The harrowing saga of legendary super soldier Master Chief continues in the first-person shooter Halo 4 (Microsoft Studios and 343 Industries, rated Mature, reviewed for Xbox 360, $59.99).
After a five-year absence in a starring gaming role, the green-armored and shiny-helmeted legend is back in the first of the three-part epic, the Reclaimer Saga.
Along with the main sci-fi-fueled campaign that takes up to four players into nearly nonstop combat, the multiplayer component returns, loaded with challenges for the virtual United Nations Space Command (UNSC) solider to train and save his fellow comrades.
Story: In 2557, after the Halo event, Master Chief awakens aboard the crippled frigate Forward Until Dawn and, with help from his faithful artificial intelligence companion Cortana, ventures into a mysterious new world to discover an overpowering ancient evil. With humanity’s fate hanging in the balance, the Master Chief and Cortana are thrust into a desperate mission against overwhelming odds to save mankind from the threat of imminent extinction.
Play the role: As a player controls the Master Chief, John-117, a very familiar world of Halo opens up to jog fond memories of games past with its controls, enemies, vehicles, jargon and mythology.
This is the purest of Halo, devoid of handling Orbital Drop Shock Troopers and controlling second-rate Spartans, and delivers the saga of one social recluse who managed to single-handedly save his race but is on the verge of losing, his only friend.
Within minutes of waking up to the voice of a distressed Cortana, the hero of few words is armed and back to a roller coaster ride of action, first escaping from a ship under attack and landing on a hostile planet with a mysterious inner core.
His encounters with the evil, mixed-species forces of the Covenant include run-in with spit-chin Sanghelli (Elites), reptilian Kig Yar (Jackals) and those pint-sized Unggoys (Grunts).
More importantly, this time out he also faces the Forerunner guardians called the Promethean Knights, a newly introduced part of a cybernetic species. These glowing, gangly teleporting warriors often look like Lego Bionicles (remember those Master Builders?), even shoot out flying assistants from their backs and wield such special artillery as incineration cannons.
Through a satisfying, eight-mission campaign, a player roams such locations as the planet Requiem, sort of a lush Middle Earth with swamp lands looking like Dagobah and red rocky canyons (think a John Ford Western) and the massive metallic hangar bays of the starship Infinity.
Get to the action: In the open world of Halo, new missions allow varied strategies based on terrain and equipment.
The options continue as a player can simply scour areas for weapons and shoot out pockets of alien enemies, jump aboard a nearly uncontrollable Warthog vehicle to roll over foes, take flight with a Covenant Banshee and strafe enemies, or climb aboard the massive bipedal mech called the Mantis to blast away at opposition of almost any size.
A satisfying collection of firepower exists from the UNSC and fallen enemies and includes a semi-automatic carbine, purple-spiked Needler, Concussion rifle, Shade turret gun, M395 Marksman rifle, Suppressor, Boltshot and an Elite energy sword. It’s a wonderful variety of weapons, though always short of ammunition, but ready to get the job done.
However, remember Rambo, friendly fire will kill your comrades in arms.
Memorable moments (in no particular order): Master Chief’s hand shaking as a fully powered Rail Gun unloads on a Wrath; my first encounter with a powerful Hunter; scattering the remains of Promethean Crawlers while walking through a swamp; observing a firefight between Covenant and Promethean forces; playing a game of chicken with a Ghost; watching a defeated Promethean Knight melt into glowing shards; stomping on a Grunt while in a Mantis; walking through a snowstorm of falling embers; getting a spectacular view of Requiem on top of the Mammoth; and targeting a troop carrying Phantom vessel with an air strike.