Just the sound of the word has many meanings to many fans around the world. There are bands and there are even ideologies of a “halo”. For many people around the world, it is a major part of life. Spanning fans from many countries around the world, it’s no longer just a video game. It is a universe. The universe of Halo spans multiple mediums from video games, movies, music and reading material. This year, we celebrate the legacy of Master Chief and his AI Cortana for a whole new trilogy, starting with Halo 4.
Halo 4 was released on November 6th, 2012. Admittedly, Halo 4 was completely off my radar. I never thought I would have been writing this review today. I had causally been watching videos of the game and reporting on the news that broke out. I did eventually get an interest and what has transpired in the last week has not only been a hell of ride, but one of the best video gaming experiences on Xbox this generation. Not only is this a new trilogy, but this is a whole new generation of Halo. A refresh, if you will. Gone is Bungie who have left the series into the very capable hands of 343 Industries; the very same people that helped Bungie make Halo: Reach and having played through most of the Halo franchise myself, I know a thing or two about some Halo.
Halo 4 is truly a beautiful game. The Forerunner world is gorgeous and the very first scene you see in the game will take your breath away. Not for its action, but for its beauty. Halo 4 is one of the prettiest games I have seen since Red Dead Redemption. It’s a wonder to behold the the very first time you boot up the campaign. The lights scream at you with unbridled passion, to the point of almost blinding. The animations are more fluid than Halo: Reach and the textures are amazing. When you go through the Foreunner planet’s forest for the first time, the vines and the trees will pop out to you like they are alive. The covenant ships and scenery will temporarily blind you, but only because of the great lighting engine 343 Industries has programmed. The character models have been completely re-done. There are more polygons, higher resolution textures, and the animations are smoother. The biggest stand out is Cortana. She has been fully re-imagined. She is still the tough talker, but her look is completely changed and made into a more humanistic figure.
Speaking of talking, another super achievement to Halo 4 is its sound. This could be one of the best sounding games I have heard in quite a long time. All new gun sounds for almost all of the guns, including the Assault Rifle which will make you feel like a badass in either the single player or multiplayer modes. From the very first menu music that you hear, you will hear the essence of Halo flow through your ears to the beat of the drum during intense combat in the forests of the Forerunner planet. The soundtrack is not done by our old friends, Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori; however, this does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that this soundtrack is bad. In fact, Halo 4 could be one of the best soundtracks in Halo’s history. I give credit the new composer Neil Davidge and his ability to capture the moment of parts of the game with ultimate clarity. Be warned, however, that the original Halo theme is no where to be found. There are some moments where the music is drowned out by the intense action on the fields of battle. This happens few and far between however, and isn’t an indication of how the game’s sound is throughout Halo.
Halo is known for its interesting choices for level design, especially in the latter year of Halo’s first trilogy. Take whatever you knew about Halo’s level design and throw it out the window. Halo 4’s level design is fantastic. In single player, the pace is quick and fierce. There is never a dull moment and when there is, a moment of dialogue from Cortana and Chief or other characters within Halo 4 will make their presence felt. The worlds are very much inspired by Earth, but take things to new lengths with forests that rise up to the heavens with big trunks of trees to run up and vines to tremble down. There is so much variation to the levels, it will make you feel like on you’re on a safari trip. The world is popping with colors, even in the duller levels where color isn’t the big standout but lighting, and there’s a lot of bloom in there for you to see.
If you’re worried that Halo isn’t still the same Halo you know and love; well, you can put those fears to rest. Halo controls exactly the same as the other games. If something doesn’t feel right to you, however, you can make a pitstop in the settings and change how you play the game with a shmorgishborg of control features. New to the game is the primary function of dash in which you may now use the dash feature in each loadout you choose. It makes the game feel a bit more like Call of Duty, but you’re still playing the same old Halo with the correct amount of damage per gun, which brings me to my next point with guns. Halo 4 brings new guns to the table and updating and improving older guns. Newer Forerunner guns like the Light Rifle and the Suppressor are two of the newest guns and now two of my favorite guns in the game. Not only are they vicious rifles, but they feature of the coolest designs of the game. Returning is the DMR and surprisingly the Battle Rifle, a three burst shot weapon. You may also get on field weapons which pack quite a punch.
Multiplayer is one of the biggest parts of Halo. In fact, that’s why many people buy this game. We are so infatuated with competitive and cooperative play that, sometimes, we believe that only the multiplayer is sufficient. Halo 4’s multiplayer isn’t as widespread as Halo: Reach, but it does contain a lot of a great games that are open to you right when you start playing Halo. Before playing, however, you are required to install the second disc that comes with the game. This is the only knock I have against the multiplayer, but in terms of speed, it does seem to make a big difference. There are plenty of modes to choose from when playing Multiplayer: War Games, Spartan Ops, and Forge.
War Games is just what you think it is: competitive multiplayer. It’s the bread and butter of the multiplayer experience. You can choose Infinity Slayer, Big Team Infinity Slayer, Dominion, Regicide, Flood, Capture the Flag, Oddball, King of the Hill and finally Team Slayer Pro. Each of these games give you a unique experience in playing multiplayer. One of the favorite games is Regicide, in which you compete to dethrown the “King” of the level by killing him. The better you do as King, the better your point spread. If kill the King with max point spread, not only are you awarded the points of the kill, but the extra points for killing the King.
Flood is Halo 4’s zombie category, but I feel is much better since you are playing the zombies yourself. At the beginning point of the match there is only one zombie and, as a team, you are required to survive the Flood pursuit. The Flood are fast, but aren’t very powerful. Don’t let this fool you. You WILL be killed if you think you can out maneuver the Flood. If the Flood does catch you, you are part of the Flood and you will have to try to kill your former squadmates. It’s a rather fun mode, and it’s quick.
The last new category is Dominion. This is completely new and is basically the equivalent of Domination from the Call of Duty games. Dominion is simple: first one to capture the most bases will start gaining points. There are three bases in which you can go after and the one who holds the most will get the most points. The key to this game is getting two and holding that position. If you can get three, then you’ll be crushing your opponent in no time.
What makes multiplayer compelling this time around is how balanced 343 Industries made Halo 4. Level design wise, these are some of the funnest maps I have played in a Halo game in quite sometime. The return Valhalla, now known as Ragnarok, and a host of new maps make the entirety of Halo 4 a brand new Halo multiplayer game in of itself. One of the maps that caught my eye was Haven. It’s a Forerunner map that is, while very symmetrical, very fun and frantic. Haven takes place on the Forerunner planet and features a unique building structure. The way the map is designed is that there could be firefights in multiple corners of the map, not only just in the middle. 343 Industries made a great leap with symmetrical and non-linear maps that had me spell bound.
Co-operative play returns with Halo 4 as well, known as Spartan Ops. These Ops are more than just your stand-alone cooperative play. These are brand new stories with Halo 4’s story. You and a team of Spartans are set on missions throughout the Forerunner planet. What makes these so interesting is the fact that 343 Industries plans on releasing new episodes in the near future. So, just when you’re sick of playing the same co-op missions, more will be at your beck and call… when 343 releases them, anyway. Spartan Ops can also be played Solo and joined at a later time; however, I would not take a chance with the AI that appears in Spartan Ops. I noticed that a lot of the time your brothers in arms are always in sync with each other and your warhog will be going places you didn’t even think were possible.
One of the coolest parts of Halo 4’s multiplayer is the fact that you can now customize your Spartan to your desires. You can customize your loadouts to have a specific gun. Want a Battle Rifle and a Plasma Pistol? You can do that. In order to unlock the better guns you will need to do some hardcore leveling and unlock them with a Spartan Balance and your Spartan Rank. The more rank you level, the more you can purchase new upgrades using your Spartan balance. It’s the the CR currency as we have seen the past games. You are limited to one balance per level up. The more you save, the more you can unlock. Armor abilities are also back in a big way. Not just armor abilities, but Tactical Support and Support Upgrades are now also allowed to be unlocked. These consist of higher ammo capacity to infinite sprint. The choice is yours on how you use them in your Halo 4 career.
The last element of the multiplayer is Forge. Forge is the ultimate map creator in the Halo universe. You change any part of the 3 Forge Maps in the game. Game types like Griffball and Rocket Race were originally created in this awesome feature. Some of the newest features of Forge include locking in, which you can lock an item so that it will not move, even by the force of gravity. You can duplicate objects to your hearts content to make a huge bridge or a huge stairwell to heaven. The choice is yours. The latest coolest addition is the magnet system. You can now snap together pieces to create a bridge or a stairwell and it will connect to another piece of geometry. It’s one of the finest additions. Other minor additions include dynamic lightning that will make your maps look silky smooth.
Halo 4 is a true success for the Halo franchise. If you were wanting to get back into the franchise, now is the time that you do so. Halo 4 isn’t just a step above Halo, it’s step above the entire First Person Shooter genre. A cool story along with some of the most addicting competitive multiplayer on the market. Halo 4 blows away the competition. If you don’t have Halo 4 then it’s imperative that you get this game and add it to your library. I cannot express the amount of time I have already spent with this game and I’m sure if you’re a true Halo fan, you will not be putting this game down any time soon. Now… all it needs is some Rocket Race and it would be a perfect game. I guess that’s what Forge all about!