When Microsoft let Bungie become an independent studio again there was the question of what would become of their signature game, Halo. Microsoft retained the rights Halo, then started an new internal studio, 343 Industrie,s to maintain the servers and legacy of the game. Eventually Microsoft announced that 343 Industries would continue the series, making a new trilogy. Halo 4 is the start of that new trilogy. How does it measure up to Bungie’s masterpiece? Grab your rifle; it’s time to save the universe again.
Halo 4 catches up with Master Chief and Cortana four years after the events of Halo 3. They are still lost in space aboard the remains of the spaceship, “Forward Unto Dawn.” Cortana picks up that Covenant forces are attempting to board and wakes Master Chief from cryogenic sleep. As the forces board, Cortana and Master Chief learn too late that the ship is caught in the gravity well of a Forerunner planet, Requiem. Before they know it the ship has crash landed inside the planet.
As they start to explore the planet Cortana starts to malfunction. She reveals to Master Chief that ship A.I.’s life span is usually six to seven years; she is eight years old. Because of her age she is becoming “rampant,” a state where an A.I. literally “thinks” it’s self to death. Master Chief swears that he will get Cortana back to earth to save her.
As they explore deeper they start to pick up scrambled transmissions from an earth spaceship, the Infinity. In an effort to warn Infinity of the gravity well Cortana helps guide Master Chief to the things she thinks are jamming the signal. It is only after they disable the last “jammer” that they learn that the “jammers” were actually controls that kept the Didact, a Forerunner Commander, imprisoned.
With his release the Didact vows to continue the process of turning humans into Prometheans to battle the Flood. Realizing he must be stopped, Master Chief and Cortana chase after him.
In addtion to the main storyline, there is a second separate story in Halo 4 that players can experience, Spartan Ops. This second storyline takes place just months after Master Chief’s story. Crimson Squad, a team of Spartan-IV’s, are deployed to Requiem to recover a mysterious artifact.
Controls and Gameplay
Players that are familiar with the Halo series will feel right at home. Halo 4 doesn’t stray too far from its first person shooter gameplay or controls. What is new are certain armor abilities, like Sentinel which allows a player to deploy a stationary Sentinel that will fire on any enemy in range, and new enemies, the Prometheans. Halo 4 also reintroduces a faction of Covenant as foes; this gives players a mix of new and old to battle.
Both storylines in Halo 4 can be played solo or co-operatively, additionally there is player versus player game types in War Games. In War Games and Spartan Ops players can gain experience points (XP) and Spartan Points (SP). XP advances players in rank and unlocks the availability of weapons, armor and loadouts for use in War Games. SP lets players buy the items they unlock.
Graphics and Sound
As fitting for a triple-A game like Halo 4, the graphics are as realistic and clean as can be on the Xbox 360. 343 Industries pulled out all the stops to make Halo 4 look as best as possible. I came across no problems in any of the game modes; each receiving the same amount of attention to detail.
The sound department also continues the high standards of quality. The music has a familiar sound, but is different from the rest of the series. Neil Davidge, best known for his work with the group Massive Attack, composed Halo 4’s soundtrack.
Sotaro Tojima, known for his work on titles from Konami, was brought in to handle the audio director duties. Many of the sound effects his team gathered for Halo 4 involved recording in some strange places, such as underwater and in fire and ice. They even created home-made explosives to give a more realistic sound.
Steve Downs and Jen Taylor continue their roles as Master Chief and Cortana. A few interesting cameo voices are provided by Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter; while in Spartan Ops characters from the machinima series Red vs. Blue make appearances.
With Bungie finally moving on, it was only a matter of time before Microsoft would roll out a new Halo series. Halo 4 marks the start of that new series. Given the popularity of the series, when Microsoft created the internal studio, 343 Industries, they hired as many Bungie employees as they could to preserve the quality and feel of the series. This paid off well for Microsoft.
While I liked the Halo series it was Halo O.D.S.T. and Halo Reach, two spin-off games, which really pulled me into it. Halo 4’s new story is easy to step into for those not familiar with the series; the player is given enough background information to keep it moving forward. The ending of the main story in Halo 4 was a bit of a surprise. It did not leave players in the typical cliff-hanger Halo had become known for, but did leave the door open for the series to continue.
Although I am still working through it, the secondary story in Spartan Ops doesn’t quite have the same draw. So far the player’s character is part of a group and written generically, no detail or history being drawn out. Spartan Ops is also written episodically, giving 343 the ability to continue to expand on it as they wish, so the narrative may focus a bit more as time progresses.
In multiplayer the biggest improvement is the return of sprinting as a normal ability. No longer a special armor ability, it is back to being standard ability that anyone can perform as needed. I like the XP and SP advancement unlocks and purchase system. This essentially forces players to learn to play with the basics before giving them the more powerful weapons and specialized armor abilities. In my personal experience I couldn’t wait to unlock the Sentinel. I felt that the extra fire power would be very handy on the battlefield. By the time I did unlock it though I had learned things are a little more fluid that I expected. The Sentinel is handy for defense, but since it’s stationary, not so great for maps and game types that call for players to be constantly moving.
Halo 4 is a small step. It doesn’t quite feel as epic as Halo 3 or Halo Reach, but again it is the start of what is supposed to be the beginning of a new chapter in the ongoing saga. I like the improvements to multiplayer and the introduction of a new enemy intrigues me. I'd like to see where they go with it. I really feel that the Halo series is in good hands for now. With a good main story and solid multiplayer, with only a slight drawback in the generic second story, I give Halo 4 a 4.75 out of 5.
Halo 4 is rated M for Mature for Blood and Violence by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB).
For more information see the Halo Waypoint web site.