Put aside the new weapons, the new enemies and the new overarching story that is just beginning, and at the very heart of it, Halo 4 is about the relationship between Cortana and Master Chief. The love that they feel for each other. (Not romantic love—don’t get any crazy fanfic ideas.)
Even if you’ve been playing Halo games since the original released and even if you’ve read some of the books or the comics or watched the films… this might still be a tough sell. Chief is a quiet, stoic main character. And Cortana usually just tells you where to go when she’s not yelling at you.
But in Halo Reach, original developer Bungie wisely made that game’s final mission to get Cortana to safety—and ultimately in Chief’s hands.
343 Industries, the developer behind this new Halo trilogy, decides to expand upon this by further strengthening the characters of both Chief and Cortana, as well as deepening their relationship. Whether or not they succeed may determine how you feel about the single-player campaign and if you think Halo 4 delivers.
For a known single-player only snob like me… they did succeed.
Like most reviewers, I can’t say much about the plotline of the single-player campaign which will likely last you between 8-12 hours depending on what level of difficulty you set it on.
I can say this: Halo 4 is the start of a new saga called The Reclaimer Saga. It picks up five years after the events of Halo 3 with Master Chief and Cortana alone in space, drifting towards an unknown Forerunner planet.
Cortana is slowly from rampancy. AIs like her aren’t meant to last more than a certain amount of years and she’s already past the normal expiration date. She’s slowly going insane because she can’t handle all the data her system used to be able to process with ease. Chief, of course, refuses to let her go and will do anything he can do to save her “life” while exploring that Forerunner planet.
Many of the innovations that Bungie brought to Halo Reach have made their way to Halo 4—a variety of armor types, a jetpack, the ability to fly a ship in space, etc. You’ll also encounter new enemies called Prometheans that provide a variety of challenges.
For instance, there’s the Crawlers which will likely hunt you in packs and can quickly overwhelm you even though they’re small. The larger, hulking Knights are easy to take down, if you’re just facing them. It’s the Watchers you need to – pun intended – watch out for. They fly overhead and will temporarily apply shields to the Prometheans below. Always go for them first.
You’ll of course face the Covenant again and while there’s no Flood in the game, they are name-dropped once or twice. The Covenant, in fact, as always, are responsible for releasing an ancient evil that you’ll need to battle.
It’s a simple story, but one driven more by emotions and not plot because of Chief’s desire to save Cortana. But all of that aside, I was struck by a true sense of a desire to explore—something franchise director Frank O’Connor told me in a preview over the summer. Exploration is at the very heart of Halo.
I never found myself lost in the game, even though I frequently didn’t have a beacon pointing me where to go next. Fights with the Prometheans were also varied enough that you could approach enemies from a number of different angles and entry points unlike a typical FPS.
As usual, I focused on the single-player campaign only, but there’s a healthy amount of multiplayer for other “normal” gamers. There’s Spartan Ops which takes place after the Halo 4 campaign and allows you to play as UNSC Infinity crewmembers or part of a Spartans squad called Majestic Squad. It’s episodic and free. In addition, Forge returns so you can design your own multiplayer maps.
You can also play the entire campaign mode cooperatively with up to three other players, though oddly, everyone plays as Master Chief. (I mean… I guess that sort of makes sense. Who wouldn’t want to be Chief? It’ll probably saves friends from fighting with each other.)
The love that Chief and Cortana have for each other as true friends is strong in Halo 4 and helps in service to what is surprisingly an emotionally strong game. There’s lots of “the’s” thrown around over the course of the story as in we have to stop The Blank from accessing The Other Blank… but put all of that aside, and the story of this friendship that knows no bounds is exceptionally told and emotionally earned.
There’s also love for the source material by developer 343 Industries that is quite evident. Franchise fans will see how they tried to echo previous games as well as ensure their story tied into the one Bungie told. It was a tough mission but one they accomplished.
Halo 4 is out on November 6 and is available exclusively on XBOX 360.
* Disclosure: A copy of Halo 4 was provided to the reviewer by Microsoft for the purposes of this review. *