Master Chief is back! Who would have thought they’d ever see the day following the mysterious end of Halo 3 when he was left drifting into space, lost and worn from finishing the fight. Now, both Master Chief and Cortana return in Halo 4 as one of the best gaming double acts in what is set to be another smash hit Halo title that should satisfy fans across the globe. With the Halo Universe sitting proudly in the hands of 343 Industries, the beginning of a whole new trilogy with Halo 4 unveils itself in a glorious new light, new enemies to defeat and a whole new world to explore.
The true sequel to Halo 3 has been a long time coming, and although there have been three Halo releases in-between (Halo 3: ODST, Halo Reach, Halo CE Anniversary), there is no Halo game quite complete without Master Chief back in the reigns as one of the greatest Spartan Soldiers in the Universe. The first moments of game play leave you with that reassuring feeling that this is going to be one hell of an adventure, and now running on a greater improved engine than ever before – Halo 4 is one of the most stunning, detailed and graphically superior games on the Xbox 360 right now. It’s highly polished, exceptionally designed technological worlds with amazing lighting effects throughout. Not that the visuals are the be all and end all to a game, but I haven’t played a game that’s left such an impression on me graphically like this in a long while. Once the excitement wears off that Master Chief and Cortana are back together again, the crisp clear visuals of the universe and its surroundings do literally leave you wondering why many other games just do not look this good on the same console which has been around for so long now! You will embrace every chapter with a “wow” as the finely detailed environments fondle your imagination.
Gameplay wise – it’s Halo, what more can be said, it’s just awesome to get that Halo feeling back into your mind-set where there’s a sense of seriousness and the belief that you really are trying to save not only a population, but a whole damn planet. It goes beyond the saying “your country needs you…”, but you need this as much as that planet is relying on you right now. It’s just completely satisfying to be playing a Halo title with a real Halo feel to it again. 343 Industries has thankfully and decently kept the magic alive with Master Chief and Cortana, a strong duo who rely on each other through thick and thin. When I first heard of a new developer taking the lead in the Halo Universe, it does leave you with a nervous edge on what direction they will take the next game, but five years has passed since the release of Halo 3. Today Halo 4 plays and feels like the natural successor with improvements, evolutions, and a deeper more meaningful story with a greater purpose.
What can be said for Halo 4 without me ruining the story and throwing in some plot spoilers because every chapter in the game should be your own experience; is that the bond between Master Chief and Cortana plays a more prominent part. There’s more emphasis to the emotions of the actions of the war you’re dealing with on both parts and how the journey is shown more personally to each of them. Cortana now an aging AI is beginning to show her weaknesses, but the friendship and trust between the two is once again a force to be reckoned with. Risk taking, going all in guns blazing and even making mistakes, Halo 4 will reel you in to the new world, and the past you left behind will just remain a distant memory.
It is a hefty campaign that spans over eight large chapters and while some of the Covenant enemies are still lurking around that you’ll be familiar with from every other Halo game on the planet, Halo 4 introduces new enemies into the universe – the Prometheans, with the presence of a Knight, Watcher and Crawler to tackle with in various Promethean over-run environments. Knights are a lot like Elites from previous Halo games, in which they are tall, fierce and deadly at close contact, whereas Watchers seem to support the Knights from a distance by hovering overhead and shooting directly at you. Crawlers on the other hand are hunters and appear like deadly hounds that can sniff you out wherever you hide. The introduction of the new enemies come from the plotline where Master Chief is at war with the Forerunners on the artificial planet of Requiem. The Promethean’s are part of the Forerunner race with a Promethean Didact leader – the main part of the campaign is based on your role to hunt down the Didact leader, but it is an immense and incredible journey along the way.
With new enemies does additionally bring the joy of new weapons to play with that can be found scattered by the dead bodies you’ve just executed or on weapon racks prior to entering into a battle environment. The new Promethean range of weaponry includes, a Bolt Shot that resembles a small Promethean equivalent to a hand gun, a Lightrifle and a Suppressor, both of which are similar rifles where as one fires a deadly bolt of light, but the Suppressor shoots a splatter of hard light in quick succession. There’s also a Scattershot and an Incineration Cannon where the former resembles a Shotgun that scatters a deadly arsenal and the latter just does what it says on the tin and incinerates everything that moves upon contact. Some familiar UNSC and Covenant weapons can also be found in use throughout Halo 4 which gives a good feel for familiarity when you approach an enemy such as Plasma Pistols, Needlers, Energy Swords – and Shotguns, Rocket Launchers, without forgetting the Assault Rifle. Halo 4 has a darker, more futuristic setting than its predecessors and the weaponry technology reflects an enhanced world that at times, even the Chief himself may find himself unstuck.
From beginning to end, every chapter of Halo 4 had me gripped and I was pleased to continue the story with also a sense of familiarity in some parts, riding a Warthog, driving a Scorpion, Ghost, Banshee, and generally storming through enemy territory with Cortana to provide guidance along the way. The hub has had a noticeable upgrade to try and replicate the view as if from directly out of Master Chief’s visor which can in some cases distort view – nothing major, but just the eye candy of scenery in the distance. The campaign felt as though it could have been a little bit longer, but despite being spread across eight chapters it still felt epic and satisfying with more action than any other Halo title. 343 industries has done an amazing job on bringing Master Chief and Halo to life again in the start of a new trilogy that promises to be an exciting and memorable voyage into the universe.
Halo 4 Multiplayer is installed via a separate disc or available to download over Xbox LIVE so long as you have disc 1 of 2 in the console. Titled as the INFINITY area of the options named after the UNSC Infinity spaceship featured heavily in the game, you have the options of War Games, Spartan Ops, Forge and Theatre Mode. Starting with War Games, many of the individual game types available have been seen before in previous Halo titles, but have been rebranded or slightly enhanced for Halo 4. You can select from Infinity Slayer, a 4v4 team based game, with Big Team Infinity Slayer supporting 8v8 games. Capture the Flag, Oddball and King of the Hill return for those who like to play skill based games to rack up the scores, and finally in War Games there are new game play modes Dominion, Regicide and Flood to get stuck into. Dominion without a doubt has to have been based on Battlefields Conquest Mode as players have to battle it out to take control over different territorial points on a map; Regicide can be seen as a form of Juggernaut where players must de-throne a King and/or kill each other to score some points; and then with Flood – well fans of Infection will truly love the new enhanced gametype. Flood is basically Infection 2.0 where you are in an 8v8 game of Flood vs Humans – as you might imagine, Humans are Spartan Soldiers with shotguns and magnums where as the Flood can only use Melee attacks but move super fast. It’s quite an intense and fast paced game, along with Dominion it’s one of the best online modes available for those who tire easily of the traditional competitive Slayer games.
While Forge and Theatre Mode are very traditional to Halo, Spartan Ops is a brand new set of games which is very much like the Spec Ops Mode in the Call of Duty franchise. You are mainly tasked with objectives and survival based games that you can play Solo, with Friends or search for online games over Xbox LIVE. It is a very welcomed addition to Halo and brings the multiplayer right up in line with other triple AAA games on the market today. Spartan Ops is episodic and broken down into objective chapters with objectives and as said before, a requirement of survival. The best way I can described Spartan Ops is that if you quite liked FireFight that was introduced into Halo through ODST and then later with REACH, it feels like an evolved FireFight game mode where you have to survive a horde of incoming enemies only this time the area you fight is expanding. It’s an absolutely fantastic game mode which offers longevity once the campaign is complete and will continue to expand via DLC in the coming weeks.
Finally to close off the Multiplayer Options everybody who loves Halo, loves customisations and Halo 4 continues the same trend but more on the same scale of Halo REACH with loadout options and many Armor modifications. The more you play online, the more XP you earn which ranks up your specialisation Armor. With ranking comes the familiar deal of having to meet pre-requisites and in doing so unlocks further Armor upgrades to your soldiers Helmet, Torso, Shoulders, Forearms, Legs and Visor. Loadouts on the other hand are gradually unlocked and you use SP Points earned online to buy Tactical Packages (extra mobility, shields, stronger firepower etc), Armor Abilities (Jet Packs, Hologram, Active Camo etc) and even buy new starting weapons. The Loadout options screen is also very similar to Call of Duty and using what you have purchased offers far more flexibility in terms of how you want to play more tactically against the enemy teams.
It goes without saying that Halo 4, is one massive title that is set to dominate the FPS market and 343 Industries have taken a well-known popular franchise and made it even better and bigger than ever before. Breathing new life into a universe well loved by millions the world over – Halo 4 is an Xbox 360 Sovereign that will set your console on fire with its diverse game modes, and a gripping and touching campaign story to kick-start a whole new trilogy.
Halo has evolved, and every Xbox 360 gamer shouldn’t be without Halo 4 that I can only describe as another gaming masterpiece that leaves a remarkable impression giving trust that the Halo Universe is in more than safe hands with 343 Industries.