Re-Start The Fight
What Halo 4 Got Right
- + Great campaign and story
- + Memorable Halo experience, new 343i flavour
- + Multiplayer is still great
- + Spartan Ops is brilliant co-op fun
What Halo 4 Got Wrong
- - Some new vehicles are a chore to control
- - Game sometimes holds your hand
Halo 4 succeeds where most shooters fail. It remains true to its core experience made famous over five games, but it excels in actually making us care about the characters, be them good or evil. I’ve always felt that the Halo series has set a pretty high standard for shooters when it comes to storytelling, and this game takes the Halo name even further in that regard. I’ve spent the past week completely engulfed by what’s happening on the artificial world of Requiem, and not just because the gameplay is so deliciously enjoyable, but also because I'm fascinated by mankind's newest dilemma.
Developer 343 Industries has, I feel, taken the Halo brand to new heights. Using the creative freedom bestowed upon it as the first team to take over the reigns from series stalwart Bungie, it has created the best Halo game yet, and a memorable first game of what will undoubtedly be a fantastic new trilogy.
With this game we get the beginning of a new Halo trilogy, and it's definitely a fantastic way to start things off. Microsoft claims that this is the most expensive game in its history of game development, and it certainly shows. Cutscenes not only look absolutely fantastic, but they're entertaining and set the scene for an intriguing tale of intergalactic warfare. There's fantastic insight to the relationship between Master Chief and his AI companion, Cortana, as well as some interesting interactions between our hero and other members of the UNSC.
There's a lot of back story to what's happening in Halo 4, but the game does a satisfactory job of explaining what's happening, why and how. Furthermore, there's great commentary on war and morality, and how soldiers react to the conflicts they face on the battlefield. Without actually spoiling the game's story it's difficult to elaborate further on this, but I certainly feel that Halo 4 successfully differentiates soldiers from mindless killing robots, a comparison so often made in media coverage of conflict and war in video games. We learn that this isn't a war between soldiers and aliens. Rather, it's a fight for survival, and Master Chief will do whatever is necessary to ensure it.
343i has frequently reassured Halo fans that the return of Master Chief would remain true to the series' gameplay and universe. This is the first time a developer other than Bungie has taken on the series (aside from PC and iOS ports of past Halo games), so it's been a challenge to remain entirely optimistic about what the developer could bring to the table. Thankfully it's maintained the traditional Halo gameplay we've all come to love, while adding in a few neat new flavours to spice things up a bit.
The Halo series is renowned for being especially accessible on the gameplay front. Understandably so considering gamers have been controlling super-human soldiers called SPARTANS since the series first launched back in 2002, so naturally the controls should be easy to grasp. Halo 4 feels like a Halo game, which is most important, but it certainly doesn't shy away from trying new things, and that's ultimately what propels it above its predecessors.
For one, there's a stack of awesome new weaponry, thanks to antagonists, the Forerunners, brilliant weapon architecture. The standard UNSC weapons remain, and you definitely can't go wrong with the trusty Assault Rifle, while the amazingly satisfying Sticky Detonator, which allows you to fire offer a sticky grenade before setting it off once it reaches its target, is fantastically effective in (excuse the pun) sticky situations. Covenant favourites like the Needler, Storm Rifle and Energy Sword all make an appearance, but I definitely feel that the newer Forerunner weapons take the cake in terms of being the most damaging and fun to use. The Lightrifle and Binary Rifle are effortlessly effective, be it on hip-fire or visor display, while the Scattershot and Suppressor are both fantastic for close-range explosive combat.
There's certainly no shortage of weaponry available to you during combat, and enemies are constantly dropping grenades, ammo and new guns whenever you take them out. There certainly is a sense that the game over-compensates in that regard, and you'd have to be insanely inaccurate to ever run out of ammo and not have another option available for you on the battlefield. Thankfully, however, the game's relentless AI enemies do enough to counter any hand-holding the game might offer when it comes to weapon availability.
Halo 4's difficulty spikes on occasions, which is a common trait in Halo games. Having played through the game on Normal and then roughly seventy per cent of it on Hardened, I certainly feel that the game will offer plenty of challenge for the most seasoned of Halo gamers, no matter what difficulty they play on. There was never a moment where I felt the game was too easy, although on Normal I felt this was the case more because of the quantity of enemies rather than how aggressive they were. The new enemies are, as expected, a lot harder to take out than the Covenant, and a vast majority of the combat is against this new foe. For the most part Halo 4 challenges you constantly, and there's a fantastic balance between easy enemies (ones that require just a simple headshot to take out, like a Promethean Crawler), hard enemies (ones that take a crap load of ammo and some grenades, like a Premethean Knight), and weapon accessibility and availability.
New weapons and enemies aren't the only new additions to the Halo experience. Armor abilities play an important part in the experience, and give Master Chief a slight advantage on the battlefield when things get tough. They are sparingly available but especially effective, and your chosen abilities certainly have an affect on how successful you are in certain situations. For example, Promethean Vision, which allows you to track enemies with heat-seeking vision, is effective early in the game when you enter a foggy area with limited visibility: without it you'll hardly be able to spot enemies. Then there's the Autosentry, which is an absolute must in the game's latter stages when you have multiple Promethean Knights coming at you.
The campaign also takes a couple of risks in terms of exploration and third-person vehicle control. Halo 4 was said to offer less of a traditional FPS experience, and more of an open one with a bit more freedom than previous games in the series. While there are certainly moments in the game where you need to do a little bit of searching and exploration to find your objective, the game mostly points you in the direction you need to go, so I feel that it's a bit of a tease as to just how much freedom you have. The environments are expansive, no doubt, and levels are sometimes excruciatingly long and challenging, but for the most part there's always a clear objective and push in the right direction.
The game thankfully does a great job of mixing things up and taking the occasional break from FPS gameplay. Taking control of a Pelican aircraft, which shares similarities to ships from James Cameron's 'Aliens', is particularly enjoyable, made more so by latter stages that allow you to fly through the skies of Requiem while attempting to disable important objectives. The Pelican is easy to control, fun to fly and especially powerful during combat, and I certainly feel inclined to return to the levels that put you in its cockpit. The Mantis is a mech-like machine that gives you unprecedented control, with powerful missiles and pounding machine guns to make for a fantastic break-away from the traditional Halo experience.
Of course it wouldn't be a Halo game without an expansive multiplayer offering, and once again the series hits the mark perfectly. Halo 4's multiplayer experience feels smoother and more refined than both Halo 3's and Halo: Reach's multiplayer components, and it's in the competitive landscape that 343i's influence on the series and its functionality is most evident. Controls are accessible and engaging, combat is fast and intense, and map design, for the most part, is great. There's a great mixture of tight maps and expansive ones, although there definitely seems to be a priority for smaller, tighter action than in previous Halo games. Overall, this is the Halo multiplayer we've all come to adore over the years, with modest refinements for a memorable competitive experience.
The expansion of Armor modifications gives the battlefield a distinctive feel especially reminiscent of the Halo campaign. Armor types, abilities, upgrades and packages all give you an advantage on the battlefield, and with such a wide variety available to you, there's the freedom to create a Spartan in a capacity not otherwise experienced in the Halo series. 343i has given Halo 4's multiplayer a welcomed individualistic feel, as well as customisation options that add unparalleled depth to the experience.
Spartan Ops, the name given to any and all on-record missions conducted by Spartans of the UNSC Infinity, is a game mode that could very well initiate an all-new multiplayer juggernaut for the Halo series. This cooperative experience is a brilliant fusion of intense battles, insane difficulty and an overall sense of urgency that I feel is unmatched throughout the entire Halo 4 experience. While I've mostly played this mode alone, I still found it to be insanely enjoyable. It does a fantastic job of offering an experience that actually feels like a live, real-time battle. Furthermore, it feels quite a lot like a first-person expansion of what was offered in Halo Wars, the underrated console RTS set in the series' universe. You move from battle to battle, constantly under the threat of attack, and there is a distinct reliance on tactics and strategic placement that helps drive this fantastic cooperative experience.
The Final Verdict
Halo 4 is my personal Game Of The Year. I understand that it might be difficult for people to fathom a first-person shooter taking that place, but Halo 4 really does offer an engaging, deep and thoroughly enjoyable experience. Not only is the campaign and its story good enough to make me want to play it multiple times, but its satisfying multiplayer and Spartan Ops co-op experiences are components that every gamer should try at least once. This is not some mindless war-based shooter hellbent on blowing stuff up and feeling like a Michael Bay film. Rather, Halo 4 is an emotional journey with lessons to be learnt on morality, humanity and war. It reminds us of the moral challenges of battle better than any other shooter on the market. Oh, and it's a hell of a lot of fun, too!
By Gaetano Prestia