In the distant year of 2007, upon saving the world from the Covenant and Flood alien menaces, UNSC Petty Officer Sierra 117 Master Chief was alone on the derelict spaceship, Forward Unto Dawn. He walked into a cryo-chamber and said to his AI companion Cortana: “Wake me when they need me.” This signaled the end of an era in shooter games, the climax of the Halo trilogy. Many were sad to see it go, but understood that the story it had told was complete; its enemies were defeated. However, a mere 5 years later, with a new studio at the helm, the Saga of Halo continues; with a new numbered entry that no-one would certainly reject, but not many people especially asked for either. It would perhaps have been a little more dramatic if we hadn’t had a Halo game released each year for the last 3 years either.
Nevertheless, this is a numbered sequel, and the beginnings of what 343 studios claim is a new trilogy. And despite my cynicism about it, playing as Master Chief is different from playing as a soldier who resembles Master Chief. No-one can quite match the original. The story begins with Master Chief awakening 4 years after the events of Halo 3 to find his ship under attack, shortly thereafter landing on a strange alien planet and having to tangle with ancient Forerunner technology.
As for gameplay itself, the formula established previously is stuck to rigidly; there are a number of new enemies who carry new weapons, but those weapons are largely re-skins of other ones that exist already. There is a thought that you shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken, but it feels that 343 are skirting the wrong side of the “too safe” line. The campaign is also quite a bit too short, lasting 4 hours on average and somewhat longer if playing a harder difficulty, but that isn’t really saying much except that you’ll have to redo areas over and over. Added to this is that what areas of the campaign are there rely quite a lot on the player being familiar with complimentary materials in the Halo universe, such as books and webseries. I respect the developers for trying to include these, but in this instance it feels a bit too much like an order to go out and buy those installments.
Halo is of course legendary for its multiplayer, and there are multiple ways to enjoy this feature. There’s co-op in the campaign, a co-op set of missions known as Spartan Ops, and the then the usual arena of multiplayer battle modes. Spartan Ops is designed to be released episodically, making the experience of the game last longer over time. As for the regular multiplayer, all the usual modes are there, with a new wide selection of maps, and a battle system involving choosing a load out and leveling up, reminiscent in some ways of Call of Duty. The multiplayer is still as fun and frantic as ever, and it’s always a pleasure to see a game in this age continue to include local split screen capabilities.
There’s a term I heard that feels right here. Halo 4 is not a bad sequel or a bad game. It’s an ungraceful sequel. It’s scared to innovate in some areas, lazy to innovate in others, and for a series that had a wonderful combo of strong single player and multiplayer, the single player feels decidedly lacking. Everything that makes Halo good is still here, but I felt that it could’ve been more.