Halo 4
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: Single Player, 2-4 co-op campaign & Spartan Ops, 2-16 multiplayer
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The sixth Halo game may just be the most eagerly awaited since the original, as the story left the eponymous hero, Master Chief John 117 MIA presumed KIA at the sad end of Halo 3. Nearly 5 years have passed since Halo 3 was launched, and the same period has passed in the game’s timeline, with, as it turns out, Master Chief safely tucked up in his cryogenic sleep chamber aboard the wrecked hulk of the Space Frigate Forward Unto Dawn...

After floating aimlessly through space, Cortana wakes the Chief from his cryogenic sleep chamber as they approach an artificial planet they come to know as “Requiem.” Soon some old “friends” appear; a convoy of Covenant ships arrives and the wreck is boarded. After a brief battle (the Chief hasn’t forgotten how to shoot) the Dawn gets caught in Requiem’s gravity well, and as the ship crashes in spectacular fashion, Chief somehow escapes death but is knocked unconscious, coming round to find himself in a pile of wreckage beneath the surface of the hollow planet...

Cortana is Master Chief’s plug-in AI, a confident and almost ever-present companion in the Halo story and she seems to have spent the last four years remodelling herself. She used to look like she was wearing a digital cat suit, now she looks all woman-virtually naked, wearing a digital skin. Maybe this is indicative of her fragile mental state as she suffers from “rampancy” (a state that AI sometimes enter when they reach the end of their 7-year lifespan due to “thinking” too much), or maybe 343 Industries just fancied modelling a near-naked woman-whatever the case, all of the character models in Halo 4 look amazing, and Cortana, well, she looks absolutely stunning, the problem is that she’s been in service 8 years and is beginning to experience a glitch or two...

The start of Halo 4 is a playable intro level that shows us just a hint of the quality of visuals to come. Smoke, dust and vapours have never been visualised so well, and while nobody really knows what it looks like when a star cruiser gets ripped apart, things start exploding, twisting, collapsing and it depressurises, Halo 4 gives you a startlingly vivid idea of what it might be like, as Master Chief tries to escape the exploding ship. And the eye candy keeps on coming from the most varied and diverse Halo yet, from cramped, cold and claustrophobic corridors to dusty desert canyons and epic spacescapes, the Halo 4 game engine does them all with equal aplomb. From the remarkably lifelike human character models to the dazzling, blinding explosions Halo 4 really is one of those games that makes your eyes feel glad that they can see and make you glad you bought an Xbox 360.

From the outset I noticed that a few things have changed; sprint isn't a suit ability like in 3 and Reach, it's on all the time (L3), there's no flashlight, and although grenade throw still has its own dedicated button (the Left trigger), swapping grenade types is now mapped to the D-pad. Having sprint as a full-time ability (although it does run out after a certain distance ala CoD etc) makes Master Chief feel more dynamic, and it should clearly have been added some time ago.

A whole new weapon set is available that includes Promethean equivalents of assault rifles, shotguns and sniper rifles, as well as updated models of all the old Halo favourites including the Magnum, the assault rifle, battle rifle and the DMR as well as Covenant weapons such as the Needler and the Beam rifle.

As with most Halo games in the past there are some truly great battles in vehicles and some not so great. There’s a sublime level in which you ride along or escort a Mammoth (a six-wheeled combat vehicle the size of a building) in a Warthog, and some fun moments a new combat mech called the Mantis. But the flying vehicles are less consistent; some underwhelming Banshee (the Covenant one-man fighter plane) levels are outdone by an epic level in which you’re in full control of a Pelican dropship, and then a good-looking yet terrible on-rails section in which you fly a Broadsword fighter/bomber that plays like a poor 3D update of 80’s arcade game Zaxxon opens out into another epic location in which you have more control of the ship, and all is well again.

While we’re in gripe mode, there are a few levels that look like they may have been left over from Tron, and we’re not altogether happy about the look and design of the new enemy, the neon-lit Prometheans, they look like they came straight from a Metroid game rather than the most advanced end of the Halo universe. The Promethean Knights don’t have the character of the Covenant and aren’t particularly scary either, and the Crawlers behave like dog-lizards and can actually look quite cute as they gallop around!

Halo 4 also still has the same old annoying “drag your co-op partner along” game mechanic as the original game on Xbox (presumably this is to stop you from getting too far apart on a level), this is obviously hugely disappointing as it seems to be completely arbitrary in the way the game does it; sometimes dragging you to the pointman when he/she’s only feet away, then letting you play from the far sides of a level hundreds or even thousands of yards apart. Then, and for the first time I can ever remember in a Halo game, we came across a broken mission which we had to quit and restart from the last rally point in order to complete. Then at the end of the level, found that we hadn’t been awarded the Legendary completion on it anyway!

The popular Firefight mode from Halo 3 ODST and Reach has been replaced by Spartan Ops, a new co-op mode that is to be drip-fed with 5 new chapters released episodically every week. High quality cinematic intros to each episode set the scene, and add some backstory to the main campaign. These extra Ops are carried out on both cut-down areas from the campaign and specially designed levels. They seem to play well but when we added certain players they did seem to suffer from lag that was never present in campaign co-op, so there may be some network issues that need to be ironed out.

The pre-release promise that the Infinity acts as a hub to connect the solo game and the multiplayer modes is borne out by regularly updated challenges that span the main campaign, Spartan Ops, War Games (all the main multiplayer modes, the new concept being that War Games are simulations rather than the real thing, which makes Spartans killing Spartans make a lot more sense) and Waypoint and will earn you XP towards your overall ranking.

Halo 4’s War Games multiplayer modes include a new sport called Grifball, a sort of simple pass & move courtball game with weapons. All the old favourites are still there; Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, Oddball, Slayer, plus a few new ones Dominion (capture, protect and resupply bases), Flood (survive a Flood outbreak), Extraction (activate beacons and then protect them to extract more targets than the enemy team) and Regicide (kill the other team’s randomly selected boss player).

There are 13 maps (Abandon, Adrift, Complex, Erosion, Exile, Haven, Impact, Longbow, Meltdown, Ragnarok, Ravine, Solace and Vortex) plus 3 more in the first DLC pack (Harvest, Shatter and Wreckage.) and there are variants of each map depending on the game type and number of players. Halo 4’s multiplayer game is still about as good as it gets when there are no arseholes in the game, and the matchmaking seems a bit better than in Reach, but the Trueskill system still seems to plonk n00bs and casual players in with hardcore veterans too often for anyone’s liking.

Halo 4 has the most aggressive and sneaky AI seen in the series or in any first person shooter yet, Elites and Promethean Knights on Legendary are truly formidable foes, and I found myself frequently out of ammo and wondering how the heck I was supposed to kill these things. There are always plenty of bodies and wreckage lying around after a firefight, but weapons, vehicles and other items disappear or get cleared up as you advance through a level, and any Halo veteran will tell you that’s a very unHalo-ey thing to happen, so shame on you 343 Industries for not allotting more memory to that.

Another irritation arises when the game constantly resets weapons between levels and when a player dies they’re often unable to respawn with the annoying “Enemies Nearby” message, which could drive you mad when playing co-op. This was a problem in the first Halo game and still hasn’t been sorted out; in fact Halo 4 exacerbates the problem by sometimes suddenly respawning you right in front of a co-op partner.

The game, as you’d expect, sounds amazing with huge explosions and plenty of unintelligible Covenant dialogue to make you titter. The music is mostly good too, but there is some extremely uHalo-ey music (the menu theme sounds like it was stolen from Gladiator and one level is some kind of awful electro-crap.) I’m not saying Neil Davidge did an entirely bad job but Marty O’Donnell (composer of the original Halo music) may be spinning in a figurative grave somewhere.

The gameplay, the various large-scale battles and some spectacular set pieces flow like a fine wine, but there are 2 sections that simply don’t work in the co-op mode; one in Ghosts and one an on-rails flying level in Broadswords that are a joke with 3 or 4 players, every time one of your buddies dies the screen shakes so much that the rest of you die too because you can’t see where you’re going!

The Forge and Theater sections seem to be the same as before, only now they don’t work quite as well. Forge still allows you to take any multiplayer map and personalise/customise it with a truckload of objects, weapons, start points, spawn points and vehicles. I get so far in Forge and then try a map and realise that no matter how long I spend fiddling around lining objects up and tweaking here and there that I’m never going to mod a map as well as dozens of variations that are already available on my friend’s Fileshares. What I really believe is that Halo needs a proper map and scenery editor so people can build a level from the ground up and add their own personal touch (like Far Cry map editors do), modding existing maps still doesn’t really do it for me. At the time of writing Theater’s features have been cut back, we used to be able to watch our own campaign missions back, like a coach watching how his team performed, but that great feature has been removed for some unfathomable reason. I can’t watch Spartan Ops either, sadly Theater mode seems to record War Games (multiplayer games) and, inexplicably, Forge sessions only, and then only some of the time. Let’s hope they fix this so we can watch Spartan Ops and restore the ability to watch replays of the story missions.

The Halo 4 story is as clever as it is predictable. During it we (obviously) discover that Master Chief didn’t die at the end of Halo 3 or float aimlessly in space for eternity, and that the uneasy truce with the Covenant is over, and also find a daunting new type of enemy, with a whole new weapon set to fight against. The big change is that Cortana, always the confident tactician and adviser is now the vulnerable one, fragile and emotional, and this feeling is heightened by her remarkable appearance-at times you’ll want to give her a hug (or something.) Turns out even Halo is just a big sloppy love story, and you will positively hate the fact that Cortana is ailing and you seem powerless to help her…

Altogether the Campaign, Spartan Ops, The Infinity (that encapsulates Spartan Ops, War Games (the Multiplayer mode), the Theater and the Forge (map editor)) is an amazing package, warts and all. Hopefully the problems will be patched and the new episodes of Spartan Ops and maps packs will keep coming, because Halo 4 truly is something special.

Best Bits

- More epic alien-bashing action.
- Looks tremendous throughout.
- Full campaign co-op and Spartan Ops for 2-4 players.
- Multiplayer game is still one of the best.
- Cortana!
Worst Bits

- Lag seems common in 4-player Spartan Ops.
- Weapons and vehicles disappear.
- Annoying player sync routine grabs you and plonks you back with your co-op partner(s).
- Respawns need sorting out.

by: Diddly

Copyright © Gamecell 2012