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.