Originally developed by Bungie Studios, Halo first debuted exclusively on the original Xbox in 2001. Hailed as one of the greatest first person shooters at the time, Halo: Combat Evolved helped the then fledgling console sell more than a million units during launch. Fast forward to 11 years and 5 games later, the Halo Franchise has become synonymous with Microsoft and Xbox. But does Halo 4, the first Halo game developed by Microsoft-owned 343 Industries meet the high standard of excellence we come to expect with this franchise?
The answer is emphatically yes. This in my opinion is the best game in the series since the original Halo.
It's really a testament to the great storytelling in Halo 4 how the game designers were able to make the story more epic in scale and yet more personal in scope. Even if you've never played any of the previous games the designers give you all the information you need to know. Right from the intro; you are the "Master Chief" a super soldier that has awaken from a deep Cryo-sleep in a spaceship by your longtime A.I. partner Cortana and there are bad guys that need shooting.
As you progress through the story it becomes evident that the "Master Chief" and Cortana share a deep bond. They have previously saved the world and function as a well-oiled machine, at a certain point in the game that partnership is threatened and the emotional impact is really felt. Once the main antagonist is introduced, the tone shifts from 'Chief and Cortana can handle anything' to 'wow they might not make it out of this one alive'. Even though some weapons and enemy classes have been removed from previous Halo games, new classes have been added. Without divulging too much into spoiler territory these new Promethean class adversaries force you to strategize the order in which you take your foes down.
A word of advice
If possible always take out the Sentries and the Watchers first. Possessing the ability to call for reinforcements, shield and even resurrect fallen enemies, those little guys can be a huge problem if left unchecked.
Visually the game quite impressive, and a sense of discovery is encouraged in Halo 4. At times the game does slow down allowing you to take in your surroundings and marvel at the beautiful and lush backgrounds in between firefights. Each setting has its own distinct characteristics. Players are immediately able to tell from the surroundings whether or not they are on the planet surface, a forerunner artifact, or a man made space science installation.
Taking over the musical reigns from Bungie's Martin O'Donnell, award winning composer Neil Davidge does a superb job with the soundtrack. The music fits the mood and atmosphere perfectly. If you listen closely subtle musical queues can alert you to upcoming firefights, or key moments in the story. Not to be outdone the audio effects in this game are outstanding. The "click-clack" of reloading your weapons sound great. You can hear shell spent shell casings hit the ground. Shotgun blasts sound devastatingly powerful even the futuristic, alien weapons somehow still sound grounded in reality.
With every iteration of Halo games, the multiplayer improves upon the last, and Halo 4 is no exception. Halo 4 offers more multiplayer options than any previous Halo game. For the fledgling game designer in all of us, "Forge Mode" returns and makes it even easier while giving more options to create your own custom games, "play-types" and allowing friends (or rivals) to play with you. In the "War Games", multiplayer game types are decided before you jump into the matchmaking. Making it easier to balance out the teams during a game if one person decides to drop halfway through. Also added to certain game modes is an option to respawn immediately after you die, which helps keep the tempo during those heated matches where 1 or 2 seconds means the difference between victory and defeat.
"Spartan Ops" is one of the new features and best things about Halo 4. After finishing the campaign mode, "Spartan Ops" are additional missions and challenges that are available to you. If you have an Xbox Live account, for the next 10 weeks a new episode will be provided free of charge. Each episode has 5 missions that players can try and complete solo or with friends online. All of the points earned through "Spartan Ops" can be used to further enhance players' own unique profile, granting them access to different weapons, skins, armor abilities and other unique customizations.
If you're a fan of previous Halo titles developed by Bungie Studios, then you don't need this review. In fact you probably have your copy preordered. If you're new to the Halo universe but are familiar with 1st person shooters (FPS) you will enjoy this game and the hours of extra content provided with it. If you've never played a FPS or a Halo title, before you spend your money check out Halo 4: Forward unto Dawn. It's a free live action 5 part web series produced by 343 Industries set in the Halo universe that tells the story of a soldier at the beginning of the "Covenant War" and ends pretty much where Halo 4 begins. It also helps set the tone of the game.
Halo 4 MSRP (manufactured suggested retail price) is $59.99 rated M for Mature and will be available exclusively for Xbox 360 starting Nov 6, 2012.
--This review was written based on a complete play through of the campaign mode and "Spartan Ops Episode 1" (solo), including 12+ hours of "War Games", mostly "Infinity Slayer" in which I got destroyed mercilessly--