JJ Reviews: Halo 4

Spoilers !

The Big Green Guy
Halo 4. You may have heard of it?

Despite the game being illegal to offer for sale on opening day in New Zealand, I'd managed to get a copy in the morning of launch day and proceeded to play it over the next three nights on the normal setting.

No disrespect to the makers of the prior Halo games Bungie, Halo 4 is the game that Halo: Reach should have been, that is to say a direct continuation of the story that was 'finished' in Halo 3. And why do I say that? Because Halo is about the Master Chief and this is a Halo game!

The gist of Halo 4 is the Master Chief has found himself on a planet of Forerunner design where an entity known as the Diadact is pretty darn keen to destroy humanity and it's up to John117 and his rampant companion, Cortana to save the universe one more time.

The opening vignette is a bold statement by 343 Industries. Featuring Dr Halsey being interrogated or interviewed (depending on your point of view as she's hand cuffed) by an unknown agent seemingly intent on getting some unknown truth out of her about the Spartan programme and the Master Chief. It's one of the most foreboding starts to a Halo game ever presented, bringing a story angle that's only ever been addressed in the wider Halo universe via novels and firmly places the context of the game as being about John117. It's also 343 saying, hey we can do the most amazing animation that's ever been done for an Xbox game. If the Xbox 360 is nearing the end of it's life then may it's death be swift so that all future games can look this good!

Plot wise, Halo 4 is pretty simple in that it's just a race around the park trying to figure out how to stop the Diadact, saving a few soldiers here and there, taking down a Covenant armada there and battling the Promethean army (which turn out to be some kind of enslaved humans), oh and hunting down the Diadact.

One thing that puzzled me and I'm sure to figure it out on a second run through is why the so called Covenant Zealots had come to Requiem, unless I missed something it was explained too well.

It was nice to meet the Librarian after learning about her in Greg Bear's Forerunner novels

The mechanics of Halo as we know it are all there - the meelee, the grunts with useless aim, grenades, DMR headshots and the new and improved assassination from behind are extremely fun to get back into.

Some of the set pieces were quite brilliant - very late in the game we visit a Halo installation where we have to hold of a significant push by the Covenant using a Mantis. It's epic and will challenge any seasoned Halo player on the Legendary setting and serves an example that the new makers of Halo know a thing or two about making video games.

For this player, the graphics are the true highlight of the game. Video cut scenes are brilliant, Cortana and the Chief are amazingly drawn characters. Cortana has been given a vibrant feel (she's well acted too by Jen Taylor) and the Chief's verdant greens are a stand out  You may recall level Sierra 117 from Halo 3 were the Chief runs through a forest to save Johnson. The forests in this iteration of Halo makes that level look like it was done in crayon by a blind person. It's just marvellous.

To promote Halo 4 a whole lot of concept art was released and it was simply fantastic to walk around a corner and boom - there were the structures and ideas that had been my desktop screen come to life in game.

The music of the game was pretty cool. To repeat the original Halo themes without Marty O'Donnell at the helm would probably have been a mistake so 343 Industries went with Neil Davidge who has produced some excellent music which did a fine job of setting a new tone for the franchise. At times I felt the music I was listening to was the sound of the planet Reqiuem such was the wonderful atmosphere it helped generate. I hope Davidge gets to go another round on Halo as I think he's quite good.,

I think Halo 3 is my favourite Halo game as it came out at the apex of my Halo multiplayer mania and it 'finished the fight'. This new Halo is probably the best Halo thus far in the sense that every previous element or mechanism that I came across in game has been improved apon, the graphics are amazing and the Master Chief has been made into a real character with a touch of humanity about him as opposed to the automaton that he arguably was in say Halo 2.

The ending of the game features a awesome trench run of sorts in a Broad Sword, a game of hide and seek and an ending that had a touch of tragedy about it and the moment when that occurs is arguably the defining moment of who the Master Chief really is.

One can only wonder what will be in store for the Big Green Guy - there's a lot of Covenant still out there and that planet Requiem sure was interesting......

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