343 Industries ushers in the ‘Halo’ renaissance

by Cody Franklin

Courtesy 343 Industries and Microsoft

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time again. Master Chief is back once again in “Halo 4,” but Bungie is no longer at the helm. A lot of people worried brand-new studio 343 Industries wouldn’t do the franchise justice. They were wrong; so very wrong. “Halo 4” completely demolished my expectations, and I’m still reeling from the aftermath.

To say the story of “Halo 4” is on par with previous games is an understatement. Though it only took seven hours to complete, it destroyed my preconceived notions about short games lacking strong stories. Not once did I find myself bored. Not once did I feel what I was doing was simply filler. What I expected to take place throughout three games, 343 Industries fit into one. The end will leave many “Halo” fans in tears, but I promise, it is a good pain.

One caveat, however, is unless gamers spend some time reading backstories outside the game first, they might find themselves rather lost. For example, the nature of the Covenant you fight is never explained in the game. Outside knowledge of the series is almost a requirement. Likewise, the story of the Forerunners is a little confusing until players watch the Terminal videos, after they’ve completed the game. I’d recommend a little research before you start the campaign.

Gameplay wise, it is still the same “Halo” we all know and love. The Covenant is just as fun to gun down as ever and the Forerunners introduce some very interesting mechanics to spice things up. For those who are fans of weapons from the previous games, you might have some problems. Ammo is very scarce for everything you encounter, which makes using Forerunner weapons a requirement. Sadly, the Forerunner guns are rather lackluster, making their forced usage painful at times.

Graphically, “Halo 4” is absolutely radiant. Several times in the game I found myself stopping and looking at the scenery in awe. The pre-rendered CGI cutscenes were some of the best I’ve seen; I thought Halsey in the opening cut scene was an actor until halfway through. The Xbox 360 is definitely showing its age, but “Halo 4” managed to rip every bit of graphical fidelity from it. I highly doubt better looking games will come out during this generation.

As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and this is very true for the multiplayer. Every bit of carnage from the previous games is here, with a few tweaks adding to the fun. Obliterating my fellow Spartans in the new Mantis is the highlight of my time so far, though the irony of having a man in an armored robotic suit get into a bigger armored robotic suit isn’t lost on me.  I can’t wait to see what the community does with the updated Forge; as past games showed, the mods players make are almost worth the price of the game alone.

If fighting other gamers isn’t your fancy, Spartan Ops introduces a slew of four-player co-op missions to tackle. Each week new missions will be released and a continuous story will unfold throughout time. Unlike the rest of the game, Spartan Ops seems to fall short. Players can go through all five starting missions in about an hour, even on Legendary difficulty. The missions share the same bland formula of “kill 50 dudes, push/destroy x, kill another 50 dudes, push/destroy y, evacuate.” I’m excited to see where this side story goes, but it is definitely the Achilles’ heel of “Halo 4.”

Overall, I couldn’t be more impressed by “Halo 4.” The few complaints I can make pale in comparison to how incredible the rest of the game is. 343 Industries didn’t fail “Halo” in anyway. I’ve never been more excited for another “Halo” game; I’ll just have to play this masterpiece while I wait. Thank you, 343 Industries, for not letting “Halo” fans down.