Halo 4
Developer: 343 Industries
Price: $60
Platform: Xbox 360

The Halo series has always been engaging and unique among other first person shooters, and Halo 4 keeps the tradition going with interesting combat and rewarding multiplayer.

Halo 4 is the first game by 343 Industries, a internal Microsoft studio created for the sole purpose of handling the Halo franchise when Bungie broke away. It’s evident in every facet of Halo 4, that the team behind it is passionate and dedicated to making a game worthy to carry the name.

The campaign opens right where Halo 3 left off with Master Chief drifting aboard half of a UNSC ship. He has been in cryosleep for 4 years, while Cortana has been alone thinking. The player takes control with the Covenant suddenly back in the picture. The game never says exactly why they are back just hints through Cortana about a possible rogue expedition and that “A lot can happen in four years.”

There is one other disconnect with the story. The new antagonist is barely introduced, and is thrown at players with the expectation that they should already be familiar with him. Upon further inspection of previous Halo games, they’ve addressed him, albeit hidden in terminals across Halo 3. This is a minor flaw in the bigger picture of a much more humanizing story between Cortana and Master Chief.

343 Industries did an excellent job at giving players a look inside the cold metal super soldier that is Master Chief by putting him in difficult emotional struggles between himself and his longest companion. While this is the start of the “Reclaimer Trilogy,” the game is fairly self contained, and wraps up in a satisfying manner.

Apart from making a more serious, emotional story 343 also brought the tone to the ears of the players with an entirely different style of musical score. Composer Neil Davidge has done an excellent job at delivering his first soundtrack for a Halo game. The music uses a choir, and chanting that is reminiscent of previous Halo games but that’s where the similarities end. The melodies are powerful and memorable and I often found myself anticipating the apex of a song, which paralleled perfectly with the ongoing narrative.

The music isn’t the only sound bringing the power as all of the weapons from the Halo universe have been given an updated feel. The weapons all sound amazing. The classics from previous Halo’s resonate with an ominous feeling that gives the sense of true stopping power. Sheet metal being inserted into a muffled garbage disposal comes to mind.

War Games is where Halo 4 multiplayer shines. The core mechanics that were established in previous games are still at the forefront, however some subtle changes to the formula give it a modernized feel.

Sprint is no longer restricted to an armor ability which means that everyone can sprint to get to the action quicker. This changes the pace of combat and made evading power weapons easier. Sprinting between structures and running for survival is more dynamic, being used in tandem with armor abilities. One potential downside to sprint is the quick route back into the action after a death,  just to get killed again. This requires some restraint and strategy to be used with sprint to better the chances of victory.

Death also has been updated for Halo 4. “Situation Records” can be viewed upon death if the gametype permits it, allowing players to view how their killer took them out. Simply put, this feature is a killcam but it’s refreshing to see games borrowing successful components from each other in order to improve a player’s experience.

More changes are brought with the War Games mode than just a killcam. In the flagship gametype, Infinity Slayer, players upon death can respawn instantly. This freshens up Halo multiplayer, allowing allies to get back into the action and assist teammates quickly, or giving novice players a slippery slope to racking up their death count.

Perhaps the biggest change to the game is the removal of weapons from the maps. Instead of players rushing towards a standard location for a maps power weapon, weapons are dropped/materialized in capsules at different locations, each with its own distance indicator. These weapons and grenades are periodically dropped at “different” locations and times during the match (if the drops are random, you could use random). This drastically changes the competitive warzone. In previous Halo games, players would often grab the power weapons and then guard the known location until it respawned. This new style allows for more dynamic battles, and an entertaining flow of action across the map.

Ordinance drops are rewards on a personal level. Players are given an ordinance meter that fills up as they earn points towards their team’s goal. This meter is persistent between deaths and once it is filled, they are given an option to call down a choice of three things. Usually a power weapon (needler, hammer, sword, etc…), a refill of a grenade type or a physical power boost (speed, damage, shield).

Spartan Ops is another multiplayer component of Halo 4. It is a cooperative, narrative driven replacement for Bungie’s Firefight mode. Spartan Ops is broken up into seasonal DLC. The first season is released for free for Gold subscribers, and contains 10 weekly episodes. Each episode begins with a pre-rendered cut scene progressing the story of a squad of Spartan-IVs. The episodes are broken into 5 missions and the missions average around 15 minutes to complete.The first few episodes of the season started out pretty slow, with somewhat repetitive objectives, all ending in the “kill all remaining enemies” objective. However elements in later episodes have proven to be more complex.

During War Games and Spartan Ops, players are earning experience which contribute to a player’s spartan unlocks and customizations. Similar to other modern FPS games, players earn Spartan Points during the level up process so they can customize their weapon loadouts to meet their playstyles. Level gates only prevent cosmetic unlocks while weapons and abilities can all be unlocked as soon as the player has the required points to unlock them. The cost of these unlocks are usually 1SP but at most will cost 3SP.

Even at the beginning when players have not unlocked a specific weapon that is best suitable for the gametype, each playlist has default loadouts that players can chose from to keep the matches balanced. This unlock/progression system works great. Experience is easily earned and reaching the next level, or getting that set of armor you have been working towards is very satisfying. Certain pieces of armor are only unlocked through specific challenges (splatter 200 people in matchmaking games will earn you a bright green visor color) which gives players motivation to switch up play styles and keep the game fresh.

The Final Word
The level of polish 343 given to Halo 4 is astonishing. The game is packed full of so many features, building on the foundation by Bungie, while at the same time making it their own. This is the strongest Halo in the series on every level. If you are only buying one game this year, you can’t get much better than Halo 4.

- MonsterVine Rating: 5 out of 5 – Excellent