If Halo is Combat Evolved, then Halo 4 truly is Halo Evolved. From the opening cinematic of the single player campaign to the completely fresh feeling multiplayer, everything about Halo 4 feels like a classic Halo experience, but also feels like something completely new. A lot of this growth is due to an updated look for the series and a much more cinematic and personal story for Master Chief.
When last we saw Master Chief, he had ended a galactic war, been presumed dead, and locked away in cryo-stasis with his AI life-mate Cortana on the damaged Forward Unto Dawn. Cut to 4 years later, and Master Chief is brought out of stasis when arriving into the orbit of a forerunner planet. Oh, and a covenant fleet is hanging out for shiggles as well, and apparently this is a fanatical religious sect of the covenant, because up until now we’ve only dealt with the well-meaning wanting to destroy the galaxy covenant. After that, you rather quickly get sucked into the Forerunner planet via a gravity well, meet a race of creatures called Prometheans that really don’t want you there, and then meet a big bad that upon first meeting you aren’t even sure Master Chief can take down, all while Cortana hangs in the balance as an AI’s life cycle isn’t meant to last 7 years. And this is all within the first few hours of gameplay.
I’m focusing a bit on the story because I feel like this is the first Halo game that really had a fully developed arc instead of a string of battle scenarios held together by a loose plot. There is even a certain amount of comparing that one could do with Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, as the game actually manages to deal with some of the same themes of where we come from and where we’re going, not the kind of thing Halo ever went for in the past. In Halo 1 & 2, Master Chief is saving the world because he’s a soldier and it’s his job. In Halo 4, Master Chief is fighting to save Cortana and, through plot points I won’t spoil, he has to go against orders to save humanity once again. The storytelling component of the series is so improved that it is the highlight of the game for me. I care about what happens to Master Chief. That’s not what I expected from a Halo game. I go to Mass Effect for my feels, not Halo. But I’ll be damned if Halo 4 doesn’t draw an emotional response from me. I don’t want to just beat the game for once, I want to see how the story ends.
Visually, this Halo is far superior, as it feels more theatrical than previous iterations of the franchise. The game does rely on cinematics a lot more than in the past, but they’re well-timed breathers from the action for the most part, and, as I said previously, the story is enthralling enough that you want to see them. Cortana and Master Chief both have updated looks for the first Halo from 343 and Master Chief definitely got the better redesign. Just when you think he can’t look more bad-ass, they go and do it. The game is stunning to play. It’s a more vivid and colorful gameplay experience than in the past, and if you don’t understand my meaning, play ODST again. Dark Grey, Dark Grey Everywhere.
It’s impossible to write a review of Halo and not mention the multiplayer. For once, the single player campaign is strong enough that I could avoid it, but the truth is that Halo 4‘s multiplayer is good again, and I didn’t realize Halo multiplayer had gone bad. The variety of games and the point-based scoring instead of straight kill count in infinity slayer make multiplayer a worth while experience, even if you’re not the best player around. Adding in the ability to unlock loadouts and armor, a multiplayer mechanic in other shooters that are almost solely multiplayer in design, gives players an investment in continuing to play, and even gives a slight advantage to people who vary their play styles.
Halo 4 is the best Halo game so far, and if this is the direction they’re going with the next few games, then I’m all for it. A cohesive and engaging storyline, compelling characters and incredible visuals make Halo 4 one of the best games of the year. It’s a return to form for an amazing franchise that didn’t feel dull until it reinvented itself and made you realize how much more it could have been.
For more details on Spartan Ops, check out Dan Casey’s demo from Comic-Con. You can also enter to win a sold out Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn Master Chief vs. Hunter Statue now based on scenes from Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn on Machinima Prime (highly recommended viewing on the YouTube app on your Xbox instead of on a cramped computer monitor).