- Fantastic story
- Multiplayer has never been better
- Looks and sounds great
- Same old Halo
- Same old Halo
- Campaign is repetitive in places and too short
That’s right folks, he’s back. No, we don’t mean Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, thankfully that series seems to have finally died after two extremely mediocre instalments basically wrecked the franchise, no, we’re actually talking about Halo’s Master Chief. It’s been five years since we last saw the Chief in action, which was in 2007’s brilliant Halo 3, but now, half a decade later, he’s made his triumphant return in Halo 4. Halo 4 is 343 Industries’ first attempt at a full-fledged Halo title, after taking the reins for the franchise from Bungie earlier in the year – so how have they fared? Have they managed to live up to the ridiculously high standards set by their predecessors? Although we do have some issues with the campaign, the answer to that question overall is a wholehearted ‘hell yes’.
Although at the time it wasn’t intended to be carried on, the ending of Halo 3, as you’ll remember, was a cliffhanger. It saw the Master Chief and Cortana stuck on the Forward Unto Dawn out in deep space with no way to get back home after saving the universe for the umpteenth time, leaving no option but for the Chief to go into stasis and have a kip until someone finds them. Halo 4 picks the story up four years later and sees the Forward Unto Dawn heading on a collision course with a nearby planet, meaning the green-armoured superhuman has to get up and leg it to an escape pod. We won’t spoil what happens after that, but let’s just say that Halo 4’s storyline is absolutely fan-blooming-tastic from start to finish. The personalities of the Chief himself and Cortana are explored much further in the new game than ever before, making for a more emotional and involving plot.
Gameplay-wise Halo 4’s campaign is very much a return to the series’ roots. Everything from level design to mission objectives have clearly been inspired by Combat Evolved more than any other game in the decade-old franchise, which is both a good and a bad thing. Good in that the game is classic, old school, simple Halo, but bad in that it’s generally unoriginal and can be extremely repetitive at times. For instance, far too many of the missions feature entire sections that involve running around a large open area disabling shield generators or something similar. It’s also the shortest Halo campaign yet, with just eight missions (as opposed to ten) that collectively clock in at around the 6 and a half to seven hour mark when playing through the game at a standard pace.
That’s not to say that the campaign is rubbish however. On the contrary, the game is still highly enjoyable even during some of the somewhat repetitive segments, and every dull moment in the game is usually quickly followed up by one of those classic, memorable Halo moments that we’ve all come to expect from the series, with the first sequence in the epic final mission being a stand-out example. The brand new Metal Gear Rex-like bipedal mech, the Mantis, is also a great addition and although it sadly doesn’t feature very often, the sections in which it does are some of the best in the game. As well as a new vehicle there’s also a ton of new weapons in Halo 4, including an all-new range of Forerunner weapons (which are utilised by the game’s mysterious new enemy faction – the Prometheans) that are ridiculously fun to use (especially the absolute beast of a gun known as the Incineration Cannon) and spice up proceedings a little.
The soundtrack, which has been composed by Neil Davidge rather than Marty O’Donnell for the first time in the main Halo series, also complements the game extremely well and we reckon it’s actually the best score in the entire franchise. We know that’s a pretty bold statement to make given the sheer quality of previous instalment’s soundtracks, but Halo 4’s really is incredible. Every track, from the spine-tingling song that plays in the main menu to the more ambient tunes featured throughout the game, is positively stunning and fits perfectly in most, if not all, instances. Give yourself a pat on the back Neil, well done.
Of course, just like with other shooter franchises such as Call of Duty and Battlefield, the main star of the show here is the multiplayer aspect of the game (which is called War Games in Halo 4). Bungie have been making fantastic multiplayer Halo for the past decade, so it must have been quite the daunting task for 343 to take the tried and tested formula and stamp their own mark onto it. The good news? 343 have created the best multiplayer Halo experience to-date, bar none. We feel almost blasphemous saying that, what with how brilliant the multiplayer was in, well, all of Bungie’s Halo titles, but 343 have taken the core foundations laid by Bungie and added to it significantly to create the deepest, most rewarding and by far the most fun Halo multiplayer yet. The bad news? There really isn’t any. It all still feels like classic Halo both in controls and in gameplay, but there’s just so much more to it now.
One area that has always been very much lacking in Halo multiplayer is customisation. Halo 3 was the first game to introduce any kind of customisation whatsoever to Halo multiplayer, allowing you to change your Spartan’s armour including the helmet, shoulder and chest pieces, but there was only a handful of options for each part. Halo Reach expanded on this by introducing significantly more armour pieces but, again, customisation was still very barebones. In Halo 4 however, you can now not only change how your Spartan looks aesthetically, but you can also pretty much customise every aspect of your multiplayer game and tailor it to suit your personal playstyle.
How so we hear you cry? Well first up loadouts have been introduced to Halo for the very first time in 4, allowing you to start every match with a duo of weapons that you are comfortable with, whether that’s your bog standard Assault Rifle and Magnum or a Battle Rifle and Plasma Pistol. Personally I’ve never really been that great with an Assault Rifle in multiplayer, so being able to start with a DMR each game without having to track one down on the map only to lose it again after being killed is a hugely welcome addition, and we’re sure others will feel the same once they’ve got over the initial shock of things being so different in Halo 4.
Other additions include Call of Duty-like perks that increase the effectiveness of a certain aspect of gameplay (for instance one booster allows you to start with more grenades, another grants unlimited Sprint, another increases the range of your radar, etc, etc) and Ordnance (Halo’s answer to CoD’s Killstreaks), which grants you a power weapon or armour modifier when you are doing well in a match. A late join system has also finally been implemented, so if a teammate rage quits after you steal his kill, you won’t be put at a disadvantage numerically as another player will soon join the game to take his place.
Another huge change in the multiplayer is in how the scoring system works. No longer does one kill equal one point, the amount of points rewarded for taking down a Spartan now depends on how exactly that kill was achieved. For instance your standard, generic kills are worth 10 points, whereas headshots are worth 15 points. Assists are even rewarded now too and added to the total score (which is now 600 rather than 50 in a standard Team Slayer game and 1000 in a Big Team Slayer game), netting you and your team 5 points for each one you get. This system is absolutely genius and we reckon other shooters should start using a similar method because it rewards skill rather than dumb luck. So for instance, the team that favours running in with an Assault Rifle to weaken an enemy’s shield and follows it up with a fist to the face for cheap kills will lose every time to a team that’s using DMR’s and going for tricky, skilful headshots. Bravo 343, bravo.
And finally, we come to the third of the three main game modes in Halo 4 – Spartan Ops. Spartan Ops is a brand new mode to the Halo franchise that sees you and up to three others take on various tasks in locations that appear in the campaign (at least that’s the case in episode one), whether that be to clear an area of enemies or locate an ancient artefact. Each mission (or ‘chapter’ as they are known as in-game) generally only takes between 10-20 minutes to complete, but length is nothing to worry about as 343 has promised that a brand new mission will be released on a weekly basis. There are five chapters in each episode, with each episode having its own mini overarching plot. There’s a full CGI cutscene at the beginning of each to set up the scene, and there’s full voice acting throughout all of the missions. Overall it’s a really nice mode and is by far one of the best additions that 343 has brought to the table with Halo 4. Spartan Ops can be played solo, but make sure you grab a few mates when playing this mode as it’s much more fun that way.
Visually Halo 4 looks fantastic in both single-player and multiplayer and is a definite step up over 2010’s Halo Reach, particularly in the lighting department, though it doesn’t represent a massive graphical leap over Bungie’s last effort if we’re honest. You have got to remember though that the Xbox 360 is a good seven years old now so it’s basically reached the point where devs are struggling to make new titles look much better than past instalments, but you have got to hand it to 343, they’ve clearly managed to squeeze every last drop of processing power out of the 360 to make Halo 4 look absolutely delicious and like it belongs in 2012. Character models, environments (a number of the level backdrops in particular are stunning) and textures all look great and everything is crisper and more colourful than in past Halo titles. And as for the CGI cutscenes – wow. Initially we first thought that they were live action due to how lifelike the game’s characters look in them, but they’re not. Truly jaw-dropping stuff.
So at the end of the day then, Halo 4 has managed to live up to the stupidly high expectations that we had for it. It’s just a shame that the campaign is a bit short and unoriginal gameplay-wise because, with an extra mission or two and a little more variety, it could have gone on to exceed those expectations. That’s not to say it’s a bad campaign, far from it, it just isn’t mind-blowing. On the flipside however the game’s plot is great – by far the deepest and most emotionally-involving of any Halo game to-date – and the brilliant multiplayer and Spartan Ops modes, along with an improved Forge map editor, make Halo 4 a fantastic overall package that’s well worth the entry fee. Even though it isn’t quite the metaphorical flawless diamond, it’s a diamond that’s in pretty damn good shape with just a couple of scratches here and there and definitely deserves to take a spot in your games collection. Honestly? You’d be absolutely bonkers not to pick up Halo 4.