Developer: 343 Industries / Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood, Violence]
It’s been five years since the conclusion to one of the biggest trilogies in videogame history. As the main Halo story wrapped after Halo 3, questions still lingered. Possibly the biggest, broadest, most telling query today being: do we need another Halo trilogy or is it time to move on? That’s ultimately what we hope to answer today as we drop in with our feet first into hell with Halo 4.
The main story begins with the Master Chief and Cortana floating aboard the back section of the Forward Unto Dawn four years after the events of Halo 3. After a brief introduction to the situation, the ship is boarded by a group of Covenant and the two are then sucked inside the self-contained shield world, Requiem. Here you’re introduced to the crew aboard the UNSC Infinity and a whole new cast of characters. For the sake of brevity and to avoid potential spoilers, I’ll just say that as far as story is concerned, this ranks among my favorites in the franchise. I prefer the smaller, more intimate stories like ODST, Reach, and the original Halo because of the human interaction. But more than that, I crave the lore from the expanded universe; how outside characters and events shape the story of the games.
Those who’ve read every book, watched every video (live action or animation) and played every game will get more here than in any other Halo before. It feels like 343 isn’t afraid to explore the Halo universe and address issues that no other game has ever touched before. Issues like the moral ambiguity of the Spartan II program; something I’ve prayed the games would explore ever since The Fall of Reach. By the end of the campaign I was left with a range of emotions: sad, confused, happy, confused again, but by the time the final cinematic kicked in I was ultimately satisfied. To clarify, as of the time of this review, we’ve only seen one chapter of Spartan Ops: a separate cooperative campaign that continues the story six months after the main single-player. So while the game does wrap up most questions, more story exposition is promised down the line.
Aesthetically, Halo 4 doesn’t stray too far from the classic Halo formula. Missions vary from wide open spaces with grand vistas to more claustrophobic environments. Most levels offer something new, constantly infusing an I.V drip of new weapons, vehicles, and locations to explore. The most negative and distracting addition though is the occasional quick-time event found in the single-player; not because of their inherent annoyance but because of how they actually detract from key moments in the game. Having trivial gameplay instructions pop up on screen towards the end of a climactic scene more than once took me out of the experience, and I would have loved an option to remove them completely.
Introduced in Reach as an armor ability, Sprint, is now a default option. While it may be a topic of controversy among the community, it’s a welcomed addition and finally showcases the speed potential and movement of the Spartans. Armor abilities have returned, though updates like ditching Armor Lock in favor of the less overpowered Hardlight Shield make the game feel more balanced. While the armor abilities offer variety, at its core, any wannabe Spartan will survive with your three basic abilities: shoot, melee, and grenade. It’s a tried and true formula and it still works to this day.
What can I say about Halo 4 that hasn’t already been seen? The visuals have been massively overhauled to make this the best looking Halo, if not the best looking 360 game to date. With that said, this is a game on hardware that’s pushing seven years and the inevitable shortcomings of the console are definitely shown here. Some textures look low res up close and while the new lighting system is gorgeous, some might find the overuse of lens flares distracting.
The new location of Requiem provides a compelling mix of location types familiar from other Halo titles, like jungles and deserts while adding new Forerunner settings that look absolutely stunning. Amazingly, the art team has managed to create a whole new world while maintaining the look and feel of the previous games. Like its predecessors, most of Halo 4‘s story is revealed through Cortana’s dialogue and in-game cutscenes that feature well-choreographed action and memorable interaction with new characters. Some of these cutscenes look so good that I could have sworn a few were pre-rendered or CGI, except that the actual CGI used had me questioning whether I was looking at computer graphics or real life.
Anywhere the game suffers visually from its dated hardware is redeemed in the sound department. Sound effects that didn’t exist in Halo before—like the heavy crunch of your clunky metal boots hitting the ground—are now present, and just about every sound effect is beefier than past games. Every returning weapon has been audibly remastered with the human arsenal receiving some very obvious special attention. But now to the giant musical elephant in the room: the soundtrack.
343 has retained the spirit of Marty O’Donnell’s spellbinding original work while maintaining a cohesive theme throughout the game. It feels like a respectful evolution of the soundtrack and overall I’m happy with the direction composer Neil Davidge has chosen for the series.
The multiplayer aspect of the Halo franchise is as important, if not more so, than the single-player side. Halo is the series that made mainstream online console gameplay what it is today and Halo 4 has embraced the world it helped create. Multiplayer (now called Infinity) is no longer a classic standalone option as it takes place after and within the main storyline. Infinity consists of the map creator Forge, the post—single-player story co-op Spartan Ops, and the competitive War Games.
The three major updates to the multiplayer: default sprint, loadouts, and instant-respawn are now in the game but not ever-present. Just about every addition can be game-type specific, so if you want the classic Halo experience, just stay in that playlist. But if you’re the least bit curious about the new additions, dip your toe in to these options to see if you like them. Personally, I found that the instant respawn worked really well in free-for-all and Slayer game-types since it maintained the pace and intensity at a much higher level. It’s honestly the most addicted I’ve been to the multiplayer since Halo 3.
Forge has been updated but its full potential won’t be understood until weeks after release. Messing around I found the new magnet system and duplicate ability extremely accessible to aid anyone creating maps. The addition of player trait zones will make for some interesting new game-types, but it’s honestly something I trust the community with over my lackluster abilities. Spartan Ops—the replacement for Firefight—offers five separate micro-missions and attempts to weave a story in and out of each episode. Right now only one chapter is available but 343’s plan is to release a new set of missions weekly…for free. It’s ambitious, but like Forge, it’s something we’ll have to wait and see how it turns out.
The arrival of Halo 4 is a bittersweet moment: it marks the end of an era, signifying the departure of the studio that created it while a new caretaker takes the reins, one that has some ambitious goals for Halo’s future. It’s clear 343 has not set out to reinvent Halo; the team just subtracted what didn’t work and added parts that do.
Are there issues? Sure. Like any game I have minor grievances, but nothing so glaring that it takes away from my positive experience. But the overall question persists: do we need another Halo trilogy? The answer to that is a surprising no, for you, the general public that’s looking for nothing more than a minor multiplayer distraction. But from one dedicated Halo fan to those looking for an evolution in story, creation, and online play, yes, we freakin’ do. It feels good to finally say after many years that Halo is back.
+ Great expansion of the lore
+ Amazing Multiplayer
+ Best looking Halo to date
10 / 10