Halo 4 needed to be good.
With longtime developer Bungie no longer in charge of the series, the newest entry needed to excite fans who have lots more options for first-person shooters.
And the new developer, 343 Industries, didn't disappoint. Halo 4 delivers in every way required to keep the franchise moving forward. The campaign mode has a movie-worthy plot, and the multi-player gameplay that defined Halo has been given a much-needed overhaul.
As Halo 4's campaign starts, Master Chief is once again charged with saving humankind, but in a new twist, his artificial intelligence companion, Cortana, needs him, too. While science fiction sometimes portrays AI's as unable to show emotion, Cortana has never really had a problem with that. But she now has a condition called rampancy, a series of increasingly out-of-control emotional bursts that will eventually kill her if Master Chief can't find and get help from the scientist who created her.
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It's difficult to call Cortana's rampancy a subplot, because at times it almost feels like rescuing Cortana might be the main objective of Master Chief, or John, as she likes to call him.
(In a side note, Cortana has been, um, "re-imagined" as well. Her holographic projection is a bit more full-figured than in past games and the supposed body suit she wears leaves very little to the imagination.)
Developer 343 went for a much darker feel for their first Halo game. The music sets the mood, and the graphics show a less cartoony world. The Covenant enemies look and sound meaner. Gone are the cute, silly quips from the grunts or cartoonish movements by the Elites.
The campaign does not do a good job of conveying why the Covenant is once again the enemy after Halo 3's truce, but you can unlock cinematic footage explaining it by collecting the terminals in each of the campaign levels.
Halo 4 also introduces us to a new enemy called the Prometheans that were connected to the Forerunners, the race who built the Halo Array. The big ones, the Knights, can advance on you by teleporting. The crawlers are not too bad but can be overwhelming in large numbers, while the watchers hover around and provide support to the others. The weapons they carry, while new and fancy-looking, are really just Forerunner versions of the human and Covenant guns.
Halo games have always been as much about the multi-player as the story, and this game is no different. The multi-player modes are much improved over the 2010 prequel Halo: Reach.
The new "Spartan Ops" mode replaces "Firefight," which saw you fight waves of enemies. While it's similar in style, Spartan Ops adds a storyline that takes place six months after the campaign complete with cinematics.
"War Games" is the new name for the traditional multi-player mode with options such as slayer, king of the hill, domination and the like. By playing online, you can now upgrade your Spartan and create custom classes. That shows that after years of other games borrowing from Halo, now the reverse is true.
Also, Call of Duty players will be happy to find the controller layout called Fishstick that mirrors the rival series' controller scheme. I think I will actually play Halo 4 much more just because of that little feature.
With a solid, though somewhat short, campaign and a multi-player overhaul, Halo 4 lives up to its legacy and offers plenty of competition to Call of Duty this holiday season.