Halo 4 Review
Master Chief returns to glory with the help of a new developer
Halo 4 is a game that takes few risks, like an energy sword that you can always depend on. It is the first entry in what is set to be another trilogy series for the ever-popular Master Chief. The franchise has now moved on from original creators Bungie Software to the newly formed 343 Industries, who at the closing moments of the game thank the fans for trusting them with the franchise and promising greater things in the future. And fans should trust them indeed, for Halo 4 plays it very safe with everything from story to gameplay, so even the most hardcore will be pleased with the new developers. With such high production values and genuine attention to detail, it’s also easy to forget that you may have seen this all before.
The game, as mentioned, marks the return of the Master Chief as the main character, for the first time since 2007's Halo 3 in fact. For those who need a refresher, the end of the last game saw our hero lost in space, adrift aboard the wreckage of the UNSC ship Forward Unto Dawn. However, the ship is suddenly invaded, so the loyal AI named Cortana wakes Chief. It turns out that over four years have passed since the events of Halo 3, giving the story pretty much a clean slate. Under attack by the Covenant (again), they find themselves near an unknown planet.
It’s not long before things go sideways and the planet actually sucks in the remains of UNSC ship, taking Master Chief and Cortana along with it. As events begin to unravel, we meet the new technologically advanced enemy race called The Prometheans who are led by a mysterious enemy that seeks to destroy all of Mankind. Why? Because of the usual “greater good of the universe”. Truth be told, Halo 4’s main plot is rather uninspired and can be easily compared to the original game – so hopefully we won’t just get a rehash of the old trilogy with this new one.
On the bright side, the campaign is well paced and the game’s most human and heart-felt subplot comes courtesy of Cortana, ironically enough. Players will get to know her throughout the game, and given that Master Chief remains as quiet and unemotional as ever, she carries most of the tension in the story for reasons I won’t spoil here. There is also a cliffhanger ending, understandable given that another chapter is coming, and also providing hope that perhaps there will be at least some risks taken with the story.
Likewise, the gameplay remains solid yet largely unchanged, likely afraid to upset the balance for a series with so much following. All of the classic Halo weapons and Covenant enemies are present here, and though they look and sound better than ever, it’s still essentially the same experience. The game attempts a half-hearted explanation of why we’re fighting the Covenant again, but it falls flat. AI hasn’t really changed either, with no concept of taking cover when under fire or flanking, and only knows how to shoot, dodge, and run. Most of the campaign missions also play out dangerously close to repetitive, tasking Master Chief to kill anything that moves and occasionally push a button, with vehicle sections attempting to break up the ever-familiar pace.
Things get a little more interesting and diverse as the new enemy race enters the fray. The Prometheans are a high tech robot-like race, with their own unit types and abilities. The new enemies bring their own weaponry as well, but while it looks cool, they function pretty much identical to corresponding UNSC and Covenant guns, likely for the sake of balance. Meanwhile, the most basic Promethean enemies are fast moving creatures that look like dogs, which are able to scale walls. Next are the flying drones, not particularly troubling on their own but instead are utility units, who can do anything from deploying mobile shields, throwing grenades back at you, to spawning and resurrecting enemies. In other words, these are the guys to take down first. Stronger Prometheans are more in-line with their Covenant counter parts, such as Knights, who come with a wide range of weaponry. Their unique attribute is the ability to teleport, presenting an unknown variable when trying to create a plan of attack. It can’t be said enough that these new enemies finally provide some much needed vertical and dynamic gameplay that Halo has rarely seen before. It’s not exactly mind blowing for the genre, mind you, but is a definite leap forward for the franchise.