A franchise as large as Halo is a tough shell to crack. It has been around so long that it has become something of an icon – wherein a dramatic change may leave longtime fans feeling a sense of betrayal, while a lack of advancement could mean stagnation and eventual boredom on the fan’s part. So what do you do when you’re a new studio being handed this legendary franchise? Exactly what 343 did with Halo 4 – keep the staples intact while cleaning up some lingering cobwebs.
The Story – After awakening from a four-year cryogenic slumber, Master Cheif awakens to a variety of problems. The adrift ship that his cryo pod is aboard is under siege by a rogue Covenant detachment, Cortana is showing signs of rampancy (i.e. “thinking” herself to death), and said adrift ship is being sucked into a massive gravity well on an unknown Forerunner planet. After (crash) landing, the Chief uncovers a new threat to Earth and must do everything in his power and his ailing A.I. partner’s power to stop it.
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Title: Halo 4
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: 343 Industries
Platforms: Xbox 360
Release Date: November 6, 2012[/toggle_box]
- Catching Up: After years of being behind the curve of the current gen with Halo 3, ODST, and Reach, on a technical level, Halo 4 can finally be counted among many other technical achievements this gen. The visuals pop with gorgeous colors, detailed character and enemy design (especially in Master Chief’s case), and incredible art style. Where the sound is concerned, all of the weapons hit hard, and the sound in general is great. Props on the soundtrack, too.
- More Character Than Ever: Though everyone in the Halo universe can easily be marked as “likeable,” no one would ever be caught saying that any of the characters in the series are all that fleshed out. This time around, though, 343 has really made an effort to put some emotional oomph into the story – and they most definitely succeeded. I found myself caring more than ever about what would happen in the story, thanks to great voice acting, some good story telling, and nuanced facial expressions in all of the characters, courtesy of the incredible graphical upgrade the series has received.
- No More Flood: An added bonus that comes with the appealing new set of enemies to fight, the Promethains, comes the end of a rather boring part of the Halo universe – The Flood. They represented something of a step back in each game. Whereas the Covenant were crafty and worked together as a team, The Flood were brainless drones that simply charged forward and were more of an annoyance than a joy to fight. Good news: they’re gone.
- Intelligent A.I. – Along with the rejuvenated visuals, the A.I. is better than ever. The Covenant use their weapon’s abilities often to make things more difficult for Chief, but not in a cheap way. I found, for example, my vehicles being disabled by Plasma Pistol charge-blasts and stuck with Plasma Grenades a fair amount of times after driving recklessly into a firefight, which kept me on my toes. The Promethains are equally intelligent, with units that provide shields for their teammates and retreat upon being shot at, and heavier units that teleport out of your rifle’s crosshairs at lightning speed. As a result, the combat in the campaign is as intense as it’s ever been.
- The Multiplayer: It was hard for me to decide where to put this one, but it ultimately landed somewhere in the middle for me. Although it is great that the game is moving forward with customization load outs and some rewards for your killing sprees, the team at 343 didn’t do quite enough to make them all that unique, and, for the first time, I felt like Halo was doing more following and leading. It is still loads of fun, there just wasn’t a whole lot of innovation, which is out of character for such a series.
- The Story – This might seems like a direct contradiction to what I said above, but it really isn’t. Though there is a lot more character in the game and the story is, for the most part, great, there are a few stumbling blocks. For one, the Covenant’s return isn’t really explained at all, and the Brutes are nowhere to be seen. The ending, though emotionally moving on some levels, really is just kind of an ending, rather than a resolution. It’s no cliffhanger like Halo 2, but it certainly didn’t really wrap things up. 343 definitely has the right idea in making the game more story driven, though.
- Spartan OPS – These mini-missions are great to plunge into with a group of friends, but they really felt kind of stale after playing through the great campaign. They did manage to add something to the story, more content is never a bad thing, and these small missions will probably become more fleshed out as 343 continues to release them on a weekly basis, but they really didn’t feel overly inspired.
- Weapon Recoil – I have nothing wrong with the addition of weapon recoil in the game – it is a sign of evolution, if you ask me. However, you would think a 500-pound space marine capable of flipping a tank right-side up would be able to keep slightly more control over the recoil of his weapon. After just a few shots, my bullets were going all over the place. Without any real way to reduce the recoil, such as iron sights, the addition of weapon recoil proved to be both a good and bad thing.
- Checkpoints – Some may look at this as good and others as bad, but the checkpoints were really hit or miss. There were a few poorly placed checkpoints that had me replaying five-minute segments over and over again upon death. Other times, a checkpoint would pop right before a moment where I stood around, listening to people talk. Upon death, I would have to sit through it all over again. These problems became quite an irritant when the going got rough later in the campaign.
- Linearity – More than any Halo before this one, the campaign felt a little linear. There were hints of some of the larger sandboxes that players were treated to in earlier installments of the series, and the game by no means felt like a corridor shooter, but the levels were probably the most linear-feeling out of the series. This also had an impact on the usefulness of vehicles in some spots (e.g. none whatsoever), which was disappointing.
343 has achieved an impressive feat by taking on such a legendary franchise and making things work. They added something new, kept some things that worked, and spruced up what needed sprucing up. Though they still faltered in some areas, I think this may be the most enjoyable and unique Halo experience since ODST, which is a great thing. With a little more tweaking and some better-thought-out story threads, Halo will just keep getting better.
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Replay Value: 10
Excellent – This game is beyond amazing–it should be a mandatory purchase for every gamer. But it has some problems that prevent it from becoming a true masterpiece.[/toggle_box]