You may have finished the fight in Halo 3, ending a story arc for Master Chief and Cortana, but the Halo games didn’t end there. We’ve now seen Halo: Reach as Bungie’s swan song and Halo: Combat Evolved rebooted by 343, but those weren’t to be the last games in the Halo series. Halo 4 continues the story of the iconic character of Master Chief and his AI companion Cortana. Helmed by 343 Industries, which is made up of a lot of ex-Bungie folk, Halo 4 tells the story four years after the events of Halo 3. What we have here is a Halo game that’s entirely different yet, incredibly familiar.
Firing up Halo 4's campaign you are greeted with and opening cinematic that rivals the likes of Blizzard and Square-Enix, yes you'll do a double take. For fans of the Halo universe and lore, there's a lot to latch onto here, for those unfamiliar with the series it’s a rapid introduction to mythology that was explored in other mediums and previous games. I'll admit it, I'm emotionally invested in this series having played it since the beginning, having read the books, and having listened to the soundtrack on repeat more times than I care to admit. Watching the game's opening and the Chief bust out of cryo-stasis one more time, it was hard for me not to grin and grab the 360 controller just a little tighter.
The same production values present in the opening cinematic make it into the game itself, the graphic fidelity will re-establish your faith in the Xbox 360’s visual capabilities. From the very first scene inside the wreckage of the USNC ship Forward Unto Dawn, to the large expansive outdoor environments that have been prevalent since the first game - Halo 4's graphics are impressive. It’s not only for show either, the set pieces 343 has created in engine showcase huge space battles, giant gravity wells, and impossible situations for the Chief to get out of; all of which add to the gameplay experience.
One thing you could always count on in between Halo games were the familiarity of a weapon’s sound, but that’s gotten a complete overhaul. The weapon sounds and audio cues are so gritty and powerful, it almost makes the previous Halo game's effects sound like the digitized beeps and boops from a 16-bit video game system. The human weapons pack a serious punch, you can hear the bullets tearing out of the barrel and the casings pinging off the rocky ground. The Covenant plasma weapons can be felt in your gut, the molten material burning through the air with each shot. And the Promethean weapons sound advanced, technological and powerful - like you are firing a gun that feels very alien, especially as an enemy disintegrates from the shot. But the sound changes aren't just in the weapons themselves, but the enemies too.
The Covenant feel more menacing in Halo 4, and through most of the game act their part . Once again each Covenant race speaks their own language and every line of dialog from them sounds aggressive and abrasive. Even the grunts, who supplied a little comedic relief in earlier Halo games, sound like a Russian hit squad.
Thankfully the Flood are gone, in their place is something completely different in an enemy called the Prometheans. These enemies aren’t only tougher, but they force you to mix up your tactics in combat. For instance a Promethean Knight is capable of deploying a small air vehicle which can shield him, or worse, revive fallen comrades if they aren’t dispatched quickly. The Prometheans also utilize their own set of weapons. There must be at least 20 usable weapons in Halo 4 across all three races which is truly impressive.
The entire campaign simply feels tighter, more focused, and definitely more story driven. The relationship between the Master Chief and Cortana is expanded, and in a way, it’s more gut wrenching than it was in Halo 3. It’s hard not to feel for a faceless warrior and a digital AI construct who want nothing more than for the other to survive and conquer. You’ll hit large set pieces, small corridor combat, vehicle sections, and space flight missions. Everything will feel familiar, yet fresh.