The lights are on
Last time we heard from Master Chief, he was about to take an extended nap in a cryo-freezer. Bungie had stated they had finished with the story of the infamous Spartan 117 and moving on to other games. With this in mind, I prepared myself for the concept that the story of Halo was over and I was satisfied with the end as it had been set.
Fast forward a couple of years and my eyes are treated to an opening cinematic at E3 showing Master Chief waking up from that cryo-chamber only to find himself in mortal peril. When I saw that cinematic, I will admit part of me sighed inside and said "we've been through this before" (I was caught in the hype of Halo 3 and ended up hating it) while another part of me was intrigued. So, as release day approached and my fellow GIO friends began to express their excitement, I decided to go along for the ride and, for the most part, I am glad I did.
Visual PresentationHalo 4 boasts some of the most impressively beautiful art direction from a title I have seen this year. While Mass Effect 3 treated us to haunting apocalyptic scenery, Halo 4 presents the player with vibrant landscapes and some of the most amazing views in gaming this year. Unfortunately, these visuals only apply to those scenes taking place outside. For me, the interior visuals became dull and joyless. While it did provide an interesting contrast to the outdoor views, it simply made me want to get past the area so I could get back to another part of the level taking place in the great outdoors.
EnemiesIn either a stroke of brilliance or pure laziness, 343 has brought back The Covenant as something of a side-enemy. While 343 provides a solid back story for why you are fighting a branch of The Covenant, I cannot escape the thought that bringing them in is a little bit of creative laziness. However, the new enemy replacing the utterly annoying flood, the Prometheans, are a welcome addition.
On my play through, I stuck to co-op on legendary difficulty. Even in this state, I found some of the enemy AI to be peculiarly lacking in the "I" department. Enemies would take a shot from a DMR and remain out in the open, sometimes even responding by running directly at me. However, using the skull that provides a significant boost to enemy AI quickly produces an extraordinarily smart horde of Covenant and Promethean enemies.
StoryAside from handling the Anniversary Edition of Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 4 represents the first time 343 Industries has been able to make its own mark in the Halo universe. Taking over a series of fiction like this is not easy as it is one preceded by not only a few prior games but also expanded cannon from books, comics, and even a collection of short films. Adding a new title to the series would need to utilize this information to properly serve the series' existing fans, but also appeal to those without this expanded knowledge. For me, it is here where the game fails to succeed with honors.
I approached Halo having played and beaten the original Halo trilogy, playing most of Reach, watching Halo: Legends, and having read The Fall of Reach. By stating this, it should be known that I have some knowledge of the Halo Universe, but my interest in it is not extensive. That being said, I found myself confused with details as the story progressed. While the overall theme of the story remained intact, I felt myself drawn out of the story on occasion as I tried to understand certain nuances of the story that directly affected my character. Luckily, I have Halo fanatics with me to help me slog through some of it. While these bits made it difficult to understand everything going on around me, I still found the overall story and emotions to be interesting and compelling, exploring and drawing comparisons between humanity, soldiers, and artificial intelligence. Of all of the Halo series, this is the one I feel is most human in its emotions and is the most relatable for the player.
MultiplayerMultiplayer this round brings about some interesting new game play mechanics including the inclusion of a perks system. While detractors scoff at Halo's apparent "attempt to copy Call of Duty," I prefer to view it as an interesting addition. It would be unfair to call all parts of Call of Duty games bad, even if you hate them. Their development of the perks system was solid and executed well, so why would Halo want to ignore that?
However, make no mistake, if you play the multiplayer in Halo like you would Call of Duty, you will fail miserably. Even with the perk system, Halo 4 relies heavily on the concept of utilizing your grenades and melee far more than it is emphasized in any Call of Duty title.
Halo 4 also inserts a new "story" mode called Spartan Ops. This is essentially a free weekly DLC best played in a co-op team. The story part is pretty light so be sure to watch the cinematic opening to each (they are not played when the game begins, but must be played separately) and it will add a little bit to the experience.
OverallHalo 4 is a solid entry into the Halo franchise, my favorite to this point. However, for those not devoted to the franchise or those new to the franchise, prepare for a bit of a bumpy road when it comes to the campaign story, it is not going to be as straightforward as many would like. Also, it doesn't do much in the way of recapping prior entries, so any newcomers may benefit from some time on the Halo wiki site, plaything through at least the original 3 Halo titles, or watching a play-through of these titles on Youtube. The visual spectacle and a solid soundtrack also help to make Halo 4 worth playing and the multiplayer will keep you coming back. It is a great game worth a buy but not in my top three for best of this year, I give Halo 4 an 8.75/10.
Great review; this (and all the other praise it's gotten on here) really make me want to get my hands on it sometime soon.