It has been five long years since we’ve gotten the chance to suit up as Master Chief in a Halo game, since we last left the Chief he was in suspended animation and informed Cortana to wake him when he was needed. It’s not that Halo Reach was a bad game, but to a lot of the Halo fanbase, Master Chief is Halo. Since Halo Reach we’ve all prepared for a new developer to take over for Bungie’s storied franchise, but there were a ton of questions when it came to 343i and if they could handle the Halo franchise, a franchise that basically built Microsoft’s gaming business and helped turn it into a juggernaut in the gaming industry. How would a new developer handle the biggest exclusive in Microsoft’s stable of games?
As a fan of Halo I was as skeptical as the next guy when it came to another developer handling the franchise that got me into first person shooters in the first place, after all, 343i hasn’t developed a single game yet. Although they did oversee the Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary game, they haven’t built anything from scratch. It turns out that 343i had been hard at work on Halo 4 before Halo Reach was even released, so it’s not like Halo 4 was rushed out the door, they had plenty of time to develop for the game properly. Microsoft helped build 343i into a huge developer and staffed it with over 200 people, including some very well-known developers who have worked on really great games in the past. Throw in Microsoft’s huge budget and you have all the makings of a hit game. Halo 4 was probably had a lot of people holding their breath, Microsoft’s future in the game industry relies on Halo games, they are a system seller and always have been. Can you imagine where Microsoft would be without Halo? It would be bleak to say the least, Master Chief is the clear-cut mascot of the Microsoft Xbox brand. It was very important that 343i not lose touch with the massive fan base of Halo.
The graphics of Halo 4 are the first thing that jumps out at you, they are simply stunning in every way. It’s also worth noting that Halo 4 is the first Halo game that runs natively in full HD. Part of the reason for this is the fact that 343i developed the game strictly for the Xbox 360, meaning that the game takes full advantage of what the Xbox 360 has to offer. The lighting and particle effects are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a console game, and even though I’ve been saying for a while now that the current consoles are outdated and that we need new ones, from time to time I still get impressed with some of these great looking games. Halo 4 is definitely the best looking exclusive game on the Xbox 360 and its in the top 5 for best looking console games period. Master Chief looks amazing, his armor is familiar yet different. You really get the appreciation for the battles he’s been in and survived when you look at his armor. Cortana has gotten a makeover as well, she’s never looked better or looked more realistic, the environments are also something that you’ll just want to sit and stare at, the foliage just helps immerse players into the Halo world with greater effectiveness. You will be drawn into this Halo game from the opening cinematic alone, it’s just breathtaking to watch, and the epilogue hooks you in.
Aside from the stellar graphics, the story in Halo 4 is much deeper and more personal than previous Halo games. Although the lure and expanded Halo universe is really well done, the games haven’t explored Chief and Cortana the way Halo 4 does. The game picks up almost five years after the events of Halo 3, you get awoken by Cortana and she informs you that Covenant enemies are trying to board your ship, as you defend your ship you end up crash landing on the Forerunner planet of Requiem, you are encountered with a new enemy called Prometheans, to top off the bevy of bad news, it turns out Cortana isn’t quite herself, AI’s have a shelf life of seven years, and she is past that mark by a full year, she is starting to malfunction and Chief vows to help her, but first you have to deal with the looming threat of this new and powerful enemy. One of the best parts of the Halo games are the sounds and music, there are all new sounds for the guns, they all sound really amazing, and there is also a pulse pounding soundtrack, which is already the best-selling video game soundtrack of all time. I think everyone pretty much agrees that Halo games have always had some of the best musical score of any franchise. Halo 4′s score is simply beautiful and you really notice it, I think it’s kind of funny how in most games you never even notice the score, but in Halo 4 you’ll notice it right away and pretty much throughout the game, it is hauntingly brilliant in every sense of the meaning.
It is perfectly clear that 343i wanted to put their own stamp on the Halo franchise, but they wanted to keep the fans happy and they obviously wanted Halo 4 to play like a true Halo game. I’m very happy to say that the game feels like Halo, but it also has a new and fresh feel to it as well, you can really tell that a lot of time and effort went into crafting the game, and 343i really cares about the franchise. I really believe 343i went from tribute band to rock stars with the release of Halo 4, if you were uneasy about a new developer handling the franchise, let me put your mind at ease, they did a great job and this is my new personal favorite Xbox 360 exclusive, and all time favorite Halo game. The game has changed enough for people to consider it “evolved”, so it’s not the same old thing, but it does a great job have keeping the Halo DNA running through its veins. The online multiplayer has changed things up a bit and its all for the better, no longer will you have to spend a match hunting down a single enemy player because his team backed out, people can join in progress now and its about time. The terrible Armor Lock ability from Halo Reach is long gone, but sprint is now a default option, which is a long time in coming. You can also earn Ordinance Packs when you reach certain kill plateaus, the new Promethean weapons are really well done and tweaked just right, I would say that there is a clear counter to every weapon, and nothing is over-powered. The BR makes its triumphant return and not only does it look better than ever, it sounds better than ever as well. Infinity Slayer is where the majority of the online community is, and it’s always running around a million player strong, so you won’t have a hard time finding or connecting to a match.
Firefight is gone, and its replaced with Spartan Ops, which is a story based mode. Spartan Ops is something that is very interesting because 343i and Microsoft are giving away free missions for this mode every month, you can play them alone or with friends cooperatively, and it adds a little something extra and with a decent story instead of a more random Hoard mode. Halo 4 isn’t perfect, some people might not like the mandatory install, but both the multiplayer and campaign are on a single disk, the install is a second disk and its a one time thing. I don’t really believe that there is a perfect game, there will always be updates and tweaks to every game, but this is a great game and worth buying if you own an Xbox 360. Also, if you are really wanting to play through Halo 4′s campaign, check out the web series Forward Unto Dawn, it shows what happens leading up to the events of Halo 4 and its brilliantly made. It’s clear Microsoft spared no expense and the Halo series is in great hands with 343i, I couldn’t recommend this game more, and while I’ll always be thankful for what Bungie has done in creating Halo, I really am interested to see where 343i takes it with the Reclaimer Trilogy.