Friday, 16 November 2012

Halo 4

“Chief’s bond with Cortana makes Halo 4 more than a fight for humanity, rather a desperate fight to keep a friendship spread across a generation of gaming, alive.”

Here we are finally, the beginning of a new Halo chronicle. After being in the hands of 343 Industries for a considerable period of time, the series has evolved but not forgotten its roots. While Bungie created this iconic series, 343 have taken Master Chief and his ever-lovable companion Cortana across a highly engrossing and engaging story that grapples with various enemies threatening to distinguish life itself. Wonderful gameplay coupled with breathtaking graphics and well-paced storytelling makes Halo 4 another huge success that while doesn’t re-invent the series, rather tweaks it in such a manner that helps it feels fresh once again.

Master Chief’s story continues 4 years after the events of Halo 3. After being in cryo-sleep the Chief is awoken by Cortana amidst detection of another threat poised to destroy humanity. Finding their way off the derelict ship Chief makes his way onto foreign soil once again in attempt to save the day. This time however you are faced with the very real possibility of Cortana’s battery dying and shutting down her system. It’s up to you uncover the truth of this mysterious threat whilst getting Cortana back to her maker in an attempt to save her virtual existence and the bond these two have shared for a generation of gaming.

This dual-pronged story of hope and despair is told exquisitely thanks to the outstanding production value of Halo 4. 343 will be proud that their title has arguably the best graphics seen so far on Microsoft’s console, while top quality voice acting and extravagant environments all help to bring this tale to life. It’s also worth noting that another beautiful soundtrack has been put together to make Halo 4’s music another orchestral masterpiece.

While Halo 4’s storytelling and audio design have certainly evolved to new heights, the core gameplay still remains largely familiar. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing especially considering most first-person shooter fans are now so engrossed in Call of Duty that it will probably be highly refreshing to play with Halo’s take on FPS. The campaign brings back the Covenant who work together in groups, use battlefield tactics and provide a threatening enemy to face. The brand new enemy ‘Prometheans’ provide some variation to the gameplay but the same principles of clever AI apply. Their enemy ranks alter the course of battle as you tackle teleporting foes, quick crawlers or hulking giants – all helping to create versatility from the common Covenant threat. Combining your arsenal of weapons, grenades, melee attacks and armour specializations you become a formidable force on the frontlines, one that both sets of enemies will fear.

Halo 4’s campaign lasts for approximately ten hours and is most fun when played with friends. A four play cooperative mode is present and the coop campaign is an absolute blast. Getting together with friends slightly diminishes the emotional relationship between Cortana and Master Chief, but adds heaps to the gameplay allowing you to employ battlefield tactics and taking down enemies with utmost precision.

If that doesn’t float your cooperative boat, then the free downloadable episodes of Spartan Ops just might. Planned as a regular DLC series, these short cooperative missions are comprised with extra story content and while currently undeveloped and somewhat disengaged from one-another, these episodes will hopefully be treated with care by 343 and could potentially end up a highly engaging micro-series in the Halo universe.

Once your done with the campaign or opted to ignore it for the time being, it’s obviously onto the competitive multiplayer mode. Halo’s online element has been a shining beacon for other multiplayer games and remains so after being reinvigorated for Halo 4. All your classic game and objective modes return in full force alongside some new content including Flood (zombies), Domination and Regicide. All these game modes provide a slightly different angle on Halo 4, but most important is how the experience plays online. Opting for modern standards Halo 4 introduces loudouts consisting of standard categories including main weapon, sidearm, grenades and armour abilities based on your specialization and extra attribute bonuses resembling the Perk system in Call of Duty. While this new format takes away from the originality of Halo 4, it does create versatility in how you choose to play the game. You gain access to new weapons, abilities and perks as you level up through Halo’s multiplayer with custom default loudouts also present to ensure there’s balance between lower and higher ranked players. Just because you open with a particular loudout doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck with that set weapon, rather players have the option to call in weapon drops with weapons across the map are clearly pinpointed. Speaking of the maps, they range from small, medium and large terrain – all of which are finely balanced to ensure the essence of Halo’s strategic multiplayer gameplay stays in tact despite these new additions to the fray.

By far the coolest additions to Halo 4 are the Specializations – which are also perk-like enhancements. Think of these Specializations as classes, each of which provide different abilities and can be leveled up separately to enhance your Spartan career. There are 8 different Specializations with those who purchased the Limited Edition bundle gaining access to all 8 at launch, while everybody else has to wait until November 20th. These special armours have various abilities, for example Wetwork increases movement and assassination speed, Pioneer earns more experience points to level up quicker, the Engineer sees weapons drops a couple of seconds before other players, the Tracker can reload the contents of an ordinance drop, the Rogue flinches less during a fire-fight and so forth. Depending on what Specialization you choose can significantly change how you play the game online. So experimentation is absolutely vital to find what abilities suit your playstyle.

Ultimately it’s hard to dispute that Halo 4 really is one fantastic way to send off the Xbox 360 console in terms of flagship exclusive titles. With the new generation looming just around the corner and the release of Nintendo’s WiiU a mere 2 weeks away, it’s fantastic to see that developers are still producing games of such outstanding quality even though there are obviously development kits already out there for new projects on exciting new machines. Halo 4 continues the landmark franchises wonderful story and enhances the gameplay experience to another thoroughly enjoyable level. If you’re looking for anything ranging from excellent single player or cooperative campaigning to exciting online multiplayer then look no further than Halo 4.

9.0 | Gameplay |
Halo 4 provides exhilarating gameplay across the board. A beautifully designed campaign is ripe full of fantastic moments and intense emotional scenes. It provides just the right level of grandeur on both a small scale between Chief and Cortana while concentrating on the perils facing life and humanity itself. If that’s not enough Halo 4 continues setting new heights for online competitive multiplayer by providing the experience we all know and love and enhancing it with a few subtle tweaks that make it contemporary for a modern audience. This is sci-fi action at its absolute finest.

10.0 | Presentation |
Halo 4 is the best looking game on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and all games should aspire to be presented at such a high level. There’s no doubt that the production value here is through the roof but you can absolutely tell as each and every cinematic is gorgeous, each and every piece of dialogue is thought out and emotive – it all just fits together into one terrific package.

10.0 | Replay Value |
Halo 4 has a whole bunch of collectables and various difficulty levels that will keep you coming back to the campaign, if you’re not completely hooked on the multiplayer. Just like the original Halo completely blew online gaming away, Halo 4 provides the same incredible experience with a few much needed tweaks that keep things feeling fresh in what is a familiar environment. Nevertheless, with the amount of content to unlock, levels to reach and exp to gain, you could very well be playing Halo 4 all the way through this holiday period and beyond into 2013.

9.5 | Final Thoughts |
As far as modern shooters go this is pretty much as good as it gets. Halo 4 is a testament to incredible technical development. This is a whole package that provides a fleshed out campaign mode and a terrific online experience that is ripe full of content. As far as I’m concerned this generation has reached its peak and what better way for Microsoft to bow out the 360 with this technical marvel.  

If this tickles your fancy, I recommend similar games: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 & Battlefield 3.  

Igor Kharin.

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