Another year, another Halo. No, that’s not the right series. Its actually been two years since Reach landed and since Bungie left the helm of the franchise. 343 Industries took over and actually succeeded where it would have been so easy to falter. Not only did they succeed in bringing this iconic series back to the masses, they actually improved it!
I was rather skeptical of this release, not only because it was a brand new company working on a series I really enjoyed, but because I thought that Halo 3 ended the story well enough and to add on to that would feel tacky. Luckily my skepticism was unwarranted as the story Halo 4 is far from tacky, though not the best, still creates a great backbone for the action.
The story picks up right where it left off in Halo 3, with the Master Chief floating off into space, somehow surviving on a scrap of a ship. As many of the trailers have shown he ends up on a new planet with a brand new threat. As the Master Chief unravels some secrets about humanities past and what the universe has in store for him, there is a great level of suspension of disbelief required to really enjoy the story. This is a first person shooter after all so not everything has to be completely rational or believable, much like an action movie. Though, overall the story add more than enough content to remain interesting and at the end I genuinely wanted to know more.
The story wouldn’t be worth anything if it wasn’t fun between each plot point, and 343 has done a great job recreating the classic Halo experience, everything feels just like you would expect a Halo game to feel like, though with some improvements and odd changes thrown in. For one, you can now sprint as you have come to expect with games like Call of Duty and this was a very welcome addition. I mean, what good is a super powerful Spartan if he can’t even run. Every gun from the series makes a return as well as the addition of a few new ones. The major change to the guns and the rest of the game is the sounds and music.
With great, expansive areas to explore, you would expect there would be some memorable tracks to stick with you as you venture around the wide open areas, but that is sorely not the case. The menu no longer has the iconic track that was introduced in the first Halo and carried on until reach, but there is also a completely different feel to the majority of the music. It is less haunting and more cerebral. Its not bad, but its not going to stick with you either. In addition to these musical changes, all the guns and vehicles sound different as well. The guns feel more powerful, though you do get used to a certain weapon sound and it is a bit jarring to hear something completely different the first time you fire a weapon. Also, the Warthog sounds like some high-end sports car.
Though it may sound odd it looks great. I was definitely in awe of the new graphics engine used, it is definitely what you would come to expect from a console nearing the end of its life cycle and it seems that 343 have certainly taken advantage of the hardware in the best possible. The epic vistas and even characters look absolutely stunning. The cinematics go even further to push the hardware, with very life-like characters and movements. Cortana also looks fantastic.
There really isn’t much taken from Reach in Halo 4, though the concept of Armor abilities does make an appearance but in a slightly new form. Now you can use a Massive shield to protect against most bullets, you can jetpack for a very brief time, turn invisible, send out a hologram of yourself and call forth a floating auto-sentry to shoot enemies with you. The elements are in both single and multiplayer, but they feel less annoying than the original jetpack and armor lock abilities.
Speaking of mutiplayer, its been completely overhauled and Call of Duty-ified. You now level up not just in rank but also in terms of what loadouts you have at the beginning of a War Games(slayer and objective based competitive play) or Spartan ops match. You are limited at first to just and assault rifle and Battle rifle, as well as frag grenades and Magnum secondary weapon. As you gain levels you unlock more weapons you can purchase for use. Though you never reach a point where you can start with a sword, shotgun or any other incredibly over-powered weapon. Making it very fair, unlike Call of Duty. You can also customize your aesthetics as well, much like you could in Reach, though there are far more options now, again, not all are available until you reach higher levels.
The multi-player levels are designed for fast, and frenetic gameplay, leaving very few areas to camp out and snipe. This has been the advantage of the Halo series since 2 and with the new armor abilities coming in to play there are far more dynamic ways to take out the enemies. It’s easy for even people new to the series to hop online and have fun as the ordinances even the playing field, wither its slayer matches, griftball or objective based games. I found that just about every match was neck-and-neck, with there very rarely being a clear winner until the very end, which is a testament to how balanced 343 has made the multiplay system.
But again, like Call of Duty you get ordinances which are like perks as you get to choose three random super weapons/items after you accrue a certain amount of points in a match. You never get to customize which three you get, they are always random, but you can get options like a shotgun, overshield, rocket launcher, speed boost and so on. All of which can be picked up by another person if you don’t grab it in time. They help turn the tide in battle and if you kill a person who has a spartan laser ordinance then you can pick it up and use it yourself. It makes gameplay much more intense and fun. The maps still need some improvement though. Overall though, this is the best Halo multiplayer experience to date and I am glad it was changed to such a degree, keeping it fresh and with the times.
Another big change is the removal of the popular Firefight segment that was introduced in ODST for the more story driven Spartan Ops, which is essentially a training simulator for Spartans aboard the UNSC Infinity(the biggest ship ever built, it also plays a large part in the campaign). There is no longer an unlimited number of enemies, but there are now specific objectives in addition to killing off all the enemies in a given map. I feel it makes the whole concept far more dynamic and exciting, but it doesn’t have the same “I can kill more than you” feel to it that Firefight had. Also, it is broken into episodes and chapter, with the first episode available on launch and 4 more to come in the future. Each episode has 5 chapters and each is based in a different area with very different objectives, ranging from disabling giant shields to simply killing every enemy on the map. All-in-all it’s a fun mode and challenging enough on Legendary difficulty to be fun for a couple play-throughs.
There is a lot to love about Halo 4, with an interesting story that will properly span two more games, a beautiful new graphics engine and a fully realized multi-player experience that will be fun until Halo 5. This, to me, is the best Halo game yet and I am excited to see how 343 Industries expands on the franchise. Though, despite this being the best Halo game to date(more on that later) there will always be the pundits who will cry foul and claim that 343 ruined their childhood. I personally feel Reach was a let down, but it certainly didn’t ruin anything, yet people loved that game too.