I realise that we’re a little late to the review party here but Halo 4 was my most anticipated title of 2012 and I wanted to give it the love that I truly hoped it would deserve. After my midnight launch shenanigans, I locked myself in a darkened room and settled in to reacquaint myself with Master Chief.
With Bungie’s departure from the franchise, there was some trepidation from many fans about the 343 takeover but I think it’s fair to say that they’ve stayed faithful to everything that made Halo great and dropped in a fair pile of improvements. The game looks glorious, the FMV sections are quite frankly jaw-dropping and the levels and character models are so very pretty.
The sound is incredibly impressive too, which you’d expect given the lengths to which 343 went to ensure as much. The sound effects are brilliant, incredibly crisp and clear and very realistic, but it’s the music which really made me sit up and take notice. The soundtrack to this game is an absolute joy, still very much in keeping with the familiar Halo sound but with an all new and slightly more edgy feel.
On to the big question, how does it play? In a word, wonderfully. I know there have been complaints that nothing has changed in Halo and that it’s very much a “kill this group of enemies, push a button, kill this group of enemies” style shooter. Well, yes, it is, but that’s what Halo does.
What people don’t take into account is the frantic fun to be had during a heated firefight. They forget the heart-pounding joy of dashing through the middle of a group of Grunts to jab at a control panel with your last dying act, so that your co-op buddies can dive to safety. They completely ignore the moments when the battle rages around you and you can do little but sit back and think “Wow. This game sure is purdy lookin'”.
Halo remains, as ever, a game that’s best played with friends. The solo campaign is deeply satisfying and although I don’t agree with 343’s claims that this is the toughest Halo campaign to date, it’s definitely a challenge. It’s when you dive in with some friends that Halo really comes to life, calling out for cover as you dash into the fray. I’m a co-op fanatic as it is and Halo is one of the titles which nurtured my love of multiplayer campaigning, a love which Halo 4 does nothing to dissuade.
If I have one complaint about this campaign it’s that it is too short. This is a whole new adventure, we’re once again tucked snugly into the nigh-indestructible armour of the Master Chief and it ends too, too soon. I understand that it’s the first part of a trilogy and there’s more to come, but I would have liked just a little more. Perhaps a longer level here or there.
I cannot fault the storyline, the gameplay, anything. If anything it’s a mark in the game’s favour. I enjoyed it so much that I want more of the same, but I am left feeling slightly unfulfilled. Perhaps that’s the idea, to keep us hanging for Halo 5.
Of course, it’s not all about the campaign. Multiplayer always has been and always will be a massive part of the Halo series and this game keeps up that tradition admirably, offering a diverse playlist, rewarding ranking system and buckets of fun. My one and only complaint about multiplayer was the lack of a SWAT gametype, something which 343 have now rectified, making me one very happy camper, figuratively speaking of course.
Halo 4 could certainly benefit from more multiplayer maps, as already there are a few that extract groans from my teammates purely for the regularity at which they pop up. But, with three map packs on the way we’ll hopefully see a little more variation in the near future. Meanwhile, it’s a minor complaint and one that’s soon forgotten once you’re in game. As for level design, there’s a great mix of open area and close quarter maps available and they certainly seem to have dropped the right style of maps into the right playlists. No massive open areas in free for all, no cramped conditions in big team games and so on.
The last area of Halo 4 that I dived into was the all-new Spartan Ops. Gone are the Firefight days and I for one am not too sorry to see them go. Firefight was fun at first but every FPS seems to include a variant of it these days and I was thrilled to hear that Halo 4 was breaking the chain.
Spartan Ops is a truly original concept, offering weekly episodic content, making up a whole new campaign storyline. It is, in my opinion, another option which is best played with co-op compadres, but that’s down to the individual player at the end of the day.
Each weekly episode is made up of five chapters, so there’s a whole lot of gameplay here. The story line is engaging and the fact that you play as your customised Spartan IV is a nice touch, really throwing you into the gameplay. The episodic structure is fantastic, opening up a whole new piece of the story each week, with accompanying video to tell the tale. It just shows the level of thought and effort which has gone into this title, something which shows throughout.
As I said at the beginning of this article, Halo 4 was my most anticipated title of 2012. The worry when you’ve built something up to such a degree in your mind is simply, will it disappoint me? The answer here is a resounding no.
Halo 4 is, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the best game that I have played in 2012, a fine continuation of the franchise and a shining star of a game in it’s own right. 343, you’ve done Chief proud.
+ Incredible facial animations, beautiful FMV and excellent in-game graphics
+ Plays beautifully. Heart-pounding action throughout.
- Campaign just feels a tad too short and few more levels needed for multiplayer
+ Sound effects are clear, crisp and realistic. Music, hauntingly beautiful.
Halo 4 is out now exclusively for Xbox 360.