Just when you thought Master Chief finished the fight in Halo 3, the legendary Spartan returns to face his most daunting battle yet in the latest saga of this genre-defining series. With developer 343 Industries taking the creative reigns from Bungie, Halo 4 pushes the limits of the Xbox 360 and delivers one of this console generation's most visually stimulating titles. But does the story and gameplay rise to the level of the graphical fidelity to create a total package?
Taking place nearly five years after the conclusion of the franchise's third installment, Halo 4 reunites Master Chief and his AI partner Cortana, who is suffering from a degenerative condition that threatens her existence. Couple this with Master Chief trying to ward off an ancient evil that is threatening to wipe out mankind, and there is ample motivation to see things through during the 8-to-10-hour campaign. The story has solid pacing, providing more than enough motivation to uncover what lies ahead for Chief and Cortana.
It's obvious 343 has put an immense amount of time and effort into the cutscenes, which convey a level of realism few games this generation have attained. The painstaking detail in the facial texture and the striking level of detail deserves praise. The voice acting is solid, providing another layer of depth that further draws you in.
But story can provide only so much entertainment without solid gameplay, and Halo 4 delivers on both fronts. The shooting is as tight as ever, making each pull of the trigger feel meaningful. The vast array of weaponry, including futuristic alien technology, allows for more versatility in combat.
The developers also added a new enemy race -- the Prometheans, who not only show off the improved AI but also the phenomenal lighting and particle effects. The Knight class will display their glowing skull, which not only intimidates but also can fascinate visually. The Knights can phase in and out of anywhere, creating a level of difficulty that is refreshing to the series. They can also deploy a Watcher, an aerial drone that not only packs offensive weaponry but also heals the Knight, who dissolves into an illuminated burst of particles when defeated. This particle effect, along with some of the particles that are discharged from the Promethean weapons, is not only a satisfying way to end an encounter with a Knight but also an example of the painstaking level of detail 343 has put into the game.
If the AI isn't challenging enough, there's always competitive multiplayer to push your first-person-shooting limits. Before you can dig in, be prepared to create some space on your hard drive. The multiplayer disc requires 4 gigabytes of space to work. Once you've carved out the space, you enter the UNSC Infinity, a starship that is the hub of your online career. Your soldier will gain experience across competitive and cooperative modes, allowing you to customize your appearance, role and weaponry like never before in a Halo game.
The competitive suite, dubbed War Games, has a multitude of modes, including the standard fare such as King of the Hill, Team Deathmatch, Slayer and Capture the Flag. New to the Halo franchise is a loadout system called Specializations, which allow allow you to tailor the weapons you bring into battle. You choose a primary and secondary weapon, armor abilities and a grenade type. There are 10 maps that come with the game, a number that should grow once 343 begins to deliver downloadable content.
If these maps aren't to your liking, 343 is bringing back Forge, which allows you to design your own multiplayer maps. You can manipulate physics in specific zones, infuse the maps with more color than in previous titles and use the engine's redesigned lighting effects to create vastly unique maps.
If you'd rather play with others, Spartan Ops is your mode. New to the series, Spartan Ops is a story-driven, episodic mode that allows you to play with up to four people through mission-based objectives. 343 will deploy five missions every week that will include a story cinematic that follows the events of the main campaign. For those who crave more lore from the Halo universe, this future content will most likely quench your thirst.
343 Industries has done a tremendous job taking the baton from Bungie. The graphical overhaul really pushes the series alongside some of the most visually pleasing titles this generation. The story pushes the fiction forward with great pacing and a compelling narrative. And the multiplayer suite continues to be one of the most fully fleshed out experiences to date. If you are a Halo fan, this is a must have. Halo 4 will hit shelves Nov. 6 exclusively on Xbox 360.