Can 343 Industries Take Halo To New Heights?

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Who in there right mind could envy 343 Industries? The studio was tasked with carrying on the Xbox’s flagship title after developer Bungie decided to leave the comfy confines of the Microsoft umbrella and start making games for multiple systems. Yes, you can not deny that Microsoft most likely gave them a blank check to get Halo back onto their console but as any self-respecting gamer should know, big budget does not always equal a great game. The team (or should I say army) at 343 has been working tirelessly over the past few years on [amazon_link id=”B0050SYX8W” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Halo 4[/amazon_link] and have made people wholly aware of it with a host of development videos that gave a glimpse into the care they were taking with the franchise. So many aspects of this game had to come together to meet up with what the rabid Halo fanbase would be expecting in the first true sequel in five years.

Well take a deep sigh of relief because Halo is in very good and capable hands. 343 has done this franchise a great service and this entry easily has the best story of any Halo game and tweaks the multiplayer you know and love while keeping it true to its legendary roots. Pun intended.

A Tale Of Two (Or More) Cortana’s

It has been over four years since the events of Halo 3 and Master Chief has been frozen solid enjoying trippy cryo dreams aboard the ship Forward Unto Dawn. Cortana has been hanging out having conversations with herself until the Covenant try to board the ship. Here is where Master Chief gets his chance to get his shooting practice in. Right off the bat you are familiar with the controls. There is nothing too out of the ordinary and that is not a bad thing. It feels like Halo. Moving, jumping and shooting all come back naturally even if you have been away from the series for a while (like me).

It seems the Forward Unto Dawn has happened upon a Forerunner planet called Requiem and crash lands there. When you first make your way onto the planet this is where you truly begin to see that Halo 4 is a stunningly beautiful game. Crisp and vibrant even when the action is in full swing. I often found myself taking time after gunfights to look around and enjoy the sheer beauty of Requiem. The art designers have really designed something special with a planet that pulsates with colorful vegetation while also incorporating the technology of the Forerunners. It makes other environments in previous Halo games pale in comparison.

Now not everything is all pretty alien daisies and blue skies. Cortana gives Master Chief the news that she is in her eighth year of existence. The problem with that is that AI’s such as her only have seven year lifespans and because she is operating past her life expectancy she is experiencing “rampancy” which basically means that she is going schizo and will slowly lose her virtual mind until she dies. That is where Halo 4’s story is more interesting and emotional than any previous in the series. It is as much Cortana’s story as it is Master Chief’s. Even while you are trying to do your Spartan duty and save the universe there is this underlying personal part of the journey that connected me to John-117 and Cortana.

The big bad this go round is an ancient Forerunner known as the Didact. He has lured Master Chief and the UNSC Infinity, who responded to the Forward Unto Dawn’s distress signal, to Requiem where he is freed inadvertently by Chief and takes off to look for something called the Composer which will change all human life into artificial intelligence’s for him to control.

Prometheans Pack A Punch

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The change in enemies is very welcome for anyone that has had their fill of blasting through Covenant or Flood forces since the first Halo. You still have plenty of Covenant gun fodder this go round but you also have the Prometheans to deal with. I could not help but think that most of the different classes reminded me of enemies from Metroid Prime. Crawlers appear as dog like creatures that can crawl on any wall while firing at you and they do not hesitate in charging you when you are close. Knights have different variations (commander, lancer, battlewagon) and all have separate abilities and weapons. Some even have Watchers that fly around them shielding them from gunfire and have the ability to summon crawlers to your location. They certainly are a formidable group and will make sure that you can not just run into battle guns blazing. You need to choose which enemies to take on first and what weapons work the best against them or you will be paying the price with a quick death.

One of the most fun parts of the Halo 4 experience is the abundance of weapons available. You have your stock of UNSC weaponry like the assault rifle, sniper rifle and the redesigned battle rifle. Covenant mainstays like the Needler, Plasma Pistol and Energy Sword make returns also but 343 has added new pieces to each of the human and Covenant arsenal. The real fun comes in the use of the Promethean technology. Each has their own look and feel and while they are really nothing more than Promethean versions of the same class of weapons you have on the UNSC and Covenant side they really make you feel like you have been shooting with inferior weapons for a long time. Here is a quick rundown of the Promethean weaponry.

  • Suppressor- assault rifle that fires bolts of hard light rapidly.
  • Boltshot- pistol that is dropped by most crawlers.
  • Scattershot- shotgun that is uber-deadly in close combat and can deflect off of surfaces.
  • Light Rifle- long range rifle that does more damage when using zoom mode.
  • Binary Rifle- sniper rifle that is mostly a one hit kill. Low ammo count.
  • Incineration Cannon- explosive rifle that is part rocket launcher, part shotgun, all badass.
  • Pulse Grenade- grenade that creates a circular area that affects enemy shielding.

Now I am not sure how any of you will feel about these weapons but it was hard for me to go back to the UNSC or Covenant weapons unless I absolutely had to. Now don’t get me wrong I would still rock an assault rifle or Needler in a pinch but the visceral feel I got off of these new weapons was unmatched. My personal favorite was the Light Rifle and had me regretting every time I ran out of ammo for it. It is the first time I have really wanted to go back through a Halo campaign simply to find better ways to use every piece of weaponry to its fullest.

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Multiplayer Madness

While the single player story is the best in the series, the one aspect of the game that had to hit the nail on the head was multiplayer. After all, that is the reason why people will keep popping the disc into their Xbox’s for the coming months and years. I am happy to say that it hits all the marks from previous Halo games and even improves in some places.

All of the multiplayer is handled from inside the UNSC Infinity. Here you will decide what mode you want to play in. First off you have to choose between War Games and Spartan Ops (more on this mode later). There are ten maps in Halo 4 to choose from and nine more will be releasing as future DLC. My favorite among these would have to be Ragnarok because it is a remake of Valhalla from Halo 3 and it has always felt like the perfect Halo map for any kind of style you play whether it be on foot, by off-road driving or air.

Forge also makes a return for all you map editors out there. There are three maps of varying terrain (Erosion, Impact and Ravine) and 343 has added a number of tweaks and new features including trait zones and better weapon and power-up detection.

The biggest addition (at least to me) is the sheer amount of customization that you are able to achieve with your character. You will earn XP by playing in War Games, Spartan Ops and Forge (or with Dew XP points until January) but XP is not just where it stops because along with XP you will receive Spartan Points which give you the ability to change your loadouts, customize everything about your armor and make changes to your Spartan ID. Once you reach Level 50 (which I am nowhere near right now) you can then go into the “Specializations” menu which give you ten different abilities like armor mods or weapon skins to ensure that your multiplayer experience lasts way past the max level.

For my money you can keep your Call of Duty’s there is nothing better than driving a Warthog around as your teammates hop on and try to mow down as many as you can, hopping off a split-second before you explode, take out a few guys then lob a grenade as you die and watch the man that just killed you get blown to hell. Respawn, start again. It is easy to see how hours pass by with this. I have never been a big proponent of multiplayer in games (just has not been my bag, sorry) but there is just something about Halo’s that is undeniably fun.

 Spartan Ops

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The biggest new addition in Halo 4 is the Spartan Ops mode. This is a multiplayer mode (or single if you want) that continues the story after you complete the Halo 4 campaign. Divided into seasons that will spread over ten weeks, Spartan Ops episodes will come with five missions lasting around 15-20 minutes each. As of this writing the first five have been released with Episode 6 debuting on January 21, 2013.  This is such a wonderful idea that comes across really well when played. You are really getting the best of both worlds in Spartan Ops, playing multiplayer while it has the feel of the single player campaign with the continuing story and amazing cutscenes that accompany each new episode.

Playing these missions on your own feel like different beasts than with players online. Most missions begin simple enough with powering down shield generators or taking out anti-air turrets but when you reach the end of the mission it becomes basically a battle for survival when your screen and mini map fills up with so many enemies you begin to wonder how long you can make it. Don’t worry though because you will have weapons drops that will make items like rail guns and rocket launchers available to assist you to take out the hordes of enemies. Multiplayer playthroughs of Spartan Ops levels is a completely different feeling. You and three other players will take on the same objectives but with three other Spartans you will begin to achieve a certain feeling of badassery. It is here that the Spartan Ops mode finds its real footing. No matter what level your characters happen to be you will never feel under powered by your teammates. Just use good team work and don’t be a moron and the missions will be a rewarding experience.

Now that you have read (hopefully) everything that [amazon_link id=”B0050SYX8W” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Halo 4[/amazon_link] has to offer here is the real question. How does it stack up to all of series creators Bungie’s efforts? If you had told me a year or even six months ago that I was about to say this I would have look strangely back at you but Halo 4 is the best entry in the franchise. There is no denying this. 343 Industries has taken all the best parts from Bungie and made them better as well as adding their own set of features and game modes that make Halo 4 one of the best values in gaming. The story is paced perfectly and scripted great. The tale of Master Chief and Cortana has never felt more personal as the line is blurred between them on what is human and what is machine. Controls are tight and super responsive which is what we have come to expect from Halo. The multiplayer is balanced and players of lesser rank never feel like they are in a no win battle against teams of higher ranks. All of this would be worth the price of the game but then you also have Spartan Ops which gives you 50 new story based missions that only further add to the gameplay time and show that 343 Industries took special care to make sure that Halo’s return would be not just a memorable one but set a new high bar for all others that follow it.

Welcome back Chief. Its been a long wait but well worth it.

NERD RATING- 9/10


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One response to “Review: Halo 4”

  1. […] letting any of you video game fans know (and remind you) that all of my reviews can be found on NerdRating.com. Go over and give it a read if you are a Halo fan. How well does it compare to previous entries? […]

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