His File Reads ‘Missing In Action…’
A little while ago I mentioned in an article that if I only had $60 to spend on games in November, it would be spent on Halo 4. Turns out, I waited four hours in line at the midnight launch at my local Best Buy and spent $100 on the Limited Edition instead (unboxing video below). Needless to say I was so confident in just how good this game would be I nearly doubled that original budget to get the extra goodies.
The big question over the course of Halo 4’s development has been “can 343 do the franchise justice?” As the first studio to have a crack at the series since original developers Bungie left the franchise, Microsoft and their in-house studio 343 Industries have taken the reigns and been tasked with producing a game that moves the story of Master Chief forward. Being the series that launched the Xbox to the top of the industry, expectations were quite high to keep the good times rolling for all. Fans have been nervous and skeptical of a Bungie-less Halo, but 343 assures that Halo 4 will remind us why we fell in love with the series in the first place.
Immediately upon starting the campaign we’re greeted with a cinematic that is nothing short of mind-blowing, giving you a teaser of what’s in store. Then we pick up right where we left off 5 years ago in Halo 3. After fading to black it turns out the Chief was put into cryo-sleep before aimlessly drifting through space aboard the damaged UNSC vessel Forward Unto Dawn, waiting to be rescued. Of course the rescue crew never showed up, but the covenant did. After being awakened you grab Cortana and its go time, perhaps an homage to the original or Halo 2 the first mission puts you in familiar territory combating covenant troops while attempting to escape an ailing UNSC ship.
The story is truly that of Cortana’s struggle. Of course the weight of the world is solely on the shoulders of the Master Chief, but plot delves into John’s humanity more than ever before. It seems saving humanity is secondary to rescuing his beloved AI companion as Cortana explains she is slipping into rampancy – a condition all UNSC AI constructs fall victim to after 7 years of service. Cortana explains to the Chief that as their knowledge base expands over time they slowly deteriorate, essentially thinking themselves to death. Naturally John won’t let that happen, making it his top priority to get Cortana back to Earth. I found myself utterly immersed in their personal struggle, far greater than that of previous Halo games.
Right away you’ll notice Halo 4 looks and plays like any other Halo title. The Master Chief’s large and bulky frame moves gracefully and effortlessly while wielding new and familiar weapons alike. The controls don’t appear to have changed much since the original aside from the changes made when the series made the transition to the 360. Using RB to melee, LT to throw grenades or zooming in by clicking in the right analog stick for example. There are some additions, like the timer based power-ups from Halo Reach that the Chief now makes use of, elements like the jetpack or hologram.
It doesn’t take long to see other changes 343’s made as you run into the new enemies of the series, the Prometheans. The Prometheans are some type of horrible merging of human and machine, of which you’ll encounter three unit types: Crawlers, Knights and Watchers. Crawlers are comparable to grunts, crawlers are dog-like enemies that can cling to any surface and are generally armed with a pistol. Knights are the human-like units covered in carapace armor, normally armed with a Light Rifle and take a good licking to get down. Watchers are particularly annoying, flying above Knights most of the time and not only raining down fire but also shielding their allies. They also warp in new enemies and revive and heal their allies, making them your highest priority for disposal.
Every Halo game has been praised for its capable enemy AI and Halo 4 doesn’t stray from that tradition. As you’d expect their brilliance is more evident in higher difficulties, nevertheless units will deplete your rounds as they repeatedly dodge your shots and they’ll make you feel the heat when moving into flank from multiple angles.
All the familiar weapons are back for Halo 4 with the addition of the Promethean weapon types. The Prometheans use Forerunner weapons identified by Cortana that reassemble themselves once picked up in order to be used by any species. All the Forerunner weapons are variations of the default weapon types; the Bianary Rifle being their sniper rifle, the Lightrifle is comparable to the Battle Rifle or DMR, Scattershot – Shotgun, etc. The Prometheans also bring with them a new grenade type in the Pulse Grenade. The Pulse Grenade is an area of effect device that creates an Attenuation Field that damages the health and shields of both enemies and vehicles.
For what can be said about the similarities between each faction’s weapons, nothing can be further from the truth when it comes to multiplayer. In Halo 4 there is literally a gun for every situation and preference to boot, the balancing is only complimented by 10 awesome War Games maps and three Forge-built stages. 343 pays homage to Halo 3 by recreating Valhalla with the Mantis-featuring Ragnarok map, and one of the official Forge-built battlegrounds, Settler, is a smaller recreation of the Halo universes most beloved map: Blood Gulch.
Matchmaking modes include everything you’ve come to expect in a Halo title. The lobby screen takes visual ques from many other FPS’ providing quick access to your friends and Halo party. From here you can also edit all your Spartan’s customizations, loadouts and access the Forge editor and Theater. The menus appear confusing in the beginning but are actually more intuitive and quickly navigated than previous iterations. The big addition to game modes that was previously announced is Grifball, the lighthearted mode presents better than it did in previous games and is just plain fun to play. Thrown in the mix as well is the new Dominion mode in which teams capture, fortify and defend bases and Regicide in which players target the one with the highest score. Halo 4 provides a healthy mix of new and old game types that complement each other and provide players with endless replay value.
The Spartan Ops online 4 player co-op campaign is the other main addition to Halo 4. Halo 4 ships with the first of ten missions and spans 5 chapters, the rest will later be DLC available to Xbox Live Gold Subscribers. Spartan Ops story based missions pick up on points left out of the plot but unfortunately lack in replayability without point or score based incentives. But the story and incredible pre and post-episode cinematics make it a must-play.
The audio and visuals of Halo 4 are unmatched. 343 has made great strides in the visual evolution of the series, from art design to texture work and character models, it’s hard to find a blemish on the seemingly perfect aesthetics. The impeccable colour and lighting effects had me in awe and I’d often find myself admiring the incredibly detailed environments. Even more amazing is when you consider all of this is done once again on a 7 year old console, proving that the Xbox 360 is all but down and out quite yet.
It’s no secret that the Halo soundtrack is one of the most iconic in gaming history. Almost immediately identifiable, there are tracks that almost anyone can instantly associate with the franchise. Needless to say Neil Davidge had some big shoes to fill of the original composer, Martin O’Donnell. But the common theme of Halo 4 delivering on all fronts is not absent here either, as Davidge has done an excellent job of delivering not only a unique soundtrack of original scores but one that aligns with that immediate association with the franchise.
After much anticipation and then soaking up all Halo 4 has to offer, I can say 343 delivers on their promise. Not since Halo 2 have I been in love with a Halo game, and Halo 4 is one of the most worthy iterations to bear its name. It provides something fans and newcomers alike can enjoy and marks an excellent addition to the franchise. From single player to co-op to online competitive play, Halo continues to provide a complete experience that has been unmatched this generation. It paves way for the next-generation Xbox and single handedly makes it a must-buy in anticipation of Halo 5. But perhaps the biggest sigh of relief will be from fans as we find one of our most beloved franchises is in the safe and loving arms of 343 Industries.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook Page www.Facebook.com/MasonicGamers, where you can join a community of 3000+ gamers, share opinions on the latest gaming news, reviews and rumours, share Gamertags and win some great gaming prizes in our Facebook only giveaways!