Halo 4 (Xbox 360)

November 14th, 2012 by

Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Genre: Sci-Fi FPS
Players: 1-2 for campaign, 2-4 for single-console multiplayer, 2-16 online
Console: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
Hours Played: 6 hours 47 minutes in campaign, 14+ hours in multiplayer
Progress: Completed the campaign doing the first 3 chapters in Heroic and the last few in Normal. Reached SR 19 in online multiplayer.  Played a good deal of local multiplayer including a lot of Grifball.

The reins for the famous Halo series were handed over to 343 Industries from Bungie after their polarizing release of Halo Reach in 2010.  The release of 343's first main series Halo game was met with considerable hesitation from the gaming community, which is understandable considering how this is one of the first AAA game series to completely and permanently switch development studios in modern gaming history.  Some people were worried that 343 might tarnish their beloved series falling short of Bungie's original magic, while others were hopeful that the switch might cure the Halo series of the stagnation it was experiencing in the hands of its creators.  Is Halo 4 a step in the right direction for Microsoft's flagship game series, or does it fall short of the glory of the series' earlier entries? Perhaps we should just lose faith in the series and start a poker binge on partycasino.com, or whatever it is us gamers do in our spare time instead.  Read on to see what we thought of our latest jaunt with The Chief. 

  • Halo 4 picks up right where Halo 3 left off as far as Master Chief is concerned, but there is technically a 4-year time jump.
  • To avoid spoilers, the story is in short that the human race is now fighting back against the universe that's been pushing it around for the past few games and The Chief is helping them out while also dealing with issues with Cortana and some shiny new enemies known as Prometheans and their puppet-master(s).
  • The main campaign follows Master Chief's exploits specifically while the story in the Spartan Ops mode that replaces Firefight follows the stories of the other Spartans serving on an enormous human warship called the UNSC Infinity.

  • Halo 4's gameplay in campaign mode is more or less standard as far as the Halo series is concerned, and the most comparable to Halo Reach as manually employable special abilities like cloaking and jet packs make their return.
  • Sprinting also returns in full glory, but this time instead of taking up the special ability slot, you can do it just by clicking down the left stick like in most other shooters these days.
  • A very limited Covenant faction appears in the game (without Brutes), so all of the Brute weaponry introduced in previous games like the Brute Shot and Spike Grenades are instead replaced by glowing orange Promethean weapons that more or less function quite similarly to both their Covenant and Human counterparts except for the fact that they can make enemies melt into ash.
  • The campaign is quite short, but it takes you from amazing set piece to amazing set piece constantly introducing new enemies, vehicles, weapons, abilities or some combination of them.  So, in spite of the length, Halo 4's campaign stands out as one of the series' strongest.
  • When playing on Heroic or Legendary difficulties, enemies (including Grunts) become significantly more resilient than usual, even when compared to previous games' legendary modes.  You don't have to worry about 343 skimping on the difficulty in higher levels. I ended up having to bump myself back down to Normal for my initial playthrough because I was getting so frustrated.
  • While it's nice that there is the option to play the game at considerable difficulties, the difficulty of even minor firefights against the lowest-level enemies feels more like a ploy to prolong the single player experience in the stead of additional story development or content.
  • There is a large Metroid Prime feel during the jungle-based missions, not only with the Promethean Knights' similarity to Space Pirates, but particularly with the Metroid and Batman Arkham inspired Promethan Vision ability that highlights enemies through objects in red.  I wish they had gone even further with this ambient feel, but that would have cut down on the explosions per second.

  • Unfortunately the multiplayer aspects of Halo 4 for are a little bleaker.
  • Regular Slayer, now called Infinity Slayer, maintains most of the mechanics from its previous incarnations with the notable exception that there are a lot fewer weapons to pick up around the maps.  This being almost the entire point of playing Slayer, I found this change extremely disappointing and the extra ways to obtain special weapons that they've added only serve to mess with the balance more instead of less.
  • One of the things that counteract the lack of general weapons lying about are Ordnance Drops that act similarly to care packages in recent Call of Duty games (but arrive a good bit faster once called) that allow you to choose from three random weapons (like a sniper, gravity hammer, or a new tommy-gun weapon to name a few) or temporary upgrades (like unlimited sprinting, increased weapon damage, or an overshield). 
  • Ordnance Drops are earned more or less through kills or other point-getting activities like capturing flags or holding the ball in Oddball.  Instead of making special weapons more rare, all this serves to do is put them into the hands of any players that are already beating the pants off of everyone and I'd rather let everybody have a fair chance at grabbing an energy sword or spartan laser than giving them by the bucketfull to the leaders. 
  • The other thing that tries to counteract the general lack of weapons laying about is that any weapons that are laying about have their locations permanently highlighted on the screen so that every player knows that they are available and where to get them.  Again, this often serves to hinder more than it helps, because inevitably there are a lot of plasma grenade or other lesser items scattered about the map that no one wants to bother to pick up and it starts to significantly clutter the screen with arrows and icons pointing them out whenever you glance in their general direction.
  • I'm not sure why 343 decided to mess with the primary weapon spawning mechanic of Halo to this degree and I'm hoping that they eventually patch in a mode called "Classic Slayer" or something similar where there are just more weapons around to pick up and you don't have to worry about the leaders receiving constant ordnance drops or having your screen filled with things telling you that you can pick up another pistol nearby.
  • The amount of players that can play any given multiplayer mode is unfortunately quite random.  Only up to two local players can play the Campaign or Spartan Ops modes, and up to four local players can play any of the other modes in the War Games category (Slayer, King of the Hill, etc.).  For online War Games matchmaking, you can even take up to four players per console online.
  • One of the best matchmaking modes is called Flood and works more or less in the same way as Juggernaut mode from Modern Warfare 3.  Two players start off as flood with a weapon equivalent to an energy sword, extra movement speed, and a choice of a couple helpful special abilities and try to infect the rest of the players (who are armed with shotguns), converting them into flood when they're killed.  The mode is score-based, though, so the players that perform the best overall win instead of just the flood/spartan teams.  (This was the best when we were playing only against MLG players, because it allowed us to be on their team for a while instead of being killed instantly by them all the time.)
  • Grifball is now an official mode from the get-go, but still can't be played in ranked online matches, only in custom matches.  There is also only one Grifball court thus far; it would be neat to see additional ones introduced in the future.
  • I only played the first Spartan Ops mission, and I played it alone, but it seems like a really nice replacement for the Firefight mode in previous Halo games, if only you could play it with more than two people locally.  It's story-driven, so you get to see a lot of pretty cutscenes in between fighting waves of enemies on decently large original maps.  You can also earn experience that goes toward your SR level by playing this mode, which is nice.

  • Perhaps the first Halo since Halo 2 that I can call genuinely graphically impressive
  • Art direction has been changed slightly from the last couple of Halos, and the change is welcome.  Not entirely as refreshing as it was in Halo 3: ODST, but again heading in the right direction
  • I know they worked really hard on the particle effects for the Promethean weapons, but I've seen people explode in many similarly pretty ways in many games, so it didn't move me as much as 343 probably wishes it did.
  • The one bad thing about the game's graphics is how much better they are in the pre-rendered cutscenes than in the game-proper.  Since they have the same kind of art direction, I was immediately disappointed with the in-game graphics having watched the lengthy pre-rendered opening cinematic, but soon enough grew to appreciate the in-game graphics more as the game progressed.  I believe most of the in-game cinematics use the in-game engine, but the beginning and ending ones kind of clash with the game, even though they look quite nice.
  • The in-game mouth movements for characters are much more believable than the ones in the pre-rendered cutscenes, though, all too often dropping the characters right to the bottom of the uncanny valley, which shouldn't really occur in this day and age.

  • The soundtrack for the game ranges from nice and unobtrusively mood setting to full-out sweeping Star Wars-like scoring.  I definitely preferred it when it was less noticeable, though, because I felt that the booming 90-piece orchestra in certain parts made it feel more like a detached movie than the rest of the game.
  • Sound effects are pretty standard throughout, but the voices of the Covenant enemies have changed a bit, most noticeably with the Grunts.  It's neither here nor there, really, but the sound effects are fine overall.

  • Main-line Halo games are usually good for Usagi Factor, and Halo 4 is no exception.
  • The many ranked multiplayer modes are where the heart of the experience ends up, even considering the game's decent campaign.  Once you're done starting the fight back up again, there are plenty of ways for you to have fun shooting at other Halo players across the world.
  • An expanded Forge mode, now so daunting that I didn't even look into it too much, will bring immense amounts of fun to the creative types looking to build their own maps and game modes.
  • Spartan Ops co-op mission-based story mode (promising more than 50 segments when its done) is an Usagi Factor goldmine encouraging you to keep playing as new parts are added every week to expand the story.
  • Achievements for completing the game at Heroic and Legendary levels will keep achievement enthusiasts like myself coming back for more punishment as we vie to have those extra few numbers added to our gamerscore.
  • There are also achievements for doing certain cool things in most levels, like there have been in previous Halo games, so that gives the player even more of a reason to go back and replay the admittedly few campaign levels.

Even though we only had other games journalists and MLG players to play against before the game officially launched, Halo 4 emerged from our play-testing as a surprisingly competent entry in the Halo series. The campaign, while nearly criminally short, is taut, engaging, and as challenging as you'd like it to be depending upon your difficulty settings.  The ranked multiplayer takes a few sharp left turns from convention, as is worse for them, but maintains much of the Halo charm that has been so carefully crafted and polished over the years.  There are many, many game modes allowing you to play around in virtually any way you want: creating levels, competing against the top Halo gamers in the world, working together through multiple campaigns, or just killing/maiming/destroying Grif.  343 Industries stepped up to the Halo plate and while they didn't hit an absolute home run with their first entry, they definitely took a base or two and it's a very encouraging sign for the series' future.

 Rated 8.8

 

A review copy of this game was provided to us by its publisher.