Spartan warrior Master Chief awakens from cyrosleep four years on from the previous game, instantly finding himself having to shoot his way out of a blasted ship before crashing onto an alien world. There are perhaps a few too many homages to the earlier games across the eight campaign missions that follow, though with enough twists and new challenges to feel fresh. Introducing a new enemy force and dipping into the greater lore of the Halo universe, there’s a rich narrative at work to keep you hooked between action set-pieces.
More surprising is that Halo 4 has real emotional clout. Aliens, guns and galactic security aside, the true meat of the story lies in the quest to save Cortana, the AI construct who’s guided Master Chief since the first game. Set to degrade after seven years in service and now entering her eighth, it’s a credit to the vocal performances of Steve Downes and Jennifer Lee Taylor that so much pathos can be wrung out of the fate of a virtual girl.
One thing that hasn’t changed from the Bungie days is the near-perfect combat. The now-familiar twin weapon approach remains in place, though some returning weapons feel better balanced and suited to specific use, while the option of jumping into vehicles maintains variety.
The game looks outstanding, particularly the stunning cutscenes. CG animation has been lifted to a new level here, with outstanding lighting and texturing that will frequently have you questioning if there are real people onscreen. The in-game action itself is crystal clear with a breathtaking draw distance, though the field of vision feels a touch narrower than would be ideal.
It takes a lot to out-do the creators at their own literal game, yet that’s exactly what new developer 343 Studios has achieved with Halo 4. A stunning piece of science fiction wrapped in a brilliant shooter.