Master Chief is back, and in good form.
Let’s face it, the Halo fanboys have probably had more than a few sleepless nights since Bungie left the Halo franchise and 343 Industries took over. And I am sure that 343 Industries also had more than a few sleepless nights as well. Halo is a blockbuster franchise and the fans can be fanatical to say the least. So 343 Industries not only had to make the new Halo game feel fresh and exciting, but had to make sure they didn’t stray too far from the trusted formula and potentially alienate the fans in the process. Rather them than me, I say.
But you know what? 343 Industries can now sleep peacefully in their beds and the fans can breathe a sigh of relief because Halo 4 looks beautiful and has a few new tricks, but is undeniably a Halo game. Good news for the fans, but what about the gamers who have never taken a shine to Master Chief’s adventures? Well, Halo 4 might just be epic enough, cinematic enough and impressive enough to make them sit up and take notice. And they should, because it is a real thrill ride, whether you are a Master Chief fan or not.
The game begins with Master Chief being awakened from cryogenic sleep aboard the remains of a spaceship. He is awakened by the virtual Cortana having been floating through space for the last four or so years. The story is carrying on directly from Halo 3, but as someone who has never really cared for the stories in the Halo game, I can assure you that Halo 4 is fairly easy to get into. There are a few bits that may feel confusing to someone who hasn’t played the previous games, okay many bits, but the very fact that Halo is a blockbuster franchise means that almost everyone who plays videogames will be aware of Master Chief, his AI companion Cortana, and the evil Covenant. Anything else can likely be filled in by the plethora of background information which is available pretty much anywhere.
The story, which spans some 10 chapters, will see not only Master Chief trying to get back to Earth before Cortana essentially dies (in a virtual sense), but also dealing with further threats that begin with a crash landing on the planet Requiem. The story trundles along at quite a pace, in a classically sci-fi manner, and really is quite a ride.
And it looks absolutely stunning. The first thing that I noticed was how impressive everything looked, something which took me slightly by surprise. It was not what I expected. The set pieces are varied and epic in their nature, and the world that 343 Industries has created is a pleasure to explore, in a shoot and destroy everything kind of way.
The gameplay still feels familiar, if expanded by some cool new additions. The biggest addition is the new Promethean enemies, complete with new weapons. The enemies themselves mix things up with some new variants, including teleporters and even a cowardly creature that makes life difficult by bringing formerly defeated enemies back to life. As a new enemy, the Prometheans are pretty impressive.
As is their weaponry. Realistically, the Promethean weapons are just new variants on the standard weapons, but it is how they look that makes them stand out. They look unlike anything from the previous games as they seem to construct themselves around the user in a particularly awesome way. They may not be anything new in their execution, but they are really enjoyable to use.
As I said, the campaign is an enjoyable ride, and one that makes it easy to go back and playthrough again. 343 Industries have made a great start with the Halo 4 campaign, but they haven’t stopped there. Where would Halo 4 be without awesome multiplayer? And what about the new Spartan Ops mode?
Spartan Ops is an episodic four-player co-op mode with weekly content being made available over the coming weeks. I really like this idea, allowing the player to get a little slice of Halo action each week with up to three friends. Spartan Ops promises to weave a new story in the Halo universe and the first five missions are included on the disc, so players can jump in straight away. Each mission is only short, lasting around 20 minutes or so, but is ideally suited for players that want to indulge in the Halo universe but simply don’t have the time. It is also nice to get extra content over the coming weeks.
When it comes to the competitive multiplayer, players earn experience points and are rewarded with new weapons and perks. Their loadout can be fully customised, in an alarmingly intricate way. The progression is rapid, ensuring that not only can everyone quickly get to a point where they can adjust their loadout to suit their playstyle, but also that players will quickly get hooked on the quick succession of new goodies they unlock. It is a good system that will undoubtedly be familiar to many online gamers, and it works well in Halo 4.
The multiplayer game is as frantic as always, with a good selection of maps and modes to play across, including the new Dominion mode which sees teams capturing bases across a map. I have always found the Halo multiplayer a little too “jumpy” for my tastes, and nothing has really changed in that respect. It is still fast-paced and agile, and will feel very familiar to veteran Halo players. Which kind of fits into the theme of this package in general – new, but familiar.
Overall, 343 Industries had some big boots to fill when they took over the Halo franchise, and they have filled them well. It feels as though they have played it safe by sticking with a formula that will keep the hardcore fans happy, rather than revolutionising the series. But they have polished it beyond belief, packed it full of content and created a game that they should be proud of. Halo 4 is not only an essential purchase for all Halo fans, but worth considering by anyone who has passed on the previous Halo games. It’s a good time to be a Spartan.