It has been over a decade since the Halo: Combat Evolved game graced the original Xbox platform and revolutionised console first person shooters forever. Halo 4, doesn’t revolutionise the genre like the original did. This isn’t a bad thing, as Halo’s tried and tested formula still excites, even if you’ve ridden this roller coaster before.
Set four years after the ending of Halo 3, Master Chief is cryo-sleeping in his tank on the Forward Unto Dawn, with Cortana watching over him. Boarded by the Covenant who they were finally at piece with, Halo 4 starts with an epic escape from their ship and onto an unknown metal planet. From there an emotional tale is weaved as Cortana descends into rampancy and the Chief needs to get help, to get her back to earth. In the midst of this more personal story they must prevent a new threat, the Prometheans, from wiping out the Human race. This new race adds more insight and intrigue into the Halo universe that explains the origins of old foes, while also bringing questions in to the mix which will hopefully be answered in the next entries in this new trilogy.
Having played through the series again leading up to the release of Halo 4, it is easy to see how little has changed from title to title. This is not a bad thing however, as everything feels just the way you left it. Jumping, shooting, punching, grenade throwing all feels as familiar, as satisfying as it always has. On normal, five shots to the head with the Battle Rifle takes down the shields and another one kills, it all feels like clockwork. It shows just how much Bungie had gotten right in the first game and how little needed to be improved. Tweaks have been made though, you can now sprint adding more mobility to the once slow super soldier. Armor Abilities have been changed, now giving distinct advantages and disadvantages to each one. For example Promethean vision allows you to see enemies through walls, however red dots on your visor glow, giving away your position.
Multiplayer has seen a large overhaul with a completely reworked progression system, similar to the Call of Duty series. With each match played you gain experience points which go towards increasing your Spartan’s rank. Increasing in rank earns you credits and unlocks weapons and Armor Abilities to use within the multiplayer. It feels odd that armor customisation is still locked behind this progression system, requiring you to spend hours in order to change your characters helmet to something a bit more flashy, or even to change the background from your characters unit emblem (mines a cat with a circle behind it). Supply drops have been introduced to incentivize playing well. Unlike CoD’s killstreaks, requiring you to kill a certain amount of the enemy within one life, Halo 4 requires a larger amount of kills across the entire match. This results in a less stressful time playing the game but also yields lesser results in over powering the enemy. When you get the the chance to bring in a supply drop, you have three options available to you of what you wish to bring in. This can range from rocket launchers, sniper rifles, remote detonating mines to speed boosts and over shields. Both of these bring Halo into modern shooter territory, while bringing their own spin on proceedings, overall it feels necessary and good to be rewarded both during and outside of matches for playing well.
Spartan Ops is the big new addition to the series this time around. To some degree it feels like a more fleshed out version of the Firefight mode which it is replacing. Instead of just holding out against endless hordes of enemies, you are tasked with completing a small number of objectives. This can range from taking out jamming signal emitters, disabling power supplies for forward bases, to just wiping out all enemies in an area. At the start of each small mission you are given some pretext in a short cutscene and are spoken to throughout the operation. Spartan Ops missions aren’t usually longer than five to ten minutes on the lower difficulties, but can last up to and above 30 minutes on Heroic and Legendary. Each week, for the next 10 or so weeks, the community will be issued a set of five missions with a short CG cinema to accompany them. By the time this episodic spree is complete, a normal Halo length campaign will be available to play outside of Master Chief’s, adding a large amount of value to this package.
Re-playability is high thanks to a updating daily, weekly and monthly challenges for single and multiplayer as well as Spartan Ops. These can task you to play in a certain way, kill a specific number of enemies, or complete levels in either the Campaign or Spartan Ops on specific difficulties. Commendations accompany the challenges, but aren’t updated like challenges, instead they offer specific unlocks for armor to customise your spartan.
Halo 4 has to be one of the most visually impressive console games to ever be released. Enormous scale, yet minute detail permeate the entire experience. It is not unfair to say that the Halo games have never been the most technically impressive games, with muddled faces and models which never looked quite right, even if the overall artwork has been impressive. This isn’t the case with 4. Textures, faces, lighting, animation all blend seamlessly to create a near perfect visual masterpiece. The one very minor niggle is that shadows in busy environments pop in and out or just flat out don’t appear. Most won’t notice it, but it is one of the those “cannot un-see” situations.
The soundtrack and sound design is near faultless as well. Weapons are meaty, with guttural base that just doesn’t appear in most games, voice acting is high quality throughout, with Jen Taylor and Steve Downes reprising their roles and putting out a believably emotional performance. The soundtrack, while not quite as memorable as Martin O’Donnels, is still worthy of the series and will have you feeling energetic one moment and somber the next.
Just like any large game release, Halo 4 has had its server woes. Game modes were limited to the most basic for the time of release due to server load, however this most likely won’t last long, resulting in a smoother experience. One major factor that came out of this down time though was the fact that Spartan Ops was completely unplayable. For anyone wanting to play this mode in the future once the servers go down, it appears it may be an impossibility, which is cutting out a good third of content from the game.
It is hard not to be impressed by 343 Industries. This is their first full game, for a series as popular and well thought of as Halo and to improve upon Bungies’ games in almost every way is nothing short of astounding. Let it be said, Halo 4 is another Halo game, it feels very familiar and tries very little new, but then again, there is a reason the series is as popular as it is and it isn’t as though we see a new one every single year.