If Halo 4 were food, it would be tomato soup – something you’ve had loads of times before yet it’s still comforting. The first few levels in particular have a slightly overbearing sense of familiarity, thanks to an opening not unlike the one found in the original Halo. Make no mistake – 343 Industries can do a very good Bungie impression.
After being woken from a cryogenic pod by a rather panicked Cortana, Master Chief grabs his trusty rifle and magnum to find that his ship has been boarded by the Covenant. Their truce has abruptly come to an end, for reasons later discovered, while Cortana is having her own problems – she’s nearing her ‘best before date’ and slowly losing her digital marbles.
The second mission too feels rather similar to what we’ve seen before – Master Chief crash lands on an alien world where, not far into the mission, a few Warthogs vehicles are found completely unscathed from the crash. Come mission three though and it’s all change – here we get to see what 343i has to bring to the Halo universe. To be exact – a new alien race, complete with a whole new set of accompanying alien weapons. The Promethean Knights are a formidable foe, able to spawn a floating device that can not only heal them but also revive the dead. They bring with them an enemy known as a Crawler – a canine-like creature able to run up and along walls.
The weapons that they drop have some fancy reload animations but are essentially just alien-variants of rifles, shotguns and missile launchers. However, also included in their arsenal are a new grenade type and a Promethean Vision skill that can be used to see through objects. The latter can give players a serious advantage if used in multi-player.
From the fourth mission onwards things become less familiar. The problem with this is that there are only eight missions in total and we had no problem breezing through single-player in a couple of evenings. While it lasted though it was thoroughly entertaining, with a later mission dedicated to vehicular combat and sniping being a highlight. This mission sees Master Chief catching a lift on a vehicle known as a Mammoth – a troop carrier so large it would easily overshadow the infamous Star Wars Jawa sandcrawler.
It’s clear right from the start that this is the best looking Halo yet – each texture is as sharp and detailed as the last and some very clever lighting effects have been used throughout. If this isn’t the Xbox 360 running at full pelt then it’s surely not far off it. Sound effects too impress, with the UNSC weapons sounding meatier than ever.
Whereas single-player is for the most part more of the same, the ‘War Games‘ multi-player mode has had a significant overhaul. There’s a bigger focus on load-outs, with less weapons available on the battlefield. XP now earns tokens, used to unlock new weapons, grenade types and skills such as the ability to run constantly. Characters are customisable, with new armour unlocked as you level up. The map assortment is a mixture of old and new, but thanks to a new coat of paint and a new vehicle – the Manis mech – the old maps don’t feel tired in the slightest. The Forge level builder makes a welcome return, and as before videos and screenshots can be shared. It’s an incredibly comprehensive package. The only problem we had was that in the ‘kill the king’ Regicide mode you often respawn in plain sight of the opposition, which doesn’t really seem sporting.
As well as competitive multi-player there’s the new Spartan Ops mode, which offers bite-sized missions set on small maps. New missions are being added to it on a weekly basis, five at a time, and can be played with three others. These missions have simple objectives and a focus on challenges – kill X amount of enemy Y, mostly – your progress in which you can check using Halo Waypoint. It’s a generous addition – the new episodes are free – but we do worry that 343i are going to quickly run out of ideas. Of the ten missions currently available to play through most are indistinguishable in terms of mission objectives.
Unless you’re expecting a total reinvention of the franchise, Halo 4 shouldn’t disappoint. We do hope though that now they’ve found their feet with Halo’s universe, 343 Industries will spice up Halo 5 with a few more new ideas of their own. Spicy tomato soup. We’d like to try a bowl of that.