Early promotions for Halo 3 teased that the world was going to end. Well, it didn’t. After a brief hiatus, another set of Spartans with Halo: Reach, and a changing of the developmental guard, Master Chief and Cortana make their much anticipated return in Halo 4.
But is it worthwhile? The game is clearly going to make a few bucks for Microsoft, but does it prove to be worth the development, the effort and the marketing? As it turns out, new developer 343 Industries easily takes the reins and does something great with the franchise.
What Is It About?
Halo 4 picks up four years after the events of Halo 3, with Master Chief and Cortana still adrift aboard the UNSC frigate Forward Unto Dawn. A disturbance causes Cortana to wake Chief from his cryo-sleep, as the wreckage of Forward Unto Dawn approaches the Forerunner planet of Requiem and a split faction of the Covenant (known as Storm Covenant) board the ship's remnants.
Forward Unto Dawn crashes into the planet, and distress signals give notice that the glory-ship of the UNSC, the Infinity, is on its way as well. While trying to avoid Infinity crashing into the same situation, Master Chief falls into a trap that releases the Didact, a powerful Forerunner bent on turning humans into Forerunners (Forerunners being the ones who built the Halo rings). That assault starts with the Infinity and is guided towards Earth.
Throughout, Chief is dealing with a changed UNSC. Their priorities are different, spending much of its time on research to maintain humanity’s stance as the dominate species. Spartans are still a part of the military, but viewed simply as a project rather than an integral part of the structure. Chief is treated accordingly, also being viewed as somewhat of a relic by newer commanding officers. But the biggest issue he’ll be dealing with is the rampancy of Cortana.
AIs are meant to last 7 years; Cortana is pushing 8 and her wear is starting to take its toll. While fighting to save Earth, Master Chief must also find out how to save the one constant in his fights.
Why Should I Care?
Halo 4 bundles together a surprisingly solid story with predictably addicting multiplayer. The originally trilogy had ended well enough, but there were major hints to show that Master Chief’s story wasn’t necessarily over. Instead of beating a dead horse, 343 Industries was able to develop something worth revisiting.
It’s a story that focuses most of its attention on Master Chief and Cortana's relationship rather than on what’s at stake. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. A minimalist approach with character introduction allows their dialogue and situations really shine. There isn't a major personality like Sgt. Johnson to steal the spotlight (though it’s clear Commander Sarah Palmer is his female equivalent). The knock on this approach will have to be that it somewhat lightens the stakes. Impending doom won’t be as prevalent, but the story has enough strengths to overcome that.
Halo 4’s greatest story strength is that it doesn't push things too much. Cortana’s issues with rampancy are handled well and Jen Taylor does some fantastic voice-over work here. Her relationship with Master Chief reaches new levels without becoming insufferable or doing anything incredibly weird.
The pacing is near flawless. It’s tight and doesn't leave much for wandering. It moves at a fast, but not overwhelming, speed and slows down when necessary.
Halo 4’s newer villains, the Prometheans, are a serviceable bunch. They’re cyberkinectic, which creates some interesting story elements, but makes them far less personable than the Covenant. It's more fun to make a Grunt lose his mind than deal with Crawlers. What they lack in personality, though, is more than made up by their relentless efforts to kill Master Chief. To a degree, they’re tougher than the Covenant.
But of course, what is Halo without its multiplayer? Halo 4's has been renamed Infinity and is broken into War Games and Spartan Ops. Both play into the Spartan IV project and uses Infinity as base for the operations. War Games include your usual gametypes- Slayer variants, Capture the Flag, Oddball, etc. Forge makes its return for those who need their their customization fix. XP is gained throughout any mode but handled slightly differently. You’re still earning XP in traditional ways to rank up, but upon hitting 50, you’ll branch into a specialization. It will also grant you in-game currency in the form of Spartan Points to unlock new armor permutations and weapons.
What works so well is the balance of the multiplayer. While there is still a fair amount of running and gunning involved, players will still have the ability to tinker with loadouts and find what works best for themselves. Assault Rifle loadouts can work for some; I found a solid balance with a loadout featuring the Storm Rifle (Halo 4’s successor to the Plasma Rifle). Unless you’re going against an incredibly more well-versed player, you won’t necessarily be at a disadvantage with the weapons you’re using. Additionally, the gameplay feels slightly better than what was offered in Halo: Reach.
Gone is Firefight and in its place is Spartan Ops and it's a fair trade. Spartans Ops provides episodic, free of charge content for single-player or co-op play to play as a Spartan IV from Infinity’s Crimson Squad. Each episode will have five chapters, each of which will last about 15-20 minutes, providing a good amount of gameplay. It works like a Halo 3: ODST extension and makes the game that much more worthwhile- so long as it remains free.
Halo 4's technical work can't be overlooked. .The game is one of the best looking available in this generation. It's sound, though, overshadows the graphics. The ammunition, warnings, explosions and so on are immersible. The soundtrack is additionally a perfect compliment to the action.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Halo 4 will definitely be among the top games of the year and one of the best installments of Halo franchise. It’s a cinematic experience that handles the relationship between its protagonist and his AI incredibly well, continuing to provide a reason to care about the two. The story avoids some dangerous traps it could have fallen into (see: Mass Effect 3, but not the ending) and is a great start to 343's new trilogy.
Multiplayer is as engaging as Halo can typically be. The revisions put its offerings up to 2012 standards and it’s fair to say it’s a better experience than Reach. More purist types may take issue with the Call of Duty-style additions, in terms of loadout customization and rankings. But it’s a way games should be heading and feels more like the best of both worlds with Halo 4. I like the direction they’ll be heading with Spartan Ops. It’ll be providing fresh content worthy of your time (It’s proven to be thus far).
The bundle of a game you receive is a simply great addition to a game library and a solid effort from 343 Studios. It’s more than worth your time and money.