Halo is synonymous with Xbox. Originally its launch title for the original console back in 2001, Halo: Combat Evolved featured a new perspective on the FPS genre and is seen amongst the gaming community, as the Granddad of modern titles. If you look long and hard enough, the majority of shooters released over the last decade have signs of Master Chief and it could be argued, paved the way for new forms of waging war in the digital landscape.
Originally developed by Bungie studios, they enjoyed enormous success over the last few years, with the Halo world being developed in nearly every conceivable medium possible: from award winning musical scores to live action never-to-be-released cinema footage by Peter Jackson. Halo has left no stone un-turned and continues to excite the imagination for thousands worldwide.
Late to the Spartan party? No bother. In essence, the story line is as follows:
Genetically augmented to be humanity’s last stand against religious zealots hell bent (literally) on the destruction of the Human Race, you control the 7ft war machine Master Chief. Leading the Human contingent across alien worlds, Master Chief has seen his fair share of action over the years. The Covenant (a band of angry aliens who wouldn’t win any modelling competitions) waged war against the Earth and surrounding colonies, as the Humans spread out across the galaxy – with no foreseeable way of stopping them.
That is, until the ‘Chief halted their plans at the end of what would be one of the most impressive and iconic endings to a franchise, Halo 3.
Fast forward to “present” day: Master Chief thaws after being on ice for several years and lands himself on a new alien world – with some old – and new friends to play with. By friends, these are of course, murderous aliens that have a dislike for augmented, green suited super soldiers.
So with Bungie calling time on Master Chief in the critically acclaimed Halo Reach, a pre-cursor to the last Halo title, there was, for the first time in a decade – a period where a Halo tile wasn’t in development.
Cue 343 Industries (343i). This little known studio responsible for the Halo Waypoint experience, took the reins of the vast and immersive legacy. The real questions on gamer’s lips resounded through online forums and comment boards for the last couple of years during development: can 343i pull off an authentic and true-to its core-Halo experience, paying tribute to the legion of fans and FPS fanatics alike?
In short, they have and they surprisingly may have outdone their predecessors, surpassing all expectations and delivering a truly engaging title. On and offline.
So what’s new with Halo 4 then? Well the game is split into two logical formats: Single Player and Multiplayer.
Single player as previously mentioned, grows on the existing legacy of Master Chief, continuing his struggle against The Covenant, but also introducing a new enemy to the mix – the Prometheans. Sporting new enemy classes and brilliantly designed weapon animations (Light Rifle and Scattershot to name a few), these new enemies breathe new life into the war-wary series.
Introducing expansive environments and graphics to challenge any current-gen title in the market or in development, Halo 4 is quite simply eye candy to the player. Finished clearing out those aliens who were guarding an area? Take the time to soak in the hard work which 343i have laboured over, for the last couple of years. Locations range from firefighting in Zero-G on the hull of a ship floating above a gigantic death-star-esque structure, to being inside the core of a planet: the artwork is nothing short of breath taking and awe inspiring and if you are not careful, could take the sprawling horizon and alien expanses for granted, as the quality and immersiveness is consistent throughout the campaign experience.
There are very few titles in this genre which would warrant comments of this kind and is a testament to the continued hard work of the studio, in keeping up the legacy of previous Halo titles, which have worked tirelessly to engage the player in a truly alien world, whilst creating some fantastic locales to wage war in.
Speaking of waging war - multiplayer has seen a revamp of an old blueprint as well: where Firefight previously featured for the first time in ODST and then in Reach, it has been replaced with the episodic series of Spartan Ops. A set of side missions – in parallel with the main game – sees you in the boots of lesser known but not any less capable of dishing out punishment Spartans, as they assist the Humans in their fight against these nightmarish aliens on foreign soil. Comprised of a set of series, Series One will feature 10 episodes, each sporting 6 individual missions which have their own CGI Sequence to expand the storyline and immerse the player in the universe, played through by the game’s protagonist. Play as a stand alone set of single player missions or Co-operatively with your XBL friends list, Spartan Ops features “persistent creation”, allowing players to unlock modifications and grow XP across the online Multiplayer modes and Spartan Storyline Missions.
Returning as expected (in fear of a real worldwide upheaval if it didn’t return) is online PVP modes, with some new and old modes to keep players coming back for more. New ways of levelling up (specialist unlockable achievements and accolades) and obtaining customisable armour and weapons are also examples of how 343i have brought the Halo experience in line with Modern Shooters, who have utilised customisation to keep players on their servers, during the Fall and Christmas period, well into the new year.
Another such example and new to the game is the perk system – allowing players the ability to call in “support” in-game. These can be unlocked (either by ranking up by XP or being awarded credits to spend much needed and coveted upgrades) and delivered to your opponents demise. Examples can be health or speed boosts, as well as stronger weaponry to turn the tide of the conflict.
Throw in the classic weaponry over the past Halo titles as well as some rapidly new favourites, alongside a multitude of vehicles to annihilate the opposition and you have yourself a quality and wide ranging multiplayer experience.
Also making a return is Forge Mode (where players can use world-templates but create their own structures, vehicles and arenas to play in) and Theatre (view recently played multiplayer sessions, editing or saving for that one-in-a-million kill shot or footage of you assassinating your work colleague or friend in a very public and humiliating way via file share).
With promises of a new trilogy spanning across the current 7 year old Xbox 360 to the new rumour-filled Xbox 720 in 2013 onwards, Master Chief has plenty of fight in him and will see 343i continuing the legacy for many years to come.
So is the game for you? With Halo 4 featuring on many gamers’ “must have” lists, you will not be hard pressed to find someone in your Social section of your dashboard, taking part in the many thousands of deathmatches or team objective game modes which feature in this title. But that probably isn’t enough, as lets face it – what Halo 4 is doing, Call of Duty is doing on an annual basis.
The quality of the game’s graphics and artwork, along with immersive and ever growing storyline is alone, a good reason to dust off your Spartan Armour, polish your Battle Rifle and Orbital Drop straight into the Campaign. This is one definitely not to miss and above all, gives you a quality title for your hard earned cash.