Halo 4 Review: Risks, Rewards, and Railguns

 

New rocks are especially noticeable when playing the new versions of Halo’s classic multiplayer maps, liberally rock-strewn. Fake rocks, though — multiplayer in Halo 4 is now furnished with a frame story, set in a virtual reality Spartan training facility on the USNC Infinity, which appears in the campaign. It’s hard to critique something that’s undergone so many refinements and iterations — as years go on, Halo multiplayer becomes less a game and more a sport, or a science — but Halo 4′s changes never obscure the things that made Halo so successful in the first place: pacing, tactical choice, and freedom of movement. A player who hadn’t touched a Halo game since the original could acclimate within 10 minutes. That’s not to say it doesn’t also embrace recent trends in online FPS gaming, like customizable load-outs, and the XP-purchased equipment they comprise.

The Infinity also houses the new “Spartan Ops” mode, an ambitious attempt to weld two popular notions — Horde mode and ongoing, episodic content — into one endless, time-consuming whole. If it proves to be the sum of its parts, it could be latest thing in cooperative multiplayer, but neither the action nor the story elements are particularly inspired. Co-op (and PVP) will be best played online; modern graphics and a narrow aspect ratio combine to make splitscreen action grainy and difficult to see.

That 343 Industries would conserve Halo’s core gameplay and hew closely to its painstaking mythology was never in doubt. With a conservator’s caution, however, the studio underplayed its newest, most original ideas, in favor of reverential imitation of the past and low-risk borrowing from the present; Spartan Ops exemplifies the latter neatly. So too the mech suit, the trendy color scheme, the simplified, familiar story, the mute, robotic Prometheans, and the multiplayer ordnance drops — all safe, boring choices. When 343 does take a creative risk, as it did in developing the characters of Cortana and Chief, the results prove worth it. If only it had done so more often. Going into a sequel with a reservoir of confidence, maybe it will.

 

Pros

  • The polish you expect from a Halo game: UI design, music, etc. — it’s all there
  • Standard-setting facial motion-capture should put the rest of the industry on notice
  • Strong voice performances bring the Chief, Cortana, and other characters to life
  • Classic gameplay made slicker than ever

Cons

  • Main story is unsatisfying and uninspired; new villain and enemies are bland
  • Not enough ideas that are a. new to Halo and b. new to gaming
  • Feels alternately dependent on the extended universe, or gearing up to sell you more of it
  • 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.

Final Score: 78/100

 

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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.