But is the iconic character thriving in the latest first-person shooter extravaganza? Well, to a degree … which will ensure gamers keep a close eye on the franchise as Halo’s story continues through another two future installments.
Some background: This is the first original Halo game developed by 343 Industries – Microsoft’s in-house studio. It’s their second game (they oversaw the updating of last year’s Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary edition, which was a glorified polishing job), but the first time they’ve taken over the storytelling and overall production of the franchise made famous by Bungie. And in that regard, it’s clear that 343, knowing so many critics’ eyes were upon them, didn’t stray far from what made Halo such a successful entertainment tentpole.
The Master Chief takes over the starring role once again (it’s surprising to say he hasn’t been the hero of a Halo release since Halo 3 came out in late 2007). When last we left him, the green-armoured marine with the gold face shield was drifting through space with his computer AI gal pal Cortana. Thanks to his efforts, humanity had defeated the alien Covenant forces and the parasitic Flood. But humanity thought it had lost its last super soldier.
Fast forward four years and Cortana has put the chief into hibernation. She awakens him when a new threat appears ... the Covenant and a new enemy, the Forerunners – an ancient, technologically advanced race long thought dead.
It’s up to the Master Chief to discover what the Covenant wants with the Forerunners and to deal with this new race.
Halo 4 is the first of a planned trilogy of games (Halos 5 and 6 are rumoured to be destined for the next Xbox console). And for true die-hard Halo geeks, if you want to know more about the Forerunners, be sure to read Greg Bear’s two Forerunner novels, which lay out the history of the race (with a third novel still to come).
Regardless, Halo 4 does tell a rich story in between the action sequences gamers have come to expect in this universe. The campaign’s story does a decent job of informing you about the basics of the Forerunners and their ancient battle against the Flood.
As for the campaign, 343 has clearly played it safe. The game doesn’t deviate far from what Halo fans are used to. The game has pick-up-and-play familiarity to it, although the visuals are stunning, the environments vast, colourful and engaging. And the Forerunner weapons and tech are a nice addition to the Halo arsenal of guns and grenades, many of which will prove popular in the multiplayer environment.
Multiplayer features the standard modes, all of which are delivered in crisp detail, sure to please legions of fans. The addition of a co-op and solo special ops section that allows you to further the story and build experience for your personal Spartan warrior is a nice bonus, although it’s clearly following in the footsteps of the Call of Duty games in this regard.
Overall, there’s nothing overly surprising about Halo 4. But there’s nothing overly disappointing either. 343 Industries has proven itself capable of delivering an original Halo game. Now, can they up their game with Halo 5? That’s the next big question for Microsoft’s premier franchise.
The score: 4 stars.