When Bungie first released Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox back in 2001, I don’t think they knew the cultural impact that their trilogy would have on the gaming community. In fact, I don’t think anyone could have predicted it. Ever since its release, dev-dubbed “Halo-killers” have popped up, promising to finally dethrone the game that put Xbox on the map. Despite several trying, Halo has always remained one of the best video game series of all time. Love it or hate it, you cannot deny that the series is a juggernaut with no signs of slowing down.
When Bungie announced that Halo: Reach would be their last Halo game, like many others, I was heartbroken. Despite not caring for the characters in their last two spin-off games, Halo: ODST and Halo: Reach, a part of me grew up with Master Chief and I didn’t feel that Halo 3 brought the closure fans of the original trilogy deserved. When they said that 343 Industries would handle all future titles in the Halo franchise, I was hesitant to give them the benefit of the doubt. 343 Industries have always handled the, for lack of a better term, “second class” entries in the Halo series. Their involvement in Halo Waypoint, Combat Evolved Anniversary and other media projects left a lot to be desired. I’m glad I decided to give them one last chance with Halo 4, which is easily the best in the series to date.
Picking up four years after the end of Halo 3, Halo 4 starts up right were we saw Master Chief and Cortana last, drifting though space in the wreckage of the Forward Unto Dawn. Cortana wakes Master Chief from his cryogenic slumber when Covenant try to board the ship and an even larger threat looms near. Mere moments after waking, Master Chief and his favorite AI lady find themselves on Requiem, a harsh yet beautiful Forerunner world filled with deadly life forms unlike anything our duo have seen before.
Halo 4 (Xbox 360)
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release: November 6, 2012
MSRP: $59.99 (Standard Edition) / $99.99 (Limited Edition) [Buy Now]
Halo 4 is a much more humanized take on the Master Chief. Throughout the game, Master Chief is faced with the struggle of dealing with the loss of Cortana. See, an AI of Cortana’s caliber deteriorates after 7 years, eventually going rampant. Once it reaches the point of rampancy, there’s no saving her. Being exposed to Halos didn’t help the matter either, since their existence houses enough information to make any AI go mad. Despite still being the strong silent type, Master Chief morns the future every time he opens his mouth. Finally seeing the Master Chief as more than an emotionless super-solider is really a breath of fresh air. You’re able to finally relate to, greave and understand his struggle as a Spartan.
The enemies in Halo 4 are a mix of old and new. The majority of the Covenant makes their return, unfortunately including the ever so annoying Grunts. They are a rebel branch of the Covenant called “Storm Covenant” and have a different look than their brethren we slaughtered in previous installments. Even their Grunts almost look menacing. To go along with their makeovers, it seems enemy AI is also improved. Enemies will go out of their way to dodge and flank players, making even the lowest difficulty feel legitimately difficult.
The most noticeable addition to the enemy lineup is the cybernetic Prometheans. They almost look Tron-like in appearance and they are a pain to fight. The Crawlers, which are doglike, attack in substantial numbers and can climb up walls where they will snipe at the player. The Knights are large and in charge, almost looking like constructs straight out of Metal Gear Solid. They are heavily shielded and can teleport around the battlefield at any time, making them a huge pain in the ass to take down. They are a bitch, but they aren’t as bad as the Watchers. What’s the worst thing about playing a FPS on a console? Yes, shooting speedy targets at a distance. Watchers will infuriate even the most devoted console FPS players, with their duck and weave attitude toward getting shot at. A single bullet dinging off of their armor will result in them turning around and flying to safety. They will then come back with full shields and shoot at the player and even shield, heal and revive its comrades. Bastards.
Halo 4 is a graphical marvel. I honestly didn’t expect a Halo game to ever look so beautiful. Between the Promethean architecture and the lush world of Requiem, the HUD and every detail in Master Chief’s armor, Halo 4 very well might be the best looking Xbox 360 title since Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
Complimenting the visual beauty is a soundtrack so hauntingly beautiful, you know it’s from Halo. The score easily tops those that have come before it, that in itself was not an easy feat. Halo games have always been known for their epic, memorable soundtracks and Halo 4’s is no exception. Neil Davidge does a wonderful job at replacing Martin O’Donnell as Halo’s composer. While some of the tracks are weak, all of them feel instantly at home in the Halo universe and make the game come alive.
Multiplayer has always been a huge part of the Halo series, and to be honest, Halo wouldn’t have been half the success it is today if it weren’t for its multiplayer. Its easy to get into, difficult to master approach is welcome by gamers new and old.
Halo 4 comes with 10 multiplayer maps, with more coming through paid DLC. Most of the original game modes have returned, but some have a new twist. Infection has been completely redone as “Flood,” a version of Infection that doesn’t feel like a tacked on community game mode. Ball based game types such as Oddball and Grifball have also been updated; it is now possible to throw the ball between players, opening up a whole new level of depth.
The most notable change to multiplayer is the lack of weapons placed on the battlefield. No longer do you have to worry about being dominated by the player lucky enough to spawn next to the rocket launcher or sniper rifle. There’s no a personal ordnance system in place that lets players summon a weapon drop once they fill a meter that increased with every kill.
Forge also makes its return and it has been drastically updated. Sure, there’s still maps that are severely limited in the editor, but there are three unique worlds made specifically for Forge that allow map makers to go wild. There’s now quick and easy to access options for deleting all items on the map.
Halo Waypoint support is lackluster. Personally, I’ve never liked Waypoint because I always felt I shouldn’t have to go out of my way to access additional content for my games. There’s a dedicated Waypoint button on Halo 4’s main menu and it quits the game and launches the Halo Waypoint app instead of doing it in game. This is a huge pain since the terminal videos scattered throughout the campaign are only viewable through Waypoint.
Despite some very minor nuisances, what 343 Industries have created here is the definitive Halo experience fans have been waiting for since the conception of the series. They’ve gone up and beyond to create the most cinematic, emotional Halo game to date, making Halo 4 is the reason you still own an Xbox 360, and a damn good reason to buy one if you don’t. Halo 4 is the first game I’ve reviewed at Geekenstein that made me wish we adapted a 10-point scale, just so I could give it a larger number.