Available on 360 l Published by Microsoft l Developed by 343 Industries l Classified M l Supports 1-16 players
REVIEW IN BRIEF > Notwithstanding the odd bug or ten, new developer 343 Industries has done a fine job of reviving the Master Chief. The grim single player campaign features new weapons and enemies as well as some of the most impressive imagery the series has seen. In terms of multiplayer, the standard modes have received some nice tweaks, but the most pleasant surprise is the episodic co-op campaign known as Spartan Ops.
Karen Jacobson tackles the solo campaign > When you sit down to play yet another sequel to one of the most prominent shooters of the modern era, you want to see change. You want to see new enemies and weapons as well as a different type of storyline, one that doesn’t closely follow the tone and structure of games past. Happily, Halo 4 delivers on all fronts.
After being lost in space for nearly five years, you and your AI companion Cortana are back. After a long break from these characters, it feels good to be reunited. Before you have time for a welcoming embrace, though, you’re thrown back into action. In this latest instalment, there is more of a focus on the key players – their backgrounds, motivations and (would you believe it?) their feelings. It’s not handled in a cheesy way either. The story has an emotional resonance to it from very early on in the piece. In addition, Halo 4 has a much darker feel and some rather confronting and disturbing cut scenes. It’s very un-Halo like, but a welcomed deviation.
The story is greatly assisted by realistic graphics, or to put it another way, “you’ve come along way, Halo”. You can now see minute details, such as the patterns on Cortana’s ‘outfit’. Levels are intricate and sometimes quite spectacular. Whether you’re moving through a jungle environment or the expanses of space, it always feels like more than a box in which to kill a bunch of enemies. In fact, you may find yourself in a spot of bother because you’re too busy taking in your surroundings.
The story has an emotional resonance to it from very early on in the piece.
There are several new weapons, along with numerous old favourites. Unfortunately, one of the newcomers, the Boltshot, is perhaps the most awkward and ineffective gun in the history of the series. When enemies see you equipped with it, they should start hi-fiving. The rest of your arsenal, though, is far more fun to use.
The covenant is not the only enemy you face in Halo 4. The Prometheans are determined to give you a particularly tough time of it. The Knights can dish out a fair bit of damage, especially if you get too close. Their capacity to appear and re-appear seems decidedly unfair at times! There are also Crawlers, which are like rabid and aggressive dogs. These little guys have a tendency to overwhelm you with numbers.
The unexpected downside to Halo 4 is the presence of the occasional, but immensely frustrating, glitch. The game can force you to repeat previously saved progress. It can also neglect to unlock your achievements. Granted, achievements aren’t that important, but hey, credit where credit’s due. The respawns can also be problematic. Imagine falling to your death, only to reappear in a section that you can’t get back from. Worse yet, committing suicide merely sees you restart in the same hopeless position.
It isn’t all bad news on the respawn front, though, as Bungie has also improved the feature in co-op. In previous iterations, your partner would practically need to be in a panic room before you were allowed to reappear. Now, you get thrown back into the action fairly quickly after an untimely death (or three).
Matthew Hewson takes multiplayer for a spin > When it comes to multiplayer, the Halo series has always been at the forefront of innovation. Halo 2 was one of the first shooters to allow online competition on consoles, almost selling the Xbox Live service on its own. Halo 3 ushered in the current generation with online co-op, not to mention the Forge mode, which allowed players to customise maps and scenarios. So does Halo 4 continue this trend of innovation or is it simply a rehash of ideas from the past?
The maps leave a lot of room to experiment with different play styles.
Well the short answer is yes, the innovation continues. First the standard multiplayer modes have gotten a nice spruce up. Slayer, Team Slayer, Domination and Capture the Flag are all present and accounted for. The maps have a nice variety in both visuals and layouts and they leave a lot of room to experiment with different play styles. The Flood mode is a new spin on the Infection game type from previous titles. The game starts with 10 people, consisting of eight soldiers armed with shotguns and two of the Flood. Every time the Flood kills someone, they then become Flood and the round continues until the last soldier has been turned. It is a nice break from the standard MP matches and could be a lot of fun with a big group of mates.
Another introduction to the mix is loadouts. Players are able to equip different weapons and abilities that they have unlocked. This is new for the Halo series but it still feels balanced as the player can only pick from basic weapons and pistols. This allows players to individualise their experiences without breaking the fair playing field that Halo is known for. Sprinting has also been brought in as an ‘always on’ ability and is a welcome addition. It speeds the games up and also gives players an option for retreat. All in all, the competitive modes have evolved nicely and should keep most players happy for a long time.
The real revolutionary aspect of the multiplayer is Spartan Ops. This is a separate story set six months after the events of the single player campaign and players take the roles of Spartan IV soldiers as they make their way through an episodic tale. Each week a new episode is released which contains a cut scene and five new missions. The missions are designed with co-op in mind and it really pays to have a friend or three along to help. The missions (so far) seem to be varied as well, with vehicles, snipers and assault troops all being catered for in the first episode. It remains to be seen whether the concept can hold up over the whole season, but considering Spartan Ops is essentially free content, most gamers should be more than pleased.
So it seems once again that Halo has plenty of meat on its multiplayer bones. With the refined competitive modes as well as the episodic Spartan Ops, there should be enough content to keep even the greediest Halo fan satisfied. So what are you waiting for? Suit up and get out there soldier! Those Covie scumbags aren’t going to kill themselves!