It’s a brave new world we live in. With Bungie having moved on to pastures new they have handed their Halo over to another studio, 343 Industries to keep their legacy running. With this in mind Halo 4 is a pretty nerve-wracking prospect for most Halo fans.
343 has already given a taste of what they can do having turned out the remastered version of Halo: Combat Evolved but given it was just a facelift and an update of Bungie’s original Halo 4 will be the first true litmus test of their stewardship of the series.
It’s the beginning not only of a new chapter for the Master Chief but a whole new saga in terms of the Halo series. The Master Chief is back out in deep space as part of another exploratory mission on the UNSC Forward Unto Dawn where things go wrong. He is woken up from cryosleep by Cortana to discover that the Covenant have descended upon the ship just as a mysterious Forerunner world, which will become known as Requiem, appears.
Under the weight of the Covenant’s assault the ship is starting to break up and the Master Chief is forced to fight through them in order to locate a life pod for him and Cortana to escape in. Once on the planet they hear from the UNSC Infinity, which is responding to their distress signals but cannot stop them from entering Requiem’s interior before they contact them. From there it is a mad rush to release the ship from Requiem’s grasp but, along the way they unwittingly release an ancient enemy far more dangerous than the Covenant ever were.
The story is quite gripping when you’re cast into the midst of it. It’s new enough that Halo veterans won’t get bored yet it holds onto enough of the Halo canon to be readily identifiable as a proper Halo game. It could have all been quite different with the introductory sequence aboard the Forward Unto Dawn echoing the beginning of Combat Evolved a little too closely but the way 343 moved on from there justifies the gamble of using such a similar start to their story.
The gameplay is really where 343 Industries has stamped their authority on the series. To begin with it all feels very much like a Halo game but 343 has inserted some very subtle changes that actually make I feel a bit better. The main tweak is in the weapons themselves. Bungie’s weapons always felt a bit light and lacked any kind of meatiness about them. This was always a major bone of contention for me that diluted my experience of their games. 343 has clearly been playing a lot of Call Of Duty and has decided to make the weapons in Halo 4 feel a bit meatier. It has been done really subtly – a little bit more recoil here and a bit more bass on the sound effects there but the overall effect is that you feel more engaged in the games because the guns now have a bit more gravity.
There is one flaw in the gameplay that needs to be highlighted and it shows that Halo is joining the trend of other shooters of focusing on the multiplayer at expense of the single player narrative. Halo 4’s single player campaign is the shortest that the series has ever seen. This is worrying as Halo’s main draw has always been that it doesn’t compromise story for multiplayer and vice versa. It’s not painfully short and it still outlasts Call Of Duty but the shrinkage is still there and could be of serious detriment to the series should it continue.
343 Industries has come up with a compromise to this by introducing the new Spartan Ops mode. This is an episodic story-driven co-op mode that offers new narrative content outside of the single player campaign. Players form teams of up to four Spartans from the UNSC Infinity and fight in missions that run alongside the single-player narrative. The first episode of Spartan Ops is free and a good chunk of it comes on the Halo 4 disc. More episodes will become available in the future as downloadable content. They can also be played solo but you must be connected to Xbox Live in order to do so which can allow your friends to drop in if they feel like it. These levels are fun and it’s nice to be able to stretch your legs outside the confines of the Halo single player without getting soundly thrashed in the competitive multiplayer modes.
Finally we have the Infinity Multiplayer, which is 100 percent pure refined Halo multiplayer. This is the result of years of balancing and retuning with each new Halo game and it is as fun as it ever was. The matchmaking is great and fairly fast and while it’s not that big a leap forward 343 has brought the same meatiness to the weaponry that they have in the single player making each kill that little bit more satisfying. There is also the added benefit of SmartGlass support for anyone with a tablet. On your iPad, Android tablet or Surface tablet you will get full access to your profile on Halo Waypoint tracking you scores and stats in-game.
Halo fans would be forgiven for fearing Halo 4 but 343 Industries has shown that they can continue to weave a story as compelling as Bungie ever did and do it with their own sense of flair without brutalising the canon beyond recognition. Halo 4 is a great new start and 343 Industries have shown just what they can do with the subject matter. Long may it continue.
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