Part 4 is the best time to get into something, right? It worked with Star Wars.For whatever reason, I never got into the Halo games. I never really had anything bad to say about them, but they just never caught me. I did play through Reach, but Halo 4 is the first of the series that I've really dug into.Halo 4 takes place, as one would expect, after Halo 3, picking up in exactly the same spot: Master Chief in stasis on the UNSC Forward unto Dawn, floating toward the Forerunner world Requiem. Except, four years have passed while the Chief slept. He is awakened by Cortana, almost as out-of-the-loop as I was as I got into the game.
A love story?
Halo 4 is, on one level, about Master Chief's battle against the being called the Didact, but more directly it is about Cortana and Master Chief's relationship and Cortana's descent into rampancy, or artificial intelligence insanity. After being absent most of the last game, Cortana's making up for lost time.
The interactions between Chief and Cortana were interesting to listen to and watch as they played out. Cortana has clearly developed strong feelings for her battle partner. The Chief, as usual, is a harder read. He obviously cares for her, but it's not clear whether even he understands the exact nature of his feelings. Even as someone relatively new to the characters, their interactions were enough for me without the background noise.
While multiple plays through the game might clarify the background story a bit, it's more likely that the exact nature of the Didact and his intended plans won't become clear until the second or third entry in this new trilogy. With his floating orb ship and digital-foghorn sound effects, at times the Didact felt a bit like a Mass Effect villain retread, and it's unclear yet whether he'll be interesting enough to carry the trilogy or if something bigger is coming (there almost always is).
Killing should be fun.
Of course, neither story line would be worth mentioning if the game didn't offer something. Halo 4 introduces the Promethean Knights as an interesting new enemy. Familiar weapons are back, along with some notable new ones, as well as the vehicle set-pieces that have littered past entries.
The new enemies, the Prometheans, are different enough from the Flood and the Covenant to feel fresh. When they show up along with the Covenant, there are distinct differences in the way the two groups work, making them fun to fight against (though possibly annoying on higher difficulty). The Knights are guarded constantly by Watchers, hovering enemies—the most annoying type of enemy in any game, really—that can provide the Knights with shields or even resurrect the dead Knights, making the Watchers an important target in their own right, despite not being terribly threatening from moment-to-moment.
Fortunately there are all kinds of ways to take out this new threat. The Prometheans come with their set of weapons comparable to the human and Covenant munitions, though the Promethean's Incineration Cannon and the humans' Sticky Detonator stand out as the most entertaining.
Vehicle setpieces dot the campaign as well, spaced out just enough to keep the standard run-and-gun feeling good. A few segments with a bipedal mech called the Mantis are fun, if a bit long, but I was surprised by how much fun I had with a sequence later when Chief pilots the Broadsword space fighter. It looked exciting and felt good, and was a marked change from the ground combat that takes up most of the game.
While much of Halo 4 feels very definitely like a Halo game, one difference fans might notice is the absence of series composer Marty O'Donnell. With a new trilogy and a new developer comes composer Neil Davidge. Even with this change though, the music stays a strong part of the atmosphere of the game, setting the mood especially well during the rare moment of quiet anticipation before action.
Even with this change though, the music stays a strong part of the atmosphere of the game, setting the mood especially well during the rare moment of quiet anticipation before action.
Play with your friends, not with yourself.
343 Industries is doing their part to leave their mark on Halo's multiplayer, as well. As much as Halo's lore has its share of serious fans, the multiplayer is still the game's core mode. A lot has been done to modernize the multiplayer, which some fans might see as bringing it too close to Call of Duty; most of it, though, really works.
Killstreak rewards, called Ordnance Drops, have been added, along with customizable loadouts. Leveling up unlocks further equipment and abilities. One especially nice touch is that special weapons in a level are tagged, making it possible for even someone new to the map to pick one up and be effective for five seconds before someone tackles you from the side.
The biggest change to the multiplayer is the replacement of Firefight with Spartan Ops. Developer 343 Industries insists Spartan Ops will scratch the Firefight itch. The mode feels a bit like 343's attempt to differentiate themselves from Bungie on the multiplayer front and to make Halo stand apart from the, well, horde of horde modes that have come since the introduction of Firefight or Horde Mode in Gears of War.
It's hard to tell, though, what exactly Spartan Ops wants to be. It's part campaign, with its own voice acting and cutscenes, and part cooperative multiplayer. Orders come down from an officer played by Jennifer Hale, who most gamers at this point will remember as Mass Effect's Commander Shepard (among many other things). Firefight is endlessly replayable, more like an arcade game than anything else. In Spartan Ops, Commander Not-Shepard talks to the player constantly with poorly-written, snarky lines like, "Did we get this place baby-proofed for the eggheads yet?" These silly lines are parroted ad nauseum and they hurt the experience. On top of that, the missions are just that: missions. They don't scratch the arcade-style itch of Firefight because they feel more like a small co-op campaign.
With that said, they're still fun, and still worth checking out. 343 intends to release episodes for quite a while, and that will definitely give people reasons to come back, even if the reasons aren't the same as they were for Firefight.
The only real complaint I have as someone new to the series is, honestly, minor, but still worth mentioning as a warning: save your game. While the game does keep checkpoints as you go along, unless you save when you're done you'll start back at your last manual save. As modern as this game is, this aspect seems frustratingly outdated, and I learned this the hard way.
Halo 4 was a big surprise for me. After avoiding the series for years, Halo 4 turned out to be one of my favorite shooters of the year. I might not have as much to compare it to as longtime fans, but I look forward to much more of the multiplayer, cooperative and versus alike. Halo fans already own the game, but even those avoiding the series might want to check this one out.
We purchased Halo 4 with company funds. We completed the game before starting our review.