If there’s anything we can learn from Halo, it’s that being a die-hard fan can be taxing with all the pressure felt to stick with a series no matter how bad things get. Halo: Reach was an example of this dilemma. This was a game that irked players to the point where purist fans felt like they hit a fork in the road. It was a long, depressing funeral march for each of the Spartan characters. Some fanatic gamers may have decided it wasn’t a part of their beloved series. After 343 Industries (the sub-studio of Bungie largely responsible for the new installment) purchased the rights to the series, fans have been biting their fingernails in anticipation for Halo 4. Much to fans’ surprise, and relief, this didn’t turn out to be a Mass Effect 3-style resolution.
Halo 4takes place almost five years after the events of Halo 3, which left Master Chief floating in space, preserved in cryo-stasis while his AI companion, Cortana, watched over him. Unforeseen events force Cortana to thaw the Chief out of stasis and, as if on cue, the dreaded Covenant is knocking on their doorstep once again.
Not too much about the game-play is different, but what has changed certainly spices things up. Sprinting, for example, is now innate rather than taking space as an armor ability. The most notable change, however, is in weaponry. It is possible to play this game and be a fan of the human weapons again. Every weapon, from the classic MA5 Assault Rifle to the Reach-favored DMR, is equally lethal. It’s no longer “Which gun is better?” as much as it is “Which gun is preferable?”
Graphics have been given a pleasingly drastic overhaul as well. Environments capture that soft contrast of colors that Halo 3 had, as though 343 Industries realized that Reach’s attempt at a grittier look was a colossal failure. Even character models are currently at the best quality seen in a Halo title to date. This means players could be able to anticipate what a character was about to say based on their facial expressions alone.
The game’s replay value is rather modest when it comes to the campaign, which is a rather well-paced five to eight hours, but the Infinity extras, such as Multiplayer and Spartan Ops are downright addictive. Multiplayer is both rewarding and entertaining beyond combining the good elements of both Halo 3 and Reach. One of the best modes by far is Spartan Ops, a cooperative capable sub-campaign that releases new missions episodically every week. These episodes are free, complete with a full rendered cut-scene for each. As sad as it is to say goodbye to Firefight mode, Spartan Ops serves as a fair replacement. The only downside is that an internet connection and Xbox LIVE account are required to run it, which is still subject to change through possible title updates.
There are some complaints to be made about this game, though they are mostly trivial when comparing the good versus the bad. Armor seems to have taken an awkward route, with both Spartan characters and even NPCs like Marines. It just doesn’t look like a classic Halo-guy. Another issue is that of Commander Sara Palmer, the player’s handler for Spartan Ops missions, voiced by Jennifer Hale. Jennifer Hale is fantastic. Her voice role as the female Commander Shepard in Mass Effect is iconic, but having that voice doesn’t change the flatness of a character like Sara Palmer. Again, this is simply nitpicking.
Overall, fans will be pleased with how Halo 4 turned out in the new, caring hands of 343 Industries. The campaign was thrilling, multiplayer is a blast, and Spartans Ops has all but become The Walking Dead for Halo fans. So far, the change of hands has yielded favorable results, and leaves an optimistic outlook for future titles in this new trilogy.