People always wonder what will happen to an IP when it is handed off to another company. Fall apart? Meet it’s predecessors? Soar even higher? It’s always hard to speculate, best to just wait and see what happens. Well, when Halo 4 was first announced it’s been known to be a new company developing this time around and we’ve all waited. Now the game is here for us all to scrutinize and discover it’s faults, if any. Toted as the first in a new trilogy dubbed the “Reclaimer Saga”, Halo 4 has to prove itself both to fans becrying the loss of development by Bungie and non-fans wondering how much longer the series can continue. Once more into the MJOLNIR armor to see how the Master Chief is fairing.
Who is the man behind the armor? Besides never seeing his face some is known about him, but not much. Much more in the books and extended universe of Halo is told about Chief, but Halo 4 it seems is the start of learning more about him. Starting out in the prologue the story hammers home some interesting ideas not many have thought to bring up before about the hero of the Halo series. Stated as sociopathic and broken in terms of humanity, all Chief is good for is killing and killing and killing, but just because the prologue condemns that about him doesn’t mean this is an all new direction for Chief. No, it’s just him killing and killing and killing, and now it’s an elephant in the room eating your peanuts while you play. The best characters are those that grow, that become familiar to us and that’s the point here. Master Chief growing as a person doesn’t mean anything unless you realize and care that all he does right now is kill without caring about anything besides the greater good. A serious and dark path to take, it’s honestly the best. We’ve seen Chief save the world and universe now we’re seeing him do more.
The story isn’t just Chief-centric however, there are other important elements, Cortana, the giant ship Infinity, the Forerunners. The Forerunner being the second biggest change to the Halo formula besides the exploration of Chief. They’re shown, they’re there, and it’s a good thing. Some might argue that it might have been good to never look in that particular box, but there are plenty of other boxes to keep sealed *cough* Chief’s entire face *cough*. What is added to the story by the addition is exceptionally executed. There was no ball dropping in this court and everyone can sigh relieved. The last biggest change compared to previous games are the cutscenes. No longer simple intros and endings to levels to bridge the change of scenery and fill in some plot, the cutscenes take Halo 4 to a whole new cinematic level for the series. The information and backstory covered are vast and feel closer to the extended universe of Halo works than ever before. The writing it seems is good enough to sustain a trilogy unto itself.
There is more to the story than just the campaign too. After Master Chief’s work is done the rest is left to the Spartan-IVs in the new mode Spartan Ops. A pseudo replacement for Firefight, Spartan Ops tasks the multiplayer Spartan-IV with short missions to complete, broken up into Episodes and Chapters. While only the latest Episode and Chapters are available for public matchmaking, the past Episodes are available for party or solo play, so no one will miss any missions regardless of when they get started. Able to be taken alone or together as a whole the Episodes are an interesting addition, but until they’ve all been released it’s difficult to tell. So far they seem to be building up to something, only more time will tell what it is.
Halo 4 is still a Halo game in terms of gameplay, with all the new bells and whistles the very core feels the same and past players will feel at home in the new digs. There are a few differences to better accommodate some of the changes, such as everyone having sprint all the time now, but after that brief learning curve it’s smooth sailing. The new armor abilities are interesting as well, from the hardlight shield to the Promethean vision there are new strategies to learn and better planning to be had. The three new enemy types likewise throw a wrench into the standard fair of Elites, Jackals, and Grunts, but after the first few encounters it’s no problem finding that groove again as they follow the same basic rules as the other three. Other additions to the gameplay of the campaign are the action scenes players control Master Chief during, from climbing the bulkhead of a ship to other special actions, these new sections give some more cinematicness to the game and not overly much to make it in a bad way. It’s new and different than the mostly rigid way players control Chief throughout the rest of the game.
Multiplayer though, is where gameplay can fail a game. Yes, Promethean vision and hardlight shields are interesting and fun to use against hordes of Covenant and Prometheans, but having them used against you is another matter. Balance is key and with the additions to multiplayer it seems like the game has found a pretty good one. Depending on the game mode there are more than just Armor Abilities though, as there are addition tactical packages and **** that will also change how players go about their business. These are however, minor for the most part with only one applied at a time give too big of an advantage to anyone, sure some could spawn with two primary weapons, but anyone else could just pick their second one up from the ground. For the most part then players have the chance to build loadouts to fit their style, without worry that they might be handicapped by their choices. These also carry over to Spartan Ops, as the multiplayer Spartan is the same as the one for missions, so building loadouts to customize that experience is useful as well. Even better is that it adds an additional level of planning when replaying Chapters for fun or XP and knowing what’s coming and being able to be ready with the appropriate equipment.
If one was to believe certain talk, every Halo game looks exactly the same and while that is true stylistically the graphics do actually continue to improve. This is most clearly present in the aforementioned prologue, where depending on knowledge of CGI technology one might have trouble telling it from live action. In game graphics aren’t nearly as good as the cutscenes, but still outclass Halo: Reach. There seems to be much more going on in the world with Halo 4, with vibrant colors and great particle effects that add to the scenes, one of the best being the dissolving of Promethean Knights from the last point of impact that always seems to be satisfying.
Taking a cue from Halo: ODST it seems, Halo 4 put a lot of effort into the faces of the characters. A lot of detail is put into the faces for realism as well it seems, as none of them are simply flat from pock-marked to wrinkled, they all look fantastically done and found a great level to keep them from seeming too creepy or unnatural. In this it seems they are almost setting a new bar for themselves, so it will be interesting to see where they can go from here as they continue this new trilogy.
Fans of the Halo games know what Master Chief sounds like despite how infrequently he talks and it is great to finally his his voice again in the long wait since Halo 3. But, there is more to his voice this time, as with the seriousness of the story with Master Chief’s personal growth there seems to be more in the voice this time around. While still the same man filling the vocal cues, the time he has been providing the voice hasn’t been wasted. He knows how to do it and he is doing it well. Cortana too continues to sound great and explores new dimensions than those from her time with Gravemind the direction her character goes fits well showing the strength of her voice actress. All the voices do an amazing job in fact, the only let down being the lack of slight comedy present with the Covenant, even while using the skull for the rarer dialogues to pop up. It’s great that the game is going for serious, but comedy can be good too to prevent players from getting too burned out on too much of it. The one refuge of this however is the RvB easter eggs in Spartan Ops, which while nice isn’t the joy of those laughable Grunts.
The music this time is not composed by Marty O’Donnell and while still sounds great and impressing the appropriate mood, it doesn’t always feel Halo. In some ways the music could be pulled and if listened to in the world it might be hard to tell just what it is from. Perhaps with time the music will become either closer to the Halo series or become more synonymous, but for now while providing amazing support to the game in mood and tone, it has a ways to go to live up to the standards the Marty set.
Halo 4 is an amazing addition to the Halo series, adding a lot more to gameplay and boasting a ridiculous boost in terms of graphics. It had a lot to live up to with it’s new developer and aside from some minor stumblings with the audio, which is really only in comparison with the previous games, as on its own played by someone not familiar with the series it falls short to none. I give Halo 4