- Platform: Xbox 360
- Developer: 343 Industries
- Publisher: Microsoft Studios
- Release Date: November 6, 2012
- Price: $59.99
- Official: Waypoint
“An old favorite returns to reclaim his throne”
Since the release of the original Halo, a videogame that redefined what a first-person shooter on consoles can be, and single handedly made the Xbox a mainstay in gaming, each release has been a big deal for both Microsoft and the industry as a whole. Before Call of Duty was breaking records it was the Masterchief in the news, and after being away since 2007, the Chief is back to save humanity once again, one bullet at a time.
When Bungie departed the Halo series once and for all with Halo Reach, the whole industry was wondering what the newly formed studio 343 Industries had planned for the franchise. Taking over for a mega series such as Halo must have been both exciting and utterly terrifying for the developers, but for better or worse, Halo 4 is most definitely a return to form for the series, able to stand toe to toe with any entry in the franchise.
Halo 4 picks up four years after the Chief and Cortana were last seen drifting alone in empty space. Chief has laid in a Cryo-Chamber while Cortana has been left alone to be bored and slowly slip into Rampancy, a state AI’s enter as they age, slowly driving them to insanity and ultimately, death. Once you begin the campaign Cortana wakes up the Chief after an unidentified ship begins to scan the remains of the forward unto dawn, the ship they have been floating on.
Once your given control you will most likely just stand and marvel at the beautiful lighting effects 343 has been able to crank out on the aging 360 hardware. Without a doubt Halo 4 is one of the best looking games on the console, through a slick interface, lighting, and draw distance this game will consistently leave you impressed.
After your done drooling over your surroundings you’ll continue to move forward as you wonder who is boarding your ship. Very quickly you find out it’s the Covenant, for good or ill, and you quickly take them out. This is when two more thoughts will pop into your mind. The first will probably be “Why the hell am I fighting these damn things again?” quickly followed by “Damn! The sound in this game is crazy!” Yes, 343 have even improved the sound design in Halo by a large margin. In Halo 4 every weapon and vehicle has been completely redone with much more powerful and exciting sound effects. Every aspect of presentation has been well taken care of in this latest entry, and should leave fans mighty happy.
But it’s that first thought you had before enjoying the sound of your rifle that may hinder your enjoyment of Halo. Yes, within minutes you are fighting the Covenant, and you will be fighting them throughout the entire journey. If you do not read the Halo novels you may be a little lost in this story, as I was. It is never fully explained why you are fighting these Covenant besides a tidbit that this is a splinter faction, and it’s never really explained how Cortana knows the things she knows throughout the rest of the story either, particularly towards the middle when an important character is introduced.
While parts of the story in Halo 4 take some strong strides for the series, particularly with its humanizing of Masterchief and Cortana, the rest of the story comes off as rather bland and repetitive. Indeed many elements of Halo 4 still rigidly stick close to the series formula, with a fight between humans and Covenant, and then a third faction being introduced halfway through the game, complete with an underdeveloped villain. It’s a shame that 343 didn’t take more of a risk with the design or story, but at the same time, it is still a grand achievement that the studio was able to find and hone the familiar Halo gameplay that fans know and love.
From the feel of the guns, to the quick movement and pitch perfect controls; there is no doubt this is Halo. From the moment you are given control you never question the gameplay mechanics, they just are. Most may not even notice a change in developer; everything is so natural and consistent with other titles. A truly impressive feat, doubly so for a studio so new. The only change that may irk some fans, as it did me for a while, is how quickly your shields deplete and subsequently your health. You die much faster in Halo 4 than in previous games, and that aspect may be jarring at first, but eventually you learn to search for cover more often, and it does bring the Covenant back to their fearful roots.
So the core game is still great, even if in the end the story and structure leaves much to be desired, but how does the multiplayer side hold up? I’m happy to say multiplayer in Halo still ranks amongst the highest echelon in videogames. In today’s world of Modern Military Shooter’s Halo is a breath of fresh air. No other game feels like this anymore, fast paced, wild guns, and inventive map design, this is madness akin to Quake and Unreal, but with more strategy. With a seemingly endless variety of match types, there is always something enjoyable to play.
Some change has come to online Halo however, and that is the customization. Halo takes some idea’s from its fellow online competition and has added perks, load outs, and kill streak rewards. Though they are not as game changing as Call of Duty’s perhaps, they are still varied enough and can change the outcome of a fight. This added variety is a welcome addition, as are the new armor abilities introduced in Halo 4 such as the Sentry Drone and Hardlight Shield.
Another large addition to Halo 4 is the much ballyhooed Sparton Ops mode. Sparton Ops is a new co-operative campaign where you take your multiplayer Spartan out on short missions that slowly tell a short story. The mode is a fun diversion, but ultimately left much to be desired, as the missions are extremely short and somewhat repetitive. The feature is a nice bonus, and a good way to gain XP, but it isn’t game changing and could be completely overlooked by some. Plus…it replaced Firefight!
If there is one large complaint I can toss at Halo 4, it is the absence of Firefight! This is blasphemy in my eyes as that was the single greatest mode in Halo since its introduction in Halo: ODST. I could waste entire days playing Firefight, with friends or strangers alike and its absence in Halo 4 is very noticeable. 343 said Firefights absence wouldn’t be as noticeable due to Sparton Op’s inclusion, but that just isn’t so. Sparton Ops is not a replacement for Firefight, and its removal is just downright stupid.
Overall Halo 4 continues the series trend of great gameplay and fantastic value for your money. The Campaign still features 4 player co-op, online multiplayer has been boosted with a number of features and options, and Spartan ops adds some more length to the game. The story and familiarity may be disappointing, but it doesn’t single handedly ruin the experience. If you are a fan of the series, or if you just can’t stand another modern setting FPS, do yourself a favor and take a dip back into this sci-fi setting.
- + Great visuals that push the system
- + Still solid gameplay
- + Tons of ways to play
- – Sparton Ops is no Firefight
- – Story is ultimately disappointing