As noted by Matthew Miller in his review of the much anticipated science fiction first person shooter juggernaut Halo 4, 343 Studios had quite the challenge given to them, or more accurately- laid upon their shoulders, throughout the design process and final near-release of the game. Not only did they have to deal with fan skepticism after taking over the series from the highly capable masters at Bungie- who are of course credited with being the pioneers who originally created and maintained the series across two Xbox consoles and the PC, but they had to deal with maintaining the same core elements that halo has come to represent in the minds of all players alike, while at the same time giving it it’s own new look, name, and spark of ingenious creativity. Daunting and painstakingly difficult as I am sure the task was- or at least as it clearly seems to be, 343 Studios was clearly up to the task, as they have completely blown many gamers’ and video game journalist/reviewers’ expectations out of the water. Instead of this game being a far cry from previous ones, or even another adventure into the stagnant known verse of the saga, it is instead a foray (literally) to new worlds and heights. Not only does Halo 4 propel the series forward, instead of going (gloriously) back in time to the glassing of Reach, or in a completely different and interesting direction as in ODST, but it instead maintains the same basic formula, albeit with a few twists and perks, and also adds in some freedom of creation and generous offerings of new ideas as well.
With the stories revolving around Halo in the past few years (since 2009) having deviated from The Chief’s major plot drive of the epic 2007 release, Halo 3- the supposed conclusion and cliffhanger to the speculative trilogy of Bungie’s, the departure and detachment of ODST and Reach from the series’ mainstays has been somewhat of an interesting and controversial topic for many. With the return of Master Chief and Cortana in a game other than an HD remake of Combat Evolved released last year, the same old pair even manages to break some new ground with an emotionally stirring and thoroughly intriguing plot in the single player (and somewhat in the multiplayer modes, even should they not be revolving around the Chief as much of course) mode as well. We finally get to see one of the biggest and newest threats to the galaxy, hinted at since the very first game, and revitalized within more futuristic Forerunner constructs and even enemies as well. Although it easily maintains it”s adrenaline rush of shooter moments and the high many players get from wonderfully pulled off set piece moments of the series, Halo 4 also spectacularly pulls off a science fiction space fantasy theme via plot elements straight from epics such as 2010: A Space Odyssey and even I, Robot. Even better, not only does the story make sense to original players and is easily grasped within the game by newcomers as well, but it is also one of the least convoluted Halo stories to date- hard as that may to believe for some who may criticize the series for it’s sometimes leaps and bounds and then slow and steady switches in pacing.
Another great aspect of the game comes, as usual for Halo games, with it’s visual aesthetics and glamor is of course the amazing graphical capabilities that will put your Xbox 360 to the max, and then push further past the boundaries of what we thought was previously possible from the console. The glorious moments of action and chaos, the glamorous and vibrant environments and visual dynamics, and the accented lighting and particle highlighting make for a breathtaking vista of grandeur and spot-on awareness of just what the Xbox can do with a beautiful series such as this one. To hit another mark on the head quite easily, the amazing sound quality- both of the new game soundtrack and scores, and of the in-game action and reaction sounds are quite literally the best I have heard in a very long time, and possibly ever. Every bullet spent and every melee attack made is brutally forceful, powerful, and can be felt through the controller and heard through the ultra-realistic sound effects that are quite spectacular- a word that I can’t seem to stop using to describe this game, for some apparent reason. Stirring as the audio is, it sometimes even overrides the new musical themes, which I can’t exactly complain too much about- as the audio is very easy to completely slip into. As noted by Matt, a manual adjustment mix would be nice- but it’s not that big of a loss, and the ease with which they slide the audio and soundtrack moments in and out of combat and cinematics is to be praised.
With the return of the ever persistent Covenant- this time a rogue and heretical band of Elites and other Covenant races after the Chief, seeing as he is the only thing stopping them from their still dastardly goals- Halo 4 sees both new and returning enemies, making for quite the interesting mix. The gameplay is as fresh and classic as ever, at the same time thanks to the new classes that offer intriguing tactical challenges, such as Knights and other enemies that are quite hard to bring down. Honestly, Halo 4 has probably been the most difficult and strategically puzzling/challenging Halo game and shooter in general that I have played in awhile (since F.E.A.R’s intense firefights anyway), mainly because of the healing and fighting abilities of the imaginative Promethean race. Think a Knight or Crawler is down for good? Watch out, they could heal an entire group of enemies, spawn a new squad, or wreck havoc on you on their own if you are too quick to underestimate them or write them off. Instead of the now ground-in tactics of headshot Brutes, and avoid Elite’s powerful melee attacks- Halo 4 offers a new way of play, and a new challenge at the same time. While it breaks familiar ground, it treads across much more new territory than I thought could have been possible for one epic game alone. With the firefights being more intense than ever, the somewhat unforgiving checkpoint system is a pain especially on higher levels, but I suppose you could write that off as 343 trying to stay true to the difficulty of the original games… With Master Chief’s resiliency on-par as usual, a good player can usually come back from the brink of despair in order to triumph over the mechanical and biological enemies alike.
One of the most exciting aspects of the game is simple and yet immensely satisfying to deal with at the same time: the newest weapons in the Chief’s ever-expanding arsenal. Including the already dazzling armament of possible loadouts and weapons of the past Halo games, players now have access to over four new and devastating weapons- although disappointingly, for supposed purposes of thought and experimentation, ammo is sorely limited for them. Sure, when you unload clip after clip in classic Halo fashion, you’re bound to run out of ammo and be virtually screwed until you can scavenge more, but the added strategic interest within the missions makes for a more innovative and thoughtful approach this time around for The Chief. With the amazing and very thoughtful structuring of the mission levels, from layouts, to spawning, to weapons and enemies- the weapons fit squarely into the deal and seek only to aid in Halo 4’s effort to reign supreme this holiday season. The gorgeous environments, the awesome mech piloting and fresh new action sequences, and space battles that are three times better than that of Reach’s one space mission all make for great additions to the legendary legacy of Halo single player, and also for an even more fitting and thrilling conclusion in eventuality. Halo 4 truly is one giant adventure, and quite an impressive one at that.
Of course, seeing as the majority of the world sees the biggest draw within Halo game being their competitive and fast-paced multiplayer modes, the single player- spectacular as it is, and satisfying as it is sure to be for many, must take one step backwards out of the limelight presently. Not only are a plethora of newer modes introduced to the already praised and beloved classics such as deathmatch and now hold-the-fort types such as Firefight, but with the addition of intriguing modes such as the gauntlet called Infinity, and awesome advancement of Spartan characters in and out of Ops makes for a go-to multiplayer scene. Halo 4 has arguably the best customization of any Halo game to date, improving tenfold upon Reach’s idea of armor unlocks and also implementing a semi-familiar perks system, to surprisingly great success, and without turning the game into a Halo-Call of Duty clone as well. The playing and interface work fine thus far, but of course this is before the mad rush for matchmaking starts shortly once players are allowed to rush into the game by thousands and millions. Will it stand up to the test? Most likely, considering the fine job 343 has managed to do thus far. And if not…well, that can easily be remedied until things calm down a bit after the advanced copies’ inevitably better tools are implemented into retail games. Also, the success of the Limited Edition remains to be seen- but I am sure it will be well received as per usual for this particular saga.
Some minimal changes that mix up the classic formula for multiplayer a tad bit are very well received in my eyes at least, as now, weapon and spawn camping is all but diminished and banished from the majority of maps (at least until people get more creative with predicting where the randomly generated weapons will appear next), and the new points instead of kills system instills a more team or strategy friendly mechanic and thought process for gamers to consider as well. The maps and new or old modes alike are as impressive as ever, the combat is twice as intense as that of the already intense and gripping single player, and the loadouts and supporting roles and abilities are integrated smoother than ever this time around. Although a mode actually deemed Firefight is not present, many of the Spartan Ops missions play out similarly, and the bulk of the cooperative campaign and other coop modes alike are much more compelling and enjoying than Firefight ever was- as grand as it’s scope and aim seemed to be, and well received though it was. It’s just one of those simple design choices that game companies have to make, and helps to make the new game stand out as still as classic- unlike the semi-changed formulas of Reach and ODST…
The idea of a continually updated narrative in Spartan Ops is entirely intriguing, and sure has me very interested to see how the episodic releases play out in the coming weeks after the launch. Forge returns, though it is not stressed as much as it used to be- and also has more efficient and satisfying placement and design tools as well. 343 truly meant it when they stated that “Now players can hope to create their own maps in an as professional a manner as those of the game itself.” and they do truly look more polished as opposed to the awkwardly placed and patched portions of the past limited Forge options. Halo 4 is as much of a new adventure and a refreshing breath of fresh air as it is a classic reprisal of the role of best shooter out on the current market. Now we just have to see how Black Ops 2 can possibly counter this spectacular blow…
Concept: Continue the long awaited and thrilling saga of the Chief’s adventures throughout the galaxy, in attempts to save it from harm and to take the war to the enemy.
Graphics: The game is truly a graphical landmark and is as visually astounding as any game released in the series, by about five times.
Sound: The soundtrack is certainly something new, although some melodies are semi-familiar and meant to be, and the audio and sound is- as noted, quite something.
Playability: The controls are well rounded and responsive as ever, and serve their needs perfectly fine.
Entertainment: One of the most entertaining shooters and Halo games that I have easily played in the past few years… Probably my second or third favorite in the series at least.
Replay Value: Very High.
Overall Score: 9.25