Lost in space, four years after the events of Halo 3, the Master chief is awaken once again. His cerebral companion, Cortana, has gone rampant, leading to a unstable schizophrenia. Desperate to save his longtime companion, Chief needs to find his way off a mysterious artificial planet and across millions of light years to United Nations Space Command controlled systems. Breaking their truce, the Covenant are back, and now have some backup, siding with the newly discovered Prometheans, residents of the the synthetic world. Without giving too much away, know Halo 4 has a more interesting story than some of the later installments, bringing back a sense of mystery that’s been lost to the series for some time. Halo 4 does have a shorter campaign than others in the series, but its not too short. Instead of spending extensive hours tying narrative ends, Halo 4’s intention is to be a beginning, so don’t expect all your queries to be resolved.
After the third installment, the visuals of Halo had lost some fidelity, which prompted a revision in 2010’s Halo: Reach. And since Reach was a prequel and returning to the beginnings of the series, Bungie, the creators of the franchise, didn’t stretch any of Halo’s boundaries. That’s Halo 4’s job, opening with a recapitulating cinematic that’s questionably realistic, then immediately leaving the familiarity of UNSC or Covenant visuals with Reqiuem, an entire planet based on the Halo Ring’s design. Locations are still important to the series, and instead of resting on familiar locales, 343i brings a globe’s worth of new material. Expansive valleys onlooking Forerunner bases, covenant battlements fortifying forerunner structures hidden in forest enclaves, miasmic jungles, space stations from all three nations, barren crevices in the hollow crust of Reqieum, a Death Star trench run(Yes, please). The sprawling distances and beautiful vistas alone proves Halo is still one of the greatest looking games on the 360.
As soon as you take your first reuniting steps in spartan shoes, you feel like Master Chief, as your viewpoint is from within the Chief’s eyes, with his helmet’s edges barely cutting into sight. Cortana, the first thing you actually see, hasn’t been given chance to bask in the high defined limelight and now that she has, is easy to see why Chief is committed to keeping her around, literally stuck in his head. The covenant have been redesigned again to unify the varying species. To illustrate the similarities between the different breeds and ranks, developer 343 Industries have exposed the spacefaring reptiles underneath the metallic armor. Grunts and jackals now look like they’ve diverged from the same solar system, even the same planet. The elites now show better diversity throughout the traditional hierarchy, lower ranks have less armor, lacking the extremity protection of their superiors, where higher officials have elegant headdresses showing their skill. As with most things in the franchise, the new Prometheans are based off the mysterious Forerunner technology, and have a similar color palette, sharing shades of metallics and silvers with highlights of glowing lava-esque plasma.
Relatives of the security sentinels of the previous games, the Prometheans are the advanced sentient AI guardians of Reqiuem, the artificial planet Master Chief crashes on. With similar battle patterns to enemies of previous games, nothing is strategically different between them and the Covenant, but the Prometheans are some of the most ruthless enemies of the series. With the ability to revive, support, and spawn reinforcements on the fly, a scouting party of Prometheans soon can lead to a full battalion if left unchecked.
In league with the development’s theme of context, online gameplay is now given a story. Instead of random coups of dueling Spartans, multiplayer matches now take place on the UNSC Infinity, a space carrier dedicated to the training of recruits. When selecting multiplayer in the menu your greeted by a hologram of the ship, displaying the different sections that dedicated to different modes: War games, the new title for multiplayer, is at the bottom of the ship. The cooperative narrative, Spartan Ops, is in the nose. And forge and theater are left to the back of the ship.
343i has brought a continuous segment of cooperative missions that extends the experience beyond the campaign and tried and true multiplayer, while supplementing the story by expanding the lore within the game rather than leaving it to another medium. 343i plans to add episodes, each grouped into 5 playable chapters, every week, the first ‘season’ compiling 5 weeks. So far I’ve played the first three episode, and its more familiar than I expected. Spartan Ops is the inheritance from Firefight, and more or less it boils down to the same song and dance. 343 does provide more context that expands Spartan ops beyond the cooperative score attack mode it used to be, but its still a light experience. The majority of the episodes’ stories are presented in video segments chronicling the tales of fireteam Crimson as they supplement the UNSC forces across Requiem six months after Chief’s adventures. These videos are what your waiting for each week, as they’re the only thing separating it from its predecessor. Besides the single high-quality cutscene each episode, the only context given is through the radio communications. They do a good job at establishing each battle’s effect on the overall war, but its not difficult seeing how transparent it really is.
Halo 4’s multiplayer is the still same frantic beast it’s been since 2004, though its again been refined upon 2010’s Halo: Reach. To better tackle its recent rivals, like the many evolutions of the Call of Duty Series and its clones, Halo 4’s Multiplayer has had a bit of a face lift. Kill cams, loadouts and the prestige-like specialization, are the most obvious adoptions for the CoD crowd. Daily, weekly, and monthly challenges continue to incentivize returning players, and tracking systems called ‘commendations’ return from Reach and record just about everything possible in the campaign, spartan ops, as well as multiplayer. Propping up the eight-year-old online combat, 343i incorporated a currency called ‘Spartan Points’ that are used to purchase the equipment comprising each loadout. Rifles, pistols, grenades and, of course, the abilities that return from Reach are all purchasable along with the armor pieces that have become the staple of rising the ranks. It should be noted, sprint is now a default button, no need to waste abilities.
Aside from the traditional games such as team deathmatch, capture the flag(as well as its sister-game, oddball), king of the hill, and along with Halo’s set of regularly updating variant matches, multiplayer has its new additions to please those looking for a change from the norm. Domination could be defined as territories’ return from Halo 2. Teams are required to grab and hold bases to gain points. Flood is variation of Infection, the fan-inspired zombie mode. All but a few player are humans surviving against the growing horde of players transformed into Flood, the series take on zombies. Regicide is a mix between free-for-all and the all-against-one juggernaut modes, and is a decent substitute for either variant. The lead player is deemed ‘king’ and placed a bounty on his head, and as he maintains his lead, he’s given supplements to retain his reign. The longer the king dominates, the higher the bounty placed upon him, and when killed, the bounty is relinquished. These bounties catapult players up and down the scoreboard with their high score rewards, creating a manic scramble to secure or topple the lead.
The alternating rhythms of the tried and true classics and remixed matches compliment each other well. The new remixes and grab bag of random variants keep you in enthralled, Domination is infuriatingly tense and stressful, legitimizing the battlefield a little more than a glorified game of paintball. Flood is scary, and addicting. I don’t quite understand how to win besides mere surviving, but it doesn’t ruin the fun. Regicide is nice replacement for free-for-all, I was never a fan of the overpowered juggernaut mode, but the changes to those aspects are well invited. And if anything new brings you down, return for to familiarity of the classics, whom’s heritage speaks for itself.
Halo 4 is great addition to the series that does more than stir up the Covenant for another fight. It pushes beyond what the franchise has establish before, stretching to the farthest unanswered regions. Fitting with series pedigree, Halo is worth your time, as it likely always has been. And if you haven’t tried the series yet, what’s wrong with you?