Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Halo 4: A Desperate Quest to Save Your Digital Girlfriend

"I won't let that happen."

"And if it happens anyway?"

Since Halo's first installment in 2001, Master Chief has been portrayed as an unstoppable force of nature on the battlefield of the future. He can obliterate entire battalions of advanced interstellar life with his bare hands, survive a fall from orbit, and inspire the forces of Earth with his presence alone. Yet for all that, for the very first time in his decade spanning career, we see a side of Chief that no universe threatening alien, cosmic death ray, or physical wound could produce.We see him question what he is. We see him falter. We see the man behind the helmet. And I will not tell you why.

Get ready for answers.

Selfish? Perhaps. But the story line of Halo 4, particularly its ending, is the best out of all the games in the series and I will not ruin it for anyone who plans to play it and I certainly recommend any fan of FPS or science fiction do. 343 did an amazing job taking over for Bungie and the story they deliver is mature, entertaining, and much less cryptic than previous installments. 

"And that cloud looks like a space ship!"
"Shut up, Cortana, you're drunk."

After an unexpected cinematic featuring Dr. Halsey, the creator of the Spartans, that hints at the mental health of her Spartans (it was at this point I knew things would get interesting as the actual psychological aspect of the super soldiers has never been touched in the games before) we begin where the third game left off; Chief is awakened by Cortana inside the disabled UNSC frigate Forward Onto Dawn that has drifted toward an unidentified alien planet. After realizing the ship has been boarded by Covenant we enter a firefight that spans throughout the ship and on to the hull, ending in a climactic battle through open space and the shattered remains of an alien cruiser. You are then sucked through a gravity well and land on the alien planet's surface.

One of these things is not like the other, one of these things  is a digital representation of an
assimilated ancient human.

Welcome to Requiem, an ancient forerunner planet and the settting for most of the game. You will battle through canyons, valleys, jungles, and massive alien structures on your quest to find the advanced UNSC ship Infinity that has approached the planet on the tail of Forward Onto Dawn's distress beacon. The three major plot points of the story come up at this point: the forerunner antagonist called the Didact whom you unwittingly release from prison (and who's true motive I won't spoil here), the new batch of Spartans on board the Infinity led by a real prick of a Captain you'll continuously butt heads with, and the fact that Cortana is rapidly thinking herself to death inside of your head.

Prepare yourself for feels.

Cortana, as an AI, has a lifespan of about 7 years. It has been 8 since her creation. The condition she is facing, called rampancy, causes her to break down into conflicting copies of herself like insane digital schizophrenia. Her condition steadily worsens as the game progresses; she argues with the conflicting personalities that are created as she breaks down, struggles to maintain her composure as she hacks enemy computer systems, and even disrupts your internal computers and display as she struggles to hold it together. Master Chief, being the relentless totem of bad ass that he is, refuses to acknowledge Cortana's failing health and continuously tells her that she will be fine and that he will get her back to Dr. Halsey (who created Cortana from her own nuero-tissue) and save her from herself.

Leave it to DeviantArt to find this image.

Cortana's deteriorating condition is the driving force of the narrative. She has been your trusty blue companion throughout the entire series and hearing her scream in agony as her very essence is ripped to shreds is gripping, as is the Chief's determination to save her. In the second act it becomes all too apparent how much you rely on her to survive on the battlefield as her abilities to navigate the terrain, manipulate technology, and coordinate allied forces are compromised. It's this arc that keeps me thinking about the game and it's powerful conclusion after I completed the campaign. It's what's got me excited about this new addition and what it means for future installments. The story exquisitely handles the relationship between Chief and Cortana, from it's  borderline romantics, to its grand design as the fruition of all mankind's effort and evolution.

The Mammoth is so friggin' awesome.

As far as the mechanics go, the game is tight and challenging. The new breed of enemies, the Prometheans,  are coordinated and challenging. There are several noteworthy moments like manning a giant land carrier called the Mammoth and making your way through a massive valley with acidic rivers and a spaceship shattering rail gun to piloting a fighter through a trench on the Didact's ship in a scene that will have Star Wars fans creaming their pants. The game really picks up in the second half and expect to encounter a lot of mechanics that exist in just a single level and never to be seen again which keeps the game fresh and interesting. You will also notice a lot of the redundant level design that was heavy in the previous games is missing. Don't expect much in the way of weapon innovation, all the staples are there and going nowhere (although rockets no longer lock on and there are mechs.)

Being able to shoot while holding the flag is a welcome addition.

Multiplayer is back with a new Spartan Hub interface which allows you to customize load outs and buy perks similar to the Call of Duty franchise and is so big it requires a second disk that needs to be installed on your HDD to play or downloaded from Xbox Live. There are ton of armor customization options this time around, some you unlock just by leveling up and others that require specific challenges to be met, like running over 50 guys with with a Warthog. All the familiar modes are there, Juggernaught (Regicide), Zombies (Flood), Capture the Flag, SWAT, and Big Team Slayer to name a few though I'm still waiting on them to add multi-team so I can get back to Rocket Race. Firefight has been replaced by Spartan Ops which is a separate campaign that is released as episodic content and features your custom-made Spartan as a member of Crimson company that is composed of you and your buddies or match-made players and trust me, after playing it you won't miss Firefight at all.

Who needed giant robots? Halo needed giant robots.

As a Halo fan I was not disappointed. 343 did an amazing job and they make a point to thank the fans for allowing them this chance to take Halo in a new direction as evident in the credits and the first pop up message that appears when you boot up the game. The music, graphics, voices, and game play all exceed expectations and had me hooked in a way video games haven't for a very long time. So go buy it and suit up, Spartan! Those alien bastards aint gonna teabag themselves!

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