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Game Review: Halo 4

It’s been more than 10 years since the Halo series launched and took over the gaming community by storm. I still remember those days in high school having LAN parties and playing Halo 2’s multiplayer for hours with a ton of friends. Some franchises find it hard to still hold on to gamers after such a long time. Especially when a franchise switches hands to another developer. But sure enough after ten long years, the Halo series shows that not only does it have plenty of fight left in it, but it has a developer who cares a lot about the franchise and Halo 4 shows it.

Set 4 years after the events of Halo 3 everyone’s favorite badass, Master Chief, is still floating around in space (you’d think people would care enough to look for the man who single-handedly saved the universe multiple times). His ever faithful partner AI, Cortana decides to wake him up when the ship they are on is boarded by Covenant who apparently didn’t get the memo that the war is over. What starts of as a hasty escape from the broken down Forward Unto Dawn takes a huge twist when they realize they are floating towards a Forerunner shield world and are sucked into it leading them to the planet’s surface. This leads Chief to the discovery of new enemies and a whole new threat to the universe and of course it’s up to him to yet again save everyone’s asses.

The Halo universe has such a large and rich mythology that spans not only the games but also many books as well. This is one of the few game universes that is fully realized, but I was still skeptical that there could be more to offer to the series story beyond the Human-Covenant War. I can gladly say I have been proven wrong. The campaign  does a great job of expanding the universe adding more to the Forerunner history that was only gleamed at in the previous games. And for the first time, we get to see a more human side to Master Chief than we’ve seen in previous games as he constantly worries about Cortana, who is slowly deteriorating. The player gets a good sense of what close friends the two have become over the years. The addition of other character later in the game is a great change of pace. There’s a lot more interaction with other characters this time around which allows Chief to become less stoic and more vocal throughout the story and we get to see he’s more than just a soldier who follows orders. The story wraps up nicely with a great ending that sets up what seems to be a much darker trilogy this time around. The campaign can be short for some seasoned Halo players, but it is a great campaign nonetheless and will provide quite the challenge at times.

The game plays more or less just like Halo Reach with some minor changes such as the addition of  a sprint button (finally!). There have been some changed to the weapons as well as plenty of additions that make for a well rounded arsenal for kicking some alien ass. The HUD design has some nice details to it that strive to make you feel like you are in Chief’s armor. The weapon designs and animations for the Promethean weapons are fantastic and really add a new depth to the sci-fi aspect of the series. It just never gets old seeing the weapons come together in your hand almost like a mini-transformer. The Covenant are back this time around with some new designs to them as well as new weapons. But what really steals the show here are the new enemy types, the Prometheans. Not only do they look awesome, they’re terrifying and though to boot. These guys come with a slew of abilities and enemy types that will force you to change your tactics. The hardest of these are the Knight class. These guys have to be one of the most unfair enemies I’ve ever come across. Not only can they teleport, but they have little scouts that will throw grenades back at you and regenerate their shields should they get low.  Overall the game plays great showing that sometimes minor changes are all a game needs to keep it fresh and fun.

And did I mention that this game looks gorgeous? Well it is and it is easily one of the best looking games for the Xbox 360. It is very beautiful and from beginning to end I was always in awe of the set pieces in both design and scope. The first time you see Requiem and the Forerunner structures you just have to stop and take it all in. A lot of attention went into the details. Look up in the sky and you’ll see the shield covering the planet through the sky. Being on Requiem is as awe inspiring as it was when you first ended up on the Halo ringworld. The music fits the game like a glove. Gone is the score that we’ve come to know and love, but this new score not only fits the new setting but also the new tone of the series.

Now it wouldn’t be a Halo game without the series signature mulitplayer and here 343 Industries has managed to balance the old and the new for a very satisfying experience. The multiplayer actually ties into the story as you take control of your very own Spartan IV and train by playing multiplayer matches on the UNSC Infinity, the ship which appears in the main campaign. You have War Games which consist of typical playlists that we’ve come to know and love like Slayer, Oddball, King of the Hill, etc. There are also some new match types that add a great deal to the mulitplayer. Of course you can create your own match types to play with your friends. Then there is Spartan Ops which consist of episodic missions with the story taking place six months after the campaign. This is the replacement for the much loved Firefight Mode, though it plays somewhat similar. You can play these mission solo or online with friends or random players.

You can completely customize your Spartan IV. Not only can you change the armor, but this time around you have loadouts that you can unlock allowing you to choose which weapons, abilities and perks you want going into a match. This allows for more flexibility and experimenting with different play styles. And as with all online multiplayer you level up in order to unlock more weapons, abilities, and armor. Like in Halo Reach you have challenges for all the modes you can complete for more experience and unlockables with some of these challenges really testing your awesome skills.

And to round all of that out you have Forge mode which allows you to create your own variations of the maps and you own games. This can easily adds tons of play time just customizing your own levels and games. The editing tools are easy to learn and you’ll be sharing your levels in no time.

343 Industries had a lot on their shoulders going into this. They held in their hands a beloved franchise and to mess it up was not an option. But it’s clear that they love the series just as much as we do and Halo 4 is not only a fantastic return to the series, but a great beginning of things to come. I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here and am interested in how they can continue to expand upon the multiplayer. Halo 4 is a great game in its own right and worthy of being part of the franchise. You will definitely want this to be part of your library.

 

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VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
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Reviewed by Peter Rivera on November 14, 2012

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