The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Review and Reflections on The Master Chief Collection: Halo 4

“For too many years, humanity was on the back-foot, reacting to threats rather than preventing them. The rest of the galaxy was bigger than us, stronger than us. We were mice hiding in the shadows, hoping the giants would not see us. No more: humanity is no longer on the defense. We are the giants now.” –Captain Thomas Lasky

Cortana awakens Master Chief from cryogenic sleep as the remnants of the Forward Unto Dawn are drift towards the Forerunner installation, Requiem. Master Chief manages to reactivate one of the Dawn’s remaining missiles and uses it to disable a Covenant frigate before Requiem draws in the Dawn into its gravity well. After crash-landing on Requiem’s surface, Master Chief learns that Cortana is nearing the end of her operational lifespan, and promises to get her home so Dr. Halsey can examine her. After encountering the Prometheans, Master Chief and Cortana pick up signals from the UNSC Infinity, which received the Dawn’s distress calls. Master Chief attempts to clear up the signal to warn the Infinity not to venture too close to Requiem, but instead, releases the Didact, an ancient Forerunner warrior. The Didact seizes control of the Promethean and Covenant remnants to launch an attack on the Infinity, but once Master Chief links up with the UNSC forces, they repel the Didact and set off towards destroying an array of particle cannons defending the gravity well. Master Chief meets the Librarian, a Forerunner who explains that the Didact had been imprisoned for creating a constructor known as the Composer, which converted organic beings into digital constructs in an attempt to fight the Flood. To help him in stopping the Didact, the Librarian accelerates Master Chief’s evolution, rendering him immune to being affected by the Composer. After aiding the UNSC forces in destroying the gravity well, Master Chief elects to stay behind, against orders, while the Infinity returns to Earth. Cortana determines that it may be possible to sabotage the Didact’s ship, but they fail and are forced to follow the Didact into slip-space. When they arrive at their destination, Cortana and Master Chief find a UNSC research station orbiting above a Halo ring. Despite their efforts, Master Chief and Cortana are unable to stop the Didact from taking control of the Composer. The Didact fires the Composer, killing everyone on board the research station except for Master Chief. The pair grab a Broadsword fighter and pursue the Didact to Earth with a nuclear warhead in tow. With assistance from the home fleet and Infinity, Master Chief boards the station and reaches the Didact. Following a brief struggle, Cortana manifests herself to restrain the Didact, and Master Chief uses a grenade to blast the Didact off a bridge into the slipspace void below. He then detonates the warhead, destroying the Composer. Cortana is lost, and Master Chief is brought on board the Infinity, where he mourns Cortana. Halo 4 is the sixth game in the Halo franchise, and the first to have been developed by 343 Industries. Upon its release in November 2012, Halo 4 was met with very positive reviews across the board, with praise directed at its story, impressive optimisation and 343 Industries’ successful handling of their first Halo game.

The most stand-out aspect of Halo 4 lies in its story: up until now, Master Chief had always been portrayed as a stoic super-soldier with a dry sense of humour and an ironclad determination to get things done. This had been a deliberate decision, so that players could imagine themselves as being Master Chief. However, by Halo 4, 343 Industries chooses to explore the deepening relationship between Master Chief and Cortana, which Halo 3 had briefly begun exploring after Master Chief left Cortana behind in High Charity, where she remained to attempt a detonation of In Amber Clad’s fusion reactors to destroy the city and stop the Gravemind. When it became clear she’d survived, Master Chief placed his trust in her, allowing for Gravemind to be defeated. However, after being stranded in space for four years, Cortana was nearing the end of her lifespan, and for Master Chief, Cortana represented more than being just an AI supporting his missions. She was a constant source of companionship, providing emotional support on their numerous missions together. Cortana saw Master Chief as being irreplaceable, doing everything in her power to support him. Halo 4‘s story thus becomes a love story in all but name, with Master Chief moving heaven and earth to keep his promises to Cortana. This was a first in Halo: while previous stories had explored the vastness of the universe and the extent of the Forerunners’ legacies amidst the Human-Covenant War, Master Chief remained merely a soldier whose sole duty was to help drive back the Covenant and Flood. The story in Halo 4 thus humanises Master Chief, creating a much more intricate, detailed character with human emotions. This is most evident during gameplay, where Master Chief calmly reassures Cortana whenever her rampancy affects her functions, and when Cortana is still functioning normally, the two exchange light-hearted banter. In particular, the Master Chief’s personality is expanded upon through the dialogue he has with other UNSC soldiers and scientists. Although composed, Master Chief is also firm, adamant in doing what is right; through conversations, 343 Industries succeed in painting a much more detailed picture of Master Chief’s character, and while this reaffirms that Master Chief is utterly devoted to his duties, he also has a sense of humour, especially when conversing with Cortana, and he is also fiercely loyal to her, demonstrating a more sensitive side, as well. Master Chief’s characterisation was well-received because it struck a balance: it fleshes out his personality to a hitherto unmatched level, but never interferes with the gameplay at all: Halo 4 is, at its core, still a Halo game, and so, Halo 4 can be thought of as retaining classic Halo elements, improving on other elements and all the while, creating a more compelling, personal story.

Besides a compelling narrative between Master Chief and Cortana, 343 Industries also applied their own aesthetic to the Halo universe. Things were modified, added or removed to fit with these aesthetics, and amongst the changes in Halo 4, was the fact that humanity had evidently advanced in the four years since the events of Halo 3. Using Forerunner and captured Covenant technology alike, humanity made considerable strides in technology. Shielding and slipspace travel improved beyond recognition, and by the time Halo 4 happens, humanity is far stronger, more capable than it had been during the Human-Covenant War. The Infinity is the symbol of this power: it tears a Covenant RCS-class cruiser in half just by hitting it, and its Series 8 Super MACs were able to put a hole in the Mantle’s Approach’s hull, something that even the Super MACs could not accomplish. Humanity is characterised by a newfound confidence, and this is a major secondary theme in Halo 4: everything in Halo 4 was designed to convey this confidence. From Master Chief’s final run on the Didact and faith in his ability to deliver Cortana back home, to the UNSC’s confidence to square off against any foe, Halo 4‘s story is brimming with a newfound conviction. 343 Industries seizes the initiative, and beyond the story, everything from the bold new visuals in the game, to the sound engineering, screams confidence. This is a game that knows precisely what it aims to deliver, and in a curious turn of events, Halo 4‘s release coincided with my undergraduate defense year. I had just come out of a summer where I’d conquered the MCAT (scoring today’s 517) and had just submitted a paper to my journal. In my undergraduate defense, I was enrolled in a special topics course that occupied two slots, and I had numerous options left over, allowing me to take an intermediate English course on science fiction, genomics and iOS development. For my defense project, I was set to use my lab’s in-house game engine, coincidentally named the Composer, to build a model of renal flow, expanding on research I’d started the previous summer. This was a system I knew the ins and outs of, and so, after delivering my proposal to classmates and professors alike early in September, I’d felt like I was in control of my university experience for the first time. That semester, it felt as though nothing could go wrong: I steam-rolled every course I took, the same way Master Chief steam-rolled the Prometheans and Covenant alike in an effort to save Cortana. My intention had been to ride on this success and to attempt a kokuhaku once I’d finished my defense, thinking I’d be able to finally nail it. There are parallels in my undergraduate defense story, and Master Chief’s story. Halo 4‘s final mission describes how the journey to my undergraduate defense felt; for me, playing through Halo 4 in full now was a trip down memory lane, reminding me of a time when I felt like I was at the absolute top of my game and everything felt possible.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It was a cold November evening that Halo 4 released to in 2012. Back then, I had been almost two-third of the way though my fall semester, and had been most curious to see what Halo 4 had been about: at that point, it had been about three years since Halo: Reach released, and this marked a return to Master Chief’s story. On a comparatively warmer November evening this year, I stepped out of the cryogenic chamber and onto the Dawn with assault rifle in hand, ready to start Master Chief’s journey. Despite having never played Halo 4 before, I associate the game with my undergraduate thesis year, and to accommodate this bit of reminiscence, this post on Halo 4 will be larger than usual.

  • Initially, Master Chief starts out with the MA5D Assault rifle and M6H Pistol. The assault rifle of Halo 4 is a reliable close to mid range weapon that feels powerful and reliable, being able to shred Elites at close range and can reach out to ranges the SMGs and assault rifles of earlier games could not. The M6H is a sidearm that brings back memories of the Halo: Combat Evolved pistol, while at the same time, being more balanced. On board the Forward Unto Dawn, it is apparent that Master Chief and Cortana are no longer alone: Covenant remnants have boarded, and represent the first enemy players will fight in Halo 4.

  • There is one detail in Halo 4‘s HUD that I found to be a downgrade compared to its predecessors: while more detailed (being modelled in 3D), the HUD lacks an indicator for the player’s holstered weapon. Earlier Halo games had a HUD that indicated what secondary weapon the player was carrying. Ultimately, this was a more minor detail: in a firefight, the only thing that matters is the current weapon, how much ammunition one has for it in the magazine, and how many extra rounds are available. The Covenant seen during this first mission do not resemble those of earlier Halo games, suggesting that they’re from a more radical faction. Indeed, the Grunts certainly are crazier, breaking out the dual-plasma grenades for suicide runs more often.

  • Once Master Chief reaches the weapons deck, Cortana spots an unshielded Covenant cruiser and supposes that it might be possible to destroy it with a missile. Since the Dawn was blown in half from the events of Halo 3, the missile must be manually fired, so Master Chief heads out onto the Dawn’s deck, clearing away hordes of Covenant while the Forerunner planet looms in the background. Halo 4‘s skyboxes were far more sophisticated than anything seen in earlier Halo titles, and the game’s scale thus feels much bigger than those of its predecessors.

  • Halo 4 somehow has the Forward unto Dawn stocked with the BR-85 heavy barrel service rifle (battle rifle for brevity), whereas in Halo 3, Master Chief only had access to the BR-55 heavy-barrel service rifle (itself an upgrade to Halo 2‘s BR-55 battle rifle). Firing a new 9.5 mm round, the new battle rifle reaches out further than an assault rifle and is suited for mid-range combat. The three-round bursts can quickly bring down an Elite’s shields, and compared to earlier iterations, appears to have increased spread, lower rate of fire and a longer reload time. This hasn’t stopped the battle rifle from being my weapon of choice when I could find ammunition for it.

  • As it turns out, the missile Master Chief primes and launches is a M4093 Hyperion missile, which carries a nuclear warhead. I was wondering why it was able to destroy a Covenant cruiser, even though it had been unshielded: previous lore had suggested that the Charon-class only had Archer missiles, which were needed in great numbers to damage unshielded Covenant vessels. While the Covenant are temporarily repelled, Master Chief and Cortana find themselves caught in the Forerunner planets gravity well and are pulled in to the surface.

  • After making their way away from the crash site, Master Chief and Cortana reach a cliff overlooking a verdant valley in Requiem. This moment is equivalent to the first sunrise from Crysis – the narrow corridors and metallic hull of the Forward Unto Dawn were well-rendered, but it is here that the updated visuals of Halo 4 really shine through. The mystique and majesty of the Forerunner world are apparent, and while it’s no Halo, still conveys the Forerunner aesthetic. I thus stopped here to admire the landscape in all of its glory, before proceeding with the mission.

  • After finding a functional Warthog, I drove on over to a valley crawling with Covenant. There are several ways to approach this area: one could drive in and create the most amount of chaos possible, disembark and use the Warthog’s gun to clear foes out, or else grab a long range weapon and pick off enemies from afar. Halo levels are generally linear, but later Halo games offer players different approaches to progress past an area, and it appears that besides stealth, the game allows for multiple options. I usually grab a vehicle, since they have unlimited ammunition, allowing me to conserve on my small arms for later areas.

  • Halo 4 dispenses with the submachine gun in favour of the M739 SAW (squad automatic weapon), which is a light machine gun with a 72-round drum magazine. It is excellent for laying down suppressive fire, and at close range, it can melt even Elites with ease. The downside is that ammunition is quick to burn through – the SAW fires at a blistering 937.5 RPM, and reloading does take a while. Overall, I found the SAW to be a great addition to Halo 4: I’d never actually had any incentive to use the SMGs in Halo 3 or Halo 2 unless there were no other weapons around, but the SAW is useful in a range of situations.

  • After climbing up a ramp, I was met with an energy sword-wielding Elite and relieved it of its weapon. One of the most iconic weapons of Halo, and coveted in the multiplayer as a devastating weapon capable of securing multi-kills to turn the tide of battle, the Energy Sword allows players to lunge at enemies and take them out in one stroke. The sword is limited by its battery: every kill requires ten percent of the battery, and the sword becomes a glorified blunt force weapon once the battery is depleted. It is useful at close quarters, acting as a counterpart to the human shotgun; unlike earlier Halo games, where I tended to conserve on Sword energy, in Halo 4, I primarily used the Energy Sword to kill Elites quickly.

  • By the time I entered the interior of the Forerunner structure, I had run out of ammunition for my UNSC weapons, and so, switched over to the Covenant weapons. Some Covenant weapons are plasma-based and overheat rather than run out of ammunition. These are slightly more effective against shields than flesh, and so, one of the classic Halo tactics is to carry a plasma weapon weapon to drop shields, and then follow up with a projectile weapon to finish. Other Covenant weapons, such as the Covenant Carbine, which fires projectiles. I generally will take the Carbine because it is a common weapon that acts as the intermediate between the Battle Rifle and DMR, making it a solid all-purpose weapon.

  • One thing about Halo 4 I enjoyed was the lighting: during the second mission, after reactivating a map and exiting the Forerunner structure, Master Chief exists to a bridge bathed in a warm light from artificial sunlight. The colours remind me of the low winter sun: during November, December and January, the midday sun gives off a golden hue more similar to what is seen during a summer evening. The weather this year has been surprisingly pleasant so far, and I’ve been capitalising on this to go for short walks during twilight.

  • Here, I’ve picked up a Concussion Rifle from an Elite. The Concussion Rifle first appeared in Halo: Reach and acts as a grenade launcher, firing explosive plasma rounds that can knock enemies and vehicles alike back. I’ve found the Concussion Rifle to be impractical for most situations, since it has a limited carrying capacity and doesn’t deal too much damage against enemies. I only really use Covenant weapons if there are no other options available, with the exceptions being the Covenant Carbine and Beam Rifle, both of which are excellent weapons.

  • Hunters in Halo 4 are about as tricky to defeat as their predecessors in Halo 3: gone are the days of being able to flank one and defeating it with a single, well-placed pistol round to their exposed, orange backs. For Halo 4, every time I’ve encountered Hunters, I’ve been fortunate to be able to locate a Fuel Rod gun, which fires devastating explosive projectiles similar to the ones the Hunters possess. Ammunition is plentiful enough so that I can defeat the pair of Hunters, and then discard the Fuel Rod gun for more versatile weapons. On my first attempt, I tried to engage the first pair of Hunters here with a Beam Rifle, which proved ineffectual.

  • In the third mission, Master Chief will encounter the Prometheans for the first time. These digitalised constructs replace the Flood as the secondary enemy in Halo 4 and come in three varieties: the crawlers are quadrupedal enemies resembling Gundam SEED‘s BuCUE (which I personally call “Panthers”), the Watchers are flying drones that are difficult to hit, and the Knights are the all-purpose, digitised Forerunner Warriors, capable of wielding a wide range of weapons. Most Knights carry the Light Rifle, the Forerunner equivalent of the Battle Rifle. The Light Rifle is probably the most reliable of the Forerunner weapons, capable of firing three-round bursts from the hip, and single, hard-hitting shots when aiming down sights.

  • The interior of Requiem is a sprawling Forerunner construct, and in this mission, Master Chief and Cortana attempt to improve the strength of their communications signals by disabling what they think are jammers. The first set of jammers are guarded entirely by Prometheans, and in general, I found these Forerunner enemies to feel a little more durable than their Covenant equivalents: the Knights are particularly tough, and it often took half a magazine from the Light Rifle to destroy one. The Crawlers, on the other hand, can be felled in one shot/burst, and they drop the Suppressor, a fast-firing weapon that functions similarly to the assault rifle and storm rifle.

  • While I wasn’t too fond of the gloomy caverns at the heart of Requiem, the Forerunner constructs, on the other hand, look amazing. With their clean lines and elegant angles, there is a charm about Forerunner architecture, and 343 Industries really nailed the aesthetics that Bungie had established. Requiem was probably my least favourite of the missions from Halo 4 from a design perspective, but that’s not saying much, since all of the levels in Halo 4 look amazing.

  • The hard light bridges in Halo 4 look only slightly nicer than those of Portal 2: this is a compliment to Portal 2, which came out a year and a half earlier. While Portal 2 hard light bridges are used for solving puzzles, Forerunner hard light bridges act more as points of transportation: they can be enabled and disabled as easily as an ordinary light, and in some parts of Halo, simply create a particularly cool-looking bridge for players to cross.

  • The second set of jammers are defended by the Covenant. To help things along, I grabbed a Ghost and used its twin plasma cannons to make short work of the jammers and Covenant alike. The Covenant have access to Banshees here, and they’re now able to use the Banshee’s fuel rod gun, so it is imperative to keep moving. With its high speed and decent firepower, the Ghost is probably the best vehicle in all of Halo, allowing individual players to blaze right through areas on their own. Even in co-op, I tend to take the Ghosts where possible.

  • The Scattershot is the Forerunner equivalent of the Shotgun, having a slightly longer effective range and higher rate of fire compared to the shotgun at the expense of a slightly slower reload speed and reduced damage. Unlike the Shotgun, the Scattershot also vapourises enemies on kill: I found the Scattershot to be a solid choice against the Promethean Knights: against them, even the versatile Light Rifle felt ineffectual, especially if there were Watchers around to repair or even revive the Knights. Conversely, with the Scattershot, getting up close and blasting a Knight to bits is great fun.

  • Here, I picked up the Binary Rifle, the Forerunner sniper rifle that uses twin particle accelerators to accelerate projectiles to prodigious velocities. In practise, it destroys the Knights in a single shot, making it one of the most powerful weapons in Halo 4 on a per-shot basis. The weapon’s main downside is that it is limited to only two shots, and ammunition is extremely limited. With the Binary Rifle and Scattershot, I found my preferred mode of swiftly dealing with Knights. They seem much more durable than Elites, so having powerful weapons to handle them made fighting the Prometheans more tolerable.

  • After Cortana and Master Chief realise they were deceived, Requiem’s core begins to crumble, and the pair escape on a Ghost, just barely making it back to the surface in time to see the Didact pursue the Infinity. Master Chief and Cortana follow, making their way through dense jungle to reach the Infinity. At the start of this fourth mission, the Didact’s Cryptum can be seen in the distance beside the crashed Infinity. The UNSC Infinity was supposed to be humanity’s ace-in-the-hole and is capable of squaring off against Covenant forces, but its first appearance in Halo 4 is less-than-befitting.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed the firefights through the jungles of Requiem, and with fellow UNSC soldiers around, it means that I finally have access to a decent supply of human weapons. Looking back, Halo 4 was the one Halo title I’d never tried; while all of my friends had the Xbox 360 console, they seemed quite disinterested in Halo 4, and during LAN parties, all of the focus was on either Halo 3 or Halo 2, depending on who was hosting. From a multiplayer perspective, 343 Industries appeared to be aware that Halo 2‘s multiplayer had been the best-received of any Halo game, and so, they revamped Halo 2‘s multiplayer in Halo 4‘s engine. Having tried it out back in May, I was reasonably impressed with how it turned out.

  • The DMR (designated marksman rifle) from Halo: Reach returns in Halo 4, this time, it’s the M395 variant (whereas in Halo: Reach, the M392 was used), which has one fewer round in the magazine compared to its predecessor, a slightly faster firing rate and decreased bloom. Between the battle rifle and DMR, I’ll generally pick the weapon based on the range I am engaging opponents at, as well as what weapon I have in reserve. If I’m carrying a high RPM or strong CQC weapon, then the DMR is the better choice, whereas if I’m holding onto a power weapon, then I’d prefer the battle rifle. The weapons are not objectively better than one another, with both the battle rifle and DMR excelling in different situations.

  • Here, I narrowly dodge a pulse grenade shortly after picking up the rail gun. Pulse grenades are the most common grenade in Halo 4, as all Knights drop them, but I found them to be very difficult to use. Conversely, the rail gun is an immensely fun weapon, being able to take out Knights in a single shot. For now, I’ve yet to see how the rail gun fits in with the multiplayer, but in the campaign, it represents yet another tool for swiftly dealing with Knights, as well as the occasional light vehicle.

  • Running out of ammunition for the effective weapons is almost always a problem in Halo games: here, as I enter a cave formation, I began running out of ammunition for the battle rifle, and so, was forced to switch over to my shotgun, but this left me ineffectual at longer ranges. The limitation of carrying two weapons at a time was originally a highly innovative idea, and really forced players to consider what choices to make with respect to their loadouts. In general, my choice is almost always governed by ammunition availability, and I will have no qualms trading off a Spartan Laser with one shot left, for a topped-off assault rifle.

  • Once Master Chief reaches the Infinity and boards a Mantis, it’s time to clear out Covenant jammer devices, allowing the Infinity to bring its weapons systems online. The Mantis is a bipedal exoskeleton that evolved from various weapons programmes, and, armed with a heavy machine gun and missile pods, can deal massive damage to infantry and enemy vehicles alike. On top of this, the Mantis’ shields are powerful enough to deflect a shot from the Spartan Laser. The Mantis also comes with the ability to crush enemies with a powerful stomp, as well. However, it is a slow-moving vehicle and susceptible to being flanked by enemies. In the campaign, it is a fantastic weapon against the Covenant.

  • Once the Infinity’s weapons are back online, it uses deck guns to hammer the Didact’s Cryptum, forcing the Didact to retreat. The Infinity begins repairs and prepares to head back to Earth, but Master Chief and Cortana suspect that the Didact is up to something. A great Forerunner warrior, the Didact had been opposed to the idea of humanity taking on the Mantle, and intended to finish his work by securing a device known as the Composer such that he could digitise the whole of humanity for his personal Promethean army. The Didact therefore became a threat, but Captain Del Rio of the Infinity was not concerned with this threat, instead, preferring on focusing his efforts towards returning to Earth.

  • Thus, the fifth mission involves accompanying the UNSC’s latest ground vehicle, the Mammoth, on a task to destroy particle guns defending the gravity well projector. The Mammoth is an upgrade to the Elephant and carries a mini-MAC cannon capable of outright eliminating most Covenant vehicles. The Mammoth is another sign of the UNSC’s improvements: for the first time, it feels like the Covenant are just an afterthought to be smashed through. I remember spent a fair bit of free time during my undergraduate thesis year watching Halo 4 gameplay videos on YouTube, and having skipped the earlier missions, I started watching from this mission onwards.

  • While the Mammoth smashes the first two particle cannons with ease, the Covenant deploy a Lich, their heaviest aerial insertion vehicle. Outfitted with a plasma cannon similar to that of a Scarab, the Lich disables the Mammoth’s mini-MAC, but is in turn destroyed when Master Chief boards it and overloads its reactor. It speaks to the Mammoth’s durability that it remains operation after this encounter – lore suggests that the Lich is so powerful, engagements with it usually result in total annihilation, hence the lack of information on these vessels, and the fact now is that the UNSC is powerful enough to not only survive, but win these encounters. This is what motivates the page quote: I’ve chosen it because Halo 4 is all about the confidence to not only survive, but excel.

  • One of the reasons why I had decided to watch Halo 4 gameplay videos after the game’s release was because a part of me knew that the odds of Halo 4 coming to PC would be slim to none, and so, with no opportunity to play the game on the horizon, watching folks like TheRadBrad play it was the next best choice. In between my coursework and research project, I burned through footage of the later missions in Halo 4, and was especially impressed with the game’s latter half.

  • While their appearances have changed over the years, the sniper rifle remains the premiere choice of firearm for engaging distant foes. Unlike the Beam Rifle, the sniper rifle uses a four round magazine and overall, has a higher carrying capacity, capable of firing up to twenty four shots in a consistent manner. Similarly, the sniper rifle is less damaging than the Binary Rifle, but offsets this with its higher firing rate. Reliable and consistent, Halo players prefer the sniper rifle for getting the job done.

  • Master Chief eventually ends up inside the Forerunner construct and finds the power supply for the particle cannons. As a nice touch, the two destroyed cannons are marked as such on the hologram, and once the switch is thrown, the remainder of the particle cannons are safely shut down, allowing the Infinity to get close and make the final shot. The power source for the particle cannons are vividly rendered, glowing from an unspecified power supply. Here, Master Chief meets the Librarian, who modifies his genetic makeup, rendering him immune to being Composed. Like the UNSC as a whole, Master Chief feels more powerful in Halo 4, even though he is not overpowered. This balance means players must still play respectfully and pick their fights, but have the confidence to finish the fights they start.

  • The Scorpion tank actually makes an appearance in the fourth mission, but for my play-through, I’ve only chosen to feature it during the fifth mission. Like Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST, the Scorpion of Halo 4 has a separate seat for the machine gun. Even then, the M512 Smoothbore High Velocity 90 mm cannon remains a highly powerful tool for clearing out infantry and vehicles alike. While the lore states the M512 on the Scorpion can fire a variety of rounds, ranging from kinetic penetrators to canister shots, but in the games, Scorpions use the Armor -Piercing Ballistic-Capped Round, which increases the round’s explosive payload for more splash damage in exchange for reduced armour penetration. Against Covenant vehicles, the Scorpion will absolutely shred.

  • After tagging the gravity well with the laser designator, the Infinity opens fire on the gravity well with a missile, and the structure disintegrates. Master Chief boards the Infinity and warns Del Rio of the threat the Didact poses, but is ignored and ordered to surrender Cortana. This results in one of the most iconic Halo cutscenes ever: I believe this is the first time Master Chief has ever disobeyed an order in the games, and it felt great to watch it at 1080p for myself. Once this is over, Lasky will inform Master Chief that he’d taken the liberty of preparing a Pelican for combat pursuit, implicitly suggesting that Master Chief should head off before the Infinity returns to Earth.

  • When the Insider flighting for Halo 4 became available, I immediately hopped to the campaign and reached this mission on a late October evening. I still remember sitting down to a dinner of southern fried chicken before proceeding with this mission. I subsequently completed the mission and finished the campaign missions available in the flight, before giving the multiplayer a go. I ultimately found the multiplayer quite unplayable – input-based matchmaking was not working then, and being matched with controller players proved a frustrating experience. I do not see the value of playing against players with a built-in advantage over me, so I’ve not downloaded the multiplayer for Halo 4 at this time.

  • Until now, the only way to fly a Pelican in Halo was to mod the game. Halo 4 changes this and puts Master Chief in the cockpit of a G79H-TC/MA Pelican, the gunship variant of the standard Pelican seen throughout Halo 4. Armed with a 70mm main cannon and an on-board laser that brings to mind the tactical laser in the Ace Combat series, the Pelican is capable of annihilating a Covenant Phantom in as few as two shots. I used it to pick off the Covenant forces defending the pillars here: of all the missions in Halo 4, the sixth had the most Halo like feel to it, and while Requiem isn’t Halo, the vast scale of this mission was truly impressive.

  • Once inside the pillars, Cortana sets Master Chief with the task of disabling the shielding surrounding the Didact’s cryptum. The nearest pillar has the simplest objective: Master Chief only needs to fight off the Covenant and Promethean forces, re-enable the gondola whenever it is stopped, and then hit the switch at the far end of the chamber. While I traditionally save the most powerful weapons in Halo for tough enemies and never wind up using them, for Halo 4, I decided to let loose a little and use things like the Binary Rifle to make short work of the Knights.

  • Here, I picked up the Incineration Cannon, one of the most lethal weapons in the whole of Halo 4 – like the Binary Rifle, the Incineration Cannon trades versatility for brute force. Every pull of the trigger fires five ionised particles that torches whatever they touch and then explode a second time on detonation. In exchange for a lengthy reload time and being limited to one round in the chamber, the Incineration Cannon can destroy a Mantis, Scorpion or Wraith in a single shot if all five particles connect. The Knights that carry this weapon are a threat and should be dealt with first: this is where the Binary Rifle shines: because of the projectile’s movement, the Incineration Cannon is weaker at long ranges, allowing one to blast the Knight from afar without fear of admonishment taking the form of vapourisation.

  • Once the first tower is cleared, it’s onto the second one. There’s a strange sense of tranquility up here in the skies above Requiem, where the golden glow of the artificial sun and the clouds give the area a very Christmas-like aesthetic. While the Pelican flight segment of Halo 4 is short, it is still quite thrilling. Of all the games I’ve gone through, Halo offers the best transition between on-foot and vehicular gameplay: few other games allow players to seamlessly transition between vehicles and hoofing it. The second tower proceeds similarly enough to the first in terms of objectives.

  • The enemies of the final towers are primarily Covenant. I decided to go with the railgun and DMR for this run, nailing headshots on weaker enemies with the latter and blowing away Elites with the latter. The railgun is a surprisingly fun weapon to use, although it cannot take out Halo 4‘s toughest enemies with a single round. High-ranking Elites and Knights, as well as Hunters, do not fall in one round; after encountering Hunters in the second tower, I immediately backpedalled, picked a fuel rod cannon off an Elite and then hammered them with it.

  • Once the shields are down, Cortana attempts to manipulate the towers into blocking the Didact’s cryptum, but a rampancy outburst causes her to lose control. The Didact is able to bring his ship online and prepares to depart Requiem. In a last bid, Master Chief jumps off the platform and manages to board a Lich, latching himself to its hull moments before it enters slipspace. While I did mention that this post was going to be a bit of a trip down memory lane, but the first three quarters of Halo 4 offer quite the opportunity to discuss weapons, mechanics and story. It is really the last two missions that evoke the strongest memories of my undergraduate thesis year.

  • This is technically my second time at Ivanoff Station – the first time was with the flight. I’ve picked up a sticky detonator here, which proved immensely useful against the Hunters (sticking and detonating will swiftly deal with them). TheRadBrad had posted his gameplay at Ivanoff Station in early November, but only got around to watching it come late November. At this point I had been a ways into my undergraduate thesis project, but, having successfully submitted a journal publication, I also attended the undergraduate research symposium. In retrospect, this was helpful for me to recall my original project’s limitations, and allowed me to improve on the model to build a multi-scale renal simulation in my lab’s in-house game engine.

  • I still remember listening to TheRadBrad talk about the life choices that led him to become a YouTuber over a more conventional career, and I wondered how my career then would turn out. To be honest, I had no idea I’d go down the route of “iOS developer”, but looking back now, it makes sense: I’d always been happiest developing software on MacOS, and Visual Studio always felt cumbersome compared to Xcode.  By the time December rolled around, I had started implementing the multi-scale renal model, using agent-based modelling to represent fluid flow in individual nephrons. In my proposal, the goal was to build a system that adaptively changed the visuals as the user zoomed in or out. Depending on the user’s movement, the agents were replaced by a particle system, whose flow rate and density were computed by a system of equations.

  • The plus side about that semester was that, because I only really had options left, I was free to take courses with a much lighter workload. I ended up going with intermediate English literature in science fiction, genomics and iOS development. The combination of a research project to focus on, having rocked the MCAT and getting a paper published made the courses feel like child’s play by comparison, and I managed to perform very well that term. My confidence finally returned to me, and I imagine it was quite noticeable; while reviewing a paper in the student centre one day, one of my friends noticed I was being checked out, pointing out that as soon as I packed up and prepared to head for class, she’d done the same as well.

  • After a fantastic winter break (which I largely spent on campus, save for the actual holidays), I was ready to hit the ground running for the winter semester, and was off to a very strong start with my mid-term progress report. By January, I had finished the agent-based modelling side and had begun implementing the equation-based models for illustrating the renal system at a macroscopic level. Vividred Operation began airing at this time, and I began following it weekly. I do remember it being a fun series, albeit one where I did not participate in the community discussions. I’ve not properly revisited the anime since, but I think that this could be a worthwhile endeavour in the near future.

  • Back in Halo 4, I’ve pushed a considerable ways through Ivanoff Station: the aim is to attempt to repel the Covenant boarders and reach the lead researcher, Dr. Tillson, in order to secure the Composer. Upon realising the size of the Composer, Master Chief decides destroying it would probably be more straightforwards and asks Tillson to help arm the nuclear warheads for remote detonation. The scientists begin to evacuate, and Master Chief helps to cover their escape. Off Requiem, there are no Prometheans in this level, which was welcomed – Ivanoff Station consists primarily of narrow quarters, and fighting the Knights would be a nightmare here.

  • Halo 4‘s shotgun is more similar to Halo 3‘s shotgun in terms of balance: later Halo games reduced the efficacy of the shotgun, but in Halo 4, the shotgun has a solid one-hit kill range compared to the Scattershot and holds one more round. In the narrow corridors of Ivanoff Station, the shotgun is a powerful tool for neutralising the Elites. I prefer keeping a DMR around as my other weapon here: the slow-firing, but hard-hitting DMR excels at dealing with Grunts and Jackals. This combination is highly efficient with respect to conserving ammunition: Grunts and Jackals fall in two shots from the DMR, but it’s not worth expending shotgun shells on them, while the Elites similarly die in a few shots from the shotgun, but otherwise require a few DMR rounds to eliminate.

  • While Tillson attempts to prepare the nuclear devices for detonation, Master Chief boards a Mantis and single-handedly holds back wave after wave of Covenant forces. The Mantis is immensely powerful here, tearing through the Covenant with ease. I found that against Phantoms, the Mantis is not particularly effective, and so, I opted to focus on the ground enemies, as well as any Banshees the Covenant had. Proving immensely enjoyable to operate, I exclusively used the Mantis for this segment to clear out the Covenant attempting to land, only learning later that there had been, in fact, a handful of Spartan Lasers around the cavern.

  • In spite of Master Chief and Cortana’s efforts, the Didact is able to retrieve the Composer, and uses it to decimate Ivanoff Station’s scientists in a gruesome fashion. The Librarian’s modifications to Master Chief’s genetic makeup allow him to survive being composed, and in the aftermath, he boards a Broadsword fighter with a single HAVOC nuclear device, intent on finishing the fight and stopping the Didact. Before the Mantle’s Approach can enter slipspace, Master Chief and Cortana manage to fly underneath its shields and follow the Didact back to Earth.

  • Halo 4‘s soundtrack was composed by Neil Davidge, with a few contributions from Kazuma Jinnōchi. In fact, the best track in the soundtrack is Jinnōchi’s 117, a heroic, melancholy piece that captures Master Chief’s confidence, determination and sacrifice. This song is played as Master Chief and Cortana streak along the Mantle’s Approach surface: there’s a sort of finality in this effort. As soon as Mantle’s Approach exits slipspace, the UNSC navy fire on it, and Lasky manages to contact Master Chief, explaining that he’s now in charge and ready to do what he can to help stop the Didact.

  • It was Halo 4‘s soundtrack that I worked on my undergraduate thesis defense to, and tracks like 117, Green and Blue, and To Galaxy were some of the songs that bring back memories of plugging away at my thesis project, which I finished by February, as well as the paper itself (I finished this one in late March, two weeks ahead of the defense) and presentation. In the end, with the same confidence and conviction seen in Halo 4, I defended this successfully, earning an A in the course overall and finishing the key component of my health science Honours Degree. Coming off this triumph, I genuinely felt anything was possible and steeled myself for a kokuhaku: if there had been any time to give things a whirl, it seemed like that was it.

  • However, by the summer, the devastating Great Flood of 2013 annihilated that chance: with transit offline and much of the downtown core underwater, our chance to meet up and do an in-person kokuhaku evaporated. In the end, I attempted a quasi-kokuhaku via electronic communications, was met with a promise to ask again after their Japanese homestay ended a year from that point, and the rest is history. It felt like losing Cortana at the end of Halo 4, and indeed, by Halo 5, Master Chief is shown to carry Cortana’s AI chip around, as well as pushing himself on missions, likely to dull the pain. Similarly for Master Chief, things for me haven’t quite been the same since then, and I’ve focused on doing what I can for myself.

  • As Mantle’s Approach nears Earth, Lasky suggests that he can use the Infinity’s main guns to try and open a hole in the hull, but Master Chief would first need to get the particle cannons cleared away first. The Broadsword fighter took me a bit of effort to learn, and for the first five minutes of the mission, I was crashing into everything and anything. In the end, after changing the flight controls to inverted, I fared a lot better and got through the trench run in a single shot. The Broadsword is equipped with both a pair of 35 mm cannons and missiles: these multi-role fighters are likely the successor to the highly successful, but secretive Sabres seen in Halo: Reach.

  • After the Infinity’s Series 8 MACs punch a hole in the Mantle’s Approach, Master Chief flies into the opening but crashes as the ship begins repairing itself. He switches to “plan B”: manually delivering the nuclear warhead to the Composer. From this moment on, it’s all Promethean enemies that stand between Master Chief and the Composer. Forerunner weapons are plentiful, and the most versatile load-out for the final mission in Halo 4 consists of the Light Rifle with any one of the Suppressor, Scattershot or Binary Rifle.

  • There are some genuinely cool sights inside the Mantle’s Approach, speaking to the scale of this ship: the Mantle’s Approach is one of the largest vessels in Halo, being 371.4 kilometres high, 142.7 kilometres long and 138.6 kilometres across. It absolutely dwarves anything in the universe: the Infinity, by comparison, is a paltry 5 kilometres long, and even the Covenant Super-carriers, like the Long Night of the Solace, are only 28.96 kilometres in length.

  • Halo 4‘s final mission is appropriately titled “Midnight”, a clever callout to the first mission, which is titled “Dawn”. Cortana devises a clever way to stop the Didact and asks Master Chief to defend a terminal while she uploads copies of her rampant self into the Didact’s systems. Crossing the bridge here proved to be surprisingly challenging, although Cortana’s access into the system means that several sentries will provide covering fire. I’ve noticed that I’ve not made mention of the armour abilities until now: they’re an improvement over Halo: Reach‘s armour abilities, and sprint is now always available. I found the armour abilities to be amusing, providing me with options in a firefight, and my favourite would be the jetpack in the fifth mission.

  • I ultimately ran low of ammunition for the Light Rifle and switched over to the Suppressor during the final segments of the game, quickly learning that contrary to my expectations, it was surprisingly effective against the Knights. Here, I close in on the final terminal before heading off to face the Didact: after inserting Cortana here, the mission objective, “It’s alright, but you must hurry”, filled me with melancholy, reminding me of that last time I shared a conversation with the individual I’d intended my kokuhaku for. I shook off the melancholy and pushed forwards: thinking back to that botched kokuhaku still is a bit painful, but here, I was on the verge of finishing something memorable. Unlike Halo 3: ODST and even Halo 3, I knew of the spoilers for Halo 4, having watched footage of the game back in 2012, but it remained a completely different experience when I was playing for myself.

  • I deliberately chose today as the day to write about Halo 4 because, eight years ago, it had been the start of exams for the fall term, and I only had one final for English, which I remember scoring an A on. With the exam finished, I had the remainder of December to wrap up my iOS course’s project, work on my undergraduate thesis project and relax a little. At the time, I recall spending far more time in Team Fortress 2 than I’m proud to admit: a friend and I had been very into the hats at the time, and we’d done a small gift exchange with keys. Our prize were “festive” variants of the primary weapons, which looked amazing, appropriate for the holiday season. I’ve since stopped playing Team Fortress 2, but since said friend ended up casually giving me an Unusual, I might just have to reinstall the game and go a few rounds this Christmas.

  • Once I reached this light bridge, it was time to face the Didact in a rather anti-climactic final fight: the Didact’s constraint field renders him untouchable, and so, the final fight is more of a long quick-time event. While this was a little unsatisfying, on the whole, Halo 4 is excellent. Once I blasted the Didact and set off the nuclear warhead, it brought an end to a year-long journey that saw me revisit a greater bit of my childhood and university career. As of December 3, 2020, I’ve now played through every single Halo game up to and including Halo 4. This brings my final campaign post for Halo to an end. I may return in the future to write about Firefight and Spartan Ops, but for now, I am content to bask in the achievement of having played through the games I’ve always wished to try, in full.

From a gameplay perspective, Halo 4 is rock-solid: it inherits everything that made the original Halo games successful and refined them. The gunplay is highly responsive, movement feels crisp, and everything comes together in an immensely satisfying package. Environments are rich in detail and vividly coloured: whether it be the fields and canyons of Requiem, or the corridors of a UNSC research facility, every setting is convincingly built and it. Halo 4 looks like a game that released last year, not a game that released eight years ago. Speaking to the incredible engineering that went into Halo 4, it hardly seems possible that Halo 4 had actually been designed to run on an Xbox 360: the lighting is sophisticated, and environments are of a very high quality. 343 Industries raised the bar twice with their optimisations for Halo 4, and in bringing Halo 4 to PC, they demonstrated that the game had actually been a decade ahead of its time. While the game represents a considerable departure from previous Halo titles (for one, it marks the first time where Master Chief never actually sets foot on a Halo, in a Halo game), the changes 343 Industries made in storytelling and world-building demonstrated that they were ready to take on the mantle of being the studio to make Halo games. At its core, Halo 4 is still very much a Halo game, and having now finished the campaign, I can finally say that I’ve now played through every Halo game that constituted my days as a student. From my first match on Coagulation following working on a science fair project with a friend, to countless Sundays spent at said friend’s place playing MLG BR Team Slayer and Friday nights spent terrorising SmG Clan servers, Halo has made up a very large portion of my life. Thanks to 343 Industries’ ambitious project, I was able to walk the remastered Installation 04, defeat the Gravemind, make a war-changing delivery to the Pillar of Autumn and wander the streets of New Mombassa for the first time. 343 Industries has done a phenomenal job in bringing all of the most iconic games to the PC, and now, with the entire Master Chief Collection complete, 343 Industries is free to focus on the upcoming Halo: Infinite title. This is still a ways away, and while Infinite looks to be an exciting game, I am more elated that the games that made up my halcyon days are now all available for PC. The Master Chief Collection represents a massive step forwards for gaming, and in a time where loot-boxes and battle royale titles continue to dominate the market, the excellence in each of the Halo games that 343 Industries have brought to PC act as a reminder of a time when games were expertly designed for the player’s enjoyment and immersion.

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