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.
- 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
- 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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