When Halo 3 ended I’m sure more than a few tears were shed: tears for the Master Chief, for the story ending and probably tears of frustration and joy when you finally completed it on Legendary difficulty. So when it was announced 343 Industries were taking over and re-imagining it, a few people were worried. What would the series look like? What changes were going to be made? And most importantly, why change something that was great the way it is? Well I know I’m not the first to say that fans had nothing at all to worry about. Halo 4 delivered a whole new take on the Halo verse and left people waiting for more!
At its core Halo 4 plays like the other Halo games: the Master Chief clomps around generally dishing out pain where it is needed. Weapons still give you the satisfaction from shooting enemies in the face, and vehicles are more fun to splatter people with than actually shoot. However play it longer and you’ll see what Halo 4 really is an emotional rollercoaster right from the very start.
Considered missing or dead after Halo 3, the Master Chief has been in cryo-sleep for the past four years on the wreckage of the UNSC frigate Forward Unto Dawn. His sleep is interrupted by Cortana after encountering a mysterious disturbance and Covenant forces try to board the ship. From this point you’re thrust into the action guns a-blazing before you are dragged onto a mysterious Forerunner planet called Requiem.
You encounter the usual lovely Covenant forces as well as a new enemy – the Prometheans, who appear to be a combination of flesh, steel and something completely
ethereal. These Prometheans are split into three types: Crawlers, Knights and Watchers (possibly the most annoying enemy you will encounter!) The Crawlers are the
equivalent of Grunts, running on four legs and come armed with a pistol or machine gun (just to make them cuddlier). Knights are almost human in their stature with the ability to warp around you as you’re fighting, and are commonly found with at least one Watcher. These floating units’ rain gunfire on unsuspecting players as well as creating a protective shield to guard ground units. That doesn’t sound too annoying? They also have the ability to bring the dead back to life if they aren’t killed quickly enough, which can make a fight feel pretty impossible.
What makes it more emotional is that the entire time you are fighting to get back to get back to Earth to save Cortana, who has become “rampant” – her exposure to Halo and operation beyond her normal seven year lifespan has caused her to effectively descend into insanity, which normally results in the ‘death’ of the AI. Both the Covenant and the Prometheans have no problem wiping the Master Chief off the face of the planet, and with her life hanging in the balance it’s certainly an emotional ending (if you’re a fan of Halo you will thank me for not giving away spoilers!)
With some first person shooter games it can feel like you’re simply running around shooting from one room to the next, but with an imaginative bit of level design Halo 4 really doesn’t have that feel – every change in direction has a purpose and all you end up feeling is sympathy for the Prometheans or Covenant who get in your way.
For the people who just want to shoot things Halo 4 certainly delivers. It features the traditional weaponry, from the Plasma Pistol to the DMR there are plenty of ways to make the Prometheans and Covenant suffer. However it also contains a new Promethean weaponry set, similar in function to the traditional weaponry (for example the UNSC Shotgun and the Scattershot are effectively both shotguns) but a lot nicer to look at and use. The Binary Rifle makes an appearance as an incredibly powerful Sniper Rifle and the Incineration Cannon fires streams of explosive rounds dealing massive damage! My personal favourite new weapon has to be the Scattershot for its ability to kill a Knight in one headshot and destroy opponents on the multiplayer.
Above Left: UNSC Weaponry and; Above Right: New Promethean Weapon set
Speaking of Multiplayer, Halo 4 certainly ramps up the competitive aspects of Halo! Called ‘Infinity’ the multiplayer has two main modes: War Games and Spartan Ops. War Games includes all of the classic player vs player modes such as Slayer, Big Team Battle and OddBall but brings in the new weaponry and the ability to use custom loudouts as well. As you rank up in the multiplayer you unlock new weaponry (which can be purchased using Spartan Points and set as a loudout for the start of each game), new support abilities (such as an auto-turret for guarding certain choke points) and tactical packages which can change the flow of the gameplay whether working alone or as a team. Score is based on points as well as kills, with kills counting to the team score and points being on an individual basis, and even if you’re not that great at getting kills you can now get points for Distractions and Assists, so you feel like you’re doing something.
Specialisations are feature as a ‘perk-like’ system which allows multiple paths for progression once the player has reached past lv 50. Each specialisation includes 10 ranks which need to be completed before advancing to the next, and if you bought the Limited Edition of Halo 4 you get all of these unlocked straight away! If not don’t worry, they will be released at a later date so you will still get them. These specialisations unlock a host of goodies including foreground and background emblems, a weapon skin and armour set skin. With plenty of reasons to play, War Games will certainly keep people occupied for hours. Even if you aren’t that good and keep getting hammered by better players, you can hit the ‘x’ button to spawn in faster and get back into the fray before the other team knows what has hit them.
As well as this, Spartan Ops is the separate co-operative 4-player mode which sees players through a story-centred campaign. This is released in episodes, with episode 1 and 2 available now and exp. can be earned here contributing to the player’s multiplayer level. More episodes are released periodically and act as a bite-size story if you’re not a fan of the campaign but got bored of the multiplayer.
It’s great talking about what the game is, but I have to include a part about just how pretty the game looks. It looks absolutely gorgeous, ranging from vibrant plantlife to dark and gritty indoor areas and each area is painstakingly designed with the most detail 343 could put in to it. It’s hard to describe how good the levels look when you’re walking through them, but there are times you have to stop and think ‘someone actually modelled that?’ The cutscenes and movies follow this same trend with incredibly realistic character movements – motion capture at its best here!
When I first put the game on I admit, I sat there for about ten minutes and just listened to the opening music. Fans of the Halo games will understand just how great the soundtracks can be, and Halo 4 is certainly no exception. Every sound is there, from the hail of gunfire to the heavy mechanical footsteps of the Chief, and cutscenes seem to have more depth to them than previously (I think there was a moment that almost had me in tears if I’m honest). If you have a Turtle Beach headset then I highly recommend you put it on for this, simply because it adds an extra level of immersion to the game. Even in multiplayer modes the sounds are fantastic, however if you hope to be shuffling around assassinating people like crazy you might want to rethink your strategy. It actually sounds like you are wearing a heavy clunky suit of armour with every step, meaning people can hear you a mile off!
Halo 4 continues with the similar controls meaning you can hop from one game to the other without much confusion. It contains the main elements a Halo game should have, from running and gunning to switching weapons being faster than reloading. The most exciting aspects have to be the loadouts and the new tech the Spartans get to play with, my favourites being the Promethean Vision and Auto-Sentry. Promethean Vision allows you to see enemies in multiplayer through walls and the floor, so you can lie in wait for them, while the Auto-Sentry provides a stationary sentry turret that will guard wherever you plant it. Don’t worry; it can easily distinguish between friendlies and foes so you don’t have to worry about friendly fire.
Above: Beautiful settings help make the campaign and multiplayer modes even better looking!
Playing the game for the first time on Easy or Normal mode will give you about 8/9 hours of gameplay from start to finish. While that might not seem a lot, once you’ve completed it there is still Legendary to complete (which will cause more than a few hours frustration) and if that still isn’t enough there are both the War Games and Spartan Ops to consider. Even playing it again the story still has the same emotional kick in the gut as the first time you play, and the multiplayer will have you hooked for hours trying to unlock all of the armour, perks and specialisations.
Xbox even have an event running where you can grab a share of 1,000,000,000 Microsoft Points for playing Halo online! Players who spend 35 or more hours playing will get 100 points for free, 300 points for 70 hours and 600 points for 140 hours, and who can get bored of shooting other players in the face with a Binary Rifle?
I really can’t say how good Halo 4 has turned out to be. Perhaps I sound like a fangirl, but play it yourself. It offers not only the emotional attachment that designers have been trying to create for years but also shows the start of the new 3-part Reclaimer series. With an incredibly strong multiplayer it remains true to the Halo franchise while moving it through the story and evolving the Master Chief in ways previously unimagined. The multiplayer is fun and the story shows the chief in a completely new light. Not to mention it’s freaking gorgeous to look at! If you’ve never played a Halo game before this is a pretty good place to start, and for those who are still worried about 343 Industries taking over, don’t worry: I think the Chief is in good hands.
As much as I would want to give this game a perfect 10/10 that might make the guys over at 343 Industries get a bit of a complex! With 2 more games left in this series it’s definitely going to be interesting seeing what they can come up with, and even though there are some bits that really niggle as a player, the game overall is pretty fantastic!