Developer: 343 Industries/ Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Available on the Xbox 360.
Once Master Chief stepped into the cryo-chamber at the end of Halo 3, a lot of people thought it was the end of the famed hero’s story. Sure, more games detailing the story of the universe came out, like Halo: ODST and Halo: Reach, and a lot of people knew the franchise was a cash cow, but once Bungie announced that it was moving on, the fate of the franchise was clouded with doubt. After all, who could tell the story of John-117 better than the original developers?
343 Industries has accepted the challenge and has stepped straight into the line of fire with Halo 4, picking up the reins of the multi-million dollar franchise. Continuing where Bungie left off, 343 Industries tells a new story in the Halo universe, one that they can rightfully call their own. With a new plot, new gameplay mechanics and a expansion to the always popular multiplayer, does this gamble pay off? Or does it ruin the franchise and its popular mythos forever?
As mentioned previously, Halo 4 continues the story where the third entry left off, with Cortana waking up Master Chief after the Forward Unto Dawn is scanned by a mysterious energy source outside of a planet known as Requiem. Sensing something is amiss, the pair find out that the Covenant are trying to enter the planet, and upon engaging them in combat, all are sucked in by Requiem. Startled by the events that have transpired, the pair venture deeper, only to find out that things are not what they seem.
While the plot starts of slowly at first, it quickly picks up the pace and turns out to be quite the pleasant surprise. If you’re having any doubts about 343 Industries handling your beloved Halo universe, you can rest assured that they have continued the tradition of creating an excellent story. The antagonist is an interesting one, and although we don’t really get a chance to learn much about the mysterious planet and its inhabitants, the journey is one that is well-written and full of exhilarating moments.
The story is perfectly complimented by the excellent visuals and heart-pounding soundtrack. The world of Requiem is full of wondrous and technological marvels, from beautiful alien structures that constantly shift and re-arrange themselves to weapons that transform and build themselves right before your eyes. Enemy design is also spectacular, bringing new foes known as Prometheans that perfectly blend organic and cybernetic attributes to create a terrifying new foe. Everything also has a Tron-like feel to it, beautifully mixing bright lights with smooth, metal surfaces. And don’t get me started about the Chief himself, as he looks better and tougher than ever.
The sound also doesn’t skip a beat. Voice-acting is top-notch, and the actors really capture the essence of the characters they portray. Sound effects are also fantastic, providing signature Halo sounds like weapon shots and the regenerating shield back, while adding a couple of new ones. And the soundtrack, as usual, is epic. From soaring choruses and tranquil pieces to battle themes that get your blood boiling, the music is absolutely prefect and immediately memorable.
Gameplay is just as great as you remember. 343 Industries has done a great job at bringing the best of the franchise back, while adding their own little touches to the magical formula. Shooting is as solid as ever, with classic weapons returning and new alien weapons appearing (though they’re quite similar to already existing ones), and movement still makes you feel like a super-soldier, with floaty jumps and quick manuevering. New is the addition of the always available sprint by clicking on the right stick, a new HUD which lets you see the world through Chief’s perspective, and new equippable abilities like Promethean vision, the hardlight shield, thruster pack, among others.
The combat is also as thrilling as before, with enemy A.I. that is smart and will make the player sweat for each victory. The new prometheans are devilishly tactical as well, summoning shields to protect their own, lobbing back grenades, teleporting around the field, and more, in order to turn the tides of battle in their favor. It’s quite a rush when you face incredible odds and end up taking enemies out in stylish ways. And better yet, the game’s full of moments like these.
The main campaign is a thrilling experience, though it’s quite similar to what you’ve played through before in previous installments. You still go from point A to point B, shoot down the opposition, and occasionally ride/fly a vehicle. While there’s really no substantial change to the gameplay formula, and it’s a bit short (only 8 chapters), the main campaign is still a wild ride full of amazing set-pieces and interesting locales.
When it comes to multiplayer, it’s a more robust experience this time around, featuring two main modes instead on one. First off there are the War Games, where players face off against each other in a variety of gameplay modes,like the classic Slayer, CTF and Oddball, and more.
Then’s there’s Spartan Ops, a series of episodic missions that take place after the events of the main campaign. These additional chapters (there’s five of them) can be played solo or with friends, and expand on the story of Requiem, but from the perspective of player-created Spartan IV soldiers. It’s a way of providing extra content to players on a regular basis, and while the missions are relatively short and not as complex as the main campaign, I really enjoyed them.
By completing War Games, Spartan Ops, creating stages on Forge or completing special objectives, players can earn experience points and rank up, allowing players to unlock additional weapons, abilities, armor sets, and more to customize their Spartans and create unique weapon sets. The variety of stuff to choose from is nice, allowing you to make a class that best suits your playstyle.
Overall, multiplayer is fantastic. Matches run smooth with hardly any lag at all, and matchmaking is as simple as hitting a button and waiting a couple of seconds. The only real problem I had was jumping into matches that just happened to finish when I got in, instantly greeting me with a end score and forcing me to find another match. It merely a minor inconvenience then anything else, but it does happen quite frequently.
When it comes down to it, 343 Industries Halo 4 is a fantastic continuation of the acclaimed saga, bringing an excellent story, great visuals, and a mixture of classic and improved gameplay to the table. With the addition of the Spartan Ops multiplayer campaign, there’s even more to do now than ever before, so if you’re looking for some entertaining Sci-fi and excellent first-person action on your Xbox 360, Halo 4 is definitively the game for you.