“Okay Chief, look up and hit the release.”
This piece of dialogue, uttered by the AI Cortana as Master Chief exits cryo-stasis at the beginning of Halo 4 is pretty much the entirety of the games tutorial. For FPS players used to iron-sights, lessons in crouching and so on, this may come as a bit of a shock. For those that have lived through the Halo universe, it is more than enough.
For Halo fans the setting will be familiar, for those joining the franchise now, or even those that have only experienced Halo through ODST or Reach there will be a lot to learn as 343 Industries takes the reins of one of gaming’s biggest titles.
Without going into spoilers, this first part of a new trilogy touches on the humanity of the Spartan Progam, and indeed that most famous Spartan of them all, the Master Chief.
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The Chief and his relationship with companion AI Cortana is central to the space opera that revolves around the pair, weaving an objective based tale that requires Master Chief to be the hero at a number of levels is very creative. At the macro level humanity is again in trouble, but at the micro level, so is Cortana. Master Chief will need to balance military stoicism with his need to be part of the solider and guiding AI team that has developed over the course of Halo history.
Whilst the story is grand yet cohesive, one thing that has been lost in translation between Bungie and 343 Industries is the humour. Where has that oh so funny Covenants Grunt-under-fire dialogue gone? Halo 4 is as serious as Halo gets.
Visually Halo 4 is amazing, the game boasts a minimal of load times, even when cold reloading the game, and yet manages to pull off the lushest of outdoor environments and highly detailed interiors that [almost] seamlessly load throughout the game. Transitioning from flying a Pelican to a landing platform and taking to foot to enter a structure is smooth and natural.
Little touches such as mushrooms and even rocky textures are wondrous to behold. However, the realistic, yes, but initially distracting visor reflections take some getting used to. The traditionally repeated interiors of a Halo game also make a return with the architecture featuring retina fusing bright neon that at times feels more like Tron than Halo.
Enemy AI does not seem to be as difficult as previous Halo’s. That patented Covenant dodging of grenades seems sluggish, and at times sniping of distant enemies is just too easy as enemies return to “patrol routines” at a drop of a hat.
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The new enemy introduced here – the Prometheans – however, will put up a challenging fight, Cortana was getting on my nerves from time to time as she yelled “More Knights!” just a few times too many as the large, heavily armoured, teleporting enemies once again appeared. Taking out the hovering guardians that provide shields and resurrection abilities to the Prometheans, is essentially to success in the campaign.
Promethean weapons are also fun to play with, picking up a new one will see it build itself in mid-air in front of Master Chief, and there is true senses of power as some of the bigger guns are let loose. There is however a bit of a weird trigger delay on firing some weapons during scoped combat. More than any game in Halo’s past, ammo conservation can become an issue from time to time, there are certainly some missions much tougher than others requiring trying different approaches in order to succeed.
Halo 4 is still Halo despite Bungies absence, the storyline has been delivered, perhaps better than ever before, it almost borders on ‘cheesy’ occasionally, but, brings it back each time. The cut-scenes are up there with the best in the industry plus the action pacing is top-notch and in keeping with the legacy of over a decade worth of refinement. Whilst the head may have changed, the Halo remains.