After five years out of action, has Master Chief still got it?
Since the release of Combat Evolved in 2001, the Halo series has in many ways come to define the modern first-person shooter, mixing exciting combat and weapons with an interesting and engaging plot. Now, 5 years after his previous outing against the Covenant, Master Chief returns to fight a whole new enemy in Halo 4.
Five years you ask? Yes believe it or not, despite Wars, ODST, and Reach, 2007 was the last time players got to take charge of the legendary Chief. In game, the gap is just four years, which our favourite Spartan has spent being the 24th century equivalent of a Calippo. Freshly thawed by AI sidekick Cortana, Chief once again finds himself fighting for Humanity’s future.
The story itself is notably darker than previous outings, much closer in tone to Reach than Halo 3. There is also a bigger focus on the Chief’s feelings and emotions, and particularly the nature of his relationship with Cortana. The game pulls this off quite well, which is an achievement considering Chief famously never removes his helmet. Thus it is entirely down to the voice talent of Steve Downes to make his emotion come across, something he does rather well. There is also a concurrent plot regarding the ways in which Humanity has moved on since the events of Halo 3, and the relevancy of the Chief to this new, more confident UNSC.
If you’ve played anything in Halo series before, you’ll be at home with the gameplay. The controls are largely the same, with the addition of a handy sprint function. And yes, you can still do the hilarious giant Spartan jumps. All your favourite weapons are back, spruced up and shinier than ever before. There are also some additions, notably the weapons of the new antagonists, the Forerunner Prometheans, but the Covenant have a couple of slightly different tools too. These new enemies are one of the highlights of the game. They actively work together, with their 3 forms (packs of dog-like Crawlers, flying Watchers, and the giant Knights) uniting to try and defeat you. For example, busy hammering rounds into a Knight? That’s ok, because he’ll spawn one of the Watchers that then protects him with a shield, or puts up a turret. Then, when you try to shoot it, it flies off, heals, and comes back. The game forces you to adapt your tactics in order to deal with your foes. Also, the Knights can teleport. So enjoy.
Joking aside, the Prometheans are a difficult enemy, and this makes the game rather more fun. Too many shooters today have a tendency to use hordes of enemies with dumb AI, something that Halo 4 thankfully avoids.
The game also offers the chance to drive around in vehicles once again. The Warthog, Scorpion Tank, Wraith, Ghost and oh-so annoying Banshee all return, along with a flight in a human fighter on one level that is akin to the Death Star trench scene from Star Wars, except with more obstacles. Seriously, it took us ages to do it on co-op. Then again maybe we’re a bit rubbish.
As with all games in the Halo series, the levels look beautiful and the game’s graphics engine is excellent. There are huge vistas around every corner, and were it not for the fact that you’re being shot at every 2 minutes, Halo 4 could easily have a mini game where Master Chief pulls out an easel and does some landscape painting.
Along with the graphics, the sound is excellent, with a focus on meatier, more realistic sounding weapons, alongside decent music, although there is less of it than in past games.
One of the real issues with the game is that it is all a bit linear. Despite those marvellous views, you don’t really get to explore much of it yourself. You’re rapidly pushed forward to fight more enemies somewhere else.
In terms of online play, the familiar multiplayer set-up returns, as well as a new series of story-related missions called Spartan Ops. There are also lots of customisation options for you to create your own, unique Spartan-IV. The multiplayer levels themselves are familiar without being boring, and a new system of personal drops to get the best weapons makes things more interesting, rather than the tedious map-scouring of the past.
All in all, Halo 4 is well worth your time and money, and looks to be the start of a brand new chapter in the saga. Based on this instalment, it looks like the franchise is very safe in the hands of 343 Industries.
8 out of 10