Make like MASTER CHIEF and jump up and down while everyone says how great you are. Hello, Halo 4! We shall now enter your review hole.
Growing up with the ever-evolving Halo games over the past eleven years has filled me – and countless other longterm fans – with a sense of pride and a certain level of commitment. The franchise, spread out over games, books, and an intricate spider’s web of Wiki pages, has recently expanded to include the newest installment from 343 Industries: Halo 4 (Xbox 360). From the very start of the game it’s obvious that 343 Industries respects tradition, retaining the classic images and interactions of the Halo characters, but unlike original game developers Bungie, 343 Industries advance the storyline quickly and dramatically. So, from the terminated Bungie deal emerges the fourth phoenixy installment of Microsoft’s arguably most popular game, and does it disappoint?
Master Chief’s AI companion, Cortana, in Halo 4.
Wake up, sleepyhead. Time to kick ass.
The game opens with Spartan John-117 (the Master Chief, but you knew that already) being woken from his Cryo-induced sleep by his AI companion, Cortana. In an action-packed continuation of the first three Halo games, the player is almost immediately assaulted by combative action which never lets up as the game progresses. As always, Halo 4 carries out the promise of battling that age-old enemy, the Covenant. To avoid monotony, new enemies are introduced as The Master Chief grapples against the Forerunners; controlled by new threat the Didact, a host of Promethean Knights, Floaters, and Crawlers prove unrelenting enemies. The debut of these intimidating targets includes a running theme of Greek mythology, prominent in the first Halo game with the Spartan program, in the second with Tartarus, and now resuscitated with the Promethean Knights. For those versed in Greek myth, the recurring references are a treat.
Prometheus stole fire from the gods. Promethean Knights have weapons worth stealing.
Alongside the exciting game play and brand new threats is the introduction of new Promethean weaponry. Weapons shoot beams of glowing matter which dissolve their targets into thin air. Ammunition and physical cover have become scarce in Halo 4, making the game more difficult and forcing the player to become creative, inventive, and resourceful as they develop various stratagies to succeed.
Master Chief just, you know, shooting things. Then he’ll start jumping up and down for a bit JUST BECAUSE HE CAN. Then he’ll save the world.
The art direction of Halo 4… A waking dream.
In addition to the newfound physical and battle realism of HALO 4, the art direction and scenery are no longer reminiscent of late twentieth and early twenty first century animated polygons. Human movements are fluid, colours are vivid, and the photorealism of the art doesn’t rob the game of its ethereal quality. Halo 4 presents a dreamy vision of nature, machinery, and science, holding up the Halo-specific brand of science fiction that fans, whether they’re experienced in animation or not, continue to love.
Space elevator music
Contrasting the impressive game play and art direction is a new soundtrack composed by Neil Davidge. Frankly, it falls short of the epic standard set by Martin O’Donnell in the first three installments of Halo. Though the music has always retained a beautiful, astral quality, it fails to stack up to the parameter set by O’Donnell. However, the lacklustre soundtrack is redeemed by the game play sound effects which, while still impressive in Halo: ODST and Halo: REACH, go above and beyond the call of duty. Vehicles rev satisfylingly whether they’re growling or accelerating. Light beams and the energetic, automatic whirring of Covenant weaponry seduce the ears and contribute to the new heights of realism in Halo 4.
Master Chief looks proper shiny in Halo 4.
Though Halo’s physical attributes remain impressive, the true luminescence of the game lies in its story. Where Bungie neglected to flesh out some of its characters and left gaping plot holes all over the place, 343 Industries promised development and detail, and boy do they come through! The opening cut scene where the mother of the Spartan Project, Doctor Halsey, is interrogated by a UNSC soldier begins painting an image of panic. Directly following this cut scene is the game play where it comes to the attention of the Master Chief that Cortana is malfunctioning. Halsey, as Cortana’s creator, is the only person able to fix her. The Chief pushes himself to reach earth and escape the threat of the Didect Forerunner, while at the same time saving Earth and defending humanity and the galaxy for the umpteenth time.
Cortana – More human than humans
Cortana’s failing stability, referred to as rampancy, acts as a catalyst not only to flesh out the hinted romantic inclinations between Spartan and AI, but also to bring to light the nature of humanity in the two characters, a theme which pervades all of the Halo games in general. Rampancy resembles a manic condition and causes Cortana to experience uncontrollable emotional outbursts, which lends a further air of humanity to her. She may be digital, but like a human she experiences stress, emotion and even illness, causing the Master Chief to behave as more machine than man. Who is Master Chief, really? Who is he as a super soldier, a product of high technology, and as a man? The contrast between the Master Chief and Cortana causes the player not only to consider the characters’ humanity, but also their own. They might find themselves asking what humanity truly means, and whether this meaning includes the innumerable sacrifices that John-117 has had to make throughout the games and books. The mounting failure of Cortana in the game builds to a crescendo of tension during gameplay, and her strange, digital illness comes to a head in the gut-wrenching conclusion of Halo 4.
Halo 4 certainly has its faults; nevertheless it shines as a pinnacle of the continuing series. The online game play, though I haven’t yet tried it, remains another promising aspect of the game and the new release bodes well for the prospect of a Halo 5, or more additions to the growing Halo craze.
Buy Halo 4 (Xbox 360) on Amazon
Buy Halo 4 (Xbox 360) on Amazon