Developer(s): 343 Industries
Publisher(s): Microsoft Studios
Platform(s): Xbox 360
Release Date: November 6, 2012
Legacy. Legacy is what Halo 4 is all about. It is about a studio that inherited the legacy of one of the most popular game franchises ever made trying to establish one of their own. It is about striking out on one’s own, but returning to what came before out of respect, out of admiration, and because what came before is simply too big to ignore. Ultimately, Halo 4 is a game about who we are, and what we leave behind when we are gone. Legacy. It is a franchise surrounded by it, and everyone from players, to the animators at 343 Industries; from the Xbox editors at such-and-such gaming websites, to the lowly freelance game journalists, all feel the awesome, omnipresent weight of legacy. We can’t escape it. No one can. It is a situation afforded very few on such a scale, but the Halo franchise has been with gamers for so long now that legacy—whether we realize it or not—contextualizes how players approach the franchise. Did 343 Industries ignore the legacy-effect? Or, did the development studio embrace the legacy of what came before?
Halo has always been a FPS that gets just as much attention paid to its single player as it does its multiplayer, which is rare in the modern FPS genre. The first thing you’ll notice when you begin the single player campaign in Halo 4 is probably how beautiful the game looks. Bright lights shine from dark corners, illuminating your HUD in a blinding, yet somehow subdued hue of white-blue. It’s beautiful, comforting, and contrasts the dark, grimy blues, blacks, and grays that dominate the Forward Unto Dawn. Every environment in Halo 4 looks excellent, and it is the best looking game on Xbox 360 since Crysis 2.
- Eye candy
- Incredible attention to detail in technical aspects of the game
- Exceptional sound mixing, sound editing and a great score
- Greater variety in Multiplayer
- Fantastic storytelling
- Spartan Ops
The campaign is short, easily beaten in the course of an afternoon, and there a few points throughout the progression of the narrative that will have you scratching your head in confusion. Alas, so it goes with a Halo game. How many of us really had any idea what the hell was going on in Halo: Combat Evolved? It took years of subsequent explanation and universe-building for players to have an inkling as to what is happening in the Halo universe. Luckily, Halo has always been at its best when, after completing single player on Normal, you fire up Heroic mode, and if you are feeling really daring, Legendary mode. Halo 4 really shines during a replay. The improvements in the AI alone make it worth replaying the single player through several times, as your Promethean foes make sections of the game that were a breeze on Normal, a true test of patience and skill on Heroic or Legendary. This makes the length issue less of a point of contention, as the added replay value extends the life of the single player significantly.
Many reviewers have commented on how the story of Halo 4’s single player campaign is very much Cortana’s. While this is true, the meta-narrative shouldn’t be so abundantly ignored. From a creative writing standpoint Halo’s story has never been character-driven. It’s been driven by events of the past and how those events influence and effect the course of events in the present and future. 343 Industries achieved its goal of “humanizing” Master Chief and even Cortana; but, what they really deserve applause for is how well the meta-narrative compliments the relationship between Master Chief and Cortana. We can’t see it now, but there is a wealth of opportunity for exploring the theme of how we interface with machines… if humanity was created by the Composers, than how are we any different from what we create? These are the sorts of questions to be answered in the last two installments of the Reclaimer Trilogy and I suspect players will continue to pay just as much attention to the story-driven single player as they will the multiplayer.
Multiplayer—for many it is the backbone of a good Halo game. Here is yet another way in which legacy applies to Halo 4. FPS multiplayer wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for two franchises, and Halo is one of them. 343 Industries inherited a franchise so famous for its multiplayer component that words had to be invented to describe what happened when small masses of people gathered together in their garage or living room and did nothing but play Halo for an entire weekend. If 343 felt the pressure to perform anywhere it was in the multiplayer arena. Not only did 343 measure up but they, arguably, surpassed the efforts of Bungie. All of your favorite modes return along with a few new additions. Dominion has players battling over set control bases on a map. Once a control base is captured, it must be fortified, and once fortified the controlling team can take advantage of the vehicles that spawn there and build automated turrets that will fire on any enemy that gets too close. Controlling these bases will earn you points. The first team to reach the victory cap wins. Replacing the fan-favorite Infection is a mode called Flood. It works exactly the same, save for the fact that those “infected” turn into Flood-infected soldiers with a massive energy sword-like mandible that slices through Spartans like butter.
The new Promethean weapons are a spectacular addition, and the UNSC and Covenant weapons return, but with more bravado than ever before. The new loadout system is excellent and adds a layer of depth to the multiplayer that some players were wanting. Don’t worry, if the mad rush for the rocket launchers in the middle of the level was a big draw for you in previous games, you won’t be disappointed. There is still plenty of opportunity for you and your friends to fight over randomly dropped weapon ordinances, some that may even turn the tide of a match. The loadout system comes with its own set of perks and abilities that are unlocked as you level up in multiplayer or Spartan Ops. Every level that is gained earns you a token that can then be used to unlocked weapons, grenades, perks, or abilities. It is a well-designed and smart system that diversifies what players will run into on the battlefield. That diversification keeps multiplayer feeling fresh and exciting and opens up tons of new approaches to problems you’ll encounter throughout the course of a multiplayer match.
343 also gets major kudos for some excellent map design, particularly when it comes to the larger maps. It is some of the cleverest use of verticality in multiplayer seen to date. But, the biggest pull-factor for multiplayer isn’t the new loadout system; it isn’t the excellent designed maps, or the new game modes. No, the biggest pull-factor is something that a lot of modern FPS games just don’t have: fun. It’s fun! It’s arguably the most fun players will have with multiplayer since Goldeneye on the N64. Unlike many other modern FPS games out on the market today, Halo 4 doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is nice to join matchmaking and hear that the in-game chatter is mostly laughter and chuckles about something ridiculous that just happened, and not a hate-filled diatribe resulting from an untimely death. Halo has never been about k/d ratios or no-scoping. Sure, it is competitive, but it is competitive within the context of fun, and that is what makes Halo 4’s multiplayer so special.
If there is flaw to be found anywhere in Halo 4 it is with the Spartan Ops mode. Spartan Ops has players teaming up online to play through a series of episodes of five chapters each. Set six months after the events that take place in the single player story, these episodes act as supplemental narrative. Spartan Ops is the replacement mode for Firefight, a mode that fans grew to love after its inclusion in Halo 3 ODST. But, it doesn’t quite work because it tries to fill the shoes of Firefight while simultaneously replicating some of Firefight’s gameplay. As a game mode it is confused and suffers from a lack of focus. It does not seem quite sure as to what it wants to be. Spartan Ops doesn’t really contribute anything to the overall Halo 4 experience other than a nice fat chunk of experience points gained after the completion of each chapter. 343 probably didn’t want Spartan Ops to become a XP harvest ground, but that is exactly what most players are using it for right now. But, there are more episodes to come and 343 still has a chance to revisit the direction they want to take Spartan Ops.
Shakespeare once wrote that no legacy is so rich as honesty. 343 Industries created a game that was honest to the legacy of Halo, and this will most certainly go down as one of the greatest studio handoffs in the history of the video game industry. Halo 4 has new armor, new limbs that move fast and are stronger than those of its predecessors, eyes that see farther and clearer than any Halo game that came before it; but its soul, the very core of what it is, is still Halo… and that is what 343 Industries was honest to.
Absolutely gorgeous in every way possible. A few of the textures show their age here and there, but as a technical achievement Halo 4’s graphics are simply astounding.
Tight controls and an overall masterful approach to the technical aspects of Halo 4 make playing it more than just a passive experience.
Between the replay value of single player and multitude of modes in multiplayer, there's enough here to keep players occupied until the next generation of consoles come out. Even with the so-so Spartan Ops, you don’t have to worry about feeling like $60 was too much to fork over.
Some of the best sound editing and mixing in gaming to date. Everything from the sound of Master Chief’s footfalls to the sound of a Promethean weapon forming out of thin air around your hand is ear candy. I tip my hat to Neil Davidge and his excellent score.
Review by Jon Hamlin