Halo 4 Review: Risks, Rewards, and Railguns

 

You can’t leave an apocalypse unattended for long, however. Halo campaigns have always set a standard for sheer pace, and Halo 4′s gameplay is a relentless series of firefights. Piloting vehicles, a pleasure in the past, is again a stand-out; 343 nails breakneck Ghost escapes, Banshee dogfights, and a diverting level spent hopping on and off the vehicle pictured above as if it were a cruise ship of mass destruction. The game also pays a number of winking homages to popular sequences in earlier Halos.

Combat on foot delivers familiar carnage. Halo has always provided its enemies with simple, but effective AI, making them challenging without being cheap, and players will enjoy wading into the Covenant once again. New “Promethean” adversaries come with their own array of weaponry and unique tactics; doglike Crawlers, flying Watchers, and towering Knights combine to deadly effect. Unfortunately, they lack the grunting, squawking personality of the Covenant — or any personality at all — and the Knights’ ability to simply materialize out of thin air makes them feel like a gimmick, and less like real enemies to be feared and anticipated around the next corner. With the Covenant returned to their Halo 1 “enemy goon” status, they’re all just things in Master Chief’s way.

Not that Master Chief would have much trouble with such trifling military challenges. Too often, however, he spends his time as a kind of heavily armed forensic repairman, turning alien devices on, fixing their power sources when they break immediately after being turned on, and generally spending time holding the X button to hit bright green switches. The game constantly uses the presence of gigantic, malfunctioning sci-fi doo-dads — two radio towers, say, each with three attunement cores that must be destroyed — as a substitute for dramatic tension, an approach that is rarely dramatic and wears out its welcome quickly. Cortana tries gamely to explain the technical details, but by her second sentence most players will be focused on blowing away the robot machine gun dogs between them and the next waypointed switch.

At least the doo-dads look great; 343 preserves the franchise’s impressive art direction. Despite an over-reliance on the electric blue/burnt orange contrast, modern gaming’s most inexplicably omnipresent visual trope, the environments are both immense in scale and littered with captivating detail. It seems unbelievable that developers are still wringing fresh graphical juice out of an aging console, but the Halo 4 team has apparently been busy. Jungle areas are defined not only by the abundance of leaves but by the appearance of life. Though there are many cavernous chambers gleaming with Forerunner machinery, a more rickety human-built space station provides an Alien-inspired change of scenery. Even the rocky walls and outcroppings show a carefully-chosen variety of fine-grained textures. Given such great design, it’s almost a shame that the pace is so unrelenting. Emotion and tension build instantly the few times the player is allowed to jog, admire the environment, and listen to the score.

Join the Conversation   

* required field

By submitting a comment here you grant GameFront a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate or irrelevant comments will be removed at an admin's discretion.

7 Comments on Halo 4 Review: Risks, Rewards, and Railguns

Ed

On November 7, 2012 at 4:56 am

I’m not sure that it’s reasonable to list the xbox’s age as a con. The graphics should be listed as pro in my opinion as they get more out of the console than anyone could have expected. I’m halfway through the campaign and even as a veteran of all the games in the series I am a bit overwhelmed and annoyed by the dense lore that the story is hidden under. I do really like the new enemies though. I think the game does a good job of making them seem fearsome by making the elites at the start of the game weaker than usual. Having said that, the game takes an hour or so to really get going. I’m hoping the main antagonist becomes more interesting as the game goes on but it seems to me like they’ve sacrificed a great villain in favour of the Cortana-Chief story, which I don’t mind too much. And Jen Taylor deserves so much credit for her awesome performance of an average script.

Online is much better than I expected. The COD-esque elements don’t taint the experience really and sprint now seems vital. The game is so well balanced too and I just hope that as the game gets older it can stay that way and not give massive advantage to players who spend their lives playing it! My one gripe would be not having a skill based ranking system as well as the XP one.

All in all though I would give it a higher score than this, maybe an 85 and most importantly I think 343 have done a fantastic job on their first Halo game and I wouldn’t bet against Halo 5 being the best in the series.

Dan Miller

On November 7, 2012 at 11:01 am

I’ve now spent about 2 hours in campaign and 4 hours in multiplayer. They really deserve to be addressed separately.

Campaign: Good so far. Environments are beautiful, good job changing pace and location frequently enough to be interesting, and hardly a cake walk on the higher difficulties even in the first couple missions. Plot wise, I like that this is (so far) the most emotional entrant into the series. If Halo 1 – 3 are about the universe, with Chief as the guide/conduit to the surroundings, Halo 4 makes it clear that 4-6 are going to be about the protagonists and the way events have shaped their relationships. But they’ve really stretched this plot as far as it can go before they need a serious emotional trigger such as killing off Chief or Cortana. Mass Effect tilled the futuristic Sci – Fi, recurring universal catastrophic event ground pretty thoroughly already, and Halo is about halfway through a plot arc to get to the same point Mass Effect 3 got to. And we’ve ended every single Halo game on a cliff hanger, aside from Reach. This series needs to speed up or it will lose it’s credibility.

Multiplayer: Halo 4 strikes the correct balance of catering to the hardcore and to the casual – armor abilities, ordinance, and unlockable-by-experience elements (the CoD toppings) are there and make the game more entertaining for the largest audience, the casual player. For big team slayer and “infinity slayer”, the games that resemble CoD most similarly in terms of disparity of coordination and unity of team member goals (kill kill kill), these are improvements. For where hardcore Halo fans want to be playing (slayer pro, objective game types), those toppings are gone or dramatically toned down, leaving the map control and weapon/vehicle balance that was a hallmark of the series before Reach. I don’t like that team objective and slayer pro appear to be unranked, a nod to CoD’s wild-west matchmaking approach. But I suspect there is a “hidden” ranking system that will become more obvious as time goes on, and by next week the game will be putting players against similarly skilled opponents.

Still pretty early, but I’d say the game is tracking to wind up at between a 7 and a 9 for me. The thing with the Halo games is that , as a package, the emphasis has really changed dramatically over time. Halo 1 was a pure campaign experience by design, though I spent infinitely more time in LAN setups with friends. Halo 2 and 3 focused primarily on multiplayer, and they did a fantastic job, but the campaigns were unspectacular and don’t stand up well today against the stories in Mass Effect or Half Life. ODST was a great campaign but had no true deathmatch multiplayer, and Reach was the best campaign of the series, but the worst multiplayer. Halo 4 has a chance to be the strongest overall package we’ve seen since Halo 2, but it is too early to tell.

Jay

On November 7, 2012 at 2:07 pm

As a highly jaded & longtime Halo fan, who’s watched the series slowly degenerate from title to tile, helding Halo: Combat Evolved on a pedestal next to games like Half Life 2, Mass effect 2, and Portal… I can’t agree with most of these cons.

The main story is the best in any Halo title, by miles. Pacing, variety, and narrative. It is quite dependent on the extended fiction and the prior games. So if you’ve never read any of the novels or at the very least played Halo 1 through 3, I can definitely see people getting lost or having a lot of questions. But, if you’re one of those people who is “in the know”, the story is amazing.

The new enemies are definitely not “bland” though, there just isn’t quite as much variety to them as there is the Covenant. They are definitely different from Elites, and even more difficult to take out.

Not enough new ideas? Drastically improved narrative delivery, new enemies, ordinance drops, new multiplayer modes, episodic content, load-outs… Not sure what else you can possibly introduce here… Either way, I better see the same thing said about future Call of Duty titles, otherwise I’ll just label you all absurd hypocrites.

Knocking graphics compared to PC’s is not even fair… For a 360 game Halo 4 looks very impressive.. I own a gaming PC with a GTX 680, which has 16 times more graphical horsepower. For aging hardware and the scope of environments, Halo 4 is one of the most visually impressive games on the 360 when you take in the whole package. Yes, some textures are noticeably low-res, but what do you expect with big open environments and set pieces in play? It’s not a glorified corridor crawl.

Rigatoni

On November 8, 2012 at 9:54 am

@ Ben Richardson
For all the pros you’ve stated, I would have to agree with you, especially with the music in campaign. I’m still half way done, but the music is sticking out to me. The music stands out, though I miss Martian O’Donnell (if this is spelled correctly) use of singing monks. I agree on the reliance of the expanded universe, but I do like that there is a connection between books and games. If the campaign had a clearer sense to explain to Chief or players who haven’t read the books, like whats a Didact? Whats a Librarian? Because when Chief meets Didact for the first time, I expect Chief to indicate: “Who the hell are you?” or wouldn’t the Didact want a status update about the galaxy: such as know about the status of the Flood? Some guardian.
At this point I can’t think of what else to say. Overall I think Halo 4 is a good game, but this is coming from a fan.
One more question, this can be asked to all reviewers about any game, when reviewing games do you think its necessary to give a score based on numbers? Would it change reader’s opinion if the ups and downs were given, but no number at the end?

James

On November 8, 2012 at 1:56 pm

In my opinion, none of those cons listed hold true.

“Main story is unsatisfying and uninspired; new villain and enemies are bland”
The only reason someone would feel this way is if he or she was a fan of action rather than narrative.

“Not enough ideas that are a. new to Halo and b. new to gaming”
There are plenty of additions new to Halo. Maybe not the gaming world, but certainly Halo.

“Feels alternately dependent on the extended universe, or gearing up to sell you more of it”
Would you rather the game just take off in a new direction? Maybe completely forget about all of those books? What you want is for 343i to create even more Halo lore rather than expand upon pre-existed info.

“The graphics are as good as can be expected, but the growing power of Halo’s PC competitors make the XBOX look and feel outdated. This is especially noticeable during splitscreen play, or while enduring long level load-times.”
You’re really going to compare console gaming to PC gaming? Apples and oranges, man. Apples and oranges.

Ben Richardson

On November 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm

@Rigatoni You raise an interesting question about scores. Opinion is divided among the Game Front editorial staff about their efficacy, and at this moment we are actively preparing a guide to how our scoring system works. Hopefully, when it is published, it will provide the necessary clarity.

Davis

On November 12, 2012 at 6:02 am

Good thing Jim Sterling didn’t write the review for this site. He’d probably call it derivative and say it’s made no progress from the others and give it 3/10, then give Call of Duty Black Ops 2 11/10 and call people ‘trolls’ or ‘man-babies’ for pointing out the hypocrisy. Why he’s hired on this site is beyond me when he contributes no professional insight and only dogma and partisan belief systems. You’re better than Jim Sterling, as this objective and reasoned review further proves.