After finishing Halo 3 all those years ago we had pretty much come to terms with the fact that we would never see Master Chief and his exploits ever again. The lid had closed on a video game saga that had transformed the Xbox into an iconic console and turned many a gamer into a first person shooter fan.
Now, nearly five years later, Master Chief’s great green greatness is about to return. Sure there has been a bit of trepidation about the title, given that the immense responsibility of Halo now lies with 343 Industries and not Bungie, but in all honesty most Halo fans just want to play it. And now, finally, we have. With more than three hours of both single-player and multiplayer gaming under our belts, we can finally post an opinion on Halo 4.
Given we had so much time with the game, we thought best to look at how the single-player handles first and then move on to the multiplayer. We are going to try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but naturally there are going to have to be some things we need to talk about in order to give you an idea of how the game handles.
Remember how impressive that CGI trailer shown at e3 2011 looked? Well that is how the game starts. Master Chief is woken up by Cortana, with the UNSC ship Forward Unto Dawn breaking into bits around him.
It might not look quite as slick as the CGI, but immediately the thing that struck us was what an overhaul the graphics had had. Rather than the slightly meagre update of Halo Reach, this is a totally new look for Halo.
Never before has Master Chief been so incredibly detailed, nor has the Halo environment just looked so good. The ship, as you run about trying to escape from its imminent destruction, looks incredible. Lighting in particular is very good, with the bright yellow corridor lights of the Forward Unto Dawn cutting through the smoke and smog. It reminded us slightly of Aliens - things are still very much Halo, but the game has a much more modern look.
Cortana informs you that you have accidentally bumped into a Covenant fleet, which immediately begins boarding your ship. You aren’t given more than about two minutes to come to grips with the controls before Halo 4 starts throwing Covenant at you to blast away at.
The guns themselves, of which there are many, handle almost exactly the same as those in the earlier games. If we did have to make one criticism, it was that there was a fairly restricted amount of ammunition on offer, leading us to adopt a slightly different play style. The usual blast everything, lob a tonne of grenades and then run it melee style on the leftovers just didn’t seem to work.
In the end it made things more rewarding. There was one especially difficult sequence, set on the outside of the ship in low gravity, where we had to dispatch a lot of Covenant forces. It took us plenty of attempts on normal difficulty settings. This is coming from someone who has beaten games on Legendary. Safe to say then that Halo 4 ramps up the difficulty big time.
During this sequence on the outside of the ship, we got to have a play with some of the new guns of Halo 4. The new storm rifle and revamped beam rifle both handled well. It was nice to have some pistol zoom fun with the magnum as well.
By this point, we were approaching the end of one of the two levels we were being shown from Halo 4’s single player. The ship is orbiting a huge Forerunner-built planet and eventually gets sucked into it, along with Master Chief and the Covenant fleet.
For those not familiar with Halo, the Forerunners are the people responsible for the Halo-shaped rings on which the original games were set and the Covenant are the aliens you fight there. Both have a very distinct look and it was nice to see here that 343 Industries had entirely nailed the style of the game’s enemies.
Next up came a later level, called Forerunner, which was where things got really interesting. An entirely new race of enemies is introduced called the Prometheans. Think of them a bit like Transformers, or at least they sound like Transformers, except with a Halo edge. They work in an entirely different way from the Covenant, being much more nimble and boasting very powerful attacks up close.
Of the three enemy types we fought, there was one which drove us absolutely mad. A sort of small flying gyrocopter called a Watcher which darted about the battlefield, planting impenetrable shields in front of enemies. Difficult to hit and capable of bringing downed enemies back to life, these guys had to be dispatched first.
Then there was the Prometheans' equivalent of the grunt: the Crawler - a small, scurrying, metallic creature with a gun mounted on its front capable of a high fire rate. Get rid of one and you pick up the Suppressor, a new gun for the Halo series. Rather than the usual accuracy of the weapons found in the games, this is all about scattering as many bullets at enemies as possible. Devastating up close, it was a cool addition. The gun also shows off the new look and feel of the Prometheans. It is bound together by gravity and capable of coming apart entirely each time you reload it, in a very cool animation.
Finally there is what we imagine to be the Promethean equivalent of an Elite, called the Knight. Much bigger and with either a shotgun or bolt gun, these guys are particularly nasty. They also throw a tonne of grenades, which form a sort of gravity field that sucks you in, then explodes All these can be picked up incidentally and add to the already fairly large weapons line-up in Halo 4.
We can’t go into much detail as to what we actually saw in this level story-wise, but essentially Master Chief is hard at work trying to get hold of UNSC soldiers on the other side of the Forerunner planet he was sucked into.
What this level did show us however, was what has been added to the Halo table. It felt much more fresh than Halo 3 did all those years ago. Think of that game as polishing and Halo 4 as much more of something new. It plays slightly different and looks different too, with new characters. But the core gameplay experience is definitely there.
Now for the multiplayer. We were put through both Spartan Ops and competitive multiplayer. The former, a sort of co-operative mission system full of vehicles and big sprawling maps, we weren’t so fond of. For us, playing with friends on Halo is done in the Firefight mode.
Spartan Ops is definitely good and its really nice to work with friends to meet objectives rather than just blow up never-ending waves of bad guys, but from what we saw, we need more. Then again, there are a lot of other levels in the Spartan Ops suite, so perhaps things get more fully featured as levels go on.
Finally the competitive multiplayer. This is such a huge part of Halo that we imagine it is the thing 343 Industries were most afraid of showing the world. Fear not though, as it is just as good as any Halo game before it.
There is added customisation, on top of the character modification found in Halo Reach, for guns. You get different weapon skins now and a huge choice of bits and bobs to change on your character.
Then there are a load of new levels, modes and of course weapons to play with. Straight deathmatch, or Slayer as Halo calls it, was great fun. Taking advantage of some of the armour power ups like jetpack, we flew about trying to get headshots with the new look DMR rifle. Next up was a round of capture the flag. We particularly liked how you actually have to carry the flag and as such can only use pistols, making your character very susceptible to enemy attack.
Finally the competitive multiplayer. This is such a huge part of Halo that we imagine it is the thing 343 Industries were most afraid of showing the world. Fear not though, as it is just as good as any Halo game before it. Essentially you capture an area and then hold it for as long as you can. Once you have it for about 40 seconds or so, it fortifies itself with big enemy tracking automatic machineguns. Keep it for longer and it will start to resupply you with things like grenades. In practice it works great and made for one of the most exciting Halo multiplayer matches we had had in a long time.
Like that, our time was up. Halo 4 shut down, we left wanting to play more and more. For Halo fans, five minutes with this game and you will be as excited about it as any in the series before, if not more so. It feels fresh and different while retaining that certain something that made all the Halo games so fun in the first place.
Excited about the new Halo game? Let us know in the comments below ...