“Don’t make a girl a promise you can’t keep.” It’s one of the most iconic lines of dialogue from Halo and is the one line that can properly describe Halo 4’s storyline. 343 clearly stated that Halo 4 would be about the relationship between Cortana and Master Chief, and that it would be an evolution of the series as a whole. While many doubted 343’s capabilities at producing the next Halo game, something about them clearly told me that they could – and would – do it.
The relationship between Master Chief and Cortana takes center stage for the latest game in the Halo series and for me, it completely changed the tone of the campaign. Past Halo games have focused on one major plot point, several key characters, and a set of enemy leaders. Halo 4 changes this and tries to introduce us to a few new characters, a new world, and new enemies, but throughout my playthrough, I felt like it never really went into the depth that the original games did. The depth I’m talking about is the exploration of other characters such as Sergeant Johnson, Miranda Keyes, and others that we had come to know during the first trilogy of games. By the end of Halo 4’s campaign, there’s also a ton of questions that are raised but not answered. I’m sure we can expect these to be addressed in Halo 5 and 6, as a whole new trilogy has already been planned (for those of you who don’t know), but it would have been nice to see at least a little bit of an explanation to arouse discussion before those games are revealed.
Maybe the lack of information and underdeveloped characters were intended by the developers so we could put our entire focus on the relationship between Chief and Cortana, which will actually surprise you in how real it feels during your playthrough. Depending on how much of the Halo series you’ve played and the extra lore you’ve read into, the connection could be very strong for some of you, and it could very well be one of the few relationships in video games that makes you actually care. For me, that makes Halo 4’s campaign one to remember.
I won’t spoil anything for you, and if you’ve read any of the previews for the game’s campaign, you won’t learn anything new in the next paragraph, so don’t worry about reading it. If you’ve been on a blackout however, and want to go in that way, skip the next paragraph.
Halo 4 begins with Master Chief and Cortana still aboard the Forward Unto Dawn, which was split in two at the end of Halo 3, with one side of the ship containing the Arbiter returning back to Earth. The other, containing Master Chief and Cortana, was sent to some place in space floating towards what we now know as the Forerunner planet, Requiem. The game takes no time in throwing you straight back into the fight against the Covenant, and within the first shots fired you know you’re playing a Halo game.
That may sound like criticism, but it’s not. Halo 4 plays just as smooth as all the past Halo games with tight shooting mechanics, no iron sights, and ridiculously smart AI. Halo 4 re-introduces the Covenant with all of the participants receiving a visual upgrade that makes them look more alien and a heck of a lot more ugly (in a good way). The only enemy type from the Covenant that doesn’t return is the buggers, and I’m completely fine with that (thank you, 343).
The new set of enemies introduced into Halo 4 are the Prometheans, which, to save for spoilers, are the defenders of Requiem. However, as cool as they look, they weren’t exactly all that exciting to play against, which was a bit of a disappoint for me. When playing against the Covenant, you feel a real challenge, but the Prometheans offered more of a nuisance in comparison. It may be in their combat style, which is more predictable than fighting an Elite for example, but something about them just didn’t excite me. I’m sorry that I can’t explain it more, but it’s all in my opinion, of course.
One thing that I haven’t even touched on yet is the world of Requiem, which I will blatantly say is beautiful. Remember the first time you played Halo: Combat Evolved and stepped out onto the Halo Ring? The feeling you got of being on a mysterious world with so much to explore? Take that feeling and amplify it tenfold when you step out onto Requiem for the first time. My jaw literally dropped to the floor and I can sure as hell bet yours will too. Playing through each level of Halo 4’s 8 level campaign was a joy, not only due to the gameplay that Halo 4 offers, but also by how varied and beautiful the world of Requiem is. In speaking to one of our editors, Michael Urban, I told him that when I started playing through the first level on Requiem, I almost wished it was an open world exploration game.
Graphically, Halo 4 is without a doubt the best looking game on the Xbox 360 to date. There’s literally not another game on the system that can match it in terms of lighting, texture, or just overall world design. 343 outdid themselves in this department. Cut scenes are beautifully rendered and offer up some of the most realistic-looking characters to date. You can even tell on one of the Commanders that his teeth are a little bit crooked. (Yes, the IGN review pointed that out and I can confirm I saw it too). The game consistently runs at 30FPS without a hitch, even when the screen is chock full of action.
The lighting effects in Halo 4 are just astounding, and are really the driving factor of Halo 4’s stunning graphical fidelity. That and the architectural wonder that Halo is known for is in full force here. You can’t help but gaze at the floating structures of Requiem and just study them. 343 also made improvements to the HUD, which now makes you actually feel like you’re in the Chief’s helmet. It seems a bit distracting at first glance, but you’ll quickly get used to it and forget it’s there.
Another improvement that 343 really capitalized on in Halo 4 is the sound design, which also happens to be one of my biggest disappointments, but we’ll touch on that later. Halo hasn’t been known for the most powerful sounding weaponry in video games, but that all changes with Halo 4. Every weapon in the game has a punch to it that makes your floor shake with each bullet fired if you have the bass turned up like I do. Explosions, vehicles, voice work – all of it have been improved drastically for the latest in the series except for one thing…
Sadly, yes that one thing is the soundtrack. One of the major reasons I love the Halo series so much is the memorable soundtracks that Martin O’Donnell has produced. Neil Davidge is now in charge of producing the music and, if you’ve been following OnlySP, you know that I’ve liked most of the tracks he’s released. Sadly enough though, with all the improvements in sound design, the music of Halo has been largely overlooked here, in my opinion. What’s truly saddening is that the sound of everything else going on almost completely drowns out the music, so while in past Halo games the music was a big part of the experience, it now just feels complementary to the gameplay. To me, that just can’t happen. The music is a vital piece of what makes it a Halo game. While playing, the lack of memorable music to go along with the game really took me out of the experience.
All in all, the campaign is still an enjoyable experience that no Halo fan – or anyone who owns an Xbox 360 in general – can miss out on. The relationship between Master Chief and Cortana is an iconic one and 343 outdid themselves for creating a story around an already tight relationship between a “machine” and an AI. The campaign as a whole offers plenty of variety, which includes the vehicle missions you’ve come to expect, varied environments that will blow you away in the graphics and design departments, and a story that will keep you engaged until the very end. One key note is to play the game on Hard if you’ve played and beat any past Halo games. The length of the campaign will change depending on which difficulty you play on, ranging anywhere from 6-10 hours, which is still a bit short for a Halo campaign. Sadly enough though, I was able to complete the campaign in a very disappointing four hours and 53 minutes, which is kind of ridiculous as I played the game on Hard as well.
Please though, if you want the full experience for Halo 4, you really need to play Reach and the original trilogy to experience the relationship between Master Chief and Cortana at its fullest. It will dramatically change the way you receive the story in Halo 4; trust me.
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 8/10
Gameplay/Design – 10/10
Visuals – 10/10
Sound – 8/10
Lasting Appeal – 9.5/10
Overall – 8.5/10
(Not an average)
Halo 4 also offers plenty more for you gamers, but as a single player focused site we won’t really go into too much detail.
In addition to the campaign, Halo 4 also offers Spartan Ops, a weekly episodic series that brings you 5 new missions each week that can be played solo or cooperatively. Each mission offers different objectives and a new set of cut scenes for 10 weeks, totaling out to 50 free pieces of DLC. Alongside Spartan Ops is also Infinity, which is 343’s name for multiplayer, as it takes place aboard the UNSC Infinity, the largest ship to ever operate in the UNSC. If you want a full, in-depth multiplayer review, please check out our friends over at MP1st.