A new Halo newbies can enjoy
Halo 4 starts a new trilogy, with a new studio, 343 Industries, taking over from Bungie. -My Paper
Halo falls in a genre that I'm not a big fan of - first-person shooters. I blame the vertigo-inducing experience of playing Wolfenstein 3D back when I was a kid.
Yet, the epic scope of Halo's science-fiction premise in 2001 was an alluring one, with its giant alien ring world called Halo.
Despite some misgivings, the latest game in the popular series, Halo 4, is polished and enjoyable even for newcomers like me.
The Halo series centres on super soldier Master Chief and his female artificial-intelligence companion, Cortana, battling aliens.
Halo 4 picks up over four years after the humanity-saving events of Halo 3, with the duo floating in a derelict spaceship.
Some alien action takes place and all hell breaks loose as our heroes' ship is drawn to an alien world called Requiem.
Halo 4 starts a new trilogy, with a new studio, 343 Industries, taking over from Bungie. This doesn't mean it's a breeze to get acquainted with the game's deep lore.
There are hints early in the game on its backstory, including insights into the faceless Master Chief. You also learn that Cortana - depicted as an almost-naked blue-skinned holographic digital gal - is going crazy.
Her distracting looks aside, Cortana is a highlight of the game's campaign. With impeccable voice acting and facial expressions, Cortana makes Halo 4 a more personal experience from the get-go than the start of the first Halo game, which I started playing only last week.
Halo 4's story does come to a fairly-satisfying end, with the Chief saving mankind again. But it gets muddled midway with impenetrable technobabble that needs a Halopedia lookup.
Still, the game is a visual marvel. You'll see awe-inspiring alien spires floating over rugged landscapes. Verdant forests and narrow corridors look great too. Besides being a good looker, Halo 4 sounds terrific with its sweeping score and punchy sound effects.
But breakneck action is the core of Halo 4. Besides battling the troops from the alien collective called the Covenant, there are new alien foes - the robot-like Prometheans, which can pose quite a challenge if you don't strategise.
The action gets more hectic later, but it's not punishingly so on the normal-difficulty setting. Besides many military-issue arms and alien weaponry for gun battles and sniping, machines you can pilot return in Halo 4 - from buggies and alien aircraft to a rocket-toting two-legged mech - that help break up the pace.
The battlefields are also generally well designed. There's usually enough space to move around to take cover and surprise enemies. Smarter enemies can, however, exploit this as well. This is fine, except that Halo 4 plays more or less like the first game. That's not a bad thing, but there's nothing revolutionary.
After Halo 4's campaign, which I took over 11 hours to complete, there's the fast-and- fluid multiplayer mode. During my test runs, it took 1-4 minutes to find gamers to compete in standard multiplayer games such as capture the flag.
A new multiplayer mode, called Spartan Ops, lets you cooperate with other players on short, but not spectacular, missions that have a threadbare plot.
Multiplayer is also addictive because you can gain experience to unlock new weapons and abilities, as well as get new gear to customise your super soldier's looks.
But one downside with multiplayer is that you'll need an online subscription to play, which can cost $14.90 per month.
Halo 4 is a beautiful and generally-fun game novice gamers can take to. You'll just have to sidestep some issues and bear with any headaches from frantic whirls to locate and gun alien foes
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