Halo 4: The Kotaku Review

I’ve never seen Halo like this before. Halo 4 is emotional, something I’ve never felt from the franchise quite like this. Sure, invested fans will protest and say that the lore is fascinating and the war struggles moving, but I can safely say I’ve never sat through a Halocampaign quite at the edge of my seat like I have in the first title by 343 Industries.

People, especially gamers, seem to be afraid of change. That’s understandable when it comes to the Halo franchise.

Halo is a legacy. When Bungie introduced the sci-fi, first-person shooter franchise over a decade ago, it wowed fans with a perfect formula of alien creatures and versatile weapons. People obsessed over the game’s multiplayer modes, playing iterations that were years old, even after new titles in the series were released. Halo sold Xboxes. It’s a household name, and for good reason.

So change seems like it would be scary. Like it might ruin the integrity of something that’s formed such an impressive community. Hardcore Halo fans can rest assured that 343 has stayed true to the core of Halo, and I urge them to keep an open mind when confronted by its new skin.

Because that skin is beautiful. It’s cinematic, and features lovely music. Cut scenes look absolutely phenomenal, with performance capture done so well that I sometimes confuse the rendered characters for real, live actors. The soundtrack, by Massive Attack’s Neil Davidge, is expectedly wonderful, and the realistic sound effects are a delightful surprise. The crunch and squeaks of Master Chief’s armor as he moves around, and the hazardous hum of damaged vehicles are little details that go a long way.

343’s take on the franchise humanized what was up until now mainly just a really fun, well-made series of games.

Master Chief is an icon, in both our world and the Halo world. He’s a super soldier and the people of the future look to him for safety and assurance. When he walks through those doors, there’s a sense of ease that washes over the other soldiers. Everything will be okay now.

I have never felt that connection to Master Cheif like I have in Halo 4. But I’ve also never been able to see under his helmet, at the kind of person he has to be to maintain the hero status. If you read all the Halo novels and get really invested in the Halo culture, you’ll know that it’s a struggle to carry the weight of the universe on your conscience. But this was something that never quite came across in the video games.

Halo 4’s single player campaign feels like two stories. It’s a story about war and the introduction of a new species of enemies: the Prometheans. It’s a story about a fanatical sect of the Covenant that, ignoring the peace treaty set during previous games, are fighting humans again. It’s a story with religious subtext and dense lore. But it’s also a story about Master Chief, a human who can barely connect with humanity anymore, as he is so strongly focused on carrying out his obligations that he doesn’t allow himself any other response to tragedy other than a devotion to eradicating it. And it’s a story about Cortana, who has stuck by Master Chief for years. Their relationship is a strong one. It might be the last shred of any sense of normalcy Master Chief has left. This half of the story lends itself to Halo 4’s emotional side. And it is a fascinating and lovely experience.

The other side of the story of Halo 4—that dense lore—is hard to approach. New concepts and names are thrown at you in such rapid succession that it’s difficult to follow along. I imagine this will be especially hard on newcomers, who might have a vague understanding of the sci-fi universe they are entering, only to get bombarded by such inaccessible lore.

This is unfortunate, because I really want to love the Prometheans’ backstory. So I can’t help but feel that Halo 4 does a disservice to players who are new to the franchise by rattling off so many new concepts without giving proper time or context to digest it all. I suspect even veterans of the games might find it difficult to parse the information as fast as the game is shoving it down your throat. The Covenant’s reemergence as a threat, for instance, was confusing. Certain parts of the story aren’t explained well, and it’s easy to get lost in new characters and abstract concepts that the game hurries to explain, and then just as quickly abandons.

Fortunately, digging into the Spartan Ops—solo or cooperative missions that will release weekly in tandem with cinematic episodes—reveal more detailed information that will hopefully help explain the campaign’s thick storyline. Unfortunately, I found the Spartan Ops missions to be fairly boring. I played five missions, each better than the last, but they didn’t interest me beyond functioning as another way to gain experience and therefore access new guns, abilities and perks. I can’t speak to how much you can learn more about the behind the scenes stories, because the first week’s content was severely limited and dry. I admire that 343 will release new episodes every week, but so far they’ve been mainly lengthy chores of killing waves of enemies with forgettable plot lines.

But what of the basic structure of the game itself? Is that formula of grunts, elites and jackals still respected? Are all your favorite guns included?

Halo 4 still feels like a Halo game. It’s full of Banshees and battle rifles. It has impressive setpieces. Some of the multiplayer maps are even recreated—or at least inspired by—classic Halo maps. Halo 4 is proof that 343 is clearly in tune with what fans love about the Halo franchise. But, as I’ve said, gamers are afraid of change. So the addition of ordnance drops in multiplayer—basically a bonus given to players who do well during a match—might not be desirable to you. I think it works. You might not. That’s fair.

Of course, you can tweak and customize multiplayer rounds to your liking, even opting to play around with ordnance options. There are a plethora of modes to enjoy, as well. I was particularly fond of the Flood mode, which pits a few players as Flood and most as human Spartans. As you kill the Spartans, they become infected and fight until there’s only one man left standing. In first-person shooters, it’s not uncommon for the community to take it upon themselves to invent their own game modes, listing out rules and relying on the honor code from players to carry it out, effectively creating their own unwritten mode. This Flood mode is a multiplayer game born of one such community-made mode from Halo 2, so it’s nice to see 343 giving that community a nod. The other multiplayer modes range from the classic Team Slayer, which pits the red team against the blue team, to Oddball, where the goal is to hold onto the ball the longest. Every mode had me cursing and giggling simultaneously. Granted, my experience may have been the most optimal, as I was in a room with roughly nine others, all of us calling out playfully to one another in the competitive environment.

But 343 has added exciting new single player gameplay options, too. Like the addition of mechs. Even if their placement in the single player campaign is a rarity, it’s very exciting to hop in an armored suit to shoot rockets and stomp enemies with your metal feet. In fact, there wasn’t much of an emphasis on vehicles in general, though you do get to play around with the Pelican aircraft. I have fond memories of flying around in space battles in Halo: Reach, and though flying missions do reappear in the latest title, they don’t feel as emphasized (or as cool as that space battle). They’re more like quick intermissions between main events.

Prometheans as a new enemy class are more annoying than I expected. They’re cowards. They immediately flee as soon as you shoot them. I expect AI to react to my threat, ducking under cover as needed. But I didn’t expect to play hide and seek with them. A few of these species are more aggressive than others, warping in front of your face with the protection of their tough shells of armor. But others—especially the service-type species that can heal the other Prometheans—dart away from your line of sight and stay hidden. Though fighting them grew stale very quickly, picking up their weapons was not. The design of the Promethean weapons is impressive, even doing a neat trick where the gun disassembles and then reassembles itself to reload. From shotguns to snipers to rifles and pistols, every gun feels great in my hands. I always prefer alien weapons in Halo games, but these new, orange/red-glowing weapons trump even the Covenant’s stock.

There are a few issues to pick out in Halo 4, whether they’re to do with the storyline or gameplay. But my experience with Halo 4 was an enjoyable one. The campaign held my interest as I watched Cortana and Master Chief’s emotions unfold. Missions were fun. Multiplayer is diverse and just as fast paced and unique a first-person shooter multiplayer experience as I have come to expect from the series. As afraid as you may be of Bungie passing the torch to a new development team to handle a franchise that has the foundation of years of quality behind it, I strongly urge you to keep an open mind for Halo 4, because you just may enjoy it as much as I did.


Comments

    Campaign is amazing will Definantely resonate well with all halo fans :) can't wait for Xbox live multiplayer to take off

    I am loving all the Halo 4 reviews going up so far, gets me mega excited.

    Also, Mark reviewing?! Love it, chief.

      It was a mistake. Sorry! We have to manually rip all stories from ther tumblr at the moment because the US is under water!

    Damn that robot looks a lot like a mini Metal Gear Rex,

    Emotional storytelling? PUMP IT INTO MY VEINS.

    Yo Mr Serrels. That bottom section with the quotes etc is incredibly small. Hard to read even. Any chance of a size upgrade?
    It's not just me right? It's tiny for others?

    Last edited 01/11/12 6:26 pm

      You can click to embiggen if you like.

      Last edited 01/11/12 6:29 pm

        Ahh so you can. Thank you kind sir. Was so used to them just being readable normally heh.

          Yeah I had to open it up in a separate window. Maybe just lay off the "BOLD" :\

      its tiny for me too. had to do the ol' cmd + zoom. not sure if there is a windows equivalente

    HALO 4!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I am going to use my time well, so well...

    It really is this fucking good. Best part? Of all things, the soundtrack.

      Massive Attack’s Neil Davidge

      It was never, ever going to be anything short of amazing.

        but man, it's so....hollywood. Like, Skyrim was good, but this, there are constant points where you just stop and think, shit, this would be a movie if it looked better.

    I'm so excited for this for two reasons, I just finished Dark Souls and need something else I can sink hours and hours into, and I preordered the limited edition and i just want to delve into the great story

    I have also listened to the soundtrack at least 5 times...

    "When Bungie introduced the sci-fi, first-person shooter franchise over a decade ago"

    No. Perfect Dark? Unreal? HALF LIFE?
    How do you forget those games?

      That's not what they meant. They meant that Bungie introduced the Halo franchise.

    HAIL TO THE CHIEF, BABY.

    Since this'll be a trilogy, I wonder if they've set the bar too high for the other games.. then again, Halo 2 was amazeballs, so perhaps Halo 5 will be even.. better. If that's possible.

      Halo 2 had a massive cliffhanger. If they do that in Halo 5, I'll flip tables.

    I'm still annoyed at the stepback for the shield HUD, removal of health and adding in bleedthrough again.
    I'm also worried that it's going to be another, "one-gun only" game again and that the bloom on the automatic weapons make them too much of a close range niche. Especially after learning how to use them at mid and long range.

    Thanks for the surprisingly sober review. It wasn't full of hyperbole or hype. I'm actually interested in the game now, might get it when the price drops a little.

      I'm kind of pissed she mentioned the pelican stuff.

      No one knew about that mission in reach, and it was a great surprise... her habit of posting spoilers continues it seems.

    OMG I just found Halo 4 on Beat The Bomb for $44.44
    Looks like I'll be cranking this next week :D

    Really looking forward to sitting down and playing this with my Spartan Helmet I will be getting with it! :D

    More emotional storytelling than previous games? Hells yes! Nearly through Cryptum, want to finish Primordium before I start playing Halo4, and struggling to find enough time... Damn AC3 for being so amazing...

    The space battle in Halo Reach felt really dull and unengaging to me, compared to the likes of Freespace 2. The objectives were cookie-cutter, the combat was very simplistic and there wasn't even a cockpit view option, which is space sim blasphemy to me. Never understood the praise it got, except for the visuals.

    The review states chief can fly a Pelican in the campaign, but I'm guessing there's no cockpit camera there either?. It's just not exciting flying a vehicle locked into a 3rd-person only perspective, at least not after the first few minutes. The Falcon rescue mission in Reach is a great example of this. You have to have 1st-person as well to add depth and give players the sense of being IN the vehicle, like in Battlefield 3 where you switch between views depending on the situation.

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