The Halo series is definitely one that is both legendary yet confusing at times. Legendary because of Master Chief and confusing because after the initial Halo Trilogy got over, there’s a new trilogy.

For anyone who has been following this first-person shooter series, they know that at the end of the day, the story is all about Master Chief. Five years ago, at the end of Halo 3, Master Chief was stored in a cryogenic facility aboard the ship, Forward Unto Dawn. Now, we thought that we had seen the last of Petty Officer John-117 but the fact that he was frozen away, gave the Spartan’s fans some hope.

And sure enough, after 343 Industries took over the development of a new Halo trilogy (dubbed as the Reclamation Trilogy) from Bungie, Halo 4 opens with a stranger inquiring about Master Chief. And as we begin playing, we realize that this edition of the popular first-person shooter is all about Master Chief.

Game Plot

Right from the beginning of the campaign, once can feel that the storyline is darker and more personal than before. The game campaign opens aboard the remains of USNC Forward Unto Dawn, where Cortana, the Artificially Intelligent (AI) character, revives Master Chief from his 5 years long frozen state. But the old chief has not rusted in his eight-foot tall space suit, for he quickly goes into shooting Covenant forces.

As we progress into the campaign, we learn that Cortana is going into what she calls ‘Rampancy’ where AIs have an information overload and ‘think themselves to death’. We learn that AIs become ‘Rampant’ (irritable and moody) after seven years of service, and also that Cortana has been in service for eight years now.

The campaign revolves around Master Chief and Cortana’s escape from Requiem, the Forerunner planet that they’ve crashed into and can’t escape due to a gravity well. Also, USNC Infinity and its captain, Andrew Del Rio, and executive officer, Thomas Lasky, crash into the same planet and the struggle to aide human forces begins. The battle, hence, is to save Cortana, humanity and a search for Master Chief’s ‘human side’.

Graphics

From the moment the campaign’s prologue begins, the images seen from John’s HUD are full of gorgeous graphics with beautiful detailing and awesome player and non player character sketches, with a good background score to boot.

The attention paid to detail is quite fascinating. If you look closely at Master Chief’s armour, you’ll see the dents and scratches among other signs of wear from battle. It’s not as shiny as we saw in the first two editions of Halo, but is resplendent in its own battle-worn way.

Considering the fact that the Xbox 360 console has in a way aged a bit, the quality of animation is quite stunning. The way fragments and other elements scatter during a fire fight show the amount and nature of work that has gone into developing the CG and SFX. Even the vehicles and weapons have been crafted with good detailing. I felt a little bad about not having enough time to soak in the scenery and grandeur of the maps during the game, because well, there’s only so much that you can sight-see when you have Covenant forces shooting at you.

Gameplay

The Halo series, in my opinion is a game that believes in giving choices to the player, and not let them run around the maps with one set course or objective path. For one, the very expanse of the maps in both Campaign and Spartan Ops modes make the game very accommodating, compellingly competitive and imaginative.

Additions to this edition come not only in the form of the arena maps, but also in the form of ability to unlock more tactical abilities, weapons and armour. Moreover, Halo 4 gives the option of customizable weapon loadouts, with increasingly interesting and efficient weapons with each unlock.

True to the ‘Spartan’ idea that the game follows, one can now pick up defensive weapons like Hard Light Shields or Camouflage and special capabilities like Promethian Vision (which lets you to spot enemies through thick walls). And like every edition of Halo, you get special rewards if you complete missions in the ‘Legendary’ difficulty mode.

Halo’s weapons have never disappointed the gamers so far, at least to my knowledge, for each weapon serves a purpose (however minuscule it may seem) in the game. Quirky weapons like the Sticky Detonator, Needler and Boltshots come in handy when ‘veterans’ like Assault Rifles, Spartan Lasers or Covenant Storm Rifles and Carbines fail or run out of ammo. As always, the choice to pick up a weapon and use it whimsically lies with the gamer. A total of ten new weapons have been added to this edition.

Gamers are rewarded with ‘Spartan Points’, which can be utilised for the advancements. So if you’re one who loves the mix-and-match philosophy, Halo 4 will definitely please you, for now you can choose between different customizations to face different types of opponents in different fighting conditions (and hence can have an upper hand).

The Halo series has come a long way from being just a first-person-shooter to a very popular party game, and in my opinion, the latest one has every reason to be a party hit. Yes, you can play the campaign alone if that pleases you, but if you’ve got trigger-happy gamer friends over who like to don the virtual armour and grab alien rifles, you’re definitely going to have one cool party. Multiplayer (up to four on a console) matches, or "War Games", can be played as training exercises on the UNSC Infinity, and since the ship is massive (five-kilometre long), you can imagine the space available to train in squads as part of the SPARTAN IV project.

There is, of course the matter of removal of the firefight mode, where gamers could play against ever-charging waves of AI forces. I really thought that this way Spartan Ops is a fresh package, for it gives more room for gamers to battle each other, in a more humanly competitive manner.

The campaign mode, as I mentioned earlier, is a more personalised gaming mode. The conversations between Cortana and the Chief make the campaign a dark and personal gaming experience, where objectives are more humanity-driven (well, the Chief is looking for his humane side). The campaign doesn’t seem dragging or boring to the least. Unexpected hurdles and twists in the storyline make it further compelling.

We say

In real life, you can never (and shouldn’t) get away with guns. But if you love calling your friends over and murder them in the virtual world, you will love this. And if you’re not the kinds who would kill their friends, then you definitely have the option to create an alien bloodbath (alien blood looks blue and purple, in case you were wondering).

In any case, the Master Chief is back after five long years, along with new skills, new enemies (the Prometheans), a truck load of chores to finish, and of course, the mission to save the virtual damsel in distress.

Rs 3,299

Love – Spartan Ops, Graphics

Hate – No Firefight mode

Publisher – Microsoft Corporation

Developer – 343 Industries

Platform – Xbox 360

Rating - 4.5/5

sabyasachi.b@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on November 20, 2012)
XThese are links to The Hindu Business Line suggested by Outbrain, which may or may not be relevant to the other content on this page. You can read Outbrain's privacy and cookie policy here.