Halo 4 Review
343 did it for me
Many moons ago in the year 2001, I was introduced to this strange game on this new console called an Xbox. The game was Halo: Combat Evolved. The experience began my long love affair with the franchise. So it should come as no surprise that Halo 4 was on my 'to do' list. I was also curious to see what direction 343 Industries would go in. I was not disappointed.
The game is set four years after the events of Halo 3. Our old pal the Master Chief has been enjoying his new life as a frozen TV dinner, while Cortana has been monitoring the ship and slipping closer to her AI used by date. Or as I came to call it her AI menopause, which is a pretty accurate depiction of her crazy mood swings. Suddenly the Chief is defrosted and thrust back into the fight as the ship is pulled towards a planet, a Forerunner planet. The Chief realises that he is not alone, with a UNSC ship crashing after him, finding Covenant, and more importantly a race of machines called the Prometheans. Cortana then drops the drama bomb that she is literally thinking herself to death. I found this a further push by 343 to add something that other games in the franchise were always reaching towards, which is a real and emotional story. Whilst other instalments really pushed towards this, I could not help but respond with a ‘cool story bro’ when a major character gave an emotional speech. 343 were clearly aiming to put more into this game.
"What's that Chief? You need help? sorry i'm afraid i'm too busy going crazy"
As far as the visuals go, they are nothing short of stunning. The first level on the planet offered that same jaw dropping holy crap when you turn a corner and look out across some alien vista. Backed up by the improved graphics Halo 4 delivers some of the best visuals in the franchise to date. The Prometheans, and their weapons, give the player a new range of visuals. The weapons themselves assemble in your hands, snapping together like some kind of glowing alien legos (or those really awesome textas we all had in primary school) to form another instrument to unleash a range of high tech fire. The Prometheans themselves outstrip their sentinel predecessors, who often felt like floating lumps of metal. These new enemies have a real sense of life about them, albeit the glowing alien legos kind. Still it gave a momentary ‘that’s cool’ moment, right before I blew them away.
In terms of gameplay 343 has given the Halo fans exactly the kind of gameplay they have come to love. They have taken all of the successful elements from the previous games and merged all of these into Halo 4. There is the same hierarchy of enemies that veteran players are used to. As Mel Gibson in the Patriot would say, ‘start with the officers and work your way down’. With the Prometheans the players have to learn a whole new set of patterns. The enhancements that players loved in Reach, are back in new forms such as jet packs, Promethean Vision, and the space equivalent of a riot shield add more variation to combat. The gameplay is also broken up into the tried and true mix of run and gun, and vehicle driven levels. I did enjoy flying the Pelican around, which i dubbed Foe Hammer II. Once you have conquered the campaign you have more to do. The multiplayer expands your gaming experience further. The return of the forge means hours of setting up whacky race courses and insane minefields. The online game play allows for the same brilliant fast passed, grenade juggling, rocket and sniper filled action that players have missed. It would also be criminal not to mention the new Mantis Armour for those who enjoy getting their ‘mech warrior’ on, this is your baby...and so long as you can outrun the other mob of hungry hungry hippos it can be yours. Competition for that thing is fierce. If all this becomes a little draining and you are longing to be the lone wolf once more, then you should look to the new Spartan Ops section. Spartan Ops is single, or co-op expansion of the story campaign. In an interview with Up at Noon, David Ellis stated they hoped to release a new episode every week, that is to say 5 missions, per week for free. That is right for free. So you cannot get better bang for buck than that. I have played the first set and it is really exciting to know that between new walking dead episodes I have another episode of Spartan Ops coming as well. This was another move by 343 Industries to really assert its presence in the gaming world. This set of episodes is going to go for ten weeks. David Ellis said that they are hard at work on the first season of Spartan Ops, when asked if there would be a season two he said at this point they could not say if there would be. I personally hope there will be.
Overall Halo 4 gave me the action filled sci fi shooter that reminded me why I chose to buy into the Xbox family. 343 were given a monumental project and they have delivered above and beyond what I expected. When judging a sequel I have a few core criteria. Firstly it has to be true to the franchise, that is to say delivering on the core of what fans know and love. Then it must improve, not simply add to what has come before, and these additions have to be such that it does not just feel like a patch. Well it is safe to say that Halo 4, and 343 have done it for me. I hope to see more games from these fine people soon.