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Halo 4 Review

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On 11/25/2012 at 07:33 PM by Julian Titus , Travis Hawks

PixlBit brings a Halo newbie and a veteran together to cover every aspect of Halo 4.

This is a must-purchase for Halo fans. It's not the great jumping on point for new players, but still a thrilling experience for the uninitiated.

Confession time: I’m a Halo noob, having only completed Halo 3 and played the first two games for a few hours each prior to this review. But that’s okay, because it’s a brand new day in the Halo universe, right? We have the first chapter in an all-new trilogy featuring everyone’s favorite Master Chief, and it’s also the first mainline game by 343 Industries (taking the reins from Halo creators Bungie). This should be the perfect jumping-on point for new players, while giving stalwart fans more of the game they love. That’s the dream, anyway. The reality is a bit different.

Halo 4 wastes no time throwing old and new fans into the action. It begins right after Master Chief’s ship gets damaged at the end of Halo 3, and then it’s only a matter of minutes before players are mowing down Covenant enemies with the assault rifle, magnum, and needler. The first hour of Halo 4 is intense, and once the Chief finds himself on the very alien world of Requiem it becomes clear that he’s far from home...

...Or is he? As excited as I was to have a new story with Master Chief a stranger in a strange land—something that I as a relatively new player could identify with—the reality is that if you’ve played Halo before you’ve done a lot of this before. The Covenant comprise the bulk of the enemy forces, and even though I only played all the way through Halo 3 I was very comfortable with the various encounters. They bring little new to the table beyond some trickier battle tactics, and with the obvious omission of the Brutes, things seem just a little on the breezy side at times. The new and much hyped Promethians help mix up the tried and true Halo sandbox formula, but there are really only three new enemy types. The Promethian Knights are terrifying the first couple of times they show up, but once you figure out a sound tactic for them a lot of the “newness” of Halo 4 wears off.

That shouldn’t suggest that the combat in Halo 4 isn’t incredible, because it very much is. I tend to find a particular gun that I’m comfortable with in FPS games, opting to go at a methodical pace and picking off enemies a couple at a time. Halo 4 constantly pushes you to be aggressive, staying mobile and rapidly discarding empty weapons for the closest gun dropped by a fallen enemy. It becomes a game of tactics that evolve from second to second, and managing a crowd of bloodthirsty Covenant and Promethians is thrilling in a way that I haven’t experienced since, well, Halo 3.

You’ll get some new toys this time around, mainly in the form of Promethian weapons. These otherworldly guns are a sight to behold, with designs unlike anything I can recall in a shooter. The unique reloading animations go a long way to disguise the fact that this alien ordinance fills the normal shooter roles of pistol, machine gun, shotgun, etc. The new weapons are a missed opportunity to do something truly fresh and original, much like the Promethians themselves.

Armor abilities have been tweaked from their implementation in Halo: Reach, but many of their applications are best utilized in multiplayer or in the co-op campaign. As a single player experience I found few of these power ups to be very useful. They can add another level of tactics beyond the normal gun/grenade/melee loop that Halo is known for, but again I feel that 343 missed a chance to do something game changing to the Halo formula.

The main missed opportunity, especially as a neophyte when it comes to Halo lore, would be the story. Halo 4 does very little to bring the player up to speed, and always assumes that since you’re playing the fourth entry in a series that you already know everything that’s come before.

I’ve absorbed Halo lingo like Forerunners, Reclaimer, and such by paying loose attention to the series over the years, but so much of the Halo 4 story feels like it’s playing to the truly dedicated fanbase that most of it went over my head. The Covenant are never shown to be anything more than cannon fodder, and the Promethians have no personality or purpose beyond their leader, a character that’s introduced in a way that makes you think you should already know who he is.

Perhaps you do if you’ve been following every bit of Halo fiction in the past, but I expected much more from the first chapter in a new story. Hidden terminals reveal more of the backstory, but these videos can only be accessed through Halo Waypoint, which is needlessly convoluted. Imagine having to pause BioShock to listen to those all-important audio logs at a website outside of the game experience and you have a good idea of how 343 chose to tell the Halo 4 narrative.

Thankfully, the personal interactions between Master Chief and his AI companion Cortana save the day. Their conflict is explained in great detail at the outset, and watching their relationship grow more and more urgent as the game goes on was impressive. Jen Taylor nails the struggle of Cortana and brings a sense of humanity to the character, balancing the somewhat cardboard personality of the Master Chief well. I may have come to Halo 4 for Requiem, but I stayed for Cortana.

I would be remiss in talking about what a gorgeous game 343 has crafted. Every bit of Halo 4 is awash in color and detail, and parts of the game had me questioning my desire for the next generation of consoles. The facial animation is among the best I’ve seen this generation, adding weight to some of the more poignant moments in the story. Requiem is full of stunning vistas that had me distracted from my objective on multiple occasions. It’s such a beautifully constructed environment that ranges from rocky mountains and dense jungles to alien structures that feel unified in their architecture. Requiem gives a real sense of place, and that’s something I don’t see as often as I’d like in video games.

While I was slightly disappointed that Halo 4 wasn’t the great jumping-on point that I was hoping it would be, it’s still a highly enjoyable experience that any shooter fan would be foolish to miss. The gorgeous graphics, haunting soundtrack, and precise, unpredictable combat scenarios come together to form a great first effort from 343 Industries. I even love the multiplayer, and I normally hate multiplayer shooters with a passion. But I’ll let my colleague Travis talk about that, as he’s much more qualified to do so.

-Julian Titus

Halo players can be extraordinarily critical with every new release.  Ever since grenade throwing was nerfed in Halo 2, the internet has always longed for the way things used to be.  There’s always plenty of grousing about what was ruined in the campaign, but where Halo’s developers always face the greatest scrutiny is in the execution of multiplayer.  With the transition from Bungie to 343 Industries, many were worried that the beloved franchise’s multiplayer matches would deserve a collective tea-bagging of galactic proportions.  Well, hold off on those downward lunges, fellas, ‘cause 343 did an amazing job with Halo 4’s multiplayer.

You would think that with Call of Duty taking away Halo’s online dominance years ago that the franchise would either copy liberally or keep doing the same old thing and hope for the best.  Halo 4, however, has prudently continued to incorporate the best ideas from other games and blended them with all the parts people love about Halo.  Halo 4 continues to use an XP system just like we saw in Reach, but it’s now more straightforward and much more addictive.  They’ve perfected the slow leak of unlocks for playing games, doing well in games, and completing specific tasks.  Albeit silly, I’m sure many of us are working hard to unlock green face shields by splattering enough opponents in vehicles.

343 also borrowed from the point-based scoring of Battlefield 3 to reward players that help out their team even if their kill tally is low. This is a special benefit to those of us who always start off our latest FPS doing pretty poorly and are happy to help out a bro, but aren’t so hot at finishing off our targets for a while. With the point-based system, I was still able to get assist, distraction, and other awards during the long lulls between actual kills.  Even the different types of kills have varied points, with headshots, plasma grenade sticks, and warthog squashings resulting in different scores.  All of those different points roll into your team’s total to help you gain a victory, but also add to your XP reward at the end of the round.  You’re very incentivized to do well and unlock more and more useful (and aesthetic) rewards.

At first blush, it also seems like Halo ditched its traditional 1 vs. 1 deathmatch mode in favor of entirely team-based matches to keep up with today’s hotness.  Well, it’s still there but tweaked to give point bonuses to those who take out the current “king” who has a bounty marker trailing him.  Other Halo classics like Oddball and King of the Hill have survived but are now team-based, which is a little disappointing, but does force me to change the tactics I’ve been using in these matches for a decade.  Capture the flag seems to have made it in almost completely unchanged, if you must have something to latch on to from the good ol’ days.

The primary game types people seem to be digging into is Infinity Slayer and Big Team Infinity Slayer, which are both the team deathmatch affairs that everyone loves these days.  The maps for each of these types are as well designed as ever, and allow for great firefights on foot and in vehicles.  The new mech-like Mantis fits in nicely with the Warthogs and Ghosts that have been around forever.  Every inch of these maps has that classic Halo design, but are laid out in new and different ways, forcing everyone to develop new techniques.  They’re pretty much everything a Halo player could ask for.

Battlefield fans will be happy to know that it is getting even more flattering imitation with the new Dominion matches, where each team tries to capture and hold locations on the map.  New twists on the Battlefield formula have been added, like sentry guns activating to defend a station you’ve held onto for a while and shields popping up on a few of the passageways leading to the defended area.  This is the sort of copying that I can get behind: improving on the source material.

There are also less traditional game modes like Flood, where you try to keep from being infected by player-controlled flood nasties.  Should you get infected, you swap over to the Flood team and try to take out the remaining Spartans.  It’s a challenge to remain un-infected, but once you do it’s a blast to leap to crazy heights and swing your gooey appendages at the remaining Spartans.  The Flood matches are some of the more frantic games I’ve played, and I think it’s a great new addition to the menu.

Even though you can finally whip a flood-infected arm around, the classic Halo weapons are still the primary offensive measures in most game types with a few other brand new options, courtesy of the Prometheans.  There doesn’t seem to be any weapons that are overpowered, and people that have unlocked the higher level arms aren’t mopping up the other team with their Promethean tech.  The new deployments that can drop down once you rack up enough kills that provide special weapons or skill boosts that will help you gain a slight edge don’t seem to be game-breakers either.  These are far from the map-clearing air raids certain other games have employed. 

There is simply a ton of finely tuned, highly polished content out there for the multiplayer FPS fan, and that’s just in the typical matches.  There’s also the Spartan Ops option that pits you and a few comrades up against a series of objectives, like clearing out an area of Covenant troops and destroying communication devices.   There are additional “episodes” of these missions planned for release and this feature was touted as one of the big draws to Halo 4.  Sadly, it’s one of the least exciting.  The missions are decently fun, but nothing as heart-pounding as previous games’ Firefight mode, and the narrative laid atop these outings is just weak.  I’ve got no problem with Spartan Ops being there since there’s already plenty to be enamored with from the typical competitive matches, but I’m certainly not anticipating the next chapter in the series either.

If the idea of just more Halo wasn’t enough to get you to purchase Halo 4 on launch day, then there’s a good chance they’ve made enough tweaks and improvements that it’s a safe bet for even the most uncertain of buyers.  I’ve only dabbled in the Halo-verse since Halo 2, but I find myself really compelled to keep coming back to Halo 4.  I know that part of it is that alluring XP, but that’s only pulling me in because earning the XP is so much fun.  So set aside those hipster doubts you have about Halo and come join the rest of us having just as much fun as we did ten years ago.

-Travis Hawks

Editor's Note: Julian gave the campaign 4 stars, while Travis gave the multiplayer 5 stars, resulting in our 4.5 star score.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Our Take

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

11/25/2012 at 10:53 PM

I agree completely with Julian and how the story is told in a way that assumes you know exactly who everyone is and what's going on, even if you've been following everything closely.  This has been a consistent problem with the series, probably hitting its peak with that Gravemind monologue that made sense to three or four people.  I will give 343 massive credit for not only making the CG look great in the cutscenes, but for getting voice acting talent involved that is actually talented.  They've started to humanize the characters a bit and begun to bring in some of the more fascinating elements of the Halo universe.  They've made some big improvements in the storytelling department, but still have more to do to really nail it.

I will disagree with Julian a little and say that I was still a little freaked out every damn time I had to fight another Promethean Knight.  If you didn't have an adequate weapon available, they could be pretty rough.  

Our Take

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

11/25/2012 at 11:30 PM

I too echo Julian's comments. thats my primary gripe w/ the campaign, since im not well versed in Halo lore. It did achieve getting me to care more about Chief, and Cortana especially. Otherwise, the gameplay is solid, and the multiplayer is extremely fun. I definitely give it a thumbs up.

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