Halo 4 released last Tuesday, and as I’ve been a little skeptical about the story changes the 343 Studios has been making. Having now played through the entire campaign twice, I’m not really pleased with the new direction the story is taking, but it was less drastic than I feared. The new direction the story is taking has opened it to a large array of future possibilities, and has recaptured my interest in the franchise. That alone should say something for the games quality.
What really drove home the games campaign was just how well the story was done. Most First-Person shooter games have just the most basic frame of a story with no depth. It’s more or less just an excuse to be at location A shooting enemy B. Not a lot of energy is put into a story that the vast majority of players will never see anyways as they have purchased the game for its multilayer component. Call of Duty and Battlefield are perfect examples of this. There multiplayer is extremely refined, but their campaign modes aren’t worth turning on. Halo is different in that regard as it’s campaign is given the same attention as it’s multiplayer. Beyond what is seen in the games, there are also books, comics, anime, and live-action webisodes to add even more to the universe in which the story is unfolding. Halo 3 brought about a conclusion to the Human-Covenant war. Halo 3: ODST and Halo Reach were prequel games that still resided within that same time frame. Halo 4 was the first step beyond those boundaries. The introduction of the Forerunner and Promethean bring new enemies determined to destroy humanity, and more opportunities for players to sit behind the visor of Master Chief.
At the end of Halo 3, there was a good chance that either Master Chief and/or Cortana would not survive. It was the end of the story arc, and the players had played their parts. I was relieved when both survived. We have been following the pair for the entirety of the franchise, and I have become attached to both of them. Their unspoken love for each other is unlike any other in that they cannot physically interact, and the Chief is not much for talking. There entire relationship is shown through their actions and body language. However, 343 has decided that for Halo 4, it was finally time for Master Chief to say goodbye to Cortana. Her death in the final cut-scenes of the game show just a brief reminder that the Chief is actually human, and has lost the person he cared for most in the universe. It is amazing how much emotion 343 has been able to show through that visor, and my hats off to them. I am eager to see what awaits the Master Chief next. Though I still have my fingers crossed that he finds a way to get Cortana back.
The one downside of all the attention the campaign gets is that the multiplayer has never felt quite as refined as other games. For the first two games this went unnoticed as Halo was the best FPS in both departments. As time went on and Call of Duty became better and better, it started overtaking the series for sales and online players. Halo 4 feels like 343 is trying to take back some of those players and has “borrowed” a number of aspects from Call of Duty. The ability to level up weapons, choose your own loadouts, and a more straight forward leveling system have made it feel much more like CoD. However Halo 4s lack of different weapons quickly makes multiplayer feel stale. I’ve been playing the last few evening with Ken, Sam, and James from work, and I have found it enjoyable, but not all that memorable. I have no doubt that the game will not see the number of online players that Black OPS II will later this month, but if nothing else it has gotten me interested in future titles.