When the Chief first bust out of his Cryo-sleep in the reveal trailer which was premiered at E3 2011, I took one sharp inhale. I held this same breath from the first trailer right up until I sat down and booted up the campaign for myself. We’d had slight clues into how Halo 4 would be different, but no-one anticipated the final result. 343 Industries were given the responsibility of continuing one of the greatest franchises in gaming history, and it would seem that this trust was not misplaced.
We rejoin the Master Chief four years after the events of Halo 3, with the chief suspended in cryo-sleep aboard what’s left of the UNSC Forward Unto Dawn, protected by Cortana. Cortana wakes the Chief as they are boarded by Covenant invaders, all whilst the ship is sucked into a Forerunner planet called “Requiem”. The writers should be feeling pretty rosy, because Halo 4’s plot feels just as enthralling, if not even more epic as the previous games. Through the use of incredible cutscenes and emotionally driven dialogues they have created the most personal feeling Halo story yet. The Chief is examined in a lot more detail, and his relationship with Cortana is highlighted throughout the campaign as you try to return her to Earth to stop her impending AI rampancy. For some, knowing too much about the Chief is a genuine fear. Many argue that Halo has thrived because of his anonymity, with players being able to place themselves behind the gold visor and feel like the universe’s hero. But there is no need to panic- 343 have gotten the amount of information given to the player about the Chief just right. There is still an air of wonder and mystery to his character. But most importantly, he still kicks ass.
The campaign itself is a wonder to behold. 343 have made a number of changes to Halo’s gameplay- introducing the ability to sprint around missions, brand new Promethean/Human/Covenant weapons and even new mission “styles”. In one mission you find yourself piloting a Pelican through what is a very Deathstar-esque trench. The experience is refreshing and challenging, aspects which many Halo fans including myself were hoping for. I won’t say anymore on the mission itself for fear of spoilers, but you can see that all is not the same in Halo 4. However 343 appear to have been conscious of when to add something new, and to what extent to keep Halo 4 true to the series’ original hallmarks. The Gun-Melee-Grenade combat system which Halo first introduced back in 2001 is still with us in Halo 4, proving it’s timelessness over and over again as you grind through the 12 hour campaign. Mix this in with new perks, similar to those of Halo: Reach’s power-ups, such as the fantastic Promethean Vision, and it is clear to see that Halo 4’s gameplay mechanics are top drawer. The new Promethean enemies are a fantastic challenge for both new and experienced Halo players alike, with the Covenant also providing their classic challenge. However, here is the one major issue I have with Halo 4- its difficulty. Halo 4 is a hard game. On easy or normal it isn’t so bad, but for any players wanting to play it through on Heroic or Legendary, strap in for a hard time. I personally liked this- however the problem is that this difficulty may deter new players from buying the game. Or they could just play it on normal, but who does that? (N.B it’s still just as awesome on Normal, don’t worry)
Graphically, Halo 4 is in a league of its own. Gorgeous vistas, insane lighting/shading, and intricate details in the world around you will blow you away. Promethean architecture is finally back on the same initial-awe level that it was when you first booted up Halo: CE, bullets streak through the air with grace and light reflects on the Chief’s visor like never before. And then there is the sound. When The Xtreme Pulse played Halo 4 back in September at the Eurogamer Expo, of all the changes to stand out, sound came out on top. Everything has been re-recorded. Weapons feel much more tangible and firm with every shot fired, vehicles sound more intimidating, and the Chief’s armor clunks and squeaks with immense realism. There were some slight texture rendering problems during some missions, but the game would always correct them after about five seconds.
Arguably the most important part of any Halo game has and always will be its multiplayer. This time around, multiplayer has been named “Wargames”, with players being able to jump in to classic Halo game modes or perhaps try out some of the tweaked versions of Oddball or zombies (now called “Flood”). Players can now also customize their loadouts, buying new weapons, armor mods and perks using “Spartan Points” which are gained as you level up. And boy have they made the actual gameplay experience during multiplayer matches something truly special. Matches are as fast paced and intense as you’d expect of any Halo game, but with the introduction of custom loadouts, mid-game joining, CoD style ordinance drops, random weapon spawns (take that, Sniper bitches), and the ability to respawn instantly, then you have true multiplayer masterpiece in the form of Halo 4. Forge (the in-game map creator) has also received a fair bit of attention, however it will only be after the community has spent some time with it that we will be able to make a decision as to its worth. The new Spartan-Ops game mode introduced to replace Firefight has been planned as a mini-series of missions which take place alongside the actual campaign and has new missions made available weekly at no extra cost to the player. While this may sound pretty awesome, I must say that the missions actually feel quite hollow. So far it’s just been “Go here, kill the aliens, come back.”, with no objectives such as disarming a bomb before the clock runs out or something like that (*hint* 343). In other words, give us some substance/story!
We could all sit here and focus on the problems with Spartan-Ops and forget that Halo 4 is one of the best games released in the last five years. Never has a game with so much expected of it come through and delivered. Halo 4 will consume your life, whether you are new to the series or a veteran player, be it in the campaign or the endless hours of fun you’ll have blowing up people in other continents with your railgun. So what are you waiting for? Why aren’t you playing Halo 4 now? See you on the battlefield.