Grossing $220 million on its opening day and $300 million in its opening week, Halo 4 would have you thinking that either Americans throw money at any old piece of fecal matter, or that there might be something to the Halo series.
If you’re a fan of the series, then you already know that not only are the Americans throwing their money into an infinite pit of awe, but they also know how to produce a pretty amazing online title.
If you find yourself thinking “Why are these idiots wasting so much time playing this crap?”, then you need to do yourself a favour and join us all in the age of online gaming perfection. This title caught me hook, line and sinker.
343 Industries have boldly gone into an area that is somewhat taboo; taking over someone else’s prized project, especially something as powerful and successful as the Halo franchise – and not only trying to revive a series, but continue it into a new trilogy. An ambitious goal by 343, but one which pays off with greatness.
You start out with a rather detailed intro video which gives you a rich background story, along with some of the most titillatingly near-perfect CGI visuals seen on any platform. They fluff and set up the story, and suddenly you’re transported into the helmet of the series’ main protagonist Master Chief, who has been in frozen in cryostasis for the past 4 years.
Chief has been woken up by AI companion Cortana after his ship is been disturbed by a “new” alien race – namely the Storm Covenant and the Promethians, who are humans who have been turned into AI by the evil Diadct in order to protect Requiem.
Once Cortana has woken you up, you soon realise that something is wrong with her – she is on a collision course with insanity and self destruction. For those unfamiliar with the Halo universe, Cortana is a flash clone of Dr Catherine Elizabeth Halsey, the creator of the Spartan super soldiers. She is an exact clone of Dr Halsey, yet only in an AI form.
As a precaution, Dr Halsey gave Cortana a life span of only 7 years. Since this is her 8th year of operation, she is systematically self-destructing, so Master Chief steps up and vows to return her to Earth and to Dr Halsey so that she can be saved and her life prolonged.
From there on, the story is beyond anything that I expected. It’s deep, rich and exceptionally detailed. You get to see Chief partake in a goliath internal struggle as he fights against his training and tries to regain his missing link to humanity.
The campaign spans over 8 levels and should take you 5 to 8 hours to complete on the easy difficulty setting. As you ramp up the difficulty, the enemies become much smarter and are exceptionally hard to kill. The campaign is extremely entertaining and demands multiple play-throughs. There is of course, as with all of the previous Halo titles, an additional cutscene for those souls brave and talented enough to take on this beast at legendary difficulty. For the rest of us, there is always the easier, and rather more pathetic way out by watching the scene on YouTube.
With different ways to kill specific enemies, the game very seldom becomes repetitive. In fact, the only time I felt a little monotony creep in was on the final level. That being said, the gameplay is smooth, responsive, and near perfect. With 25 different guns to choose from and 8 different armour upgrades each providing special abilities, you will be able to overcome any enemy regardless of their weapon or creed.
Halo 4 is exceptionally easy to pick up and play. I must be honest, prior to playing Halo 4, my only other Halo experience was Halo 3: ODST, which I got for free with my Xbox 360. I played the game for 20 minutes and went and traded it in for FIFA. I found it linear and exceptionally boring. None of these feelings flooded my mind at any point whilst playing Halo 4. The levels are huge, breathtaking and incredibly atmospheric. This becomes evident when you first encounter some of the vast locations on Requiem.
If there is one reason that stands head and shoulders above any other for buying this game, it is the multiplayer. Every strong point that the single player campaign has to offer is only emphasized in the multiplayer arena.
There are two different multiplayer factions – Spartan Ops and War Games.
Spartan Ops is an episodic cooperative mode where you follow 10 additional episodes, consisting of 5 chapters each. These episodes will be released weekly and to date the latest is episode 5, with episode 6 expected in January. You can choose to do this by yourself or with three other players. This is free DLC that will be released over the course of the next year.
War Games offers 11 different types of traditional online modes, including capture the flag and infinity slayer.
I took a particular liking to Dominion, whereby your team strives to dominate all three bases on the map, as once you have captured each base you can then fortify them. Once these bases have been fortified, you then proceed to hunt down and eliminate each player on the opposing team.
Before you start a multiplayer match you are able to customize your specific weapon load-out, grenades and armour. These different upgrades can only be unlocked through XP. Whether you win or lose a match, you gain XP.
This XP allows you to rank up and purchase specific weapons. The teams are balanced according to player rank, so even if you are pitted up against a guy who is 35 levels ahead of you, it is still possible to kill him even though he has a superior weapon or special armour.
There are only 50 different attribute building levels. Once you have reached that level, you cant unlock or acquire any more upgrades. I found this refreshing, as you have to think about which attributes you would like to unlock.
There are 10 standard maps, 3 additional maps through The Crimson Map Pack (800 MS points or free to War Games Pass owners; December launch), and 3 maps in the Majestic Map Pack (25th of February 2013).
The final map pack, known as the Castle Map Pack, will also contain 3 maps and will be released on the 1st of April 2013 or maybe later on a non-April fools date.
Halo 4 is a visual masterpiece. From the intro to the final cutscene, it oozes visual excellence. I can honestly say that it is by far the sexiest game available on the Xbox 360. From Master Chief’s suit through to the astonishing realism of the character’s facial, body and eye movements, you can see that 343 poured their hearts and souls into the development of this title.
The same treatment has been given to the audio score, the weapon sounds and the environmental effects. This game is as close to first person gaming perfection as I have come. I am a die hard Quake and CSS enthusiast, and I thoroughly loved this title. I cannot express the pure level of excitement that I experienced when I discovered that this is the first of the Reclaimer trilogy. I have become an instant Halo fan and will be buying the rest of the titles over the holidays.
Microsoft seem to spin gaming studio gold. They took Bungie Studios from rags to riches, and they have done the same with 343 Industries. 343 have taken the development and furthering of the Halo series very seriously. This is only emphasized by the heart-warming message that is displayed upon completing the game.
If you only buy one game over the festive season, make sure that this is it. If you have an internet connection and an Xbox LIVE Gold account, your holiday gaming experience will be complete. The only down side is that if you don’t have an internet connection, you can’t access the entirety of the best game of the year.