Is this some sort of Sci-Fi novelty show, or could it be the 343 Industries take on the HALO universe?
Yes indeedy folks, it’s the long awaited HALO 4, Which I reviewed here for SquareGo.
Developed by: 343 Industries
Published by: Microsoft
The trouble with a well established and familiar property; is that once people know what to expect, change frightens them. Take a timely example, James Bond: a property so well known that the audience understand exactly what is going to occur. The spy will get sent on a case, meet a slew of excessively attractive women, fight off a henchmen or two, before finally defeating the bad-guy and getting the girl. Simple. But eventually it got staid, tired, the audience moved on to new products which did the same job better. They still love Bond although cracks were showing in the veneer. Then Casino Royale happened. Bond re-appeared. New, modern, gritty, yet at the same time familiar. The boy you once loved come back but with a practised swagger and a cold glint in his eye. The essence of the original films re-captured, but taking nods and ideas from recent successes such as the Bourne series and making a cohesive whole.
Can the same be done in a game? HALO 4 is the game to make or break such an ideal. Because despite being the fourth chapter in a series, it’s a reboot of the franchise in every other way. The plot takes up a few years after HALO 3, as Cortana wakes the Master Chief out of cryostasis as the remains of the ship come under attack by rogue Covenant scavengers. Complications arise in the form of a giant metallic Forerunner planet, the rescue attempts of the UNSC Infinity and a whole host of new robotic enemies, called Prometheans who all appear to help set the game’s story series down a new path.
The first indication that all is different is the lack of the traditional Gregorian chant on the title screen. Replaced with a dirge like eastern lament straight out of some epic Ridley Scott film. This isn’t your Father’s HALO, it’s a leaner, more modern, grittier beast. From the offset, there are moments with Master Chief climbing through lift shafts which hark back to scaling the cliffs on Modern Warfare 2. The near-incandescent green meadows and meth-crystal blue water are gone, replaced by more muted scorched gold deserts and thick dark jungles. The painfully repetitious HALO installations and giant crumbling towers are now neon and obsidian corridors and gigantic cavernous halls. The game looks almost the same, only so much more detailed. There is nothing cartoonish about HALO 4. Even the motion captured CGI introduction is disturbingly lifelike.
But it isn’t just the visuals; the game is streamlined as well. The physics are typically HALO bouncy, yet the guns feel more raw and powerful, even the roar of the Warthog engine seems to have been given more depth. For depth is what the series needed. A common complain towards the first two HALO games was the lack of a gripping story. They were a series of scenes and epic battles which had a narrative but not a story with characters you cared for. At the centre of HALO 4 is a very human story of frailty and friendship between the Chief and Cortana. The groundwork was laid by Bungie in HALO 3′s more nuanced interplay between them, and it pays off in 343 Industries new game as long term fans will get some measure of return on their emotional investment.
If there’s an issue with HALO 4′s Single Player Campaign, it’s that despite the sum of it’s parts, it doesn’t feel at all original. Everything that’s new to the HALO series is something that has been borrowed from games that came in the years after the first HALO set the bar for this form of shooter. Look hard and you’ll see nods to Call of Duty, Dead Space, Lost Planet and even a sequence that harks back to the trench run from Star Wars. Yet despite these obvious lifts, it manages to be more than the sum of it’s parts. 343 Industries have made a fine game that has not only lived up to the series pedigree, but also ensured that it will continue with an eager audience.
Outside the single player campaign there are a whole host of the familiar multiplayer options. One very notable new inclusion is the SPARTAN Ops mode, a story-driven co-op mode separate from the main campaign. At time of writing, only the first chapter, of five levels was available to play. It adds a further longevity to the game for those who maybe don’t want to play the Deathmatch, King of the Hill or Oddball modes and have exhausted the main campaign. It’s really just more icing on an already fine cake.