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Descend into utter madness in emotionally charged Halo 4

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Your closest friend tumbles into madness and illness before your eyes, as you desperately try to find a way to cure her.

You vow that everything will be OK. But she senses that maybe it won’t.

“Don't make a girl a promise you can't keep,” she tells you, almost teasingly, but with a clear undercurrent of sadness.
You watch while she loses her calm, her wits, her very essence. You refuse to accept you may lose her to disease. Instead, you fight fiercely, recklessly to find a way to save her.

Welcome to Halo 4, the most emotionally explosive game yet in the franchise.

You are the Master Chief, mankind’s greatest hope and also its most dangerous weapon. Your friend is Cortana, a female artificial intelligence who has been your closest confidante and partner in saving the universe for nearly a decade. But her lifespan is up and old age is taking her mind to a disease called "rampancy," a kind of digital dementia.

Not only is your closest ally dying, but once again the fate of the world is on your armoured shoulders.

The Xbox 360 exclusive picks up five years after Halo 3 ends. Master Chief has survived being set adrift for five years on the rear half of the Forward Unto Dawn frigate. His ship crash lands on Requiem, a planet once occupied by the mysterious Forerunners — the race that created powerful weapons that could have ended life in the universe.

What could go wrong?

I won’t spoil it for you, other than to say the new enemies, called the Prometheans, add a challenging new foe to the mix. They also drop more advanced weapons with which to wreak havoc. The new arsenal is a nice complement to some old favourites.

The action is fierce and the battles are intense. But at its heart, Halo 4 is a love story, venturing deeper into the reality of troubled relationships than any of the previous games.

Halo 4 marks the official passing of the Halo baton from the franchise's beloved creator, Bungie, to developer 343 Industries. Don't fear a massive overhaul: the game has the familiar feel of a comfortable pair of shoes.

The campaign is very short — I cruised through in 6 1/2 hours — so some players may feel jilted by brevity. That said, there's a healthy dose of extra content that Halo players have come to expect from the series.

Perhaps the most intriguing addition is the Spartan Ops mode, which opens up extra missions and challenges that can be played alone or with friends online. For the first 10 weeks, a new episode (which has five missions) will be available free each week.

Experience points from Spartan Ops can be spent on upgrading your character with new armour and weapons.

Unfortunately, the popular Firefight mode didn't make the cut. But at least the Forge is back. 343 Industries has created three separate areas where players can create their own playable masterpieces. So expect a flood of player-made levels to try out.

And Halo 4 wouldn't be a true Halo experience without a rich multiplayer mode. I'll cover the War Games mode in a second review once the game has been out for a couple weeks. The true feel of multiplayer becomes clear when it's properly populated.

Bottom line: Halo 4 is a cinematic masterpiece, taking players down a deeper, darker road than they've previously travelled in this universe. We’re watching the series mature. The battle scars are adding up. And that's what will keep this franchise interesting as this new Halo trilogy marches forward.

David Wylie has been playing video games since the olden days of the Atari 2600. Follow him on Twitter: @editorgeek.


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