Halo 4: Can 343 reclaim the franchise?

I’ll be honest, when I heard about Halo 4, I was not impressed at all. Another not Bungie Halo game? Yeah, right, Halo Wars, console only RTS? What a craptastic idea that was. But then, the past few weeks, I started to see more about the game. I watched whatever I could, watched the Forward unto Dawn series, read some early reviews, and I was hooked and decided I was going to buy the game.

I started the campaign and as I watched the starting cinematic it all started rushing back. Dat nostalgia. Within 15 minutes I was noob-comboing elites down, landing sticky grenades on jackals and running down helpless grunts and smacking them into the ground with the back of my assault rifle. I was home.

Halo 4 is a worthy successor to the franchise and gives me hope for the series’ future. The campaign is 8 missions long and took me around 7 hours to complete on Heroic. Although this is not the longest campaign, as far as modern military shooters go, Halo 4’s campaign is a good length. Considering the multiplayer and the promise of weekly episodic content with Spartan Ops (we’ll get into that later), I feel it is well worth the money.

Not to unload the whole story on you, but the campaign mostly takes place on the forerunner shield world that you see the Chief floating toward during the legendary ending of Halo 3. Story wise the game is solid, although I feel there is a reliance on having read the books and surrounding lore materials to fully comprehend what is going on and answer some questions including: “Why the fuck am I killing Covenant, didn’t we ally with them?” and “Who the shit is that guy?”

But, if you’re just interested in mowing down hoards of aliens with a large variety of both familiar and exotic weapons, this game has it in spades. The old favorites; the Assault Rifle, Battle Rifle, Shotgun, Rocket Launcher, Sniper Rifle and Magnum make a return to the human arsenal, along with the DMR and a new funky Railgun that feels like a toned down, but still deadly, version of the Splaser.  The Covenant weapon selection has been cut down a little, most surprising of all these changes is that there is no Plasma Rifle; replaced by the extremely ineffective Storm Rifle. Being a massive Plasma Rifle fan, I was most disappointed.

The new race, the Prometheans, have a their own arsenal to round out of the game’s weapon lineup that look and feel pretty good, my favorite being the Incineration Cannon, which is as awesome as it sounds. Only complaints with the weapons is that they seem a little cookie cutter, with each of the three flavors containing a Pistol, Single Shot Rifle, Burst Rifle, Shotgun, Sniper Rifle and heavy weapon, with a few more exotic weapons on the human side of all things. Also, aside from the new exceptions, the human weapons seem to be the strongest in-class. I was constantly finding myself picking human weapons over the others as they just seemed to be more effective.

Overall, the campaign lived up to the name of Halo, with the ending sequence (again, no spoilers) being amazingly dramatic and emotional, leaving me with a severe case of “dem feels”. Also, should be noted, as always, there is an extended cutscene when you complete the last level on Legendary Difficultly with a big reveal for the series, so go do that. Or you can just watch it on youtube, if you’re lazy like that, shame.

At this point I’ve only completed the first two episodes of Spartan Ops, but I can give you my impressions so far. The missions are drawn together by a loose story, but if you’re expecting a whole new campaign, you might be a little disappointed. At this stage it seems to be a series of objectives on probably about 5 or 6 different maps, some of them just sections from the main campaign. This is a little disappointing as advertising suggested it would continue the story after the events of the campaign, but in reality the story elements seem a little tacked on.

That said, I easily sank almost four hours into the first two episodes alone on Heroic Difficulty playing with a friend. While it’s just a glorified horde mode with some “press this button over here, now press than button over there!” included, it was still fun and engaging, and the fact Jennifer Hale from Mass Effect FemShep and almost-every-other-awesome-video-game-ever fame voices your commanding officer is a definite plus. Overall Spartan Ops provides a good experience if you and a friend or three just want to run around and kill stuff for a while, and hopefully the storytelling aspect of the series will be more hashed out in later installments.

I was never too big into Halo multiplayer, but from what I’ve played of Halo 4’s “Wargames” mode I can say that they have done a good job of recreating that classic Halo chaos. Most of the classic modes like Oddball, King of the Hill, CTF and good old Slayer are all present and accounted for, plus the infinite possibilities created by the returning Forge Mode. My only gripe, is that there is no Rocket Race playlist, 343 pls!

343 has also worked with Rooster Teeth to implement an official Griffball mode, which is awesome. Before I had played it myself, I asked a friend what it was like and he just looked at me and said “YOU CAN PASS THE GRIFFBALL NOW!”, I lost my shit. This is an awesome change as it allows you to throw and more importantly intercept the ball, adding a lot of depth to the game and potential for awesome plays. I’m going to a Griffball LAN next week, and I will be practicing up, it’s going to be awesome.

One last thing before we wrap up, the soundtrack. Marty O’Donnell did an absolutely stellar job of scoring all the Bungie’s Halo games with the main theme’s Gregorian chant intro being almost as much of a hallmark of the series as Master Chief himself. Later in the theme, the signature Halo riff (DUN DUN DUN DUNNNNN DUN DUN DUN DUNNNNNNN) still gets me pumped up to shoot stuff. Marty did not return for Halo 4 and is instead working with Bungie on their new game Destiny, instead 343 hired composer Niel Davidge to score Halo 4. Boy does he have big shoes to fill.

I must admit, I didn’t like Halo 4’s soundtrack at first, it didn’t seem to capture the same emotion and stay with me like the themes in the other Halo games as I was playing through the campaign for the first time. But as I went through again, and listened to the soundtrack while working on some other projects, it really started to grow on me. Recommendations from the soundtrack include “Awakening”, “Arrival” and my personal favorite, Master Chief’s new theme – “117”, which plays through the final level and is nothing short of epic, I’ve linked it below, seriously take have a listen!

Davidge wrote a solid soundtrack, and while it doesn’t compare to O’Donnell’s earlier work, it’s still pretty awesome and hopefully will get better in the upcoming games.

Overall, Halo 4 is a must buy if you’ve enjoyed previous Halo games. 343 Industries have really done well in creating a worthy successor to the original trilogy. If you’re new to the series, you may have a little difficulty in following the story in some places, but the game serves as a great example of what the Halo franchise has been known for over the past decade. The campaign is great, the multiplayer is fun as ever and with new content weekly with Spartan Ops, I would recommend picking this title up to anyone with the slightest interest in FPS games without hesitation.

See you for Halo 5 343, I’m expecting good things.