The original Halo game practically made the Xbox. Master Chief’s unmissable escapades have been solid throughout the series’ history, steered along smoothly by developer Bungie. The now nearly legendary developer has moved on to pastures new, leaving 343 Industries to put together Halo 4.
With more weight on its shoulders than a Tibetan sherpa, 343 Industries has taken on the task with much gusto, turning out a game that does justice to the Master Chief story and offers plenty of fan service, while doing a few new things.
If you are reading this, chances are you already have Halo 4 on pre-order. It isn’t exactly a game that you sit on the fence about. Worry not, it is a brilliant game, although there are one or two faults.
Before we start on this section of the review, don’t worry, we aren’t going to post any spoilers. Right from the outset, Halo 4 pretty much does away with the ending of Halo 3, with Cortana reviving Master Chief from his slumber and sending him out yet again on a gun-filled adventure.
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The game starts just as the E3 trailer did, with UNSC ship Forward Unto Dawn under fire from Covenant ships. One hell of a rollercoaster ride later and you, along with most bits of the ship, are sucked into a pre-cursor planet, along with your Covenant attackers.
This gives rise to the game’s new race, which like the Brutes of Halo 2, is just as exciting. The Prometheans strike us as a sort of cross between Transformers and the Terminator. They look and sound incredible and add a really interesting element to the game’s story.
We won’t go into any more detail than that, other than to say, if you are a fan of any of the Halo games, you are going to like what 343 Industries has done here. Master Chief is as powerful as ever, yet that sense of vulnerability and total chaos returns in full force.
Halo Reach was a bit like the Leica camera of video games. It was put together so well, that just picking it up felt good. The weapons had that Halo feel, the enemies were smart and the difficulty levels balanced.
Halo 4 definitely picks up the gauntlet from there, but then does things in its own way also. Take the guns for example: there is an added sense of power to nearly every one. The much loved Magnum now feels incredibly deadly and the Promethean weaponry is all sorts of awesome.
In fact, the new guns are one of our favourite parts to Halo 4. One in particular, called the Suppressor, is very enjoyable to use. The Protean equivalent of the battle rifle, it pours out tonnes of yellow bullets which fly all over the screen.
Master Chief works on the usual shield recharge gameplay style. He has no health packs or damage meter as such. Once that shield is gone, you need to hide. It works just as well here as it has in any other Halo game.
You are as light on your feet as ever and can jump just as high, all contributing to that feel of Master Chief being a nigh on invincible super soldier. One of 343 Industries’ inputs relates to the armour power-ups of Halo Reach.
Simply put, there are just more of them. The Prometheans have their own set and you also can pick up Covenant style light shields, which when activated at the right time can really turn the tide of a fight, giving you enough time to hide to get your suit shields back.
We didn’t encounter any AI issues at all during the game, even with the Prometheans, who behave in a very different way. They are much faster, but can be killed quicker. Dealing out lots of damage, fights with the Prometheans tend to be about getting stuck in and getting rid of them quick.
We will say, hiking up the difficulty levels makes for a very tough game. Beyond normal, Halo 4 is a lot harder than previous titles. Legendary is bordering on the impossible, but finishing a level on that difficulty setting is highly rewarding.
As a sum of its parts, the gameplay in Halo 4 is just a touch different from previous games. It isn’t worse by any means, it just feels different. Things happen quicker, you can dish out more damage and, crucially, ammo can become a genuine issue in this game. In fact it forces you to be more accurate and careful with your weapons, lest you are left at the mercy of the bad guys without any bullets in your gun.
The graphics in Halo 4 deserve their own section, simply because they are so good. Here is a game which has come right at the end of a console’s lifespan and worked some black magic with the hardware. Like Forza Horizon, the game frequently forces a double take, where only upon closer scrutiny does it become apparent the title is running on the Xbox 360.
The game is not only impressive from a technical standpoint, but every single environment has also been crafted with such meticulous detail, that you just want to stop and stare at times. Right from the first level, all the way to the end of the game, there isn’t a single part which doesn’t look more polished than a pair of soldier’s boots.
In fact, to us, Halo 4 looks how Halo Reach should have looked. It takes the style of Halo and does something new with it. Think of it like Alien and Aliens, they are clearly set in the same universe, but both just feel that little bit different.
The guns and characters models are also brilliantly detailed, especially the Covenant and Master Chief himself. When you first pick up a Promethean weapon, it transforms back together from pieces right in front of your eyes. It is a nice touch in a title that looks beautiful throughout.
The odd glitch can break things slightly, as some enemies will run into walls aimlessly or clip through parts of the environment, but it happens so rarely we can’t say it became an issue.
Here is where arguably the weight lies heaviest on 343 Industries’ shoulders. Halo multiplayer has become like a perfectly baked cake, where adding the odd dash of flair or an extra ingredient might ruin the overall taste altogether.
Instead, what has been done, is to stick to what you know and love, adding a few new modes which you can dabble in should you so wish. The character creation suite from the previous game has also been beefed up and its nice to see a few different weapon camos, to differentiate what you see on screen. Your Spartan ID can now also be customised, Call of Duty style. Weapons and unlocks are purchased using SP, which you gain while fighting in any multiplayer mode.
For the most part, it is blues vs reds, straight and simple. Capture the flag, slayer and team slayer still make up the bulk of Halo’s multiplayer suite. There is one new mode in particular which we found incredibly addictive.
Feeling like a twist on Call of Duty’s Domination game mode, it asks you to capture a base and then reinforce it by spawning weapons systems and bigger base defences. The longer you hold something, the harder it is to capture back from the enemy.
Then comes Spartan Ops, a sort of standalone story which you can play alone or with friends. Levels are played episodically and all have their own individual story. We suggest playing them with a group, as the levels aren’t hugely complex and tend to involve just turning on or off a switch or destroying large groups of enemies. They certainly are fun though.
Forge also makes a return and you can create personalised multiplayer games with it from a huge variety of modes. We liked that the Flood also made an appearance, especially in Forge mode, where you can create against all odds situations that become standout multiplayer experiences.
We have barely scratched the surface of everything Halo 4 has to offer. Add in all the new vehicles and the fact that the game is split across two discs, with the second for multiplayer content alone, and you get an idea of the size of the game.
It does have its faults. The single player at times can feel overly simplified, with straightforward “go here and press that” type tasks. We wouldn’t say it ever becomes repetitive, but some of the excitement is lost.
Then there is the fact that, for the most part, it plays it so safe. This is first-person gaming at its most standard. We would have hoped 343 Industries might have thrown a few things out the window, but it hasn’t.
What you get is an incredibly polished game, which clearly has had a lot of time and love poured into it. Halo 4 won’t disappoint the fans and will also satisfy newbies to the series. If you are in the market for a shooter for Christmas, this could be the game to have. We will have to see what Call of Duty manages, but right now, this is the title you should be adding to your Xbox game collection.