It’s been a long time coming, the first Halo title since Bungie resigned from the helm of the landmark franchise that dominates the Xbox but does Halo 4 and 343 Industries live up to the job and more importantly, the expectations of Halo fans?
It’s widely known that I’m not a fan of Halo, I enjoy the titles but I never really return to them after I’ve played through the campaign and a little of the multiplayer. The series itself doesn’t appeal to me because of my roots, I grew up playing games such as Quake, Unreal, Counter-Strike and Doom so Halo passed me by while I was busy PC gaming, that was up until Halo: Reach. Reach made me look at Halo in a new light, after reviewing it I felt compelled to look deeper into the story and when Halo 4 arrived I couldn’t wait to try it out.
Was I disappointed? Certainly not. This is the first Halo title 343 Industries have developed, ok so they did re-envision Halo Combat Evolved, but this is the first time that they didn’t have Bungie standing at the side with watchful eyes and from the beginning this is clear. The opening cinematic is very fresh, I can’t talk about the contents but the graphics have seen a massive upgrade, people look more life-like than any game I’ve previously played including Mass Effect. This also carries on through-out the game, not only in cut-scenes but while your playing too.
The graphics aren’t the only thing that have seen an overhaul, the sound certainly packs a metaphorical punch to your ear drums, the assault rifle thunders it’s way into your ears while the battle rifle has a clear, crisp snap that will instantly awaken any enemies that are unlucky enough to be in your crosshairs. The music, as always, matches the title beautifully offering you the chance to feel the emotion of the title at any point.
Sadly there is one thing that has been changed that detracts from the game, the Heads-Up Display (HUD) which has been changed to give you the feeling of being inside Master Chiefs helmet, the edges show the corners of the visor and block part of your view, this could be a programmers trick to cut the field-of-view (FOV) to improve the graphics and cut down the amount of scenery that’s being rendered at any given time and in practice it looks really pretty until you get a horde of enemies swamping you and you can’t see what’s going on either side of you. The FOV is also restricted by the size of the weapon you’re using, the weapon literally blocks a quarter of the screen meaning if anything approaches you from that side you don’t see it until it’s too late.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, the campaign is probably the best in the franchise’s history, and I felt instantly at home back in control of Master Chief accompanied by the ever-smart Cortana. From the word go you’re instantly rushed into action with the story flooding your mind with questions. Along the way you’ll meet old enemies and new, the Covenant are back but not as we know them, it’s been 4 years since Halo 3 so things in the galaxy have shifted and the Covenant now seem to be working along the Prometheans for an illusive new adversary, the Didact.
It’s hard to talk about the story without mentioning anything that is likely to spoil your game but what I can tell you is this is probably the most emotional game that has hit the series, you learn to care more about Cortana, you start to really believe in the characters and you’ll build more emotional bonds to the universe, if that was even possible of course.
I think the only real downside to the campaign is the length, I completed the story mode in around 6 hours and it left me wanting more, I need to replay the game with friends and with the elusive skulls and terminals hidden around the world there is more than enough reason to do so. In fact I only managed to find three terminals in the game on my first play-through, I couldn’t even find a single skull but when you get your hands on the campaign you’ll know why. The landscapes are huge, bigger than those seen in previous titles and it’s pretty hard trying to search all of these alone making this title definitely one to play with friends.
Halo 4 introduces a new co-op mode entitled ‘Spartan Ops’ and this mode is very, very cool. When entering Spartan Ops you’ll be faced with an Episode giving a background story to your missions, I can’t say anything about this story at present but it certainly helps build on the Halo universe. There are 6 missions to choose from, each getting harder and harder as you progress, you can play these alone or with friends, it’s your choice.
Ultimately I had a great deal of fun playing through Spartan Ops and with stat tracking you can really have showdowns with your friends to see who is the best Spartan alive.
I’ve never been a big fan of Halo multiplayer and today isn’t any different, not much in the way of game modes or game play has been changed which will probably please fans but the biggest upset is something that I wrote earlier in the review; the HUD. The HUD cuts off so much of the screen making it impossible to block attacks from the side unless you constantly have your eye on the radar.
The game has introduced a system for classes, as you progress you unlock tokens and you can exchange these tokens for perks like those seen in the first Black Ops title, some may see this as more like Call of Duty but in it’s individual right it works well however it really punishes newcomers to the game. You start with a few basic load-outs and the more you play, the more you’ll unlock, the problem with this is the power of the later unlocks is far greater than those you start with.
I don’t really know how the matchmaking will sort this issue out, whether it will match lower-levelled players together or not but during my experience of multiplayer I kept being thrown into matches with level 28’s who just completely wiped the floor with me. I’m trying to keep an open mind when it comes to the multiplayer so I may write a full review after the games release.
All in all Halo 4 is a stunning title, it not only lives up to its predecessors it rips them apart with an energy sword. The story is the best to date in the franchise and its execution is near perfect. The addition of Spartan Ops will be welcomed with open arms by the core community but I really can’t see the multiplayer being favoured over Reach just yet.