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‘Halo’ embarks on a new trilogy with a triumphant return

By Gordy Stillman

Section: Arts

November 9, 2012

It’s been five long years since a new game starring the Master Chief, the traditional protagonist of the Halo franchise, has been released. In the interim, Bungie Studios released two games and handed over the franchise to Microsoft’s 343 Industries in order to launch a new game in what had previously been assumed to be a finalized story. Halo 4 is 343’s first true foray into the universe of Halo—not counting last year’s visually-improved Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Good news for 343 Industries, the first game in the planned “Reclaimer Trilogy” is a worthy addition to the Halo Saga.

Halo 4 distinguishes itself from its predecessors with a fresh and intriguing plot, exploring questions of humanity, sanity and characterization. It is a breath of fresh air to a franchise that has otherwise always focused on a war for the survival of humanity. Not only is it a chance to tell a different story, but for players who’ve grown attached to the characters, it provides a wealth of additional depth.

Having a solid story covers half of the criteria of a great game. Halo 4 covers the other half with great gameplay and controls. The control schemes are numerous and any player should be able to find a control layout that they enjoy. For more traditional players there is an additional layout, as with Halo: Reach, that is similar to the older Halo games.

And any gamer knows that along with good controls comes impressive level design. One of the flaws in earlier games of the series was an over-emphasis on shooting things until victory was achieved. Granted, the series is chronicled through a first-person shooter, but FPS games are best when they are not so simplistic. Campaign missions have good pacing, balance between puzzle objectives and battles.

Furthermore, the game’s visuals are nothing short of breathtaking. In gameplay, the colors are vibrant, yet toned down to be more gritty and realistic compared to the rest of the series. By toning down the colors, as 343 Industries did, a new tone is set for this gleaming trilogy. The color palate is not only appropriate for Halo 4, but also helps set the stage for the next step in the series. The game’s graphics are equally successful. In the opening moments of the prologue, it is easy to forget that the scene isn’t a live action sequence. Fans of the more sci-fi look of previous Halo installments, or from other series such as the Mass Effect games, might be disappointed. Halo 4 straddles the fine line of realism and grittiness, while still highly futuristic.

In terms of multiplayer, Halo 4 is much the same as prior releases. All the standard types are present, with new maps, weapons and customization options available for hours of entertainment. One of the few letdowns of Halo 4 is the drop of the Firefight game mode. While Firefight was very popular and will be sorely missed, 343 Industries is trying something new with a more mission-based Spartan Ops game mode. It’s too early to fully judge Spartan Ops, since it’s dependent on weekly downloaded updates, but the addition appears promising. Another aspect of the great gameplay is the enormous variety of weaponry.

Halo 4 possesses all the qualities of a good shooting game. The story is engaging; the gameplay is smooth and enjoyable; the visuals are stunning and it strikes a balance between single-player content and multiplayer content. When Bungie ran Halo, a new game came out about every three years after 2001. While 343 should certainly not sacrifice quality for expediency, Halo 4 has made the wait for stories to come much more difficult.

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