[Review] Halo 4 (Xbox 360)

Reclaimer. Hero. Protector.

TITLE: “Halo 4”
DEVELOPER: 343 Industries
PUBLISHER: Microsoft Studios
PLATFORM: Xbox 360
RATING: Mature (M)
RELEASE DATE: November 6, 2012

I was more than a little excited when I finally got hold of Halo 4 and put the disk into the console. I played Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3 and Halo: Reach. I read Fall of Reach, First Strike and Ghosts of Onyx. I read Cryptum and Primordium. I watched Halo: Legends and I watched Forward Unto Dawn. I love the Halo universe – the epic story, mythology, places, and characters. And so, Halo 4 sprang to life in front of me…

I was not disappointed. You immediately get treated not only to some snazzy CGI but also to an obviously much more emotional and darker game context. When Halsey is questioned by an unknown figure about the Spartan programme and you see flashbacks of the programme’s dark past, you realise it’s no longer ‘that shooting game.’

Halo 4 is decidedly and ambitiously tragic. The new (or not so new, if you read the books!) threat to the galaxy is quite secondary. Though intriguing and just as epic as its trilogy prequel, Halo 4 is first and foremost about Master Chief and Cortana. It’s about Cortana’s AI rampancy and existential concerns, the Chief’s inner struggle and the lingering shadow of his ‘upbringing’, and what they both mean to each other. I won’t go further than that to avoid spoilers, but it’s a worthy direction to explore given how much they’ve been through together. I applaude 343 Industries for being brave and attempting to inject some real emotional impact.

With that, the game also feels a lot more personal. Intimate almost. This is reflected not only in Cortana’s presence in your HUD and in scattered panels when plugged in, but also in various cutscenes where emotions run high and characters are pushed to their limits. Del Rio’s breakdown aboard the Mammoth was not only entertaining but impressively directed by the game’s creators. It actually felt real, which was a lot harder to say for most of the previous games in the franchise.

A lot of this is down to great improvements in graphics. The highly detailed textures, tiny realistic character movements, and excellently implemented lipsync make the cinematic cutscene sequences much cooler and full of life. Audio also played its part. The gauntlet through the jungle was made ever so tense because of the ambient sounds making it seem that living things were all around you and ready to pounce around the next corner. Even the Covenant ‘voices’ felt more real this time around (they seemed almost comic to me in previous games).

And you know what? Halo 4 feels truly Sci-Fi. I don’t know about you, but to me the previous games were a bit more ‘fantasy’. I think it was the combination of The Flood and abundance of very much ‘possible’ scenery. Halo 4 is all about completely alien design. Ubiquitous anti-gravity. Architecture of gargantuan scale. Verticality in design. Self-assembling weapons. The first time few times I experienced this on Requiem, it felt awesome. Seeing a Forerunner gun form in pieces around the Chief’s hand made me think “oh yeah, now we’re in the future!”

The future is indeed bright for the franchise, if Halo 4 is anything to go by. It’s not without its faults, of course. You get your occasional misplaced jokes in an otherwise very serious context. Your special skill gets randomly swapped between some levels. The movement still feels as awkward as it has since the first game, but I guess that’s part of the brand now, so to speak. The aircraft flight controls felt bad and the take-downs felt way too rushed and out of tune with the game’s intuitive speed. Laski’s character is explored so much in Forward Unto Dawn, but those who haven’t watched the 5 episodes online might wonder who the heck this is and how he knows Master Chief personally.

As far as my qualms go, however, that’s pretty much it. Is Halo 4 fun? Heck yes. It’s got great pacing with calmer moments of exploration of relationships between frantic battles. There are plenty of familiar lines of dialogue that will surely please the fans. The game has a perfectly integrated tutorial to get you into the control scheme (the glances at where to jump as you climb up are GENIUS!!!). It’s quick to start the firefights and doesn’t hesitate to reveal an amazing new setting with both new and old foes. After you finish the single player campaign, you can continue the story with episodic co-op missions and of course jump into the much-loved multiplayer battlefields. It’s full of action, it’s charged with emotion, and a brand new epic story has just begun. It’s the best Halo yet and I love it!

THE BOTTOM LINE: 92% (A-)

“A worthy continuation for fans and a brilliant beginning for newcomers.”

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