GAME NAME: Halo 4
DEVELOPER(S): 343 Industries
PUBLISHER(S): Microsoft Studios
RELEASE DATE(S): 6 November 2012
It’s finally here, the game we’ve been waiting for since… Halo 2. That’s right. Ever since Halo 3 landed in 2007 the franchise has been taking steps in known territories. No risks were taken to move the series into new and exciting directions. Though Bungie was respected for keeping the beloved license within the expected borders they did lose some of the charm that we experienced in the first two games. Now new kids 343 Industries have taken the reigns.
They’ve been on a high-profile recruitment drive, nabbing talent from studios as respected and diverse as iD, Rare and Kojima Sudios. As Halo series guardians they’ve been doing this for a while – seeding plot elements in the extended universe, and cooking. The result isn’t one game, but three: Master Chief’s story that everyone expects, a downloadable co-op campaign featuring a gang of SPARTAN-IVs and the much-loved multiplayer. Buckle up, you’re in for the treat of your life.
Halo: Combat Evolved began with Master Chief stepping out of stasis and going through the motions of sight tests while his ship – the iconic pillar of Autumn – was buffeted by missiles and Covenant attack squads all around him. Halo 4 begins with Master Chief stepping our of stasis and going through the motions of sight tests in his ship before – the iconic rear half of the stricken Forward Unto Dawn – is buffeted by missiles and Covenant attack squads all around him. If nothing else, 343 Industries are playing their respects to Bungie’s epic trilogy loud and clear, but that’s where it ends.
This isn’t a simple cut and paste job. It’s all change for Microsoft’s big hero. Down on the Forerunner planet Requiem, home of Halo 4, the Covenant are the least of Master Chief’s worries. That’s because our favourite Spartan must face off against Promethean warriors who are guarding secrets humans weren’t ever supposed to discover. With the Prometheans come new breeds: The Crawler – lizard-like AI constructs that hunts in packs and pounce across levels. Should they corner you you’re in for a tough battle. The Knight – a bipedal brute armed with a sword, new weapons (that I’ll touch on later) and a scary ability to teleport if it undergoes too much damage. Finally I fought the Watcher – a flying drone that can spawn crawlers, protect nearby Knights with Hardlight Shield projections and catch Mater Chief’s grenades and return them to sender. If that’s not enough they can revive fallen Knights, which can become an issue if you don’t eliminate the drones first. In Requiem’s luscious jungles and roasting-red lava canyons all three baddies bring a new dimension to Halo’s combat without ever upsetting the balance we’ve come to expect from the series.
Co-op mode Spartan Ops is full of neat little touches too. You can play the mode with up to three other players whereby you’re given orders to activate or destroy obstacles. In essence it’s Firefight (seen in Halo Reach) with a distinct plotline and a CG sequence to drive the importance of the new mode home. At the time of writing I only had access to Episode 1 with five different acts, but I expect 343 to launch new Episodes shortly after launch.
This leaves us with multiplayer, called War Games. All the modes we’ve come to expect (and love) can be found in Halo 4. Unlike Reach the levels have returned to form. Levels like Haven and Solace, with multiple floors, alleys and light beams that shoot you across the level into the centre core of where most of the battle takes place, provides players with a refreshing playground. Thankfully the large levels are not anywhere near as enormous as those found in Reach. They’re just big enough for you and 15 other players to keep on your toes at all times and there is now a ‘run’ button at all times. What’s more interesting this time round is that you can now unlock new abilities as you level-up. To purchase these unlocked abilities you require Spartan Points (SP). Furthermore you can now pick from customisable and preset loadout options for easy weapon and gear selection between respawns, but it will require that you spend some time setting it up and utilising your SP wisely as they don’t come cheap. New to multiplayer is a new in-game ability called Ordinance Drop. Get enough kills and you can order a weapon drop in your location giving you the advantage over your foes. Keep in mind that the drop becomes available for all to see on their heads-up display – making it a race for a powerful weapon.
The new weapons come in the form of new Promethean technology. The first time you grab one of the weapons you’ll mentally accept that you’ve moved into the future as all the parts of the gun dissemble in mid-air when reloading and fall into place once ready. You won’t care what’s attacking you. You’ll just sit there… staring. Thinking… “I so am Master Chief!” The Suppressor (a futuristic machine gun), Boltshot (super cool handgun), Light Rifle (Alien Sniper) and Scattershot (booming shotgun) are some of your new allies in the fight against their owners. More so, these weapons can be purchased and utilised in War Games. So what about the vehicles? Well, everything from the Ghost to the Warthog and Banshee have returned, but there is a new powerful destroyer of rivals called the Mantis. This mech suit can be the difference between you slaughtering your foes or making a comeback. It’s immensely powerful and accurate. Like the female Praying Mantis you’ll eat the opposition up for breakfast.
This brings me to the megabomb. Well, for some. Halo 4 is absolutely beautiful. It’s by far the prettiest thing you’d have seen on the Xbox 360. 343 Industries has somehow converted their art aspirations on paper to the game that screams sci-fi – more so than any Halo before. Though the campaign will last you about six hours in Single-player (and about the same length of time if you play it on Legendary with three other mates) it might last you a bit longer as you drool at the stunning use of colour, see-through glass floors with moving mechanics that float beneath your feet and the jaw-dropping particle effects. Even for a retro whore like me this was just too much awesome not to stop and stare. The soundtrack has also been given a facelift. You’ll still hear melody-based set-scenes but overall the emphasis has been placed on atmosphere. Certain areas will remind of you of Metroid Prime as the sound focuses on the unknown and alien. Even the weapons sound more potent now… especially the Needler!
So what’s wrong with Halo 4? Absolutely nothing. I could not find one thing that needed fixing. It’s as close to a perfect game as I’ve ever had the joy to experience. There’s a Forge mode to create your own levels, if what’s there is not enough to keep you satisfied. The story is so captivating that you’ll want to pre-order the Xbox 720 now as not owning Halo 5 will result in mental failure and the multiplayer will keep you going for years. What 343 Industries have in fact done is point to some of the kinks in Bungie’s armour. They’ve shown that by staying within confound borders and not taking risks stalled the franchise. Halo 4 is now not only a contender for Game of the Year, it could very well be the Game of All Time. Yes, this is indeed what we all were looking for.