At the end of Halo 4’s campaign a message from 343i thanks players for letting them take over development duties from Bungie, adding that they hope everyone had a lovely time. It’s a strangely apologetic addition from a studio that clearly holds a lot of respect for the series it's become responsible for. It’s also completely unnecessary, as Halo 4 doesn't deviate from the series' established formula in any substantial way.
Missing in space since the third game, Halo 4 begins with Master Chief’s AI companion Cortana waking him from a seven-year cryogenic stasis. There’s a catch-up for latecomers to the series, but it’s not too concerned with the finer details, reflecting the fact that Halo 4 is the beginning of a new chapter in the Halo story.
Before long your ship is attacked by the Covenant and it’s back to business as usual. Sprinting is now possible at any time (a good thing) and the prologue features a QTE sequence (a pointless yet inoffensive thing), but everything else has been kept the same. So, for example, only scoped weapons have iron sights, jumping is exaggerated and floaty, shields recharge over time, and melee attacks are effective head-on and deadly from behind.
It would have been tempting for 343i to tamper with the formula, perhaps injecting more scripted action sequences, but initial QTE aside they’ve followed it to the letter: enemies dutifully spread out over large multi-level battlefields, flanking, attacking, spouting garbled alien nonsense and panicking when on the back foot.
In fact, the first third of Halo 4 is so similar to the previous games in the series; you would never guess Bungie didn’t make it if you didn’t know. Apart from slightly sharper graphics and the return of Master Chief, nothing major has changed since Halo Reach.
Just as 343i start to resemble a competent tribute act, a new alien race is introduced, giving 343i a chance to flex their creative muscles. One of the new enemies pounces on Master Chief and screams directly into the screen, revealing a demon-like face underneath its armour. It’s as if 343i are also aggressively announcing their arrival.
The Prometheans come in three flavours: Knights, Crawlers and Watchers. Knights are the equivalent of Elites, Crawlers are exploding dog-like creatures that traverse walls and ceilings protecting Knights and Watchers are flying drones with the infuriating ability to revive Knights. No doubt intended to encourage a tactical approach to clearing enemies, all it really boils down to is: destroy Watchers first, then Crawlers, then Knights. Luckily, the Prometheans are saved from mediocrity by some brilliant design as their armour folds, expands and contorts in a strangely organic manner.
Promethean weaponry is also introduced, but doesn’t offer anything particularly new. Between the human and Covenant arsenal there are a lot of guns in the Halo universe, as a result the Promethean weapons either replicate existing weapons or conflate two into one. They do look cool though, forming around your hands when equipped, with an orange energy source pulsing through each of them.
Unlike shooters that employ vehicles as part of rigid set pieces, Halo uses them as combined transport and weaponry for large levels, creating more ways to tackle situations, rather than limit them. Though 343i sticks to this sensible formula with some large-scale battles that can be approached in a variety of ways using Ghosts, Banshees, Scorpions and Wraiths, it also introduces two new vehicles.
The first is a mech suit called the Mantis, the second is a fighter ship that features in a space battle reminiscent of Rogue Squadron or Star Fox. The handling is easy to master and although wholly linear it’s an enjoyable section that provides an interesting diversion from the go here, kill this, objectives that make up the bulk of the campaign.