Halo 4: Return to Form

Fans were understandably concerned when the original “Halo” developer Bungie decided to move on from their series. In their place, 343 Industries was formed solely to build the future of “Halo,” and they have crafted an experience that simultaneously respects the core foundations of the series while forging ahead with new ideas. Aside from some unfortunate campaign quirks, “Halo 4” is largely a return to form.

For “Halo 4’s” campaign, fans can finally reunite with Master Chief and Cortana. The story continues from “Halo 3’s” Legendary ending, with the Chief’s wrecked ship slowly drifting toward a Forerunner planet. Exploring and figuring out how to escape this new strange planet is only half of the problem, as Cortana begins to descend into “rampancy,” which will end in her death if left untreated.

While exploring the planet’s alien environments proves fresh and exciting, the new Promethean enemies really give the new campaign its own character. These new enemies are really fast and aggressive, carry new and unique weapons and require new strategies to effectively dispatch. The Knights in particular are really complicated foes to fight because they can teleport and also revive themselves with the Watchers they spawn.

While I enjoyed fighting the Prometheans, the returning Covenant forces are feeling a bit tired at this point. In “Halo: Reach,” the Covenant became terrifying again because they were smarter and more powerful than before. In “Halo 4,” however, their intelligence has significantly regressed. When you are a decent distance away (in which most people would use the Battle Rifle, for example), there were times when the Covenant wouldn’t shoot back and yes, provided it lived, that includes the one who was directly being shot at. Often, the Covenant stood around in one space and would make no attempt to flank or at least charge like in previous games. Numerous times, sword-wielding Elites would stop charging right before delivering a fatal strike because I slightly changed my elevation or crossed over an invisible line. All of this baffling behavior occurred on Legendary difficulty, when they are supposed to be intelligent. The trade-off is that, when they feel like it, they hit harder than ever, which is definitely a step in the wrong direction for the series.

A few other oddities about the campaign are that checkpoints are spaced too far apart and, since each gun can only carry a small amount of ammo, you are constantly dropping and picking up new guns. The latter can be awesome in that it encourages experimentation, but it also means you might have to retreat to previous battlefields to restock on ammo.

Beyond the campaign lies the Infinity multiplayer, which is divided between War Games and Spartan Ops.

The latter is particularly intriguing because it is a series of 10 episodes that will be released for free every week for Xbox Live Gold subscribers one at a time. Considering an episode is roughly an hour of content (comprised of a CG movie and five short co-op focused levels) you will eventually get a whole new campaign’s worth of content that can be played solo or cooperatively. Spartan Ops is awesome, so the only disappointing element of “Halo 4” co-op is that Firefight isn’t part of the package.

I was really impressed with what I’ve played of War Games. Essentially, War Games is more “Halo” multiplayer with new maps, but a few subtle changes make all the difference. Everyone can now sprint by clicking the left stick (this applies to campaign too), which immediately makes getting to the action faster and allows everyone to choose an interesting armor ability for your load-outs. Perks are new to multiplayer and are really great for customizing your experience. While some combinations will certainly be better than others, it’s really fun to experiment, and the game still feels fair enough in spite of them. It is rare for me to want to play more competitive multiplayer after trying it out, but “Halo 4’s” multiplayer is really awesome.

Despite some unfortunate moments in the campaign, “Halo 4” is largely a success. The next story of Master Chief, awesome gunplay and the incredible multiplayer come together to make “Halo 4” a must-play.

Rating: 4.5/5