With Bungie saying goodbye to fans through Halo Reach fans were wondering what was next for the shooter. While Reach was being developed, Microsoft was building a team of Halo fans and industry veterans. They would come together to form 343 Industries. They had their main goal from the get go, continue the story of the Master Chief.
Released November 5th 2012, Halo 4 was made to prove that the series could continue without the hand of Bungie. While this was appreciated a lot, 343 began to make Halo specifically for Halo fans instead of a wider audience. This means hardcore Halo fans by the way, as a lot going on narrative wise this time relied on knowledge gained from books and film. Despite this however Halo 4 was still relativity easy to pick up and focused on creating a much more relatable and emotional story compared to the previous games.
Halo 4 takes place 7 years after the events of Halo 3. Master Chief has been floating in space with Cortana watching over him. One day the ship comes into contact with a forerunner planet that sucks them in. There’s a lot of story going on from the start, as you find out your partner Cortana has a little bit of a flu, and may go insane to then die. You can hear a lot of raw emotion in the dialogue between Chief and Cortana as they sound desperate to get this fixed. Chief especially is made a very human character this time around. In the trilogy he had a few moment where he showed his care to Cortana, but he was mainly there to make “that moment”. You know what that is, it’s where the score starts quiet in the background, chief does something like blow up Halo and turns to the camera. He makes a pose and the score kicks in with that DUN DU DUN, DUN DUN. While he has those epic score moments in 4 he’s a very human character with stakes and emotions. Halo 4 also introduces us to some new foes, the Promethean’s. They added a little bit of variety to the playing field and weapon selection but ultimately didn’t innovate as much as they could have.
Due to Cortana and Chiefs relationship during this game there’s a lot of tension and moments where the player feels real emotion towards the story. There’s a lot of moments where Cortana’s condition worsens and causes conflict between the two characters. Chief has to stay strong while looking after his partner who is going crazy. This is the bulk that carries the narrative of Halo 4. The rest of the story is a little bit forgetful and I’m still unforgiving towards the ending. The stakes are not about saving the earth, it’s about Chief as a person.
Under a new studio lead, the multiplayer would also be dramatically changed to suit more mainstream audiences and games. The load out system was brought forward with the ability for players to create them outside of battle and use throughout all the different modes. Feeling similar to many other modern games, it made it so weapons couldn’t be found on the battlefield anymore and instead had to be earned by performance and skill. This made Halo 4 a lot more competitive than the previous game and kept people around more as a result. Armour abilities continued to exist with love, sprinting was also made as part of the gameplay without the use of an ability. Meaning you could sprint with a simple tap of a button while using equipment to diverse the combat experience.
Forge/Custom games was also brought forward once again with many new spaces and tools to create with. While not making as many improvements as Reach did over 3, it still creates a range of environment worth editing in as Reach mainly had Forge world making all maps have a similar theme. My problem this time was the community though. The system was good and catered towards fans, however everyone had gone. At this time I was beginning to grow up, friends were doing the same. I never had a 16 man custom game going on and gave up playing only a few months after the release. I feel at this point the problem was not with the tools they gave us, but the lack of improvements for what already existed. 3 defined the community, Reach strengthened it. Now 4 was just the same story that we had 2 years prior.
Despite all this, the new engine was beautiful to look out. Everything has a good shine to it and shadows worked dynamically with forge maps making a more realistic design. The soundtrack was also controversial as original lead Marty O’ Donnell left to work on Destiny with Bungie. Neil Davidge was brought in to create a brand new sound for the series. The new score feels a lot more electronic compared the orchestral nature of the previous trilogy, but it works well for the new direction. Emotion in the story is accompanied with chilling music to enhance the moment and make it that much more memorable.
Halo 4, while not for everyone, was still a good entry into the Master Chief saga. The focus on narrative was interesting and made the characters we all loved feel human. There are a few hiccups here and there to do with lore based information that is only accessible externally to the game. The multiplayer was the real problem for me, it didn’t have the unique feeling that the previous games carried, and in turn was generic FPS multiplayer seen in other games at the time.
Still it earns a good score of 7/10 for its risk to put story in the focus and lead a new dev team into the universe.