“Don’t you know Dr. Halsey? Spartans never die.”
The game is marked open with a cut-scene, an interrogation of Dr. Halsey by a mysterious man. Without giving too much away, let us just say that the opening cut scene is something you DO NOT want to skip, especially if you’re a fan of the franchise. The game is set in the year 2577, 4 years after the events of Halo 3 and we find our main protagonist, Master Chief, drifting through space in what remains of the super vessel, forward Unto Dawn. Halo 4 marks the 7th game in the franchise, and the 1st game of the new Reclaimer Trilogy, developed by 343 Industries, which is Microsoft’s own game studio, tasked with the job of delivering a memorable Halo experience and deliver it does!
The folks at 343 Industries have had quite a challenge on their hands. How do you take a trilogy forward, without alienating the existing fanboys, but also making sure that the new trilogy would get new players hooked? Well, they have struck a very delicate balance between the new and the familiar. We got a franchise fanboy and someone who had never played the game before play the entire campaign mode and here are their thoughts (hint: one or both of these are from our team).
The Familiar:Halo 4 takes place 4 years post the events of Halo 4 and as the wreckage of Forward Unto Dawn hurtles towards Requiem, Cortana wakes up Master Chief from stasis as they’re both in imminent danger. Cortana has been in service far beyond the 7 years allocated to an AI and has started essentially thinking herself to death. It’s a race against time as Chief must get Cortana back to Dr. Halsey if there is any shot of saving her. But on the way, they encounter the Forerunners, who’ve got a plan of their own for humanity. Once again, the fate of humanity rests on Master Chief’s shoulders.
The New:For the first time, a Halo game engages the player into a deeper emotional bond with the characters. 343 Industries’ live action series Forward Unto Dawn sets the stage for the relationship between John-117 (Master Chief) and Thomas Lasky. They’re not strangers who meet on Requiem, but have shared a very important piece of history together. Cortana isn’t just an AI who guides Chief, she’s the only “person” who’s come close to John considering a friend. Halo4 is a story at the end of which, we find out which one, Chief or Cortana, is more human.
From the moment the game begins, you can’t help but be in awe of the visually stunning environment that has been created for this game. The level of detail is obvious, even through fast paced action. The minute Chief wakes up from Cryosleep, he is plunged into the heat of battle, and it’s not like he needs to “work out the kinks.” If you’ve played Halo before, you’re bound to be familiar with the controls. However, if this is your first Halo game, don’t fret. While there may not be an official “”tutorial” on the controls, the fighting picks up pace a little slow in the beginning to help you get used to the button layout, which is totally customizable in the controller menu.
Halo 4 introduces us to the Prometheans and the Forerunners as the primary nemesis. The Prometheans are the “guards” for the Forerunners and essentially are warriors. Then there are “crawlers” which are essentially dog-like creatures made of metal that can jump great distances, walk in walls and have Forerunner machine-guns fitted in their mouths. If one gets close, it can pack a pretty decent punch, enough to lower your shields dangerously low. However, we felt that the most annoying enemy to fight through the game are the Promethean Sentries. They are little drones that fly around the level and their only job is to mess things up for you big time. How do you deal with something that’s always flying at great heights, can cast a shield on anyone you’re trying to shoot down, deflect bombs and revive fallen foe. Dealing with the sentries made us feel that 343 Industries was playing a cruel joke on some of us. These sentries are deadly as Ebola virus and we strongly recommend that every time the game gives you the opportunity to equip yourself with one, you should.
So, why equip yourself with a sentry? Well, besides being flying death machines crafted by the devil himself, it doesn’t hurt to have an extra set of guns floating around that are in your favour. Halo 4 will always have you hilariously outnumbered and depressingly outgunned. Even though you’re a SPARTAN with the powerful MJOLNIR IV armour, you’re going to die a LOT because your foe is equipped with weapons that have infinite ammo and range. As you bump up the difficulty on the game (you’re a n00b for even thinking of playing this on easy) you realize that you can’t run the Covenant or the Prometheans over with a vehicle, as they know the concept of dodging. Same goes for when you try to chuck a grenade their way. The difficulty of the game doesn’t increase by requiring more bullets to take an enemy down, but by actually making the enemy a lot harder to hit. Oh and of course when you’re playing Legendary difficulty, you’ve brought the entire Covenant and Promethean horde down upon yourself, so you better get comfortable because you’re going to be playing a while.
Now with new enemies come new weapons, and Halo 4 has plenty of them. There’s no addition on the UNSC front (the military hardware), but a whole new range of Forerunner weapons are no available for your to frolic around with. You’ve first off got the Suppressor, which is just like a machine gun, but instead fires “hard light”in rapid succession o take down an enemy. Then we have the Scattershot, a Forerunner shotgun and the srifle (sniper rifle). Moving onto heavy ordnance, we have an Incineration Canon that fires four mysterious blobs of energy that create a massive explosion upon impact. And that but not the least, we have our favourite, the Binary Rifle, which is essentially a sniper rifle on so many steroids that they’d a junky look like a wuss. While all these weapons are pretty analogous to the UNSC issued hardware, what’s absolutely beautiful aboutthem is the way they assemble right into your hand as you pick one up.
The Multiplayer mode of Halo 4 offers War Games (a collection of various game types like Capture the Flag, Slayer etc) and Spartan-Ops. Now while War Games is pretty standard online play, Spartan-Ops is something completely new to the Halo franchise.
Spartan-ops comprises of 10 episodes, each containing 5 chapters. The story of Spartan-Ops is that you’re part of Fire Team Crimson that’s stationed on Requiem 6 months after the events of Halo 4. Even though the campaign may have ended, the story hasn’t and that’s where Spartan-ops comes in. While playing it is all fun and games (haha) what really got our cheese rolling was finding out that the entire multi-player experience was bundles on Disc 2, which requires being installed on the console a disc 1 is needed to run the game. So you either should have an Xbox 360 with an internal hard drive, or you should go out and purchase an 8 gig usb stick to be able to run the multi-player goodness. This is absolutely the first time we’ve wished the Xbox 360 had a Blu-Ray drive, so we wouldn’t have to juggle disks and bother with installations onto USB drives.
So playing any of the multiplayer games allows you to earn XP, which in turn unlocks weapons, abilities, add-ons and armour bling. In our very extensive online play-session, we found that people love to deck out their armours just as racers love to bling out their race cars. It’s great for building a unique player and we’re quite frankly obsessed with it. You should be too.
Graphics and Sound
We’ll first start with the visuals. Cortana looks absolutely gorgeous. We can’t help but wonder if 343 Industries has a team of dudes dedicated to making her hotter with every passing game. But yes, the entire game has received such intense attention to detail that it was hard for us to not just marvel at the beauty of the structures in the game. On Requiem, when battling in the Forerunner facilities, the structures are very reminiscent of the buildings from Tron Legacy, but they are not just cheap rip-offs, but extremely well done. The Forerunners seem to have harnessed light in an unexplainable way, and the game reflects that extremely well. The lighting is just exquisite and it’s very hard to believe that Microsoft has managed to pull off such boundary-pushing graphics from a console that many assume is End-of-Life.
One of the most overlooked parts of a game is the soundscape, as it is one of those experiences that is always passive. We hooked up our console to our home theater system and fired up the campaign mode. The actors have done an excellent job voicing the characters, which is to be expected when a studio has Microsoft’s enormous cheque-book backing them up. However, it’s also the little things that stand out, like the thump of Chief’s boots that lend to his “larger-than-life” persona. It’s the fact that each character has a signature sound, be it for running, talking, screaming or walking. Fight sequences are an auditory delight with excellent sound separation (provided you have good headset or speakers) and the music isn’t too distracting.
If it were not for Halo, it’s quite possible Microsoft’s Xbox dreams would have been resting in a grave right beside Zune. So assuming that Microsoft would have a soft corner for this franchise is understandable. When Bungie announced their departure from the Halo series, the game’s future seemed bleak, and when 343 Industries stepped in, their credibility to revive such a hug franchise was questioned.
We have played Halo 4 several times now, and as fanboys AND first time players, we assure you that this game will make you tear up. It could be because it’s going to school in you what shooters are all about, or it could even be because of the emotionally wrenching moments that are scattered around the game. The storyline and the gameplay complement each other so beautifully that it’s almost impossible to put the controller down. Halo 4 isn’t just for the fans of the franchise, but also for those who’ve never played the series before. Halo 4 sets the stage for another trilogy and we couldn’t have asked for a more compelling game to bring back the franchise.
And for anyone wondering, Halo 4 is exclusive to the Xbox 360. We say this because there was actually someone at the launch of the game who asked when it would be out for PS3 and PC, and he was not kidding.