For the past week or so, there have only been three games that have entered my Xbox. The first is Dishonored, which has taken up maybe 5% of my time on the Xbox for the week. Then there’s Arkham City, which has taken up around 10% finishing out the remaining Riddler trophies (Which I finally accomplished! Hooray for me!). But the game that I’ve played the most is, hands down, Halo 4. And that’s not just because it’s my newest game. Normally my newest game will take up a decent chunk of my time, but usually not this much.
And that’s because, at long last, I have found a game that is so close to perfection that it may as well just be perfect. Yes, Arkham City came pretty darn close, but Halo 4 is almost to the point where it’s beyond description. This comes as a result of a variety of things, spread through both the campaign and multiplayer modes.
Those of you who read my blog regularly may remember a poll that I posted a few days ago, asking you, my readers, why you were or already had purchased Halo 4. You will also remember that I said that I got it for the campaign. And it did not disappoint. Halo 4 has what is easily the best campaign any game in the Halo franchise has to offer. The story is stellar, the gameplay is fun, the writing is awesome, the game looks great, etc, etc.
Right from the moment I inserted the Halo 4 play disk (The game comes in two discs, one is the play disc the other is for multiplayer installation), I was pumped. The title screen alone was pretty awesome. And the first thing I did was boot up the campaign with a friend. I have to say that, after playing the campaign both solo and in co-op mode, the co-op is a much better experience. Solo is amazing, but I found that it was more fun playing with a friend. (You also get a 40G achievement for finishing the campaign on co-op)
And, right from the opening cutscene, I was hooked. I want to talk a little bit about that cutscene before I move on. First, I was stunned that it wasn’t live action. I mean, there are points where you can tell it’s CG, but, wow, it looks great. It offers an introduction of sorts to the story of Halo 4, and it is extremely interesting to watch, especially since it gives some background knowledge about the Master Chief that we didn’t necessarily have before. Also, if you were wondering why Dr. Halsey is in custody, I would recommend reading Halo: Glasslands. It will provide you with the backstory on that.
And after that cutscene, you get right into the game. And, finally, you get to play as the Master Chief once again. After a brief introduction to the gameplay, you will begin to encounter hostiles. At first, you will fight the Covenant, and, again, for a little back story on that, read Glasslands. It turns out that they’re just a splinter group who was investigating Requiem, the Forerunner shield world on which most of the game takes place.
After the first mission, which takes place on the UNSC Forward Unto Dawn, you crash into Requiem. I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but a brief overview is necessary. Once you reach the planet, you will inadvertently awaken the Didact, one of the few (and possibly last) remaining Forerunners. And he’s their warmaster. After six games, the Covenant have finally found their gods, and immediately begin working for the Didact. You will also meet up with the UNSC Infinity, and marines and Spartan-IV’s will be around during the game.
And the story, beginning on the Forward Unto Dawn, and ending in Earth’s orbit, is one that is masterfully crafted. Never before have we seen the Master Chief actually be emotional, but with Cortana going rampant, his more human side begins to come out, especially in the game’s final cutscene. Everything about the story is awesome. The characters are great and the writing is superb, and easily some of the best that I’ve seen in a video game ever.
But it’s not just the story that makes the campaign mode so very, very awesome. It’s the gameplay as well. Mixing in elements of Halo Reach’s gameplay, we finally get to use armor abilities as the Master Chief. I’ll get into those more later though. Along with the wide range of weapons, they add a lot of variety to the game and allow for different play styles.
In addition to this, Halo 4 stays true to the traditional Halo-style level design. By Halo style, I mean that, while the game is linear, each mission is something of a sandbox. It doesn’t consist only of narrow hallways, though those are present in some parts of the campaign. However, as you fight your way through different environments, you’ll be able to craft your own play style. No, you can’t do non lethal take downs or use stun rounds, but you can change up how you play.
In addition, there are a host of new enemies in the game. In previous Halos, we’ve only battled the Covenant. In this game, we battle the Covenant, but you’ll also battle the Didact’s warriors, known as Prometheans. And they are a lot more powerful than the Covenant. But doing battle with them is also a lot more fun than doing battle with the Covenant, add they add some variety to the game’s already stellar campaign.
But story content does not only come in the form of the lengthy campaign. An entirely separate mode, entitled Spartan Ops, delivers new story content to the game. As of right now, there are two episodes out, and each episode consists of 5 chapters. And the first season will consist of 10 episodes, meaning that, by the end, there will be fifty additional missions to play. Granted, Spartan Ops missions are shorter than campaign missions, taking only about 15-30 minutes (on Legendary co-op) as opposed to the campaigns 45-60 minute missions (On Heroic co-op and Solo Heroic).
Spartan Ops puts you in the shoes of a team of Spartan IV’s, and you will have varying missions that take you back to areas that will be familiar from the campaign, but are given new context by the story. These missions allow you to use your custom loadouts and will count towards your multiplayer level, which is nice. The missions are all very similar to the campaign missions in terms of gameplay, and each is it’s own little sandbox, allowing the player to play using their own style.
And then there’s the multiplayer. I wasn’t as excited for the multiplayer as I was for the campaign, but I was pretty excited for it. And the multiplayer delivers. It is easily the best multiplayer on the market right now. (Go home, Black Ops fans, you’ve lost this one) There are a wide range of game modes that you can play, from classic game modes such as Slayer, to retooled versions of old game modes like Flood, or entirely new game modes such as Dominion.
I’ve played almost every game mode available on Halo 4. I have my favorites, but who doesn’t, right? The multiplayer matches are a lot more fast paced than those of Halo 3 or even Halo Reach, and my are they fun. At the very beginning, you’ll get this awesome cutscene, and finally there is context given to the multiplayer. The reds and blues are Spartan-IV recruits who are do training simulations aboard the UNSC Infinity, in a style that incorporates the multiplayer to the single player, similar to what Assassin’s Creed did.
There are also a variety of new maps, with I believe, thirteen maps on the disc at release date. Some maps are similar in some ways, but they’re all different enough that they feel fresh. The only one that isn’t new is Ragnarok, which is a remake of Halo 3’s Valhalla. But honestly, who didn’t like Valhalla, and who doesn’t like the Mantis?
The new vehicles, weapons, and armor abilities all add variety to multiplayer matches as well. Weapons cater to all different play styles, with different flavors of shotguns and sniper rifles, as well as everything in between, being present. And that’s great, because not everyone wants to play the same way. The new armor abilities and tactical packages also add to the encouragement of different play styles. There’s a great variety of armor abilities, with the only returning armor ability not counting sprint, which everyone has, is the jet pack. The new additions hold up quite well, and the introduction of custom loadouts to the multiplayer allows for all of this to be maximized upon.
I’d also like to comment on how balanced the game is. No weapon is without it’s weaknesses, and every weapon has it’s place, except for the Storm Rifle, which is almost completely useless.
And all of this is put to a masterfully composed and executed soundtrack. Music has always been a big part of the Halo franchise, and Halo 4 is no exception. While I don’t like it as much as Martin O’Donnell’s work, there’s no denying that it’s a great soundtrack.
Finally, there’s the graphics. The game consists of many different environments, form jungles to planes to the inside of starships. And it all looks beautiful. This, my friends, is how you make a game look awesome.
So, Halo 4. The only issues I have with it are nitpicking, and aren’t even all that major. From the start of the campaign to it’s climactic final act, you’ll be engrossed in an excellent story. And once you’re done with that, you can go have some fun online, or treat yourself to even more story elements in the form of Spartan Ops. All in all, Halo 4 is easily the best Halo game, easily the best game of the year, probably my favorite game of all time, and probably the best game of the past, oh, I don’t know, five years? Ten? Let me know your opinions in the comments!