"Halo 4 walks a fine line between slavishly working to satisfy demands of a rabid fan base and the potential for any development…"
Game releases don’t get much more epic than Halo – and this one has been a long time coming… Halo 4 is particularly interesting because it is the first Halo title developed outside of Bungie Studios. 343 Industries are a 600 strong company, set up by Microsoft, specifically to continue the Halo lineage beyond Bungie’s awesome games and the company have plans for a trilogy of their own – The Reclaimer Trilogy. So, with the weight of fan expectation bearing down on them, has the fledgling company managed to pull it off and produce a game that, while remaining true to the original series, brings enough innovation to merit such a large investment?
The campaign mode begins where Halo 3 left off, with the Master Chief and his AI companion Cortana waking aboard the wrecked hulk of the frigate ‘Forward Unto Dawn’, now orbiting a Forerunner homeworld. As luck would have it, they are not alone and, following an impressive intro level, the player soon finds themselves on the planet surface, doing battle with The Covenant once more…but they aren’t the only occupants of the world as you are soon to discover.
The campaign remains true to Bungie’s ‘action bubbles’ linked by corridors and, as such, is immediately familiar to fans of the franchise. There are cosmetic differences to the graphics [powered by a heavily tweaked version of the Halo 3 game engine], but largely, everything feels like it ought to. New weapons are soon discovered and put into use against a foe which, initially, is also comfortingly familiar… This is no abandoned Forerunner ring world though – it is one of their home planets and, consequentially, it is a much more visually impressive locale for a fire-fight – there are occasions when the spectacle on offer can overwhelm in its magnificence before a shot of plasma to the face brings you back to focus on the task in hand…
The campaign can be played through with the assistance of three online friends, should its ‘Legendary’ setting prove too big a challenge while solo. Online play is a massive part of this new Halo – in addition to the campaign, there is the ubiquitous multiplayer… This time around, the influence of Call of Duty and its ilk can be found in the customisation options for your Spartan. Experience points can be spent to unlock different load outs and weapon unlocks, before you are asked to choose a specialization for your character, which then leads to unlocks specific to your Spartan type. The new maps offer plenty to challenge and, after a long time away from the franchise, I felt like a Noob against some my online opponents, but some old favourites imported from Halos past set me on more familiar territory.
Additional content also appears in the Spartan Ops mode – regular episodes of which will be released each month featuring five missions and a CG episode detailing the lives of the Spartans aboard the behemoth Infinity ship and tying in with the plot of the main story arc. These too, can be played with the assistance of up to three friends and are an innovative method of dispensing downloadable content. More DLC is expected in the form of multiplayer maps – some of which are already supplied with the deluxe edition of the game. Be prepared to clear some space on your hard drive then, both for the DLC and because the entire multiplayer experience comes on a second disc that requires 4 GB of space to install. As with Halo 3, Forge mode makes an appearance and allows players to tweak maps to unrecognisable states and, theoretically, generate player content for years to come. I haven’t had a chance to tinker with Forge yet, but I’m sure modders will be testing the game engine to breaking point within days of the game’s release.
Did 343 Industries meet the challenge laid down by their predecessors at Bungie? Undoubtedly… Halo 4 is a superb game with tonnes to offer and more content in the pipeline. However, Halo 4 does walk a fine line between slavishly working to satisfy the demands of a rabid fan base and the potential for any development. As such, it does feel very much like a continuation of the franchise rather than a step in a new direction… But then that was probably the point.