Halo returns to reclaim its title as an impressive action shooter

 

The following review is based upon my personal opinion of the Halo 4 single player campaign.

Let’s face it – 343 Industries have some pretty big shoes to fit into since Bungie officially decided to move on from the Halo franchise. Leaving behind an incredibly successful campaign of single and multiplayer compatibility, it is very easy to assume that many gamers may be stricken with fear with what they might find upon bringing the next generation of the Halo story home with them.

Safe to say, after two years of being without a new Halo game to play, it has been absolutely worth the wait to have this new game added to the Halo collection.

Halo Reach, the prequel to the Halo storyline, was an incredibly great game for Bungie to leave their saga on, with a beautifully epic and emotional single player campaign that was as challenging as it was captivating.

Halo 4 dares to push that daring storyline even farther this time.

From the very moment the game begins, you know you are onto something special. Swept up in the complete awe of the graphics, not to mention the high definition sound quality that explodes out from your television set, the music immediately sets up an emotionally charged moment, and you cannot help but shed a tear to be glad to finally be back where you belong – in the loving embrace of the ever imaginative Halo universe.

Halo 4 is the first in a trilogy of new Halo games that are known as the Reclaimer Trilogy. The game immediately picks up after the events of Halo 3. For those who played the game on Legendary, they might remember seeing Chiefy and Cortana’s vessel, the Hammer of Dawn being pulled into the atmosphere of an unknown planet.

It turns out that this occurrence which transpired at the end of the Halo 3 credit’s is set four years after the Ark’s devastation, and the gruelling end to the antagonistic foes which dominated the original Halo trilogy. The game starts out with Cortana fulfilling the promise that the master Chief granted to her at the conclusion of the last game – ‘wake me when you need me’, and sure enough, the first words that come out at you are those of Jen Taylor, reprising her role as Cortana asking you to awaken from your slumber.

Now, the reason for your slumber being broken is, funnily enough, not because your ship is plummeting towards the alien planet below – no; it’s because you have some unwelcome visitors on board. The remnants of the Hammer of Dawn has been boarded by Covy’s (Covenant forces), and it is your job to punish them for coming aboard your vessel.

The planet Chief and Cortana find themselves falling towards is Requiem, or, in Layman’s terms, the world of the Forerunner’s. This is the beginning of the story, and the primary one which shall flow throughout the franchise. Chief and Cortana crash land on the alien planet, and subsequently need to leave. Seriously – this storyline could have been completed in one game, and it is here that the major issue of the game comes into play – its length.

One can complete the game on the Heroic setting in around 10+ hours, which makes it far shorter than previous campaigns. You may notice that I have not dared to mention the length it might take for you to complete the game on the Legendary skill setting. Safe to say I did try such a skill, but I do believe, and the Halo guide (valued at an average of $38.00) agrees unanimously with me, that one should not play the game on the highest skill setting immediately upon entering the game. The aliens will make certain that you do not enjoy your experience, as they punish your every breath with immediate destruction. One should probably stick with Heroic, and learn the layout of the land before daring to progress forwards, but I will go into more detail about this later on.

However, 343 Industries further envelops the primary storyline with a wide variety of additional stories that spread it out, and will keep it alive for the following two sequels. The major plot one will immediately find is the relationship between Chief and Cortana, and how much longer this is going to last for. Being an A.I, Cortana only has an 8 year life span which is on the verge of being fulfilled. As one can imagine, this leaves a lot of questions open, including whether she will outlive such a span unlike other A.I constructs, and whether all that she has been through in the previous Halo franchise will in any way affect her life.

For me, I have always being kind of wishing that Chief and Cortana will suddenly realise their feelings for one another and begin a romanticised relationship, so I guess this indeed may pose as another legitimate question to Halo fans.

The other new addition to the storyline is the enemies. The Prometheans are in no way friendly, and will prove to be a challenging adversary for the Chief to fight against this time around. However, one should not be disappointed, because previous enemies, including Elites, Jackals, Hunters and the ever lovable Grunts whose heads explode like confetti (if you want them to) make appearances along the way as well to remind gamers how great it felt to blow these Covenant bastards out of your jurisdiction. These guys are different this time around; more fanatical, and as Cortana early on says ‘perhaps you could ask them real nicely (to borrow one of their craft)’, and the Chief replies rather pluckily ‘asking has never been my strong suit’, and the fact that the alien bastards can’t speak the Eng will further endorse this. Long story short, expect them to be covered in a different set of armour, and for them to be a little more bad ass than their previous Covenant buddies who are choir boys in comparison to what 343 Industries have cooked up.

That is not to say that Halo 4 is difficult – in fact it is quite the opposite, which poses another issue. I have always played the Halo games on Legendary, and this new title in the franchise perfectly suggest why. Going back and playing the first level on Normal, I found myself blasting away through lines of Covy’s with little trouble, the aliens falling at my feet before my endless slaughter, whilst I made my way out from each and every battle relatively uninjured.

Playing the game on higher difficulties is in this sense recommended, not only to ensure the further longevity of the title, but because it is here that the really challenging atmosphere, not to mention the amazing nature of the AI of the enemy combatants can be truly garnered during game play. Enemies will duck and weave their way out from your attacks, and shall suppress, flank, snipe, toss your grenades back at you, defend fellow soldiers, call in support and do all manner of other tactical combat strategies as to annihilate you with extreme prejudice. During Halo Reach I was impressed with the way the Elites successfully manoeuvred across the battlefield, leaping like jumping jacks out from the line of your fire, only to return fire with alarming accuracy. Halo 4 further pushes this impressive nature, and will continuously leave you breathless as the enemy AI does an alarming excellent job at defeating you time and time again, which only furthers the enjoyment you receive upon successfully triumphing over them.

Even during these battles though, Halo not once loses that feeling which was found during fights back in the original Halo franchise. Feeling is an incredibly powerful aspect of games, and I can happily say that it has not changed under the new management. Blowing large groups of enemies up with grenades and charging through them with your battle rifle is just as fun as it was back in Halo’s past, and the new affects including new sounds for all weapons and challenging new combatants add additional pleasure to the action.

The vehicles too are much the same as with previous games. The first time you find yourself behind the wheel of the Warthog you will be unable to do anything but smile in glee as you go bumper to bumper across the ‘roads’ that stretch out before you. Upon coming face to face with uglies, you will often find yourself switching the minigun turret for your wheels as you happily run over your hapless victims as they attempt to leap out of you way.

The little upgrades here and there – the additional spiralling colours on the Ghost; the fresh coat of paint on the Warthog; the brand spanking new designs of the weapons; the new HUD and general physical design of Chief’s outfit, not to mention the unbelievably gorgeous physicality of the sexy Cortana; the way the Forerunner technology is working in synchronicity with one another; everything makes the game come to light like never before.

However, the Covy weapons you will find often lose their charge at impeccable speed, and the ammunition with weapons the likes of the favourite Needler and the not band Covy Carbine is downed like pop corn, which will keep you switching weapons throughout the campaign. This adds an additional flavour to the challenging atmosphere, especially on higher difficulty settings where this becomes especially noticeable.

As with Reach moreover, special little devices can be picked up to aid you in your battle. The ‘run’ ability that could be grabbed in Reach is an automatic attachment, and when you push down on your movement stick you will find Chiefy propelling across the ground at great speed. Other new attachments can include anything from cloaking gadgets, to shields and other bits and pieces to help you in your struggle. Believe me when I say – these will prove effectively helpful.

Battling against the Knight will leave you having to use all manner of combat strategies as to defeat the alien menace, and the Crawlers will keep you checking your tail in case they have once more managed to sneak up behind you, because they do not get their name for no reason – they really will crawl about the battlefield.

Now, Halo is not just an all out action blockbuster. Returning to the story, the game maintains an emotional connection with the gamer from the very beginning, and focuses on the past histories of both John 117 (Chiefy to some) and that of Cortana. Players will be glad to find that the original voice talents of Chiefy and Cortana have returned to reprise their roles, and both do admirably effective jobs at making the story more vibrant and alive. This develops into a story about friendship, love, compassion, loss, redemption, vengeance and freedom, and is filled with terrific moments that you will wish to experience endlessly again and again.

Additional new characters, including the crew of the Infinity, a fellow UNSC vessel that was unfortunate enough to crash onto Requiem as well, the Librarian, and the new antagonistic Forerunner force known as the Daedric, that is not only very interested in Chiefy – but in the complete and utter eradication of all human life, add additional sustenance to an already engaging storyline.

Now, even though I have played all of the previous Halo instalments, including the original Halo reboot, gamers like me, who have focused less on the fictional stories and other such narratives that have been introduced to tell the Halo story may at times experience information overload. It would seem that 343 Industries at times caters for the true Halo Geeks by presenting them with a genuine reward for reading the fiction by making many references to that which can be found in such books and other mediums. Long story short – at times one may sometimes think ‘what?’ as the story unfolds and you are introduced more and more with aspects, titles and creations that were never brought up in previous games – but were brought up in the books.

This aside, none of this ever gets in the way of harming the primary story – the connection between Chiefy and Cortana. Armed with an ending that you will not see coming, Halo 4 is a definitive new edition to one of the greatest FPS franchisees around and boldly makes you fall in love again and again with that which made the Halo franchise great. 343 Industries calls this the ‘Reclaimer Trilogy’. One look at the unfathomably gorgeous visuals, powerful storyline, impressive enemy combatants and the wide open spaces in the glorious level design and you will know why; Halo is back to reclaim its throne as one of the greatest games of all time.

Halo 4 is a bona fide masterpiece in the making. A 10+ in my book.

Later today, I will unveil my critique of the Halo multiplayer – if I find someone worthy to fight me that is…

To keep up to date with me:

If you wish, come fight Covenant with me on Twitter: @DerekChilds1

Or, if you want to, come follow the fiery beast on Facebook by becoming my new found friend: http://www.facebook.com/derek.childs.94

Thank you for reading!

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