Halo 4 is the first title in the series since Bungie departed from the franchise, the initial announcement of the separation left many with a worrisome outlook on the next installment of the series. 343 Industries took on the challenge and created something that any developer would be proud of, all while adding new gameplay elements to an already terrific brand.
Halo 4 is filled with tiny moments of character triumphs. The return of Master Chief in the beginning reflects the ‘awakening’ of the franchise as he is brought out of cryogenic refrigeration. Other characters like Cortana, are revealed early in the game, reminding me of why I enjoyed the series so much in the past. Her story takes a prominent role and it would impossible to discuss the wonderful story arch without spoiling some of it for you. I felt that time seemed to have taken its toll on the duo when I saw them on screen again for the first time. Each having been through so much in the past and the beginning sequences unveiled a new threat that they must once again face head-on.
Impending danger meets you at the beginning of the title. Halo 4 spares little time reminiscing about the past and instead hurls you into the action almost straight away. The opening sequences sets a terrific tone for the game, this will be a game about action and suspense. Halo 4 felt almost like a survival game at first when I started out, racing about firefights looking for ammo and just trying to survive as I made way through the action, all the while looking for the next safe place to take cover and recoup.
The same can be said for the world of Requiem, which was a beautiful and carefully crafted playground to explore. The game felt as it was always pushing me forward, pressing a sense of urgency and importance to get to the next objective. Halo 4, as with the entire series, deals with a lot of science-fiction themes and that can be a difficult subject to create a realistic and believable story. The acting and writing in Halo 4 could stand as a model for many future games in its genre. The plots are solid and well detailed and there is a sense of authenticity with the voice actors that doesn’t come off as cliche or overdramatic.
343 Industries did manage to pull of something that can be very hard for a series this far along, the developers provided some fresh gameplay mechanics and alternating strategy with the first person shooter gameplay. Prometheans are the latest enemy in the Halo series and they offer a fresh take on combat style and AI movement, as well as new attacks and a stronger defense. Prometheans move much differently then previous Covenant enemies. They have more advanced defense mechanics and require a new style of attack to overcome their numbers. Enemies can be handled quite easily when you are fighting one specific type but it’s when they are working together that the gameplay really heats up. Smaller enemies are slowly depleting your shields as you focus on larger, more threatening attackers. Prioritizing your attacks can be difficult when you first start out but it’s a welcomed challenge and never came off as an annoyance or burden.
[quote_right]The campaign is brilliantly done and some of the finer mission moments are truly spectacular. The turbulent and ever-changing world of Requiem was an altogether perfect experience within the title.[/quote_right]This shouldn’t be interpreted as easier, Halo 4’s harder difficulty settings were extremely taxing for me. This plays an important part within the story-telling and something that I felt didn’t reflect well in some of the critiques I have read about the game. Halo 4 is an epic drama of loss, heroism and challenge and if you are playing the game on an extremely hard difficulty setting for the first play through, some of these perfect moments in the story may lose their impact.
Dying and redoing certain sections of the game ruins some of the terrific build-up that 343 Industries created in the story. I played through the game on a normal difficulty at fist and I would strongly suggest to anyone that they do the same. It’s not that you won’t be able to complete the game on a harder setting, but I feel that redoing some of the objectives could damper the experience. The campaign is brilliantly done and some of the finer mission moments are truly spectacular. The turbulent and ever-changing world of Requiem was an altogether perfect experience within the title. The missions and objectives that take place on this world are engaging and blend perfectly with suspenseful music, thickening plot and were extremely fun to play. The campaign offers true blockbuster moments that I will not forget and easily sets the bar for future FPS campaigns that I intend to play in the future.
Outside of the single-player there lives many different multiplayer and co-op operations. Since the Halo franchise has such a strong online-multiplayer following, I want to discuss that first. The online system has been altered slightly from previous games but the addition of XP and the enhanced online functions give the multiplayer-side the same progression as the single-player campaign.
Adding unlockable content to online-multiplayer shooters is a golden standard, it adds new challenges and allows players to really change up their gameplay tactics as they climb the ranks with their friends. I was happy to see this implemented into Halo 4. The game already had a strong reason to keep playing past the single-player campaign and this added another layer of challenge and a new reward system to the experience.
Weapons aren’t the only thing that can be unlocked during gameplay, new abilities also can be earned online. Changing up and dialing in on the perfect combination of weapons and abilities was a blast and it seemed that each time I thought I had the perfect loadout I would get something new and start all over again. Halo 4 offers a lot of combat choices as well, from highly accurate weapons that allow you to keep you distance, to powerhouse weapons and abilities that let you quickly blitz enemies and tear them to shreds. Playing online it was easy to see how varied some people’s loadouts were and it created a sense of caution when I was out of element.
Co-op is just as fun to play as the online-portion of the game and wasn’t shortened or shoehorned in at all. 343 Industries and Microsoft have a great support system in place for players that would like to enjoy this option with their online friends. Each week the four-man teams will have new objectives and offer new gameplay scenarios for players to partake in. It’s a great way for you and a smaller group of close friends to enjoy Halo 4 without having to play with anyone else. It’s a more personal experience and one that relies heavily on teamwork and communication.
Honestly Halo 4 really took me by surprise, I didn’t think the game would be bad going in (Microsoft is sure to take a close quality control check with such an expensive title) but I didn’t expect to see so many new mechanics built into such an established franchise. Halo 4 fits perfectly with the rest of the series and yet stands out as a terrific story-teller and online-experience. It’s how a FPS should be made, offering both an expansive campaign and a full-featured online experience without one compromising the other. I’ve always said that if you can’t provide a solid single-player and multiplayer experience then don’t have both and Halo 4 is a perfect example of a development company providing two unique gameplay experiences.