Halo 4

FBT reaches the end of Master Chief’s collection.

So far, the Halo games I’ve liked the most have been the spin-offs, ODST and Reach, in the same way the best GTA games are San Andreas and Vice City. Perhaps because they were more relatable than the arm’s-length, universe-ending main series, which I also found a bit humourless and over-hyped. If you’ve saved one universe you’ve saved them all.

But Halo 4 marks the start of a new trilogy; Master Chief and Cortana are lost in space, the Covenant have been vanquished, the Flood is no more, and even original devs Bungie are gone. This could go anywhere. Let’s see if new developers 343 Industries reached the same level of Reach or delivered a safe fanboi crowd-pleaser...

After four years of being on ice, MC is thawed by Cortana when their spaceship is attacked by The Covenant. Those guys again? Actually no, they are that tried and tested trope, a splinter group. The Covenant 2? Lazy. But at least Cortana’s downloaded some firmware while they’ve been drifting. She was getting Video Vixen-like in H3, but now she’s nearing OnlyFans. Now I get why MC chose a cold shower for the last 4 years. But a reheated mission isn’t his only worry. Cortana is too old for him…

Cortana is suffering from “Rampancy” – a rampant Cortana? I’m liking Halo 4. Turns out that means her brain is duplicating itself until it collapses, an intentional programme fault designed to create a lifespan before an A.I. lives long enough to turn on their masters. So now MC has to resave the universe from Covenant 2: Cruise Control and find a way to save Cortana before she corrupts and goes sideways. Let’s do this. Again.

Although it’s approaching a decade old, H4 more than holds its own. You realise how little FPS’ have really changed, in gameplay or look, in the last ten years. But 343 have announced their presence with some pretty bombastic set-pieces. Much of the first third is spent trying to get off the planet we crashed on, and the fights are striking, fast and brutal. It feels desperate and a bit hand-to-mouth. It’s still two weapons only, and largely the same weapons, but they have a nice feel to them as you blast through The Covenant! Part Deux.

The planet activates bio-mechanical beasties to defend itself, and they don’t seem fond of Covenant: The Revenge any more than MC. What’s at the centre of the planet those things are protecting? MC and Cortana race to the source, where MC accidently releases ‘the Didact’ – a survivor of a previous race known as Forerunner who decides Humans aren’t worthy of the Universe. Why, what did we do? Oh, yeah.

Naturally, the Covenant 2: Electric Boogaloo side with the Didact, as do the bio-creatures, and Didact sets off to find the “Composer”, an ancient artifact the Forerunners created which turns lifeforms into those bio-creatures - so Didact can raise an army and rule the galaxy. Or melts people. Not sure. Now MC and Cortana must find the Composer and stop Didact.

This is standard fare – rush about from place to place trying to find something before the other guy does. The Didact is just the standard pop-out villain looking to run the universe, but in meeting his counterpoint, the Librarian, who controls the universes’ exposition, I suddenly get what the Halo series is all about – I missed a lot of clues and subtleties during Halo 1-3, but H4 brilliantly draws it all together – The Forerunners, The Precursors, the Mantle of Responsibility, what Reclaimer meant. Suddenly this is epic and exciting. Finally. After three games of the Covenant-Human war that always felt a bit meh, all it took was some exposition and clever reveals to make this whole thing straighten up and fly right.

By upping the stakes, 343 Industries have gone all out, and combining those story reveals with their gameplay, there’s not one slow or quiet mission; absolutely every situation goes FUBAR before the cut-scene has ended. The 2 Covenant 2 Furious aren’t doing anything new but they do it well and the areas have a real verticality to them – it’s still linear, but there’s a lot of ways to gain or lose ground in a fight, and the locations and situations refresh often enough to not feel samey or listless like Halo CE did.

I’m even worried about Cortana; even from behind his helmet you can see MC’s concern and commitment to save his wingwoman. They have a brilliant, respectful relationship that feels more personal and relatable than some of the previous main instalments. When MC ignores orders and goes off to do what he thinks is best, you’re on board with it.

343 did well with this. It’s a solid shooter, and while they stayed safely within the confines of the Halo experience, by blowing open the backstory it becomes as impressive as everyone said Halo was – I’m invested in what’s going to happen next; unfortunately, I’m a PC gamer.

Microsoft chose to make Halo 5 an Xbox exclusive, yet Halo 6 is available on Win. Why?! Now I’m less likely to buy H6. What am I supposed to do, watch the cut-scenes on YouTube? To not even port H5 for the Master Chief Collection is insulting, and they missed a trick by not making it a MCC exclusive and therefore a must-buy – not really a collection then is it.

So that’s the Master Chief collection. Meh. I enjoyed Reach and ODST, and Halo 4 got good, but MC is still just another guy with a gun, running around some sci-fi setting. If you can pick up the MC Collection on the cheap (and it’s part of the Xbox Game Pass) it’s a solid 5-game shooter collection, but taken as a whole, nothing to save the universe about. Cortana maybe.