Picking up several years after the events of Halo 3, we return to the same cycle as before. John “Master Chief” 117 is awakened by his lifelong buddy AI, Cortana, to discover that not only have they not been picked up by the UNSC in the 8 years they’ve been floating in space, but that the Covenant are back and not as friendly as they agreed to be. To make matters worse, you crash land on the planet Requiem, home to a new race called Prometheans, who are just dying to meet and then kill you. A multitude of new weapons and goodies have been added to Halo 4 on all fronts of the battle.
We’ll start with one of my favorite new vehicles, the Mantis, which is a mech-like vehicle that comes equipped with a chain gun, rockets, and a devastating stomping attack for enemies who get a little too close. Then we’ve got the story only Mammoth, which acts like a giant troop transport equipped with a MAC cannon to help out in those tough battles. Weapons have never looked, sounded, or felt so crisp and deadly in the Halo series, which is great for all the existing weapons such as the Battle Rifle, DMR, Magnum, Assault Rifle, Needler, or even the Energy Sword. Itching to join the battle, we have over 8 new weapons to have fun with including: Sticky Detonator, Railgun, Storm Rifle, Light Rifle, Bolt Shot, Scattershot, Incendiary Cannon, Binary Rifle, Suppressor, and a few more I may have missed along the way. A lot of those new weapons come with the territory of the new, aggressive race of enemies. The Prometheans are the biggest addition to the series and are tougher than I expected at first glance.
You’ve got 3 main enemy types including; the Crawlers, dog/machine like creatures that carry weapons and run around in packs most times; Watchers, who fly around the battlefield protecting their brothers from grenades, providing a shield, or reviving fallen brethren; and the Knights, who function much like harder to kill Elites with a much faster shield recharge. Despite all the new additions to the game it still remains very balanced and fun.
I applaud 343 for creating such an intriguing new story and immersing me once again in a universe I know and love with a whole new perspective. Within a minute of picking up the game, I felt the same “new” feeling I had when playing Halo: Combat Evolved. Even though we know these well developed characters so well by now, everything from the environments, the enemies, and combat feels fresh enough to make a lasting mark. Starting the campaign, you jump right back into Master Chief as he is awakened by his AI friend for life, Cortana. We return to the ship left floating in space at the end of Halo 3, Forward Unto Dawn. Cortana is slowly thinking herself to death in a deadly and common problem for AIs called “rampancy.” The entire first mission feels like a homage to the first two Halo games, bringing you back into a ship being attacked and destroyed by the Covenant, moving directly into a zero gravity fight for old time’s sake.
It isn’t until you get into the second mission that you really start to get a feel for just how big and gorgeous some of the environments are. Did I mention visuals? I thought Halo: Reach held the standard for just how good a game can look on a console, but Halo 4 takes the cake. Shortly after starting the second mission, you run into Forerunner architecture that will absolutely take your breath away. Further into the story you’ll find yourself in a variety of environments spread out in a nice, even pace. You’ll even get to finally fly a Pelican (yeah, its been a long time coming). The Prometheans inhabit the planet Requiem, where you crash land and soon discover the link they have with the Covenant. The majority of the fighting will be against the Prometheans, but don’t take them lightly, they’re a force to be reckoned with.
I mentioned before that Cortana is thinking herself to death which takes the passenger’s seat in the overall story. The relationship between the Chief and Cortana is more emotional than ever with constant outbursts about the imminent doom Cortana may face if Chief doesn’t get her to the right people in time. With questions to spare, the campaign leaves you wanting more. Halo 4 is, of course, the first in a new trilogy being developed by 343, and has set the standard for the rest of the series worthy of Bungie’s quality.
Infinity is going to be your main hub for almost anything multiplayer related. Although Infinity has a significant role in the single player campaign, it also serves another purpose in both a story and social aspect. Infinity is a massive UNSC ship where Spartan IVs (you) spend their time training in the War Games deck, plotting their missions for Spartan Ops, creating new game types and maps for War Games, or spending time reviewing their previous matches in the Theater. You’ll spend hours here changing the armor and color of your custom Spartan, as well as changing your loadouts for future matches. Did I mention loadouts? LOADOUTS. This is by far one of the best changes made to the series that not only stays balanced, but allows for players to play in their own style. From here, you can change your primary and secondary weapons, which type of grenade you carry, armor ability, tactical package, and support package. Players returning from Halo: Reach will be familiar with the armor abilities, although there are a handful more than before. Tactical and support packages work a lot like perks for those familiar with Call of Duty. Players equip these packages to pick up grenades from dead bodies, carry two primary weapons, recharge shields faster, or unlimited sprint, etc.
343 made changes to Halo’s regular format of gameplay that not only speed up the feel of a match but also allows for more intense firefights in almost each and every match. I’ve found myself playing War Games so much that it took me a bit longer than expected to finish the campaign. Almost every game mode from previous installments make an appearance as well as some fun new modes that caught my attention more than I ever thought. Infection mode makes a triumphant return as “Flood” mode in which infected players no longer become a different color Spartan, but a full fledged Flood soldier equipped with a blade arm. Two new game types that I was really into were “Regicide”, your basic free-for-all with a twist of the leader becoming the “king” of the match with a bounty on his head, and “Dominion”, where two teams of five fight for control over three different territories. When all three territories are held down by one team, the losing team has one life each to regain control, or die trying.
Overall, multiplayer is very balanced and tight with a bigger scope thanks to the addition of Specializations. What are Specializations one might ask? After you hit level 50 in War Games, you have the option of progressing with 10 extra levels in each Specialization. Each have their own custom armor as well as extra abilities that are specific to each Specialization. In the end, multiplayer breaks down to the same strategic fun that Halo is well known for.
This is 343′s attempt to keep players’ attention tuned into Halo 4 rather than any other game. Spartan Ops is a story based cooperative mode which at first glimpse doesn’t look like much, but after a few weeks, builds into something much larger. 343 is continuously going to be releasing new episodes of Spartan Ops for weeks after launch, all of which contain 5 story based missions. The breakdown is like this: 5 chapters to an episode, 10 episodes to a season. So far, only one season has been talked about, but it’s likely that 343 will continue with future seasons to come. Keep in mind that jumping into the mode may contain spoilers for anyone who hasn’t completed the story since it takes place four years after the events of the campaign. Starting this mode, I felt like there wasn’t much substance to keep my attention, but that soon changed after the second episode released and I found myself having a MUCH harder time trying to complete the mission. My only gripe with the mode is that most of the story for each episode is outside the actual gameplay, put into a video that HAS to be watched before starting an episode. Considering that this is free content handed to you every week, there isn’t too much to complain about. Only time will tell how well Spartan Ops does, but so far it’s off to a great start with an intriguing view into the life of a Spartan IV.
Forge & Theater
This time around, I would have to say that Theater is the biggest disappointment of Halo 4. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s in no means a terrible feature and it isn’t broken in anyway. The main issue with Theater is the lack of features available. In Halo: Reach, I was able to make full movies, hit any camera angle, and create a video tailored to my complete vision. In Halo 4, Theater has been stripped down to only allowing players to record a clip for friends to see in your file which they have to download to watch in their own Theater. Its an unfortunate downgrade that needs to be fixed in future installments. As for Forge, it makes a return, not as a world to fly around and pick your favorite spot to build your maps, but as having 3 basic maps at your disposal to change and customize your dreamland.
Being the first attempt to breathe new life into a well established franchise, 343 Industries impresses on almost every level possible. A gorgeous, emotional campaign followed by an in-depth multiplayer provides the foreground for an intense trilogy. I applaud 343 for their effort and look forward to the next installment.