REVIEW: A huge ship is destroyed, and floats aimlessly through space. After four years, a desperate artificial intelligence named Cortana rises and realises it's time. Master Chief, believed dead by most of the people he once protected, wakes up.
WAKE ME WHEN YOU NEED ME
The personal relationship between Chief and Cortana sews together the pieces of Halo 4's story.
Cortana is dying. She's suffering from something called rampancy, which is essentially robot-dementia. But Chief is unwilling to let go of his companion AI; his only real friend. Maybe if we can get you to Earth, he says, we can cure you.
But it would be a very boring game if that were as simple as it sounds. As the Chief's companion points out early in the game, things have changed a lot in four years. The Covenant are back, and even more fanatical. Worse, there's a new enemy on the horizon: the Prometheans. It's been hinted at in Halo lore for some time, but now the Prometheans are threatening humanity. Between Cortana, the God-like Forerunners, the Covenant, and the Promethean armies, Master Chief may have just a couple of small items to take care of before he calls his mum to let her know he's alive.
When Bungie made the Halo games, every game was an epic sci-fi battle to save humanity. Nothing's changed in that respect since 343 Industries has taken the helm. Levels are still big, with massive alien structures, and the attention to detail is better than ever. Graphics have improved, and 343 must be squeezing every little bit of computational power possible from the Xbox 360 by now. Every time I saw a close-up of Master Chief, I sat admiring the textures in his suit.
With new enemies in Halo 4 you also get new weapons, such as the ultra-powerful Binary Rifle, which is like the sniper rifle except you don't need a headshot to get a one-hit kill. The Incendiary Cannon is also awesome: it's effective against both creatures and vehicles (although your aim has to be pretty good). Most of the new weapons are variants of existing human or Covenant weapons.
Facing new enemies also gives you access to new armour abilities - once they drop them on the battlefield. A particular favourite of mine was the Thruster Pack, which lets you boost quickly in any direction, allowing you to get behind cover or rush someone with a melee weapon.
KILLING SPREE! KILLING FRENZY! RUNNING RIOT!
War Games in Halo 4 will be familiar to anyone who's played multiplayer before - you won't feel like you're playing a different game - but quite a few things have been added or overhauled.
There are two completely new game types, called Dominion and Extraction. Dominion is a little confusing at first glance, but its a lot of fun once you wrap your head around it. At first glance, it's a team-based game type like Territories from previous games: you have to capture three points on the map. In Dominion, however, they take much longer to capture as you have to find a glowing totem in the middle of the point, hold down X on it, and then stick around to defend it until the point is captured, to prevent the other team from taking it for themselves. It's best to stay on the defence: holding a point for a long time increases its defences. After a while, shields and auto-turrets can come up, making the point harder for the opposite team to take from you.
Of course, the problem with staying on the defence is that then you can't go on the offence, so while you're defending your base, your teammates are vulnerable when they try to capture other bases.
Once your team captures all three points, you can set about killing the other team. Unless a member of the opposition takes a point back from you, their buddies don't get to respawn. Once your team eliminates the opposition, you win.
The other brand new game type is Extraction, which again has similarities to Territories. There are beacons placed around the map - only two at first - and teams have to extract information from them. Essentially, though, you just start the extraction by hitting a button, and then defend it from the other team. The point of difference is that as you capture beacons, new ones pop up on the map. They'll continue appearing until one team extracts enough beacons to win.
Extraction is pretty good, but when I played with a group of other reviewers, Dominion was the game type everyone wanted to play again. And again.
Infection has been renamed Flood and has been overhauled a little bit. You still start out with a couple of zombie players wielding swords who are doing their best to kill the rest of you, but this time the zombies look like members of the Flood. Humans can sprint and zombies can't, but they can jump. High. Flood is balanced in the humans' favour, as Infection always was, but the odds seem to have evened slightly.
Aside from game types, the major change in Halo 4 multiplayer is the ordnance drops. They're no longer just available in some game types on some maps, but are now available at any time, anywhere. You have to build up a kill streak first, but once you do you can order one of three options. They're not just weapons - although ordering in an energy sword is great - but perks as well. You might be able to get a damage boost, or a speed boost, or an overshield.
There are also tactical packages and support upgrades. You can sprint in Halo 4 without using an armour ability, but only for a few seconds at a time. However, using a tactical package called 'Mobility' can allow you to sprint endlessly, which gives you an edge over your low-level competitors. The support upgrades include powerups for ammo and scopes. Snipers, especially, will be happy to know that the scope upgrade allows you to see your radar even when scoped.
Only one episode of the three-month season of Spartan Ops is currently live, but so far its the weakest aspect of Halo 4. It's not a bad game mode, but it's disappointing when you put it next to the campaign and War Games, which are both very polished.
The main problem with Spartan Ops is the story. There's not really one to speak of yet, which is sad, as 343 Industries has been saying for months that Spartan Ops was all about putting more story into the multiplayer. I can't fault Spartan Ops too much, as it's just starting, and we're sure there's a better story to come. But the campaign was engaging from the moment Master Chief woke up, and it would have been nice to feel that way about this new game mode too.
There are five chapters in each episode, which are designed to be played co-operatively. One level was a vehicle level, and the other four involved you and the rest of your Spartan team clearing an area of enemies and defending points. The gameplay is great - just like playing the campaign co-op, really, except with elements of horde mode because sometimes there are just so many enemies.
Halo 4 is everything you've always loved about Halo. Yes, the series has changed hands, but the franchise is as great as it has ever been. If you're a fan of Halo, it's time to suit up and save the universe. Again.
From: Microsoft Studios
For: Xbox 360