The Master Chief is back and making his fourth debut with 343 Studios behind all his covenant killing antics. With Bungie not at the helm for the first time ever and Master Chief making his first appearance in five years, the expectations for Halo 4 are understandably high from fans. 343 is hoping to make a statement with the first game in its Reclaimer trilogy, and while they didn’t take many chances with this installment I would have to say that the result of all that hard work has paid off and resulted in one of the best entries in the series.
Halo 4 picks up with the MC more than 4 years after the events of Halo 3. Cortanna awakens the Chief from stasis when their ship is attacked by covenant, but soon both forces are pulled into the Forerunner planet Requiem. I’ve never been a big fan of the Halo franchise's story; I’ve always felt it was convoluted and really had its head up its own ass. However, that being said, this installment's story is the easiest to follow by far. Partly because I think that Cortanna’s performance is really good throughout. This is a very emotional story for the Chief and as such it feels like there's a lot of weight to it. In my opinion it's the best story with the best pacing of the franchise.
This entry is also a good step up for the series when comes to visuals. Aside from Reach I’ve felt that the previous Halo titles have looked like just HD versions of original Xbox games. 343’s new engine is downright amazing and I have to say it has some of the best visuals on the Xbox 360 this year. Besides the twenty foot jumps, which are a Halo trade mark, you really get a sense of weight in the Chief’s movements. With some of the sequences that 343 uses to take advantage of the first person perspective, for once you actually feel like you’re in the Spartan armor. The game also has great facial animations in and out of pre-rendered cutscenes.
Gameplay wise there isn’t much difference here; this is one Halo ass Halo game. Actually, to be honest, this is the tightest the gameplay has felt in years and it carries over well into the multiplayer modes. While not as feature-packed as the previous Halo games -the lack of Firefight is a big shame - the modes here are solid. Standards like Big Team and normal Infinity Slayer are back and as solid as ever with great map selections. The new mode, Dominion, works a lot like Battlefield’s multiplayer which makes for some hectic firefights over control points. The SR ranks try to mimic Call of Duty's ranks but don’t really do much for the overall gameplay. Most players will create a loadout with a battle rifle and plasma grenades and call it a day, as the battle rifle and dmr are still the dominant weapons in multiplayer.
Speaking of weapons; with the inclusion of the new Promethean enemies come promethean weapons. And while they look really badass when you get them and they have sweet reload animations, they break down to the standard battle rifle, automatic, pistol and shotgun equivalents. The promethean rocket launcher is really sick though because it launches a wave blast that when it hits it explodes out and covers an area with tiny blasts.
The Spartan Ops mode is another new edition to the Halo series. With its own storyline it breaks down as basically stand alone co-op missions but 343 plans on releasing five new ones each week over multiple episodes. The Spartan Ops are a good diversion from the multiplayer and are better for a quick fix than going through the campaign.
Halo 4 was a surprise for me this year. I was anticipating a by-the-numbers Halo game, and I actually expected 343 to drop the ball, but they've impressed me and won me over. Now I know that I said that they didn’t take a whole bunch of chances and this is one Halo ass Halo game, but the small things that they did add and the fact that they hit the mark so well makes me excited to see what 343 can do moving forward. If only they would have added Firefight and Rocket Race, this would've been the perfect package.