The Sleeper Must Awaken – Halo 4 Review For Xbox 360
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Master Chief returns in the opening chapter of the Reclaimer Trilogy that is Halo 4! 343 Industries officially takes the reigns of the Xbox 360’s flagship franchise with the return of Spartan John-117 with all the glamour and glitz of a motion-picture blockbuster, but is it enough to sate the appetites of the rabid Halo fan?
Halo 4 picks up the story left off by Karin Traviss’ previous novels and marks the beginning of a new trilogy in the Halo canon. Fortunately, for those who haven’t read the Traviss’ novels (as well as the Foreunner Saga by Greg Bear), the story of Halo 4 has been well-written to fill in any gaps that you might otherwise miss. But what really sets this Halo apart from the rest of the series is the exploration of the relationship between Cortana and Master Chief. There’s a lot more dialogue between the two as they discover the mysteries of Requiem that establishes the close bond that the two have formed over their long tour together. Cortana’s impending rampancy serves as the backdrop to the greater story, as she becomes increasingly untangled as the campaign progresses. As the story develops, it shows exactly how far John-117 will go to save her, as well as how much they depend on each other to keep their sense of humanity.
The main story, however, revolves around the awakening of a new protagonist known as the Didact. This ancient Forerunner was imprisoned many millennia ago to keep him from committing genocide against the human race, which hundreds of thousands of years before our time had already evolved to an advanced civilization and was in a protracted war against the Forerunners. Now awakened by activity on Requiem with the landing of the Master Chief, the Covenant, and an advanced UNSC warship, Infinity, he once again sets out on his plans to remove the pestilence of mankind from the face of the universe.
Halo 4‘s story is exceptionally well-written, and for fans of the franchise that worried about what would become of the already established canon, they will be happy to know that it stays intact for the most part. This new trilogy starts off far darker than the previous stories, and gives a sense of a real threat to the human race that was left weakened after the Human-Covenant war. The only portion of the canon that has been retconned is with Master Chief’s armor. Having been completely redesigned for Halo 4, 343 decided to establish in canon that the armor was designed with the newly introduced modeling and features (including a built-in jetpack that was never used in any of the previous games or books) instead of writing in an upgrade as was done with the armor in Halo 2. An interesting note to this, however, is that 343’s writers did have Cortana mention that she had performed a firmware upgrade on the Mjolnir armor that explains the changes in the HUD. This felt quite odd that they would explain changes to a heads-up display, but not the armor, when they could have established some reason (be it Nano-robots in the cryo-tube, or that the armor fairy came by and waved her magic wand) to keep that portion of canon intact.
The story moves at a pretty fast pace as it is obvious that 343 wanted to make sure gamers stayed engaged with a healthy dose of action. Waves of enemies are waiting in just about every nook and cranny of Requiem regardless of the difficulty setting. Halo 4 itself plays much like the previous games did in terms of combat and control schemes, with the exception that the ability to spring at all times has been added to gameplay. Armor abilities make their return, with some new additions such as Promethean Sense, which is similar to the VISR mode that was prominently used in Halo 3: ODST. Other armor abilities include an Auto Sentry ability that gives you a little floating robotic sentry to serve as a distraction against enemies, a Hardlight Shield much like the shield that the Jackals carry on their wrists, and the fan-favorite Jet Pack makes a return as well. Only one armor ability can be equipped at a time, as in Halo: Reach.
Enemy AI seems to have been tweaked in the game, as I noticed that both Covenant and Promethean attackers tend to use hit-and-run tactics far more often than the typical ‘in your face’ style of previous games. Even Grunts (who have in the past tended to either spray-and-pray at you or just run in a dead panic) will have a tendency to retreat, only to try another route to flank you. Oftentimes, because of the new enemy approach, you’ll find yourself quickly getting surrounded and taken down in short order, especially in the later levels. Tactical thinking is definitely a must, especially when you’re in the Hard or Legendary modes. There are, however, occasional faults that crop up in the AI. At times an enemy will wander about aimlessly, or get stuck in a corner and simply not know what to do. But these moments rarely occur, as I only experienced it a handful of times during the campaign.
Much like in Combat Evolved, ammo conservation is key to victory as well. While most enemies drop weapons for you to acquire, you can still find yourself quickly running out of ammo if you don’t keep a level head. Spraying your weapon into a crowd might work in earlier levels, but as the game progresses, you can quickly find yourself stuck with melee attacks being your only option. Prioritizing targets is a necessity to make sure you get the best bang for your buck. For example, taking out those Promethean Watchers first prevents them from being able to shield or repair other attackers, allowing you to save some rounds.
Halo 4 has received a significant overhaul to the weapons roster that changes the dynamics of the game in both single player and multiplayer. Among them, the introduction of a slew of Forerunner weapons and new Covenant weapons that serve essentially the same niches as their Earth world counterparts. Human weapons have received some additions that include a handheld Rail Gun, a Sticky Gun that fires grenades that can be detonated remotely, and my personal favorite: the SAW, which is essentially a high-tech tommy gun with a barrel magazine!
Beyond the fabulous story and gameplay in Halo 4, the visuals are simply astounding! Simply put, Halo 4 shows that the graphical limits of the eight-year-old Xbox 360 still haven’t been reached, and that the aging console still has a lot of ass to kick. The character and texture models have received a significant amount of upgrading, while the game still maintains a silky-smooth frame rate throughout. Even during the intense battles (as frequent as they are) I didn’t get a sense of the system having problems with large numbers of enemies being generated. Adding into the mix are some beautiful and varied environments, from the mechanical hallways of the Foreunner structures, to lush forests, mountain trails, vast sky drops, and more, everything in Halo 4 is just breathtaking. For a dramatic or emotional effect, they even add in some gorgeous lens flares that would make J.J. Abrams cry tears of joy.
The sounds of Halo 4 have received significant attention as well. Every weapon sound was rerecorded or redesigned, giving them a heavier weight and tone to make them feel more real than in previous games. The iconic UNSC jeep , the M12 FAV Warthog, has also received this treatment, sounding more like a big block V8 engine instead of the electronic motor sound of older installments. The Covenant, like in Halo: Reach, don’t speak a word of English as they opt for their native tongues. The grunts, growls, and shrieks of the enemy combatants add to the realism, further immersing you in this massive world that 343 has laid before us.
Jen Taylor and Steve Downes reprise their roles as Cortana/Catherine Halsey and Master Chief, respectively. Jennifer Hale (Fem Shep from Mass Effect) joins the cast as Commander Sarah Palmer, leader of the Spartan-IV contingent on UNSC Infinity, along with Dennis O’Hare as Commander Lasky. Voice acting across the board is top-notch, and is only superseded by the sensational wizardry of composer Neil Davidge (Massive Attack) whose multifarious mix of electronica and orchestral brings a whole new sensation to the Halo collection. His emotionally driven scores are powerful enough to bring feeling to a scene with the most stoic of characters, which is good considering that one of the lead characters is behind a faceless gold mask for the entirety of the game.
Aside from the main campaign, players can also partake in Spartan Ops, either solo or co-operatively. These side missions play into the bigger picture of Halo 4, taking place a few months after the events of the main storyline. Here, you’ll take on the role of a Spartan IV, performing various operations for the UNSC Infinity around the planet Requiem. Spartan Ops is divided into a number of episodes, with each episode containing several chapters that must be completed. At the end of each chapter, you’ll receive experience points that are applied to your character, which carries over into the multiplayer mode, now titled Wargames.
Wargames is the meat and potatoes of the multiplayer experience. It’s here that you’ll jump online with your buddies and rivals to play classic modes such as Slayer, Capture the Flag, and Oddball. New modes include Regicide, a game type where one person is labeled as the king, with a bounty on his head and must be killed. Flood is a Halo version of Zombies vs. Survivors. The zombies (Flood-infected forms) set out to infect the survivors, who in turn attempt to outlast the clock without becoming diseased. Dominion is a domination-type mode where each team attempts to hold a number of bases and have the ability to build cover, turrets, and other defenses.
Halo multiplayer is noticeably faster paced than its predecessors and features a large number of new maps for players to enjoy. The ability to run as a standard feature instead of as an armor ability lends itself to the pace as players are able to move quickly from one end of the field to the other. Multiplayer also features the now widely used kill cams at the end of each death, giving you that little extra tidbit of insult for your injuries.
Overall, 343 Industries has managed successfully to take the Halo franchise into an entirely new direction with drop-dead gorgeous graphics, a compelling story married to solid gameplay that will keep gamers going for hours on end. While I commend the writers for creating one heck of a wild ride, they do break the canon in some respects. Halo 4 is one title fans won’t want to miss out on this holiday season!
Halo 4 receives a 4.5/5.
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