New enemies and old friends
Master Chief is back. If you know what that means, go buy Halo 4. End of the review. Just kidding, but this is very accurate in regard of the first impression I had from the game. The challenge that the developer 343 Industries had to face was huge. Made huge by the great expectations of the fans of the series and by the great legacy left by the work of Bungie. One of the most recognizable sci-fi series, originated more than ten years ago, was able to navigate the perilous waters of time, gaming industry, marketing and fandom and finally came to us better than ever.
At the end of Halo 3 we left Master Chief and his AI Cortana adrift in the wreckage of the broken Forward Unto Dawn. When someone is trying to aboard the ship it is time for Chief to awake from his cryogenic sleep and investigate. This will lead the Dawn to crash on an unknown planet, with Chief and Cortana seeking answers and a way home. Plus, looks like Cortana is not so good. Apparently AIs have a life of about seven years before they start to literally think themselves to death and Cortana has managed to arrive till eight, but some repercussions are going to become evident, so Chief has another motive of urgency to return back home and fix his companion. The relationship between Master Chief and Cortana and her degenerative situation is one of the main aspects of the campaign. When the informatics mind of Cortana is slowly drifting apart, she starts to become more human of Master Chief himself, who was always more of a machine than a really human soldier. This duality and exchange of roles, with Master Chief slowly losing his confidence on the real odds of saving the AI gives us a new prospective on the characters, with a shift in the dynamic of the two protagonists.
But Halo 4 introduces a new antagonist: the Prometheans. An hybrid of data and biology the new enemies present themselves in various forms, forcing you to change your approach during the battle and to choose wisely which enemy engage first. The AI is one of the best available. As you balance aggression and restraint, you see your enemies doing the same thing. One problem is the limited amount of ammo at your disposal. Scavenging for some weapons on the battlefield after, or even during a fight, breaks the pace; or it’s just frightening.
The presentation and the environments set a new benchmark for the hardware of this generation of consoles. The environments are rich with detail, and simply astonishing and expressive facial animations bring characters to life. It’s all tied together with an amazing soundtrack that complements every aspect of the game. Even the sound effects are brilliant. Everything you see and hear while you play brings you deeper in the world. The campaign is well paced, even if sometimes you feel that some assignments are given just to throw at you a bunch of enemies, when you want to know more about the story and the events instead. You can even play in co-op, using far more efficiently the vehicles and just bringing destruction in a more “friendly” way (see what I did there).
And of course all this brings us to the multiplayer. The strenght of the series, one of the most fun experience in the gaming world. With the leveling system you can grow your Spartan, both in aspect and equipment, unlocking points to spend on weapons, armor abilities and other “buffers” and make your own combinations to use in the matches. The traditional modes are back, like Capture the Flag and Team Deathmatch. The “Zombie Mode” is called Flood and the infected ones have a Flood-mutated arm that works like an energy sword. Regicide is a new free-for-all game type that puts a bounty on the player with the highest score resulting in a frenetic hunt. In Dominion, your team has to capture and hold three bases, with weapons and vehicles drops to help. Almost unnoticed, in the last position of your list you’ll find Swat; no radar and only semi-automatic rifles, for the most strategic players.
The weapons spawned on the field are clearly marked and if you do well you can call your personal drop, consisting in a weapon or an armor boost. The possibilities are random generated and a single choice can change your or, even better, your opponents strategy.
Spartan Ops is planned as a regular series, each episode downloadable for free, offering a CG-animated short and a number of brief playable combat scenarios. It’s a well accepted evolution from the usual map packs. Even if they are still available.
Halo 4 is the worthy successor of the work done until now. It pushes the limits of the console, presenting us with astonishing environments but most of all with a great start for the new trilogy and a great narrative quality for the franchise. For those who were worried about this new studio, don’t. The spirit of Halo is here. For newcomers, this is a perfect starting point.
+ Great narrative and storytelling
+ A new benchmark for visuals and sound
+ The great multiplayer experience we used to love… enhanced
– Brief campaign
– Embarrassing low amount of ammo
– Rare checkpoints during the toughest battles