+ The return of Master Chief
+ Level design
+ Arena battles
- Story lacks coherence
- Spartan Ops has limited appeal
Final score: 8.5 / 10
Controller support: Yes
A working Xbox 360
Halo 4 is solid proof that, as Fallout has been teaching for years, “War never changes.” This is a solid game that uses a well-known template, adds in a few ounces of innovation, better graphics and more multiplayer. The result is a product that will feel familiar to veterans, while delivering just enough new content to make it worth playing through all the way to the end for newcomers.
Halo 4 is also proof that even if one changes development teams and then throws the game characters into a new situation, the core structure of a franchise rarely evolves in radical ways and that publishers like Microsoft are more concerned with solid sales than with evolving the content they are working on.
The 343 Industries-developed video game will certainly be one of the hits of this fall, but I was often left feeling that the team could have made more radical changes to the series, especially after the experimentation of Reach and ODST, but instead, it settled for something safe and familiar.
Master Chief is the original protagonist of Halo and the fourth game in the series sees him return to life after four years in cryostasis, alone, save for his constant companion Cortana, over a mysterious alien planet.
Despite the presence of many of the concepts and even characters from the original trilogy, Halo 4 is a story about the blue Artificial Intelligence, Mater Chief’s only true friend, who needs to be saved from the Rampancy that threatens to destroy her very self.
Old character, new look
It’s strong motivation, sometimes more compelling than the battle for humanity’s survival that powered previous franchise games, but unfortunately 343 Industries needed to dilute it by adding an entire subplot involving the Covenant and the new Forerunner forces.
The big problem with the narrative of Halo 4 is that there’s a lot of information that the game expects the player to know, despite the fact that it has never been presented during the actual game in a clear manner.
I’ve played all the Halo games and know the core story threads, but I’ve never read the novels associated with it and failed to watch Forward Unto Dawn and I must confess that there are some elements of the story that have remained unclear until I’ve looked them up online.
The original Halo was the game that re-defined the first-person shooter and Halo 4 bears that weighty mantle without trying to do the same.
The biggest problem with Halo 4 is that a lot of the new content is designed to be similar to the old content.
It’s odd enough that the game asks players to mostly fight Covenant forces using the same weapons and the same tactics you have known for the last three core games and two spin-offs, but once the Forerunner forces show up, they tend to behave in similar ways and drop similar weapons, although they are deadlier and the weapons they drop are better.
Despite this, the game is very well designed, using the familiar structure of corridor followed by arena, and the developers have created a lot of very interesting firefights, with interested enemy combinations and a lot of variety when it comes to how the player approaches them.
There are also battles that involve three sides, although the stakes feel significantly lower this time around, with the Flood missing in action.
Master Chief feels as powerful as ever, a supersoldier that can take a lot of punishment as long as the player takes care to give him time to recharge shields and weapons, and the enemies, both Forerunner and Covenant, are smart and quick, able to surprise from time to time, even if their tactics are familiar.
One disappointment is how little work the vehicles, from Warthog to alien rides, have received and they easily remain the weakest part of the Halo 4 tactical mix.
Graphics and audio
Halo 4 is a great-looking game, one of those rare titles that can make a gamer forget that the Xbox 360 was launched way back in 2006 and that it is close to the end of its life cycle.
Certainly, the development team has managed to benefit from its close collaboration with Microsoft, the actual creators of the hardware, but 343 Industries must be praised for taking an old engine, which looked a little dated in the previous installment, Reach, and make it seems next gen for Halo 4.
The main characters look gorgeous and there’s no sign of the undersized textures that are clearly visible in other Xbox 360 games, the larger arenas are beautifully constructed and filled to the brim with details, the new Forerunner enemies and designs are congruent with the rest of the series, conservative and innovative at the same time.
The game is also smooth even when dozens of enemies are on the screen at the same time and there’s no sign of slowdown even during multiplayer matches, which says a lot about the superb optimization job that 343 Industries has done.
The one disappointment I have about the graphics is the way Halo 4 portrays Cortana, the longtime companion Artificial Intelligence of Master Chief, which has received a makeover that renders her hotter, but fails to add anything to her character.
Blue and orange
The sound design for the game is also solid and, again, familiar, with some nice touches like the dimmed sound when out in space and some solid voice work from the actor portraying Master Chief, even though he sounds somehow at odds with his own nature.
The soundtrack is subtle but heroic when it needs to be, weapons sound weighty and powerful, the environments could have used a little more exoticism thrown in and a little less solo driven faux opera.
The major addition to the multiplayer of the Halo series, in terms of multiplayer, is the new Spartan Ops, which consists of five combat-focused missions tied into the narrative by a loose story, which are designed for players to tackle in cooperative manner.
The missions are fun enough and the fact that two players can work together is a plus, but they’re fairly simple and lack any sort of story-oriented impact.
More content will get added via seasons by the development team, although a launch date has not yet been provided.
Those who last played Halo multiplayer during Reach, when Bungie was still in charge, will see major changes when it comes to the multiplayer progression in Halo 4 and the 343 Industries team has pretty much picked up the entire design philosophy behind the Call of Duty multiplayer concept and replicated it.
Players can customize every aspect of their character, not just the character armor, and the idea of progression is at the core of the experience, which might turn off some veterans.
The servers are well populated and the player quality seems to be higher than for Call of Duty, which might prove an advantage in the long run.
Halo 4 is worthy of the series it’s part of, a clear sign that 343 Industries is ready to pick up where Bungie left off and deliver hit after hit for the Microsoft-made home console.
But for the other two titles in the trilogy, they have already laid out that the developers need to find new ideas, both when it comes to story and to gameplay, and implement them in order to make sure that the Master Chief featuring series is not left behind as the first-person shooter genre evolves around it.
Still fans of the franchise need to pick up Halo 4 because it continues one of the most recognizable stories in the video game world, while those unacquainted with the franchise can enjoy a great example of what the Xbox 360 can achieve with help from a dedicated development team.
It looks like 343 did a great job and I’m glad to hear that Halo 4 has gotten back to what made the franchise awesome in the first place. Recent titles like ODST and Reach kind of missed the mark in my opinion. If I had the money right now I’d probably consider picking Halo 4 up, even though that would be breaking my game buying rule. However, with Christmas coming up I ought to be careful with my spending. I actually got my game buying rule from one of my coworkers at DISH after I was disappointed by Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Now I don’t buy a game without first thoroughly being able to play it. So I rent all my games through DISH’s Blockbuster @Home first. And it’s a flat fee service so if I don’t like a game, I don’t feel like I just wasted any money. I’m sure I’ll end up buying Halo 4 no matter what, just to have it in my collection, but for now I’m putting it in my Blockbuster @Home queue so I’ll get to play it before I can actually afford to grab a copy in the store.
Comment #3 by: Halo 4 is not better then black ops 2 and zombi u in graphics on 29 Dec 2012, 06:48 UTC