Halo 4 Review (Xbox360)

The only way to really approach a review of Halo 4 without it turning into a jumbled mess of thoughts and musings is to simply break the game down into its components. Halo 4 is a big deal to a lot of people – Microsoft, for obvious reasons, 343, as it’s their debut Halo game (made from scratch), and the multitudes of Halo fans who’ve been waiting for the return of Master Chief. Halo 4 can only really be judged as the sum of its parts - with the Campaign, War Games and Spartan Ops all being given a high degree of focus and attention, there’s certainly a lot on offer. Sadly, not all the parts are as good as the others.

Let us start then, with the obvious – the campaign. There’s no way to really sum up Halo 4’s solo (or co-op) narrative. When playing through it you’ll (probably) enjoy every minute: The Master Chief and his personality are given new life through his continuing relationship with a ‘dying’ Cortana, and the levels themselves are beautiful in their creation, while diverse in their setting. The new Promethean enemies present a real challenge to face, and even the Covenant manage to pull out some new tricks. There’s quite a few vehicle segments too (as well as a Starfox like section), which further add to the wide variety of challenges you and the Chief will face. In short, it is highly enjoyable and completely engaging when in the moment, but really it’s when you stop to think about what you’ve just experienced that the cracks begin to show.

The mantis is really cool, especially with the stomping thing

The more we think about it, the more certain design choices frustrate us. For starters, it’s disappointingly short: A ‘Normal’ run should take you about five hours, with ‘Heroic’ clocking in at just under 7, even with some choke points. Spread over eight levels (along with a prologue and an epilogue), this game doesn’t quite get to the point where it’s “over before it begins”, but so many elements aren’t really given room to breathe – the Diadact, for example: a potentially interesting foe, isn’t really felt as a menace because you hardly see him (or stuff being messed up because of him), and he just isn’t given time to develop. At least The Flood had the good fortune of being an immediate threat, and one that grew during the series through the Gravemind. So many other things, important things, are glossed over as well: The fact that there are Spartan IV’s now is just kind of accepted without comment, and there’s a conversation with a certain someone halfway through the game that’s supposed to explain everything and put the Diadact as a threat into proper context - but not nearly enough time is spent on it.

In this regard, we think the campaign relies a bit too much on some of the novels like the Forerunner Trilogy, or Karen Traviss’ Glasslands. On a personal note, I love the supporting novels (even If I think the stuff in the Forerunner trilogy is a bit naff. Ancient Humans – wtf?), but a game like Halo 4, with such a mass market appeal, shouldn’t really rely too much on things like this. Speaking with several other writers who were reviewing this game, and who were not as well informed on the lore as I am, they were even more confused as to what was going on. Ultimately I think it detracts from what is otherwise a potentially interesting tale. It’s hard to say more on this without divulging spoilers, but there are several potential threads that could have carried on into the next game that weren’t capitalised on as much as they could have. Basically, as good as the campaign is on the surface, Halo 4 doesn’t really feel like a game that’s setting up a new trilogy.

Halo 4’s ‘Infinity’ Multiplayer component is split into two halves. WarGames for the competitive side, and Spartan Ops for the co-operative. In a slightly unnecessary but seemingly well thought out move, this entire part of the game has been contextualised via the UNSC Infinity and the Spartan IV program. Your online career as a Spartan IV soldier has all of the usual traipse of persistent online profiles – levels, ranks, and the Halo-affinity for customized armour and emblems. Controlled through an easy to access and even easier to navigate central ‘hub’, you can define everything from weapon load outs, to aesthetics, to your service tag. As you go through the ranks you unlock ‘Spartan Points’, which at the time of writing seem to only be used for unlocking weapons and armour abilities as you go along. Not sure what they’re used for outside of that. Each Spartan can rank up to Level 50, whereby they then get to choose from one of currently eight ‘Specialisations’ – essentially, really cool and unique looking armour sets which come with a specific load out/play style that you have to use, and each of these specialisations also come with ten levels you can rank through.

The Promethean weapons don’t have a hell of a lot to distinguish them, but they hold up well in the absence of other weapons

All these little extra things, as well as the subtle gameplay improvements they made such as running being a permanent thing, supply drops to get extra weapons based on good performance, and many others really do give Halo multiplayer that extra push. It’s still Halo, by every stretch of the imagination, but it’s finally doing things other FPS giants have been taking for granted for years, and it’s all the better for it. The new game modes as well are also pretty interesting – Dominion is an excellent base capture game, with real bases and all. The Flood mode, a great homage to that most foul of foes, is basically a Zombie-mode in dress up, but still a lot of fun. The only thing we can really say at this point is that a lot of the premade maps seem a little on the small side, even ones for modes like Dominion that need space for all the bases. Obviously, with Forge present and as good as it has ever been, they’ll be a lot of user made maps (and there is that re-make of a Halo 3 level which is quite big) so perhaps this will be one of the things that improves over time.

The final mode – Spartan Ops, has the most potential. For those of you who aren’t quite aware what this is yet, this is essentially a replacement for ‘Firefight’ from the ODST/Reach days, and is basically Microsoft’s answer to Episodic Post-Release Content. Starting from the week of launch (initially), for ten weeks after that, ‘Episodes’ will be released every week featuring five chapters each. These episodes (which form ‘seasons’) tell the story of Fireteam Majestic, and some of the other characters from the Infinity introduced in the main campaign – which is probably why not a hell of a lot of time is spent on them In the campaign itself. We can only judge Spartan Ops based on the first episode (which is included on the disc), and so far it’s looking a little shaky. There are good production values surrounding it – the cutscene that introduces the first episode is really well made and really sets the tone for the chapters to come, however the chapters themselves are a little bit weak, despite having a lot of character to them.

Spartan Ops missions are only meant to be 10 – 15 minute bursts, so it’s fair to assume that doesn’t leave a lot of room for doing anything truly creative, but some of the chapters in the first episode are a bit dull. The first three levels are re-used portions of campaign missions, with the last two being unique. Most of the missions generally involve you clearing out the immediate area of enemies, which can get a tad boring after a while. Judging by some of the achievements however, future Episodes and chapters may get a bit more varied and interesting. However, that also speaks to 343 putting a lot of resources into making sure a lot of Spartan Op content was ready for launch, resources that could have been directed elsewhere. But regardless – the reality is that the first Episode, whilst a tad underwhelming, shows some promise for the Spartan Ops part of the game. It still stands as the best attempt at post-release episodic content we’ve seen yet, and its true worth remains to be seen.

Yeah, she has boobs now… but you don’t really notice it much

But now that we’ve broken it down, let us talk Halo 4 once again. 343 have a lot to be proud of here. Bungie’s legacy can’t have been an easy thing to follow, but the amount of care, attention and quality that’s evident does the studio credit. Yes – the campaign is probably the weakest element of the game on balance, and one needs to look towards future Spartan Ops episodes to see what will become of that mode, but taken as a package this is a game that Halo fans, including this Halo fan, can seriously enjoy. Plus, it looks amazing. Say what you want about how old the 360 is as a console, 343 has taken both its engine and Microsoft’s hardware to the limit, and combined with the new art style the vistas are just… wow.

Halo 4 raises just as many new questions as it answers, but the most important ones are – is it fun to play? Yes. Is it worth your money? Yes. The Master Chief’s journey is far from over, and despite this instalment’s shortcomings, 343 have got plenty of time to find their feet and take the series to new and greater heights. We kind of hope the whole trilogy isn’t going to be solely on the 360 – we dare imagine what a Halo game of the future looks like. The Reclaimer Trilogy is off to a respectable start, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Top Game Moment: There are so many good ‘moments’ in this game, it’s hard to choose. Multiplayer is pretty fun too. Also: Railgun.

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By barbz3 (I just got here) on Nov 02, 2012
7 hours to complete the 'Heroic' campaign is very disappointing.