The Halo series is among the most beloved of our generation's gaming franchises, and given its success, it was only natural that after Bungie relinquished the intellectual property that Microsoft would continue the series on its own. This led to the birth of 343 Industries, but can this newest iteration in the successful series capture the same magic that once captivated gamers?
Writing and Story:
I have always felt that Halo's story and presentation have lacked the immersion that other first person shooters have to offer, but I was pleasantly surprised that Halo 4's storytelling techniques were the strongest I've seen in the series. After being adrift for four years, Cortana wakes Master Chief from Cryo Sleep before the Covenant attacks the ship. The ship drifts near the Forerunner planet Requiem, which sucks the ship into a ravity Well and crash land on the planet. As the two try and escape the planet they become tangled in a plot by the Didact (last of the Forerunners) who wants to destroy humanity for the preservation of all life and Cortana struggles with Rampacy, a condition that causes the psychological breakdown of an AI. In a way, this is Cortana's story and her relationship with Master Chief lends a lot of emotion and character development to an otherwise one dimensional character.
Sadly though, the overarching plot doesn't carry with it the same level of desperation and epic scale warfare the previous games had going for them. The Didact has a fair amount of dialogue but is never developed as a character nor makes much of an appearance until the later stages of the game. The biggest disappointment would have to be the final boss fight which is really just an out of place quicktime event.
Halo 4's gameplay is simply a more refined version of the successful Halo formula, so the mechanics in particular aren't anything special but where Halo 4 excels is in level design. The levels (as well as their architecture) are simply more refined than levels in the previous series not only thanks to graphical improvements but also because the levels are distinctive in appearance. Instead of listing the mechanics of the game, I will list what has changed in both single player and multiplayer:
The Didact's minions, called the Prometheans are powerful new enemies that are unique to this iteration of the series. The game's difficulty has been scaled up since previous games. Heroic is still recommended but the game is much more difficult The game's interface now includes Master Chief's visor instead of a simple HUD, which adds a little more immersion to the game. Weapons have been changed for the most part to coincide wit hthe rebalanced multiplayer – the assault rifle is much more powerful and longer range tha previous versions, and new Promethean weapons are more powerful (but possess a drawback) or versions or reskinned versions of existing weapons. The most notable of these is the Promethean Pistol which has a powerful short range charge shot. The biggest change is in the multiplayer. Some fans will be upset that the ability to create your own classes and unlock new weapons by earning experience points through kills and assists, but fortunately these weapons are balanced enough to make no one class loadout appear overpowered, even the assault rifle is useful against a player using a battle rifle, which was a one-sided fight in previous games. There are also Killstreak equivalents which are called Ordnance, but fortunately these aren't anywhere near as overpowered or game-changing as their call of duty counterparts.
• Multiplayer is much friendlier to newer players by highlighting weapons on the map when the player walks ear them. The only weapons that spawn on the map are those that aren't included in the usual class loadout such as sniper rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers, and other heavy weapons.
• A new vehicle, an armoured walker called the Mantis, is available in Multiplayer.
Halo 4 has a distinctive art direction compared to its predecessors. The Covenant species have received a significant visual upgrade which greatly improves their original design, and while I felt the Prometheans were a little out of place at first for a Halo game, the graphical overhaul and more realistic aesthetic accommodates for them well. The architecture has also been improved from the original, adding much more character to the ruins of the Forerunners. Sound has also received a significant upgrade. Weapons feel and sound like they have more weight and the soundtrack is beautifully orchestrated. The issue I have with the sound though is that there is no way to adjust the levels of the sound effects compared to the music, and it's difficult to hear when the gunfire is so loud. Guns have also been given a more realistic design, especially the covenant weapons which no longer look like toy guns.
Halo 4 is a solid game with a brilliant multiplayer and a polished single player campaign. 343 Studios had a lot of expectations to meet for producing Halo 4 and while it may not have the same epic scale as previous games, it still manages to remain an entertaining ride from start to finish. I give it a strong recommendation for fans of the genre and for first person shooter fans in general. If you own an Xbox 360, it's pretty much a must-buy game.