Gamedaze: 'Halo 4' is progression fans have been waiting for

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Halo 4

4 stars = Outstanding
Ratings explained

Release Date: Nov. 6

Eleven years after the original "Halo" jumpstarted the Xbox console and created a mega-gaming franchise, new developer 343 Industries has taken over with expectations to raise the first-person shooter bar while appeasing purists and the eSports community. A mission this difficult is better suited for Master Chief, but based on the excellence of "Halo 4," 343 Industries is up to the task.

While earlier titles focused on an action-heavy story, "Halo 4" ($59.99, Xbox 360, rated M for Mature) shifts the tone to the thought-provoking angle of Master Chief's psyche and, more specifically, his obscure relationship with his digital companion, Cortana.

Following the events of "Halo 3," Earth believes Chief and Cortana to be dead, but they have both been floating in space. Something intercepts their ship, which causes Cortana to wake the Chief from cryo-sleep. Covenant forces have invaded the ship, but something larger is at work. The ship is being pulled into the synthetic planet of Requiem. The Covenant is no longer the greatest threat to mankind -- the fabled Forerunners have returned.

The campaign is not without confusing scenes. The sci-fi lingo will vex the majority of players who haven't delved into "Halo's" expanded universe of books, but the focus is always on Chief and Cortana. We learn that the designated lifespan of AIs is six years, and Cortana has been active for seven. This protocol is in place due to AIs becoming "rampant," a form of AI insanity. Cortana's mental state slowly deteriorates, making missions more panicked and urgent. "Halo 4" promotes an emotional attachment to the characters more than any other game in the series.

Not since "Halo 3" has a "Halo" game felt like genuine progression. "Halo 3: ODST" was a glorified expansion on "Halo 3," and "Halo: Reach" never felt like the leap that it was touted to be. In "Halo 4," that leap is evident. It feels new, yet familiar.

High production value is clear: a tense original score, top-notch voice work from a familiar cast and gorgeous graphics that push the limits of the Xbox 360. Realistic lighting effects help make this one of the best-looking games for the console.

The gameplay will be recognizable for "Halo" fans, but with new "Call of Duty"-inspired mechanics. Characters now have the ability to sprint, and the overall action is faster-paced. Spartans have less of a shield, which means more kills and more deaths in multiplayer.

Multiplayer (titled "War Games") feels fresh, thanks to a few new mechanics also inspired by the "Call of Duty" franchise. Friendly fire and drop-in/drop-out team battles have been added for the first time in the series. Customizable loadouts are part of the pre-game strategy, and "Ordinances" -- similar to "CofD's" Killstreaks -- are in place.

Occasional Latency problems did occur online, but these issues could be fixed with a simple update. Simultaneous kills are a larger concern, which could irk the hardcore competitive community. Regardless of these issues, "Halo 4's" multiplayer is different enough to set it apart from its predecessors while staying true to its roots and managing not to alienate loyal fans.

Fans of the "Halo" series have been looking forward to a full-fledged sequel to their beloved franchise for years now, and now that it's finally here, there's a lot riding on it. 343 Industries has created a "Halo" of their own by staying true to the basic groundwork laid by Bungie before them. "Halo 4" is a huge stride for the series and shows progression in the FPS genre. This is one of this year's best.

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Max Parker is the Post-Gazette Game Guy. Follow his blog at communityvoices.sites.post-gazette.com and on Twitter at @GameGuyPGH.


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