When I sat down to immerse myself in the Halo Universe once more, I proceeded with caution. After the separation of Bungie from Microsoft, 343 Industries was constructed to create the next installment, Halo 4. I’m sure many of you are all too aware of the manic protectiveness a fan base can have for its precious franchise, and if 343 stumbled on one as well established as Halo all hell would have broken loose. And rightly so.
The game begins four years after the events of Halo 3. The Chief is in cryonic sleep abroad a chunk of the Forward Unto Dawn that is helplessly floating through unknown space. The first inkling that good old gun filled battle is about to ensue is tantalizingly delivered as the Chief wrenches at the mandibles of an Elite, who has just materialized from the gloom before tossing it over the side of one of the broken vessel’s bleak shafts. The Elite is mysteriously hostile, despite the truce that was supposed to unite the two races … Of course the encounter is swiftly followed by a tirade of –rather interestingly revamped I might add- covenant bogies, and everyone’s favorite Spartan does what he does best; kills things. However, beneath the welcomed action there is a far more tender side to the fourth Halo, as Chief’s noble AI accomplice is deteriorating; she has reached the point in every artificial intelligence’s life where they “literally think themselves to death”, and the cracks are beginning to show. On top of that the covenant aren’t the only terrors itching to dispatch the game’s protagonist; an entirely new threat lies in wait… I daren’t say anymore. Although for any of you wondering, yes. The story line is far superior to that of Halo 3’s.
Visually, 343 have been absolutely spot-on. You’re hit with one luscious set piece after another, and 343 have kept the wrath of the fan base at bay by keeping the distinct Halo-ness that everyone loves; the buildings are high rising, angular, sleek. The scale of some of the landscapes is awesome, awe inspiring, breath taking. Remember staring up at the course of the mighty ring as it cut through the sky-line in Combat Evolved? Halo 4 delivers that same hair-raising effect as Chief looks out over an expansive valley, etched with gorgeous alien architecture as massive, totem-like structures float above. The Chief isn’t looking too shabby either. His armor has had a much-needed make over. Given the constantly expanding capability for far more life-like graphics, the Chief’s old suit was beginning to look a little flat. It is now beautifully layered, with slabs of metal grafted onto one another- in Master Chief’s signature green, of course. His helmet is also richer; the visor has a delightful honey comb- like texture to it that will have your mouth watering, so watch your controllers. Sadly though, I feel the revision of the Elite’s appearance was somewhat un-needed. Their faces are meatier, rougher. Thug like. Their almost elegant features in the first three games made them so much more intimidating; you felt as if you were up against an opponent that was just as (if not even more) intelligent. Their humorous battle cries are no-where to be heard either. Deaths aren’t nearly as entertaining when you haven’t got an elite behind your mangled corpse grunting, “The demon is dead? By my hand!”
The gameplay has also seen one of the biggest changes in the whole series. The Halo games were responsible for much of the massive expansion in console online multiplayer, but it can easily be argued that it was perfected by the CoD franchise. People actually started to ignore campaign mode entirely, and were buying games specifically for their immersive onlines. Halo was being left behind. However there is now a permanent sprint option and the online now features perks, custom classes and kill streaks. Many see this renovation as a welcome boost. But alas, Halo fans have been up in arms, claiming Halo has been fashioned into a Call of Duty replica. In truth though, these changes have helped Halo match up to the other exceedingly popular online multiplayers competing for space in an already hugely competitive market. Attempts to revise controls and combat in Halo 3 only seemed to dip one scabby toe into an ocean of infinite potential. Luckily, Reach dived in head first. 343 saw the success of the variety of options in combat and online gameplay in the prequel, but perfected them in the fourth release. While Reach offered pre-set load-outs to players, Halo 4 offers an even more expansive range of weapons and abilities, which the player can happily choose from for themselves. Halo 4 seems to have plucked the perk system straight out of CoD’s books, and to be honest Halo might even give CoD a run for its money, as the additions don’t appear to have littered matches with spawn traps or camping issues (two devilish factors of the CoD games that frequently have pubescent boys hurling their consoles across rooms). Overall, Halo is still inherently… Halo. Although the games have developed and evolved into something new, it hasn’t lost any of the characteristics that turned Halo into one of the most popular games of all time, back in 2001.
343 also took on the concept of temporary abilities –introduced in Reach- and applied them brilliantly to both campaign and online. Old abilities have been refurbished, while new ones have also been created. The Chief dabbles in alien sensory vision, has himself a brand spankin’ new hard light shield and dodges bullets with (unfortunately somewhat lack luster) thrusters. Over powered abilities are now a thing of the past, and in fact add their own challenges. One mission sees the Chief acquire a jet pack function, allowing the player to search for cover and decent snipe-points amongst massive shards of rock. However, being able to temporarily launch yourself into the air creates its own trials. More than once I happily propelled the Chief upwards, blissfully searching for the perfect vantage point when I suddenly realized I had exposed myself to a hidden congregation of covenant, which proceeded to fill me up with bullets. Lots of bullets.
Speaking of bullets, the guns have had a welcome dose of bad-ass injected straight to their core. The introduction of a new race meant an array of new weapons was made available to the Chief. The weapons cover all the classic formats- with chargeable pistols, assault rifles, heavy duty shotguns and hefty rocket launchers. So far so good. These new weapons are also held together by channels of energy, so as each weapon is equipped the gun segments satisfyingly contract back into place, echoing back to Perfect Dark’s laptop gun. The audio has also been brilliantly re-mastered. Every reload, shot or smack into alien thorax sounds harsher, ‘clunkier’ and more vivid than ever before. Assault rifles have also finally come to the forefront. In online the fastest ways to take out an opponent was either the plasma pistol noob combo, or the battle rifle 5-shot. Assault rifles were near useless. 343 have upped the damage, actually making the assault rifle a weapon of choice in close quarters.
In conclusion, if you like Halo, go get this one. Despite a few plot holes, the story line will keep you playing for hours, and you’ll definitely be tearing up. The scenery will capture your imagination, there is plenty to explore in the online multiplayer matches and the introduction of new weapons offers a whole new learning curb for seasoned Halo fans, who are already very much accustomed to the use of weapons that have featured in the games for years. My one true problem with the game is the campaign’s length. Halo 2 consisted of 15 missions- Halo 4 has just 8. Being 15 missions long meant the player could become far more involved with the plot threads, and you really wanted to just slap the Chief on the back and say “you did good” after he’d slogged through every area. A long campaign also gave Halo 2 room for the epic side story following the disgraced Elite branded The Arbiter, who built a large following of his own fans. Now however, there just isn’t enough time to become fully engrossed in the campaign, and the story line cannot develop on the quite same scale as the first two Halos. However, I think 343 were just serving the needs of the mass target audience. Gamers who are more interested in online will welcome the campaign as a fun way to get to grips with mechanics, before swiftly moving on to what they really bought the game for. This is becoming an unfortunately common occurrence – call me old fashioned, but I think a more expansive campaign would have turned Halo 4 from an excellent release into an instant classic.