Halo 4 has some big shoes to fill. Not only is it the first numbered iteration in some time, but it’s also 343 Industries’ first fully fledged title after Bungie left Microsoft.
As expected, many people worried whether or not this new team would do the series justice. But despite my initial reservations, I have to say, this is the most fun I’ve had in the Halo universe since Halo 2.
One absolutely cannot call Halo 4 a reboot, but one of my favorite things about it is that pretty much anyone can pick it up, and not feel lost. All you really need to know from past games is that Master Chief, the main character, went into hyper-sleep on an abandoned ship, and now he’s waking up. From there, the narrative stands on it’s own two feet, and carries the game into its own trilogy, starting with Halo 4.
What I love about the game is the aesthetic changes, mostly of which are heavily influenced by Metroid Prime (of which, 343 has some former developers from). While Halo was always a decidedly sci-fi franchise, 343 injects a bit of their own charm into this new iteration, which shows their confidence in taking over such a big franchise, and reflects upon the entire experience in spades.
Once you have your first meet and greet with the new enemies and new gun technology, you’ll immediately start to see the influences in a mighty great way — not only because it looks cool, but because it breaths new life into the franchise at the same time.
The campaign itself is fairly standard for an FPS game (about seven hours), but you’ll most likely feel emblazoned to play it again after completing it — especially if you haven’t tackled Legendary Mode.
“Skulls” (which are basically handicaps you can turn on before every level) return, and some of them change your experience anywhere from slightly to drastically — mixing and matching, especially when coupled with different difficulty modes, can net you some extra playtime, and is a ton of fun to boot.
Multiplayer (now called War Games) is really easy to get into, and actually has legs beyond competitive play. No longer are you just relegated to pointless rankings and aesthetic armor choices — Halo 4 adopts a “perk-like” customization system akin to a contemporary COD title.
Thankfully, it isn’t a carbon copy, and it’s fairly minimal compared to the aforementioned rival series. Instead of potentially overpowered or controversial killstreak customizations, you can tweak minor details like picking up grenades from fallen enemies, sprinting without stopping, or recharging your shields faster.
Halo 4 also one-ups “prestige modes” found in other FPS games, and instead opts for “specializations.” Once you achieve the highest Spartan Rank (SR) of 50, you’ll be able to choose from a number of specializations (such as stealth, or engineering). All of them have their own tracks, ending in a permanent, equippable upgrade unique to that specialization.
The best part is that you can also utilize the original Spartan loadout at any time should you choose to go back — in short, it’s an ideal system that doesn’t force casual players to entirely start all over, yet allows more dedicated personnel to rank up more and more.
If you get bored of the competitive game, you can opt for Spartan Ops, which will be arriving in episodic form on a weekly basis, until Season 1 is completed (at which point 343 hasn’t clarified if they are supporting it further). These missions are essentially mini-campaigns comprised of five levels each, and take place after the main game, sans Master Chief.
Amazingly, they’re integrated into War Games quite well, as you get to use your same character, and earn War Games XP — there’s really no downside to Spartan Ops outside of potential boredom once you finish all of them — because unlike Firefight, it’s not going to be a different, open-ended experience every time.
If that isn’t enough, you can participate in daily, weekly, or monthly challenges such as “beat [x] mission on Legendary using this handicap,” and so on. All of this is easily accessible from the start menu screen, which is integrated into every section of the game.
Personally, I had a blast with multiplayer, given all of the new modes in tow. Regicide, an FFA variant that gives extra powers (and extra bounty) to the one player in the lead, is a ton of fun, and has a ton of charm (like the explosive fireworks that materialize after a king kill).
Dominion (Capture the Point) adds a ton of charm to maps that look entirely different within this gametype, as capturing bases creates force fields and defense turrets to protect said base, adding a new layer of strategy to levels. Flood (Infection/Zombies) is back, and given a bit more personality, as the “zombies” are now Flood creatures, complete with their own terrifying sound effects and primal visage.
You’ll also find your typical King of the Hill, Pro Slayer (no upgrades/radar), Oddball, and 8v8 matches as well — all of which operate very smoothly outside of the occasional post-game reporting hiccup. Out of all these modes, I found myself playing Dominion over and over, given how great the new base capturing and fortification mechanics are.
If you find yourself wanting for more modes, you can head over to Forge Mode and create your own gametypes — some of which will be featured and cycled into the official playlists. Unfortunately none of those are cycled in right now close to launch, so be aware of that fact if you find yourself pining for more than the above modes. Halo Waypoint is also alive and well (and still free), should you choose to share and view videos and stats.
After playing quite a bit of the game, I started to realize that perhaps Bungie had gotten a bit too comfortable with their Halo titles, and because of that fact, they weren’t that willing to take many risks. In that regard, 343 brings the series forward to a new era.
Halo 4 successfully combines elements of modern FPS games with its own signature Halo style: and in that mixture, it never betrays itself or goes too far.
It’s safe to say that although there are some elements they could iron out by the time Halo 5 hits the shelves, 343 did an excellent job making Halo relevant again.
This review is based on a physical copy of Halo 4 for the Xbox 360.