Halo 4 Videogame Review


Release Date: Out Now!
Xbox 360

Ever since Microsoft joined the gaming market in 2001, Halo has been the biggest game in their arsenal. The original – Halo: Combat Evolved – is one of the most important and influential shooters of all time; a game that triggered fundamental changes in the templates of the shooters that followed in its wake.

Halo 4 is where it all begins again. More than just the opening chapter of a new trilogy dubbed the Reclaimer saga, it’s shouldering a bigger burden: the first Halo game to be developed by the series’ new custodian, 343 Industries, rather than the original developer, Bungie.

Behold the collective sigh of millions of fans, then, for a takeover far smoother than it had any right to be. The developer built from the ground up to be Microsoft’s super-studio for all things Halo hasn’t just delivered an entry that sits shoulder-to-shoulder with the existing games. Instead, Halo 4’s head and shoulders above many of the stalemates with which it shares its name.

The campaign’s no longer or wider than previous entries. In fact, it’s a more focused tale than Halo 3. The sandbox battles Halo is famous for haven’t been forgotten, but they’re now part of a tale that barrels along at full speed and waits for no stragglers. This is a smaller scale story compared with the climactic, galactic highs of Halo 3, but no less weaker for it – 343 have focused on the almost-marital bond between protagonist Master Chief and his AI companion Cortana and how they deal and overcome the cruel knife-twist that is the degradation of AI life forms beyond a certain point – a point Cortana’s already long-since past.

Run over your mates in co-op. Good times.

Combat hasn’t evolved quite so dramatically. The minute-by-minute experiences differ little from the quintessential Halo experience, but every once in a while there are levels sautéed with unique touches of 343 Industries’ mix; a zero-gravity environments here, a trench run moment there. New weapon classes and enemies promise more wide-sweeping changes; the former act more like existing guns with new skins, the latter do offer significantly different situations, yet somehow don’t unbalance what we’ve come to expect from Halo.

And it’s all set on a world – a long-forgotten Forerunner shield planet called Requiem – that can claim to equal the original’s ring world for sights and visions. Its architecture is a mix of forever-folding and rearranging geometric monoliths, while its creatures could easily have stepped straight out of Metroid Prime. The Xbox 360 was never supposed to produce games this good looking, and will likely never do so again. 343’s standard response to how they’ve managed it – “magic” – is an admission that even the best internal visual targets were met and then exceeded.

Away from the campaign things are no less impressive. In multiplayer Halo 4’s stepped back from its trendsetting ways and has instead been inspired by the likes of Call Of Duty. The military shooter’s influenced a couple of minor mechanical tweaks in the form of skill-based ordinance drops and starting load-outs. It’s a repulsive thought on paper, but in practice the concessions work in Halo’s favour as a means of bringing newer players up to speed quicker and balancing out the multiplayer flow. Crucially it still feels like Halo to play – no amount of tweaks to equipment distribution methods changes that.

Not satisfied with a badass combat suit? Get a mech instead!

Firefight is the one major casualty of the developer changeover, replaced instead by a co-operative campaign called Spartan Ops. Comprising ten parts, it’s an episodic adventure set six months after the main campaign that’s released freely and weekly to all Xbox Live Gold subscribers. Each episode begins with an animated short before opening out into five skirmish-based combat zones in areas taken from the main adventure.

Reused locations, some cropping up in Spartan Ops more than once, also, are a minor disappointment and the combination of infinite respawns and the lack of a scoring system extracts all element of challenge. Yet the free downloadable extensions are poised to have you returning to Halo’s story long after Firefight’s hooks would have otherwise blunted.

343 have been conservative with many of their changes to Halo’s formula and that’s precisely how it should always have been. In Halo 4 they’ve proven themselves worthy stewards of the series, with one of the best entries of the franchise to date. For a series as revered as Halo that no easy feat.

Matthew Pellett

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