An absolute masterclass
Within a matter of days, Microsoft will celebrate a decade of Xbox Live – the online gaming service that has quite simply revolutionised the way we play games. To that degree, Master Chief – Halo’s lean, green killing machine – should be forever in its debt. Without it, Petty Officer John-117 would never have become quite such a phenomenon. He wouldn’t be constantly fighting it out with the likes of Call of Duty at the top of the online leaderboards, and as such, he probably wouldn’t be such an iconic character, finding himself in comic books and LEGO boxes.
Afterall, online multiplayer has become synonymous with the Halo brand; it’s where the series has always excelled. Halo 4 sure had a lot to live up to. It therefore must have been quite a daunting prospect when Bungie jumped ship and 343 Industries had to step up to the plate to develop the latest edition.
As you’ll all no doubt know by now, the new game marks the long awaited return of our visor-wearing protagonist. We all knew he’d return though, right? That Halo 3 ending was never really going to be the end of him, now was it? His suit may be a little more battered and bruised than it was, but he’s back and he means business.
Set in the year 2557 on the drifting UNSC frigate, Forward Unto Dawn, our hero Master Chief comes out of stasis to find a mightily distressed Cortana, moaning about the fact she’s getting old. But our favourite hologram isn’t just having a mid-life crisis; this is literally a matter of life and death as she’s exceeded the typical seven-year life span of an AI. Uh oh. As a result, she’s about to “expire” and appears to be going slightly insane. And just to complicate matters, Covenant have boarded the ship and all hell breaks loose.
Eight missions, and some 10 hours of gameplay later, you’ll feel physically and emotionally drained – but will have had an amazing ride. We’ll avoid spoilers but suffice to say, you can lay any concerns to rest; 343 has done the brand proud and this feels like Halo, looks like Halo and is a must have for any Halo fan. Unload a few rounds into your first enemy or whack them round the head with the butt of your gun and you’ll immediately get into the groove and feel right at home.
A lot of the action actually takes place on a planet called Requiem where you’ll face familiar enemies as well as the Prometheans – a new smart badass species that poses quite a challenge. Fear not though, you’ll have plenty of weapons at your disposal to see them off.
There’s certainly a far more emotional feel to the proceedings than in the previous games, allowing us to get under the armour of our protagonist and understand his thoughts and feelings. Despite Master Chief’s imposing presence, however, it’s arguably Cortana that steals the show. There’s a clear bond between them and the story is very strong.
But you don’t want to hear about emotions and feelings, do you? Guns, that’s what counts, right? And as you’d expect of any Halo game, there are loads of them. The firm favourites make a reappearance but the entire armoury has been overhauled. They all have a very individual feel to them and different attributes – but they all sound awesome, each shot emitting a satisfying bang that adds a sense of power and realism. The sound adds hugely to the atmosphere and reels you in. I played using a surround sound headset with some decent bass and I was blown away. Speaking of the audio, the voice acting is particularly convincing and nicely linked to mouth movement.
From the outset you’ll be staggered by the game’s aesthetic. The visuals are amazing with lovely looking cutscenes, animation and motion capture making this the best looking game of the series, in my humble opinion – and perhaps the most attractive release on the 360 this year. As I touched upon above, I was particularly impressed by the facial detail, which on many occasions caused me to question whether real actors were talking at me or whether they were computer generated – they really are THAT good. Everything from the eyes, mouths, wrinkles, emotions and expressions are perfectly replicated and recreated – and I’m pushed to think of any better examples.
The environments are big, bold and gorgeous, thanks to their variety, colouring and lighting effects. Sand, grasses, mountainous settings, flames… it all looks incredible and you’ll be forgiven for wanting to gawp at the scenery, ignoring the fact that you’re under heavy fire. The fine detail on Master Chief’s armour or the metal frames of the vehicles is equally impressive.
Now I was pretty ropey playing the previous games on tougher settings but ramp this baby up to the harder difficulties and you’ll extend your playthrough by some considerable time.
Long after you’ve completed the main campaign and replayed it a few times with your buddies, it’s the infamous multiplayer that will keep you coming back time and time again.
Without doubt, the online element remains the most important aspect of Halo and, once again, it doesn’t disappoint! The second disc is crammed with multiplayer goodness and consists of Forge – allowing you to create and download new maps, and the Spartan Ops co-op story mode – offering weekly downloadable missions (a fantastic idea to keep you playing) that focus on the UNSC Infinity crew as well as the Majestic Squad Spartans. Finally, there’s War Games, where you’ll find the likes of Death Match and Capture The Flag.
343 has taken some hints from the likes of Call of Duty and this time round you’ll find yourself able to select different loadouts for various weapons and abilities, and earn perks to upgrade and customise your Spartan, ranking up by attaining XP. Once you hit level 50, you can then select a “Specialization”, allowing you to enhance your character’s attributes with various skills such as stealth.
The maps are many and varied, and feature a feast of weaponry and vehicles such as the Warthog, Mongoose, and Scorpion Tank. Weapons litter the landscape and are conveniently highlighted so they’re easy to find, and you can also call up some handy ordinance deliveries if you want to change gun mid-fight.
The matches are lengthy but never excessive and the team-based confrontations are particularly enjoyable. I can see me spending a lot of time transfixed in the multiplayer modes, lobbing grenades at rivals and trying to ramp up my XP in the coming months.
To summarize, any fears that Bungie’s departure and the return of one of gaming’s most iconic characters would be detrimental to this follow up have been allayed; Halo 4 is an essential purchase and a definite contender for Game of the Year. Suit up solider.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360
Second Opinion by Kartik Mudgal
Master Chief is back, and back in style to fight legions of Covenants and a new enemy; a threatening enemy that will not hesitate to destroy the Earth if not stopped in time. You take control of Master Chief as he is woken up by the AI Cortana who is facing rampancy–AI deterioration.
Things aren’t looking good obviously, but the return of Chief should inspire the Spartans to take on the danger more effectively as he is the hero we deserve. This is a Halo game first and foremost developed by a new studio in town 343 Industries, and before I say anything else, let it be known that 343 have outdone Bungie with this game.
Halo 4 looks spectacular with amazing lighting effects and it is so surprising to see an 8 year old console pull this off with such ease. By ease I mean a steady framerate that will no doubt be one of the best optimization techniques we have seen a developer do.
The campaign is all about killing the Covenants and the Prometheans. You have access to plenty of weapons including some unique sci-fi ones that belong to the Prometheans. They are not only powerful but cover all bases like sniper to shotgun and are a joy to use. The weapon design and sounds are some of the best I have ever seen in a Halo game.
However, my one gripe with the campaign is that it is too short and not really that memorable. It feels like a series of go-here-and-do-that missions without spending a lot of time on Master Chief. At least in Reach we had Noble 6 that elicited a good response at the end, but here nothing like that. Halo 4 is the start of a trilogy and it feels like 343 is building for the future when it comes to the story. I kind of feel like this reduces the overall emotional attachment with the series, especially when it comes to the campaign but the one in Halo 4 was handled well.
It’s a little bit disappointing though, considering I really loved the Reach campaign and the amount of Promethean dog like things the game throws at you can really get on your nerves sometimes. It makes the return of Chief not that memorable but hey, it’s a Halo game after all.
The Spartan Ops and Multiplayer is where the majority of game time will be spent if you are a player who loves Halo games. The multiplayer is fantastic with deep customization and a solid netcode in the competitive War Games mode. The campaign co-op can be a little iffy when it comes to lag because all Halo games have had that problem even if you play with someone in your city or country, it’s a shame they haven’t figured out a way to make it smooth but it is completely playable and depends on connection to connection.
The multiplayer is different though and it is something that takes the Halo experience on another level with wonderfully designed maps and plenty of visual effects that sometimes makes me wonder how they pulled this off on consoles. Being a Killzone fan, there are not a lot of games that can handle so many visual effects screen but Halo 4 pulls it off with ease in the multiplayer department. There are a lot of intense matches to be had online, and all the maps are big and expansive. The interiors are well designed too with multiple routes to an objective.
Spartan Ops brings an episodic format of gameplay to the game, and there is the season 2 out now as well at the time of writing this review. So all in all you get a game that is filled with content, and while the campaign can prove to be a downer at times, the overall package makes the game a must buy.
Halo 4 is bigger, better-looking and addictive as hell. Not only is the Campaign fantastic, boasting an engrossing plot but the multiplayer is awesome with plenty to keep you hooked
Non-Halo fans might be a little indifferent about yet another addition to the series – and on face value, it may look like more of the same
Master Chief is back. It may not be Bungie who is pulling the strings but this looks, feels and plays like the Halo games we know and love