Halo 4 Review: Risks, Rewards, and Railguns
Halo 4 begins with Master Chief waking from cryosleep, a four-year hibernation in space that mirrors his five-year absence from Xbox disc drives. In true Halo fashion, this is followed by an (at times literally) headlong rush from one crisis to the next. The first crisis: a dramatic crash-landing on Requiem, a “Shield World” built by the ominous, long-extinct Forerunner species.
Though not sponsored by Red Bull, the player’s vertigo-inducing fall to the planet’s surface is a triumph of first-person storytelling — debris hurtles toward the screen as Chief plummets ever-downward. If only the rest of the game lived up to the beginning. Instead, the story that ensues is conventional, predictable, and turgid. A lack of excitement, however, is not entirely 343′s fault; Master Chief has been saving all sentient life in the entire galaxy for so long (11 years) that it’s starting to become mundane. You can’t raise the stakes when Bungie already went all-in.
Platforms: Xbox 360
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Games
Released: November 6th, 2012
Still, matters aren’t helped by the game’s main adversary, a cartoon villain of little charisma and the tiresome habit of delivering not-so-cryptic homilies directly into Master Chief’s helmet. Except for the bare minimum provided by the game, the context and motives for his murderous plots are largely found in Halo’s burgeoning expanded universe. Halo 4′s narrative simply takes for granted that players remember the Forerunners’ million-year history in detail — a foolish assumption. Even within the game itself, questions are raised and never answered, and plot holes filled with the dirt made from digging other plot holes. A more complete picture may of course follow in the form of DLC, books, and sequels.
Thanks in part to its magnificent motion capture — Halo 4 delivers the least-uncanny, most-emotive faces to date — the game tells other, smaller-scale, human stories. These include Chief’s contentious relationship with a martinet USNC captain, or the stoic compassion he shows a shell-shocked archaeologist, but they center around the relationship between the hulking Spartan and Cortana, his AI companion. Developed over three previous games, their bond is tested by Cortana’s “Rampancy,” a kind of digital dementia. When Halo 4 puts aside the imminent apocalypse and focuses on its two protagonists, it shines.