November 4, 2012
Having been awoken from his cryonic sleep by Cortana, Master Chief doesn't have much time to acclimatise to his situation. The UNSC Forward Unto Dawn is under attack by an unknown foe and his immediate concern is to defend the ship and try to get the situation under control.
Before he's able to do this, the ship, and numerous Covenant vessels, are sucked into a gravity well, forcing them to crash land on a Forerunner planet. From here, Master Chief gets involved in another conflict of epic proportions, as he must stop an ancient Forerunner from destroying the human race.
Previous Halo games have perhaps been overly praised for their story, but with Halo 4 any praise that goes in the direction of story feels justified. The relationship between Master Chief and Cortana, who is struggling to fight off her Rampancy, feels genuine and how Master Chief interacts with other UNSC soldiers also feels more developed. There are those who are still in awe of him for his achievements, but there are others who are quick to undermine and dismiss him - it all helps to give the story some substance.
The construction of the story also deserves some praise. You're always aware of not only what you're doing, but why it's critical that it gets done. This is something that benefits from cutscenes where interactions with other soldiers take place as you're given not only extra impetus to perform the tasks, but additional information on why it's necessary.
Gameplay in Halo 4 is everything that fans of the franchise have come to expect and 343 industries has done a great job in ensuring the transition from development studio hasn't been very noticeable. You'll get to experience the sheer power of Master Chief as he smacks Covenant in the face, but also boards Banshees to reign fire down on his opposition.
Traditional weapons are available, such as the Assault Rifle and Battle Rifle and there are some pretty neat Forerunner weapons in there too, which act as a slightly more high-tech pistol, sniper rifle, assault rifle and sniper rifle. However, while much of the gameplay works pretty well, the zooming of weapons still feels very dated. Many other first-person shooters have adopted the user of iron sights, but Halo 4 still has a full-screen takeover if you want to focus in a specific target. The vehicular combat also seems a bit clunky, especially when manning Banshee.
Anyone who's played a Halo game before will know exactly what to expect from the gameplay and anyone who hasn't shouldn't find it too difficult to make the transition.
Where Halo 4 changes the game is with its multiplayer offering, especially due to the addition of Spartan Ops, a new co-operative story mode that follows a group of Spartans who take on different missions throughout the galaxy. It essentially replaces the Firefight mode which has been seen in Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach and will continually be updated post-launch. It's been stated that there will be five new missions available each week, for the first ten weeks after launch - something which should give the game some solid replay value. There is also a reward system in place, allowing you to unlock different weapons like the Battle Rifle upon completion of missions.
When looking at the standard multiplayer offering, things have also been added, such as Ordinance Drops, to bring things more up to speed with what's now common for the first-person shooter genre. The aim here was to prevent people camping around weapon re-spawn points, making for a more free-flowing experience.
You'll also gain experience points based on your performance, and these can be used to purchase weapons, armour abilities and upgrades for the personal load-outs that you can set up. Once a certain rank has been obtained, you can then enter in a specialisation, which allows for further customisation of your online Spartan warrior.
Visually, 343 Industries has done a solid job with Halo 4. Although they aren't seen very often, the FMV cutscenes look phenomenal. The amount of detail that's been plugged into the human characters especially is most impressive. From an audio perspective, Neil Davidge has done decent job and while the musical direction is different from previous Halo games, it's to be expected. At no point does it detract from the experience and there's even some arrangement of classic Halo pieces in there too.
Halo 4 can only be seen as a success for 343 Industries and Microsoft. The campaign is perhaps a little too short, but it's well constructed and gives Master Chief that extra bit of personality we've all been craving. And when you consider the multiplayer, Spartan Ops and other gameplay additions that have been thrown in, this becomes a must-have purchase for any Xbox 360 owner.
You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.