Halo 4 is the first installment of the Forerunner saga of the now classic and enjoyed Halo series from Bungie. A new company, 343 Industries, has taken the reins, mixed with veterans of the series and new blood, to bring the story back to the characters that started it all, Master Chief and Cortana.
Halo was the first game I ever played on the Original Xbox (Almost said Xbox One :P). From the first time I saw the main menu load up and heard the beautiful monk choir sing the theme that would become ingrained into my mind, I knew I was about to play something special. Though now the game has been surpassed by standards of the industry in many ways (story, gameplay, graphics), I still feel that Halo paved the way for many games today. It was a shooter that took everything seriously- characters were not 2 dimensional, or didn’t appear so at the least, and the story was impactful but not overly dramatic.
Fast forward to now, where every game has evolved to this point, and Halo 4 is here now, bringing much of the same quality as the original Halo did back in 2002. The game features a strong story and characters, with gameplay that perhaps hasn’t evolved much from its predecessors, but it’s sharpened to a fine point. Halo 4 starts off strong, bringing continual nods, through subtle ways, that any Halo fan could enjoy. It tickling those nostalgic memories of playing the original series for the first time. Picking up where Halo 3’s Legendary Ending left Master Chief (4 years later), you awaken only to be quickly pulled into the main setting of the game- Requiem, a Dyson Sphere, or Shield World as these planets have been known as in the series.
It’s quick to tell how much the characterization has progressed, making the quips between Cortana and Chief more frequent while still keeping the lone soldier stoic as ever. Never do you feel that Chief has become more social to anyone- he’s still the short (not in height) and loyal man you saw in previous games, just presented in a more revealing light. He acts more like the commanding force as he has said to be and you believe it. Cortana, who is suffering thru Rampancy as expected, has some of the strongest dialogue in the game, bringing you more into the mindset of Chief as she explains and tries to cope with her illness. I will say the darker story has drained some of the jokes and funny comments, but we’re at least given deeper characterization in return.
The story is lengthy for a linear shooter, coming in at about 8 hours, give or take depending on difficulty, playstyle, and skills. Through said time your eyes will be sent to eye-popping locations that have that perfect mix of nature, technology, and the smallest hint of the mystery. Colors are vibrant or muted appropriately to help add to the mood as you shoot your way through well-animated enemies, both old and new to the series. The Covenant have become more logical yet unpredictable in their behaviors, and the new Protheans (Forerunner AI’s) have their own tricks and twists as well. This game is truly something you can enjoy simply experiencing.
Add all this to the solid gameplay, and you definitely have a well-polished game. This is, after all, a shooter and it does it as well as can be done. All the weapons have their own unique uses and sense of control that need to be learned to truly master the game. The new Prothean weapons are really just remixes of existing mechanics (with awesome animations) and each race’s weapons look and feel distinct. The controls feel more weighted, but not in a way that hinders you in the game. Sorry, no moon jumps here! The game still allows you to move or ride through the environment quickly, like the super-human soldier that you are.
After you’ve mastered the single player and experienced it’s satisfying conclusion, there’s still more to find in the game. Spartan Ops, a cooperative focused, mini-series like story, is another avenue to take on. Sadly, it’s replaced the wonderful Firefight from ODST and Reach, but in return, you’re delivered a decently written follow-up story, as well as a bridge into the next game as you wait. At this time, the entire first season is playable, bringing in 5 missions for every episode, which there are ten of. The levels are reused and objectives are simple, but the fun is still there when you play with your friends and the CGI cutscenes that accompany each episode are a must-see for anyone that cares for the lore.
Once through all that, there’s multiplayer and this is where Halo 4 seems to falter. The game has issues with balance on some weapons and the loadout system does strip Halo 4 away from its arcade-like gameplay, but the experience is enjoyable still. Gametypes and maps are varied, and even if none of the standard ones appeal to you, there’s the community focused Forge that allows you to change anything to your heart content. Halo 4 truly is a product that gives you as much as you want from a game.