I am a Halo fan. When I say that, I don’t just mean, I bought and played the games. Although I of course did do that, and loved them, including ODST and Halo Wars. Beyond that, I’ve read the novels, the short stories and watched the animated comics and other series on Halo Waypoint. I own all the season of Red vs. Blue and Halo Legends. I have bought ever limited and legendary edition of the game. I have Halo toys and even bought a statue of Cortana. So now you have a better idea of what I mean when I say I am a Halo fan. So it might come off a little but odd when I say, I wasn’t sure I wanted Halo 4.
See, while I am a huge fan of the series, there is a reason why I am so, because the series, in the hands of developer Bungie, has been of top notch quality. The books have varied, as have other products from the franchise. Generally though, most have been good products. However, the games have always shone. That is because of the dedication to the universe and to making a quality product that Bungie had always shown. But now, Bungie was gone.
However, it went beyond that. The story of the Covenant, the Chief, Cortana, the flood and the Spartans had been told. It had a neat conclusion, coming full circle with Reach, and with neat bow at the end of Halo 3. We had the story of various races, and various people. Many we came to know over time, and many who died accomplishing great things through their sacrifices across these stories. It all culminated in the defeat of the Flood and the Covenant. Would their stories be cheapened by yearly cash-ins?
It was clear that Microsoft wasn’t going to let the franchise disappear. Halo is a cash cow, and as is the norm in the industry, you milk a cash cow until it’s dry and then you cut it up and sell the meat. So the question was not whether there would be more Halo games, but what form they would take, and whether Microsoft and their new developer would have the same respect for the storytelling and the franchise that Bungie did.
Enter 343 Industries, Halo 4 and Forward Unto Dawn. Upon taking the time go play through and experience the continuing Halo saga they’ve worked on, I can say that all my fears are allayed. It was a fine line 343 needed to walk, since they needed to keep the games fresh, but without undermining what makes Halo great. In Halo 4, they succeeded completely.
You can immediately feel the changes: a new HUD, to help you feel like you’re in the helmet, the obvious additions in weaponry as expected, a new enemy, completely different and more versatile than you’ve seen before (However, the Covenant you know and love remain, with all their unique quirks.), a new engine (which is quite honestly amazing in the visuals it is able to produce on the aging 360 hardware.), and massive levels that harken back to the first game and that sense of wonder and exploration that made it a classic. Yet small changes in gameplay that add verisimilitude to tense scenes, forcing you to climb through elevator or crawl.
Then there’s the major new gameplay experiences… A giant mech in the form of the Mantis. New forms of combat in the form of flight. Which you’d had in Hornets and in Space, but now we get to finally use the Pelican. Beyond that, a fighter jet experience akin to the assault on the Death Star in Star Wars.
All of this, without losing what made Halo great. Those short burst of combat where anything can happen. A wide open space with different approaches, and a tight corridor where every time you come down, a different and weird scenario can play out. Fast paced shooting and immensely enjoyable vehicle sections to break the monotony. All topped off with a story that is both deeply personal and on an epic scale… One that calls upon the complex lore from all the other media, while still fitting neatly within the game universe.
So I have to say, that while I was reticent about another game in the franchise. I am glad that the series will continue in the right hands. Halo 4 is everything it needed to be to keep the series alive, and gives us hope for what we know is the inevitable Halo 5. In the meantime, the Halo 4 story continues to evolve weekly via Multiplayer and especially Spartan Ops, which add a new story to the series every week. The future or the Halo franchise certainly looks bright, and I can definitely say it’s a great time to be a Halo fan.