“Halo 4” is like a love letter to the Halo franchise. Almost all of the memorable parts of every mission throughout the single-player campaign brought back fond memories of previous Halo titles. The best parts of the multiplayer portion of the game are throwbacks to fan favorites from previous Halo titles. This is the Halo game that fans wanted. This is the Halo that gives players the experience they’ve always loved. It’s the closest we can come to playing “Halo: Combat Evolved” for the first time again, but with the awesome pre-rendered cutscenes from “Halo Wars,” the impressive multiplayer from “Halo 3,” the strong, strong personal story from “Halo 3: ODST” and the (good) armor abilities from “Halo: Reach,” and it’s a damned good time.
The direct continuation of the story of Master Chief, now often referred to as John, and Cortana floating aboard the disabled aft section of the frigate Forward Unto Dawn picks up roughly four and a half years after players left the two floating through space toward a mysterious alien planet now know as Requiem.
The story this time around focuses much more on the emotional strife that Cortana and Master Chief undergo throughout their adventures, and attempts to humanize the typically silent super soldier most players have come to recognize as a sort of surrogate for their own experiences within the game world through the degradation and impending insanity of the artificial intelligence that has been at his side through the past three games.
This filling of the shell that was Master Chief by 343 Industries, the group now in charge of all things “Halo” from here on out, while more fully developing his character and his interactions with other characters within his universe, also takes away the ability for players to insert their own feelings and emotions into their vessel throughout the events of the game.
That’s not to say that Master Chief is constantly voicing his emotions and opinions to Cortana, he is still a very silent protagonist, but he does ask more questions and often offers his companion some emotional support during her more violent episodes of what is referred to as AI rampancy – essentially a being like Cortana reaches the age of seven and thinks itself to death.
All this tugging of heartstrings does quite a good job of making players feel sadness for the Chief, who is losing the closest thing to a friend he’s had for the duration of “Halos” one through four.
Aside from the shift in storytelling, gameplay is true to the franchise’s tradition of solid, balanced first-person shooter mechanics.
Fan favorite weapons like the battle rifle, designated marksman rifle (DMR) and beam rifle return alongside the light rifle, suppressor and boltshot, which belong to a new class of weapons used by the first new enemy class in the “Halo” franchise, the Prometheans.
|The Promethean Knight is the toughest of Chief’s new foes.|
This new enemy class includes flying Watchers, Crawlers that attack in packs and the very tough Promethean Knights, which are slightly tougher than the franchise’s old standby Elites.
Watchers will actively seek out and protect and even resurrect Knights from the dead, while crawlers will group up and overwhelm players.
This teamwork from the Prometheans forces players to adapt new strategies during firefights that serve to spice up the typical formula from past games in the franchise.
“Halo” multiplayer has always been what keeps fans playing for years after release, and “Halo 4” is likely to hold onto players well into the next few years.
A major new feature to multiplayer is the ability for players to create loadouts similar to the custom classes in recent “Call of Duty” games. These loadouts allow players to choose starting weapons, grenades, an armor ability and tactical package like unlimited sprinting or extra grenades.
Competitive modes like capture the flag, oddball, king of the hill and standard slayer return as well as an updated version of the fan-made zombie gametype, now called Flood mode, in which two players infected with the Flood from previous games seek and and infect players. There is also a new capture-and-defend mode called Dominion, in which players take control of bases and build shields and turrets to defend the positions for as long as possible.
Flood mode is not without faults. Team confusion and players finding ways to hide inside walls plague the game mode, making it near impossible to play at times. These kinds of things are fixable via post-release patches, but for the time being entering a game in Flood mode is hit or miss.
Dominion is the most impressive new mode in my opinion. It is very similar to king of the hill, in which teams capture and hold bases on a map for as long as possible, but with the added ability to fortify each base. Over time, players controlling a base can build one or two defense turrets and spawn in vehicles to use in battle.
|Flag carriers are now armed with a magnum for self defense.|
In addition to new modes, one new vehicle appears in the game: the Mantis. It is essentially a bipedal tank with a machine gun on one arm and a missile launcher on the other.
Multiplayer is scored differently this time around. Rather than winning based on total number of kills per team, players get points for performing various actions during matches.
Assisting other players get kills nets you points, which encourages teamwork more than in any other installment in the series.
The point system can frustrate in slayer matches occasionally because there are instances where the player on the winning team with the most kills doesn’t come out on top because another player with less kills made provided assists and netted more points overall.
Certain game modes like slayer and SWAT allow for instant respawn, which is another first for the franchise. Instead of waiting the normal 5 to 10 seconds to respawn between deaths, players can press the X button to instantly re-enter the battle, which serves to speed up the action and the match overall. This ability unfortunately encourages some players to rush into potentially dangerous situations without proper planning, sometimes resulting in defeat of the entire team.
The instant respawn ability is only present in these few gametypes, however. So you don’t have to worry about it in capture the flag or dominion gametypes.
While players still have the opportunity to play through the main campaign cooperatively in “Halo 4,” the developers have included a weekly episodic cooperative campaign called Spartan Ops with every copy of the game so that players can get fresh content for at least ten weeks after launch.
Each episode contains a short movie telling the story of the Spartan IV soldiers aboard the human ship Infinity roughly three months after the events of the single-player campaign as well as five missions that are ideally played with a group, but are possible to play alone.
I found that playing the missions over Xbox Live is very laggy most of the time, and most players don’t use microphones to communicate during missions, so I may as well have been playing alone.
Players take control of Spartan team Crimson essentially running errands for Spartan Commander Palmer, who pipes up periodically throughout missions to make fun of the scientists aboard Infinity and tell you so kill all hostiles in the area.
|Spartan Ops offers weekly missions for players and their friends.|
Every missions eventually breaks down to that simple objective: kill all the bad guys.
So far two episodes of the Spartan Ops missions have been released, and episode two’s missions are the exactly the same levels as episode one’s except they are played in reverse. I don’t know is this is going to be a common trend throughout the episodic content, but I find it to be very disappointing.
If I want to play the same levels over and over again, I would. Don’t try and tell me I’m getting “new” content each week and just flip over the content I already have.
The short movies included with each episode are entertaining, and the animation is stellar. Not much has been done yet in terms of character or story development, but there are still several weeks left of content, so I will reserve judgment of it until season one is finished.