Reviews: Halo 4
Classic gameplay, shame about the story (spoilers)
First off, there's nothing wrong with the gameplay. Welcome additions include the ability for the Chief to sprint, something he's been sorely lacking for a long time. The Armour Abilities are a great concept (even if some of the actual upgrades are pretty lame. Promethium vision? Seriously?). I don't like how shallow the ammo magazines have gotten though, I know the intent was emphasise ammo management and encourage you to swap weapons more often, but it's really annoying how quickly a needler can run dry especially compared to the earlier games. On the whole though, it's a delight to play this instalment. But the story? Oh dear oh dear. The story is more like a bad Halo fanfic than something a professional writer would turn in. Before anyone says it, I don't have a problem with them turning the Chief into an actual character instead of a mostly Silent Protagonist. The banter between him and Cortana was great and I really enjoyed it. I also liked the insights we got into his character, that Earth's champion is ultimately a lonely man who doesn't know how to really connect with anybody who isn't an AI. But the shoddy writing, plot holes and sheer stupidity of the retcons are just too much. Humanity were once so powerful that they rivalled the Forerunner? That's so at odds with the established lore I just can't accept it. And that's mild compared to the Forerunner diddling with human evolution so precisely as to ensure an individual with the right genetic makeup would be born at the right time a hundred millennia later? The Didact had multiple chances to just murder the Chief and be done with him but he lets him live. Even in the final encounter he stops to monologue. For crying out loud! He's not a credible villain, he's Doctor Evil. The Infinity can hover over a planet and even crash-land on it without serious damage? Please. How did someone who was such a complete dick manage to become the Infinity's captian? Why is he so obviously wrong and the Chief so obviously right? Couldn't you have made him a decent soldier whose mission goals were at odds with the Chief's? Halo 5's teaser trailers look a lot more promising as far as story goes. I sure hope so, I couldn't swallow another Halo 4.
I was prepared to hate this.
Note: This review will focus solely on the story. Everything about this game pre-release rubbed me the wrong way. Chief's ugly new armor. The lumpy redesigns of everything. The blatant ignoring of the canon. The awful book leading up to it. And the reveal that the Didact would be the villain, and not as a Well Intentioned Extremist or Anti Villain, but rather an Obviously Evil Darth Vader Clone with no subtlety to him. Imagine making Gandalf into a Sauron clone. That's how much of a character betrayal this seemed. So why did I soften my view of it? Because 343 nailed the relationship between Chief and Cortana, and to a degree better than any other Halo before it. It was a brilliant decision to have them chat during the gameplay, and they managed to invoke the screen distortions of the Cortana Moments without impeding the gameplay like them. Cortana grows as a person as she faces her impending death and her limits as an AI. Master Chief too grows beyond the stoic avatar that he's always been, as the writing explores his unhumaness as a supersoldier, his glimmers of emotion that confuse him if he notices them, and him facing that his assurances that everything will turn out alright may not always be so wise. This plot can be separated pretty well from the main plot about fighting the DINO (Didact In Name Only), which I'm glad of because he's just as generically evil as I expected, and commits many errors worthy of Bond villains. Captain Del Rio is just as badly written. 343 tried too hard to make us hate him, to the point that it breaks my suspension of disbelief that someone this incompetent could have gotten command of the most advanced UNSC starship ever. Once he finishes making dumb decisions so the plot can continue, the story quickly writes him out as quickly as he appeared. So my faith is sure that 343 Industries writers can write well and develop the preexisting characters better than I expected. Whether they chose to make the plot itself as mature, or write better original characters, is another question. Hopefully they'll do so for Halo 5.
Campaign: Has flaws, but overall is a solid entry to a new trilogy
Halo 4 is not perfect, there I said it, but is it a bad game? Pros: The writing for Chief and Cortana is at an all time high, with Cortana starting off with just minor quirks at the beginning with her condition deteriorating slowly but steadily to the point where she is dangerously unstable, with Chief's stubborn refusual to let her go, he's the most Human that he's ever been here. The game is simply gorgeous, combined together with the new sound effects (The Battle Rifle and energy sword sound beautiful), it is the most organic Halo game yet. The levels are varied, ranging from the outer hull of the forward unto dawn, to meadows, to forests, to beautifully lit Forerunner structures, to rocky canyons. The Prometheans are intimidating enemies, towering over even the massive Master Chief and with powerful weapons to back them up. They are a welcome addition to the game, especially how the Watchers act as support units. The Diadect is an intimidating villain, seizing complete control of the situation when he first emerges and constantly alludes to something called the "Mantle". As someone who hadn't read the books, I realized that it wasn't a thing, but a concept, the responsibility to rule over the galaxy. Diadect is a villain motivated solely by racism, refusing to let go of the Forerunner's lost glory. WE CAN FINALLY FLY A PELICAN! Also the Mantis is cool. Always being able to sprint is a welcome change. Cons: Characters besides Chief and Cortana are pitifully underdeveloped. The game is rather short. I beat it in seven hours on heroic (again, haven't played Spartan Ops yet) We can finally fly a Pelican, but the time spent in it is disappointingly short. The armor abilities feel rather useless at times, which beats them being OP, but still. Cortana at one point copies her self. It just seems a little...silly The soundtrack just isn't the same without Marty Overall, Halo 4 is different game, but that's not bad. I like Halo because it doesn't just retread what it did before, it changes from game to game, and Halo 4 has some very strong aspects to it and is the next step in Halo's evolution. As can be expected with a developer's first game, there are some flaws, but it's a strong first entry. Looking forward to 343 learning from their mistakes in Halo 5 8/10
Finished the Fight? Start a new one today!
- The Master Chief wakes-up after a much-needed, well-deserved, artificially-induced coma; only to accidentally open the Sealed Evil in a Can. Now, he has to put down the Big Bad before it can destroy all humans. Oh, and he also runs into Commander Shepard along the way. Just another day at the office.
- Character development: Cortana's rampancy (kinda like a terminal case of Alzheimer's, with Schizophrenia and DPD thrown into the mix) is the heart and soul of both the wider story and her dynamic with the Chief. Sierra-117 is torn between his deeply personal commitment to Cortana, and his professional duty to protect Humanity - these two goals being no longer in sync because everyone else is convinced that Cortana is a threat. Ironic, since Cortana now plays a more pivotal role than in previous entries. This appeal to love and loss is conveyed by the indomitable voice-acting talents of Jen Taylor and Steve Downes.
- Gameplay: The Promethean Knights are an excellent challenge as a new enemy class; limited in numbers, compared to the teeming hordes of Covies, they compensate by being VERY hard to kill and being VERY good at killing the player. Otherwise, some minor aesthetic details aside, its the same experience seen before since Combat Evolved.
- Level/sound design: This is where 343i hits the ball out of the park. Halo 4 is THE most beautiful game on any platform, anywhere. Every captured sound bite is perfectly articulated and almost feels alive in its own right. No two levels in the main campaign are alike, but are lovingly-shaped to encapsulate their own identity.
- Multiplayer: Two words: War Games. Gameplay enhancements are back, including armor abilities, support packages, and tactical drops; which help reduce camping and other frustrating player habits during matches.
- Multiplayer: Two words: Spartan Ops. Cinematics aside, it has no replay value at all. Firefight modes are not terribly entertaining.
- Character development: Chief and Cortana aside, everyone else is blandly two-dimensional - except maybe for Jul'Mdama. Del Rio and Palmer are the worst offenders. The only way to get a deeper understanding of the supporting cast is to absorb supplemental material (the books, the wiki, etc) which erodes player immersion and the narrative itself.