By Adam Tatelman, Contributor
I was set to hate Halo 4 (released November 6); I felt my favourite sci-fi shooter franchise had reached a satisfying conclusion with Halo 3 (2007) (2010’s Reach prequel notwithstanding), and Bungie Studios seemed to agree, having pawned off the original “killer app” to Microsoft. If the creators who made millions from the intellectual property were ready to call it quits, why else would Microsoft’s new subsidiary, 343 Industries, resurrect the years-dead story but to make a rushed, crappy cash grab sequel?
Turns out it’s a simple answer: to make the best, most engaging cash grab sequel they possibly could.
For a game that I thought had run out of room to grow, Halo 4 manages to build on the existing lore in fan-pleasing and intriguing ways, drawing on supplementary materials such as the Halo novels, comic books, and animations. I found it all very fleshed out; time was clearly taken to make sure the new story gelled with the established plot. This leads to a pretty big con, however; when you construct a game entirely out of pastiche and homage, newcomers to the series will be completely lost.
That isn’t to say the story isn’t well written—even if you have no clue what’s going on, there’s still a bit of character drama, which I feel makes all the difference in a game. I prefer my soulless killing machines to be capable of misplaced emotional attachment. Props to the writers at 343 Industries for giving the Master Chief—before only a faceless template for the player to project themselves onto—a touching character arc and the opportunity to choose a more personal mission over the orders of his superiors. It wouldn’t have worked without talented voice actor Steve Downes who, despite the Chief’s eternally obscured visage, subtly yet clearly expresses the emergent emotions the stoic soldier confronts. Coupled with the most convincing facial animation I have ever seen (on the supporting cast, of course), this effort demonstrates 343’s respect for the material.
There are of course purists out there who are afraid of change, but this game will placate them as well. There are new weapons and vehicles, but enough old favourites return unchanged to strike a balance between classic and contemporary, with only a few disappointing omissions (dual plasma rifles, you will be missed). Halo’s expansive battlefields return, inhabited by new enemies who crawl on the walls, project barriers, sling your grenades back at you, teleport, and even fly. Their aggressive wolf pack tactics make for fast-paced firefights. Now if only the Prometheans didn’t look like Lego Bionicles.
Bottom line, Halo 4 lets you strap on a jetpack, fly into a Dyson Sphere, and punch a megalomaniacal AI in the face. So now the only question that remains is: how much fun do you want to have?