Halo 4 review: Does 343 fill the void that Bungie left?

It’s been 5yrs since we saw Master Chief float off in his frozen tomb with Cortana keeping a watchful eye on him. In Halo 4, we see the resurrection of the Chief and his baddassery that follows. The biggest difference this time around is that the original developers, Bungie, are not the studio behind the game. Instead, it’s a subsidiary created from Bungie called 343 Industries, to carry the Halo legacy while the rest of Bungie goes under Activision. So the question remains, did 343 fill the gaping shoes left by Bungie? The answer is simple, HELL YES!

Story

First we’ll start with things that transpired. The ship Master Chief was on goes floating toward a Forerunner planet/station; it reminded me of the Death Star. The Covenant happen to be there as well and are the reason for waking you up. You fight your way through hordes of enemies not only in space, but on the surface of the planet as well.

As this is happening, the UNSC Infinity (a 3 mile long ship) makes its way into the picture and ends up on the planet as well. I’m obviously not going into details for the sake of spoilers. Throughout the game, there is an underlying subplot that gets larger regarding the relationship between Cortana and Chief, as well as Cortana’s programming rampancy.

I’d have to say that story-wise, this is the best Halo I’ve played yet. It keeps you locked in, but doesn’t feel overly long. There are many instances in the game that make you reminisce back to the original Halo. It seems that 343 threw in a bit of nostalgia for the hardcore fans, which is much appreciated. You don’t spend the entire game just running around, it’s broken up pretty well and there’s no monotony.

There are 2 flying parts, both of which are fun, but one will really stick out to you. The first is flying the Pelican, of which that mission itself reminded me of Halo:Reach when you fly around the city in a Falcon taking out different objectives. The second flying part was one of my favorite moments in the game. I’m not going to give it away, but I will say this: if you’re a Star Wars fan as I am, you won’t be disappointed. Also, if anyone has watched the Forward Unto Dawn series prior to Halo 4 releasing, you’ll like how Lasky is intertwined to the story.

Graphics

One of the first things you’ll notice in the game is that it looks freaking amazing. Not just the set pieces, but everything; the game is visually pleasing. Never before have I seen a Halo game look this good. The opening cutscene alone had me in awe. It took me a second to realize that it wasn’t live action. In-game character models look flawless, some of the best yet. If anyone thought the facial animations on L.A. Noire were good, think again.

Halo 4’s facial animations look to be the best that I’ve seen in any game thus far. As for the environments, as you walk around, you can’t help but to stop and stare at everything around you. The scope of everything is so ominous, you really get a sense of the shear size of everything. Walking over to a cliff with a Forerunner structure in the distance, you see waterfalls around and everything is detailed down the the last pebble. 343 and Microsoft have spared no expense.

Sound

343 took all the sounds from past Halo games and chucked them out the door. They started fresh and added a lot of grit to them. All of the weapons have a more beefed up sound that has you thinking “yea, this is definitely gonna hurt” as you’re smiling and shooting someone in the face. Like the graphics, 343 spent a while on the details of the sounds. Everything from the UNSC Infinity’s engines down to a shell casing hitting the floor and even Master Chiefs armor clinking when he walks, if it can make a sound, it has a sound and it sounds good.

The next standout for me is the soundtrack. Halo veteran Martin O’Donnell has composed the amazing soundtracks for every Halo thus far. It was interesting to see how newcomer Neil Davidge would be able to handle the ominous task. I’ll just say this, the Halo 4 soundtrack became the highest-charting video game soundtrack to debut ever, entering at #50 on the Billboard 200 and at #3 on the Top Soundtracks chart.

Obviously that means the soundtrack was utterly amazing. Throughout every mission, the music was on point and properly placed to whatever you were doing at the time. Nothing feels out of place or awkward. I just hope he stays on for the remainder of the Halo franchise.

Guns, Goons and Vehicles

There are more than enough enemies available in Halo 4 that will satisfy your craving for killing. Besides the redesigned Covenant forces that we’re used to seeing, minus the Brutes, the other opposing force you encounter is the Forerunners. Even on regular difficulties, these guys are a pain to deal with. The A.I. is spot on as Halo is known for its good A.I. Obviously the higher the difficulty setting, the smarter the A.I. is. On Legendary, enemies not only flank you, but also have tactics that steer you into getting yourself trapped or killed.

There is no shortage of weapons in this game to say the least. There are 3 types: Human, Covenant and Forerunner. Each type shares the same weapon classes, i.e. the Battle Rifle, DMR – Human, Covenant Carbine – Covenant, Promethean Light Rifle – Forerunner. 343 has done a great job in balancing everything so that no one weapon can really sustain an edge over another; it’s all based on preference.

Like the weapons, there is a plethora of vehicles at your disposal. All the basics are still there, Banshee, Ghost, Wraith, Warthog, Mongoose, and Scorpion. The newest addition that you get to play with is the UNSC Mantis; it’s a freaking mech! Surprisingly just like the other vehicles, the Mantis is quite easy to pilot as well and was a great addition to the game.

Multiplayer

This is where the heart lies in most hardcore Halo fans. 343 has crafted an amazingly well balanced system in multiplayer that has you continuously playing. The game ships with 10 maps that range from close quarters to large scale with tons of vehicles. There has been more of an emphasis placed on bigger maps that can support vehicles, which lead to more epic battles.

New additions have a Call of Duty-esque loadout that you can create that has your specific weapon sets that is catered to you. We saw something similar to this in Reach as well as Halo 3, but they were specifically predetermined to each map. This time you can add in armor abilities and a few other “perks.”

The multiplayer lobby has become more visually appeasing and lets players show off their customized Spartans on a “player card.” Speaking of customization, 343 has given players a ton of customization options so that your Spartan is more unique to you than in previous instances. Obviously, the more you play, the more you unlock.

Just like with Bungie, 343 is really paying attention to what the community says. They are updating playlists to what players want and are continuously making tweaks to ensure the best experience is given. To me, that says a lot from developer that is willing to always make changes to what you ask.

Spartan Ops

Spartan Ops is new to the Halo franchise and replaces the old Firefight mode. To me, this is the weakest part of the game. It’s great in concept,  but feels a little forced in. There are weekly episodes that come out and contain 5 chapters each and are free, which is good. They’re feel like little campaign segments that you play cooperatively through some of the areas in the main campaign.

There’s no score or anything that tracks progress, just another storyline that parallels the main campaign. I would have actually liked to see Firefight come back, but I do understand that 343 wanted to try something different. Maybe they’ll add a scoring aspect down the line to make things more interesting.

Final Thoughts

When we look back at the task 343 was handed, it was obnoxiously large. What they’ve done is taken a franchise fans hold dearly and made it even more better than most of us could have hoped for. The campaign was a joy to go through and the story was well written. The soundtrack kept you tied to your seat and immersed you even further. The multiplayer leaves you white-knuckled from the insane firefights and tense battles, but has you begging for more. Spartan Ops I don’t really need, but it adds to the story.

This is definitely the best Halo yet and I’m sure most of the fans would more than agree.

Grade: A

Narvin Seegoolam

Narvin’s middle name is FPS….ok maybe not, but he’s like BOOM!! HEADSHOT!! I’m hungry…

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