The first 15-20 minutes of gameplay after the brilliant intro scene is actually quite a let down. The script feels rushed and unexplained and the appearance of a certain quick time event seems completely out of place in a game that’s known for its intense action. For anyone who has accomplished even minor research into Halo 4 before playing it, Cortana’s rampant state is well documented as a focal point of the game but seems to be hastily mentioned and passed over at least initially. This trend of quickly moving from story point to story point without much depth or explanation unfortunately continues throughout the duration of Halo 4. Whether this has been done on purpose or not, due to the abundance of background story that can be found in Waypoint, the TV mini series, campaign terminals, books and the Spartan Ops mode, is not quite clear to me.
After the initial let down the story and action does pick up considerably and by the time you get to meeting the Forerunners and introducing them to the pointy end of your gun. I became fully invested in the new adventure and surroundings I found myself in. It’s at this stage, with a lush and deep tropical forest to my left and the UNSC Infinity in the brilliant blue skies to my right that I notice just how far 343 Industries have pushed the visuals since Halo 3.
The cut scenes are especially detailed visually but in many cases fall prey to the problem I mentioned before about not containing much depth of story, leaving me with many questions as to plot direction and characters that just pop up out of nowhere expecting you to know who they are. I don’t know if I’m maybe being a bit over judgemental with a new company taking over the reigns of a series that I have invested a lot of time into, but I don’t seem to remember ever asking questions such as these in previous Halo campaigns.
Not everything about the campaign is as inadequate however, as the usual Halo blend of fierce on foot gun action while great vehicle set pieces are still prevalent throughout. The inclusion of new weapons, vehicles and enemies in the Forerunners will give veteran players that fresh change and new challenge they have been needing for oh, so long. Credit should be given to 343 in this respect as they have picked up exactly where Bungie left off, in many cases adding their own creative twist and so improving the gun play and making the vehicles more exciting.
Playing through the campaign a second time after having explored the deep background story in Waypoint and having watched the terminal videos, the story made a lot more sense and characters that the first time showed up out of the blue had background and fitted into the story better. This feels a little sloppy to me, but does highlight the depth that the series really has and shows that the campaign could have been something better.
Infinity is the new heading for Halo 4’s multiplayer portion, as the story surrounding it takes place in and around the activities of the UNSC ship of the same name. The matchmaking section has been given various updates since Reach and even more so since Halo 3, its chronological predecessor, to include a host of modern day features. All the usual and expected updates are here including new weapons, vehicles, maps and game types. It’s where the unexpected updates (for Halo at least) crop up that cause a bit of concern.
343 have implemented an unlockable levelling and kill streak reward system most commonly seen in…well, every other popular FPS on the market. This transformation is not as dramatic as it first seems however as kill streak rewards, essentially gun drops, still depend on the players skill set to make use of. The unlockable gun and loadout levelling system is also fairly invalid as after you gain a few levels, have tried most of the guns and unlocked your favourites, you’re pretty much on the same level as people scores of levels ahead of you. The only bonuses higher levelled players get are more loadouts to choose from for adaptability and a beastly Spartan ID tag. These additions still feel like a bad thing for me and the push towards mainstream multiplayer techniques takes away from what makes Halo’s multiplayer feel unique and more enjoyable than others.
Aside from the two features mentioned above, Halo 4’s multiplayer matchmaking contains much of the same great Halo gameplay from previous titles. The first crop of maps are well varied and balanced, new Forerunner guns fit in well to the current set of weapons and even with all the new additions matchmaking is still a generally well balanced and entertaining portion of the game.
Also included in the ‘Infinity’ section of Halo 4 are the Spartan Ops missions. These are story focused missions in the form of episodes, each episode with its own cinematic and a new episode being released each week. These missions explore the UNSC Infinity’s first encounters with the Forerunners and the uncovering of what is really happening on the planet of Requiem. This mode has essentially replaced the popular Firefight mode, but even so a few aspects about it will still be familiar to you, just in a less regimented fashion. For starters the enemies appear in waves around the map upon completing certain objectives and within certain time slots. There are no easy way around these encounters and as in Firefight mode it all boils down to kill everything that moves. As it is now with only two episodes available, Spartan Ops has a lot of potential that is not quite being realised. As time goes on and more content is released and more story explored, this is likely to become the highlight of Halo 4. For some unknown reason Spartan Ops is only available online, so for anyone without an internet connection campaign is the only aspect of the game you will be able to play.
Forge and Theatre modes also make a reappearance but there is little to no change here to explain. They make for welcome additions all the same, especially in Theatre mode where you can record clips of your best and most hilarious moments to show off to friends and upload to your file share.
Halo 4 as a complete package is a good game. It has lots of content, plenty of replay value and a balanced and entertaining multiplayer that will grow with DLC releases down the line. Take these potions individually however and the campaign is the part that lets it down. Aside from the great gun play and vehicle action, all other objectives consist of reach x area so you can push a button and watch Cortana do the rest for you. 343 seem to have focused more on the multiplayer than the single player which is not such a bad thing in many ways, its just that Halo is known for its brilliant campaigns and many people might find what they have delivered as a bit of a let down.
Verdict – On Target
Platforms Available – Xbox 360
Platform Reviewed – Xbox 360
Review based on a copy supplied by Microsoft.
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