With developer Bungie no longer at the helm of one industries most coveted franchises, Microsoft has tasked 343 Industries with the behemoth development duties of establishing HALO back to its place of prominence. Ultimately the end result of this next thrilling adventure to begin the ‘Reclaimer Trilogy’ proves 343 Industries was more than up for the task. Offering a memorable and addictive ride filled with sensory overload throughout the eight mission campaign, HALO 4 represent the absolute best the series has to offer keeping in line with the essence of the established formula while presenting just the right amount of new content to make the ride feel original.
Last we saw of the Master Chief some five years ago with the ending of HALO 3, the Chief and his AI sidekick Cortana were lost to us aboard ‘Forward Until Dawn’ as they took their indefinite cryo-chambered space naps, of course healing those wounds received from saving Earth from inevitable destruction. With the Chief out of commission, the series has received other titles in the story arch with the promise of driving the series forward, however with new genre defining shooters hitting the market, the HALO experience with the absence of the Chief hasn’t necessarily grabbed that lasting mass appeal as expected other than to reveal that the name HALO still has fans chasing after that first high.
343 Industries takes the bull by the horns revealing HALO for what it truly is, a genre defining sci-fi FPS engulfing players in an organic universe that is truly larger than life. Entering HALO 4 players are introduced to an interrogation of Dr. Catherine Halsy, considered the mother of the Spartan program whose harsh methods of soldier augmentation is justified by the saving of the human race from the Covenant invasion. This CGI sequence which also reveals John as a youth and the coming of age as the iconic Spartan truly takes viewers by surprise with its incredible visual fidelity.
HALO 4 wastes no time trying to help you pick up the pieces of prior events, Cortana appears in a state concern while seeming to be seeking her Spartan savior who she finds peace with. Once communication is established you are back where you want to be, in control of the Chief. From the outset players are flooded with more eye-popping details which begin within the Chiefs visor. Now telecommunication feeds are received directly through to the Chiefs visor revealing a more immersed perspective as the Chief. You can actually see the lid of your helmet from within your hi-tech visor with the life energy bar also fed directly into your helmets indicator. Despite the intro which reveals ‘Forward Unto Dawn’ as this floating wreckage in space, moving about the innards of the vessel seems to display a ship that is for the most part functional yet most of your initial time will be just taking it all in.
Equipped with your standard assault rifle, squeezing off a few rounds into our first covenant encounter and the sound and feel is a welcomed reunion with an added boost of awesome making pulling the trigger a celebration of the Chiefs overdue return. Tensions are high as the Covenant have invaded the ship with you in familiar circumstances doing what you’ve been augmented to do until both you and your arch nemesis are only fighting for survival as the ship is being torn apart as it enters an unknown atmosphere, and so it begins.
Unlike previous games in the series where the Chief has been tasked with saving humanity, HALO 4 is more of a race for AI survival as Cortana replaces this colossal burden now beginning to suffer from rampancy which is getting worse with every major enemy encounter. As Cortana continues to be in operation, she continues to gain more knowledge increasing her artificial intelligence which will ultimately cause her to think herself to death. This new condition is beyond her control as she has overstayed her existing welcome of service which is limited by seven years.
Utilizing an optimized version of the Reach Engine, HALO 4 is the best looking game this critic has ever seen running on the Xbox 360. Beginning with the games soothing lighting to the highly detailed textured environments and level designs which are seamlessly blended into an almost impossible sense of scope and this is unlike any HALO experience before it. This truth comes more into focus once you touchdown on your new place of resident known as REQUIEM. This Forerunner planet while increasingly original the more you discover its alien nature, echoes the first time we visited the HALO ring. The meticulous attention to details while driving the experience forward by its unforgettable pacing keeps players on their toes without the frustration of re-visiting known environments. Eye-popping environments follow the next as more of this new planet is uncovered. Bridging these environments together are button-pressing indicators throughout your campaign which can become redundant at times only to be forgiven the next by a newly presented environment demanding your attention.
At the heart of HALO 4 the combat and gunplay shines through more prominently than ever before. Known for its sophisticated enemy AI, the series can rest well knowing one it’s most highlighted attributes is well intact. Whether engaging in combat in open environments or in more intimate settings, the Chief has to pull out all stops dispatching his enemies. Trying to get the beat on the Covenant Elite with a sticky grenade is still an act of wits as various covenant enemy types will have you running for cover, reloading, jumping and desperately picking up whatever death dealer will dispatch their multiple ranks. Nevertheless, HALO 4 introduces a new enemy known as the Prometheans which also come in different ranks. From the prominent looking Promethean Knights who stand tall with their sinister stare and Predator like faceguard which encase their true alien form, to the pesky Crawlers which are more canine in nature having the ability to climb seamlessly any surface in a sort of arachnoid agility while unleashing a barrage of projectiles. Lastly, and less threatening as a direct agitator, the Prometheans unleash their Watchers which are always in flight multi-taskers. Taking these out earlier makes for a more balanced battlefield, as they have the ability to regenerate falling Prometheans Knights and shield them from your attack, in addition to being able to flank your position while taking aim at your skull.
On the surface, while the Covenant troops exercise more individual battlefield intelligence evading gunfire and grenades, the Prometheans are certainly the most formidable in numbers. Spreading their ranks out while on the attack with Prometheans Knights morphing to gain a positional advantage to finish you with one devastating blow, Watchers drawing your attention vertically and the added dose of Crawlers saw our time on the battlefield filled with exciting gunplay where often equipping the Chief with the Promethean fire power was a common occurrence. Assisting with the more opened environments, familiar vehicles are made available with the Warthog returning as well as the Ghost and Wraith tanks which can still be manned as well as the detachable gun turrets, which pack much firepower to the spread the enemy numbers thin in a hurry.
For the first time while playing as Master Chief there are sequences where you actually go in to the battle with other Spartans. However, keeping the pacing more centered on the Chief and Cortana, working alongside other Spartans seemed short-lived and a bit underwhelming as I would have liked to have engaged more with other Spartans on the battlefield. New to HALO, 343 throws players in the control of an armored mech that while there is no ability to jump or sprint in the mech, laying down a barrage of fire power with the added missile assault option adds a nice change of pace to the ride. Included in this on-foot change of pace, the utilization of the jetpacks returns as you are atop the mountain size Mammoth, in fact the only way of boarding this massive four-wheel driving brontosaurus is to jetpack you’re your way on while in battle.
Continuing on your journey to save Cortana you are eventually brought full circle of your ultimate threat while discovering the legacy of Master Chief and his vast potential which tugs at your imagination of the Chief true purpose. Again, 343 seemed determined to present HALO 4 with a serious tone as the full campaign experience is themed by an epic sci-fi presentation full of style points. Elaborating on this, HALO 4 no longer boasts the fan favorite score from Marty O’Donnell and aims to convey a more atmospheric tone. While the new score is far less memorable than before, I would have it no other way as it certainly stamps this new experience as more original for 343 Industries.
Eventually the underlining truth of the relationship between John and Cortana begins to takes center stage as emotions become heightened as more of Cortana and John’s humanity begins to shine through.
Walking away from completing the HALO 4 campaign and there is just so much pulling me back into this sci-fi odyssey to uncover the many nuances which are certainly overlooked in just one play through. The game is a thrilling rollercoaster ride throughout filled with progressively intense firefights which are surrounded by pristine level designs and new story elements creating more unanswered questions. There should be no mistake that the once prominent FPS franchise is back in the driver seat. 343 Industries has made the wait for Microsoft’s next-gen console much more difficult in anticipation for HALO 5.
Check out our in-depth Halo 4 Infinity multiplayer review here.