Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platforms: XBox 360
Release Date: Nov 6, 2012
It’s somehow fitting that Halo 4 was released on U.S. election day 2012. Everything about the title — from the slick single player mode to the heavily tweaked multiplayer — feels like part of a campaign by Microsoft to unseat the current fatigues-wearing FPS incumbent (you know the one). And while early estimates show that the market has spoken in the form of a landslide sales victory for Call of Duty, Halo 4 is still a success (if not quite a triumph) in its own right.
The Question Everyone is Asking
The big concern with Halo 4 was whether or not 343 Industries, a studio created for the sole purpose of carrying the Halo torch, would be able to fill the green metal boots left by Bungie.
The answer to that question is not immediately clear during the first few hours of the game. Halo 4 begins with a severely linear level filled with button prompts and quick time events. I had to do a double take when control was taken away from me and I was told to “press RB to kill Elite,” — a command which is almost beyond parody. All signs were telling me to abandon ship, but I persevered, and I’m glad I did. Things really got cooking once the less scripted battlefields the series is known for came into the forefront.
Halo 4 has excellently designed levels in which each new corner is fresh with interesting challenges.
…the real stars here are the new baddies on the battlefield: the Prometheans.
The layouts of the areas are very diverse and mesh almost perfectly with the various enemies, all of whom are given their time to shine. There are the expected loading bays and hallways of the spaceships, where the Elites and Grunts will respectively flank and Kamikaze the player. There are sniper-infested canyons where it’s essential to be slow and methodical. And more importantly, there are huge open arenas where enemy foot soldiers stalk alongside tanks, ghosts, and high-flying banshees. But the real stars here are the new baddies on the battlefield: the Prometheans.
Something Old; Something New
The Prometheans come in three main flavors: Knight, Watcher, and Crawler. The Knights are tough, heavily-armored humanoids who can teleport short distances and pack a mean punch. The Watchers float a few feet above the knights, providing health and backup fire. They can even resurrect their fallen friends if they get to them in time. The Crawlers are vicious nightmare dogs who can climb on walls and pounce dozens of feet into the air. All three enemies are tough enough on their own, but they can be outright lethal when grouped together. Prioritizing which of them to take out first, learning to keep your distance, and finding the right moment to strike are all very important and add a great new tactical dynamic to the battles. They are a huge step up from the Flood in the previous games.
Considering how cool the Prometheans are, it’s a real shame that Microsoft and 343 also decided to bring the Covenant back, rather than just expanding this new enemy roster. The Covies’ return is explained in a quick throwaway line from Cortana, but their presence still feels shoehorned in for the sake of familiarity — the same familiarity that was causing the series to become stale in the first place. 343 are going to have to mix up the next game even more to keep the deja vu at bay.
It’s also a shame that the plot wasn’t given much thought.
It’s also a shame that the plot wasn’t given much thought.
The antagonist is a mustache twirler of the highest order — a Voldemort-faced, all-powerful evil guy who wants nothing more than to destroy all of humanity (and extra points to any minions who stomp on a few kittens along the way). Halo 4 seems much more interested in tossing out lore-heavy fanservice than telling a good story. It’s often said of Halo games that you have to read the books to get the full picture, and that seems to be true here as well; most of the big plot points in Halo 4 will fall flat for the uninitiated. That said, the subplot involving Cortana’s rampancy is handled pretty well and even gives us a (slight) glimpse into Master Chief’s personality.
A Splendor to Behold
Fortunately, while the gameplay and story are only moving forward in baby steps, the visuals have taken a giant leap. Compared to other Xbox 360 games, Halo 4 looks preternaturally good.
Halo 4 looks preternaturally good.
I don’t know who the folks over at 343 Industries sacrificed to the graphics gods, but if any small children have gone missing from your Kirkland, WA neighborhood, please contact Scruff McGruff immediately. The smaller interior spaces in particular are flat-out gorgeous, with lighting and texture work that is approaching levels I wasn’t expecting to see in the living room until the next generation of consoles. The large outdoor areas look very nice as well, though it’s clear that more work was spent on spiffing up some places than others. Oh, and the animation work is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Every character from Master Chief to the lowly grunts are lovingly animated, and the facial animations on the human characters are extremely convincing.
As far as multiplayer goes, Halo 4 is not lacking. There is the co-op Spartan Ops campaign, a kind of half-story/half-arcade mashup where you and a friend take on the mantle of the new Spartan 4 soldiers and set about blasting hordes of Covenant and Prometheans halfway to Alpha Centauri. These levels vary wildly in quality, but there’s enough good content here for me to recommend the mode.
Finally, there is the standard Halo multiplayer. There are many, many options here, including classic modes like Capture the Flag, Team Deathmatch, Slayer, etc. as well as new arrivals like the Infinity Slayer, where points can be earned to call in Ordnance drops, which provide random power-ups and weapons. There is also a fun control-point mode called Dominion and a half-dozen other game types to try out on Halo 4’s 10+ (I say ‘plus’ because there are more on the way) maps. The bottom line is that if you like Halo multiplayer, there’s a lot to love in Halo 4. However, if you’re looking for a COD-killer, upgrade-based multiplayer mode, look elsewhere.
..if you’re looking for a COD-killer, upgrade-based multiplayer mode, look elsewhere.
Halo 4 has an upgrade system, but it’s barely worth a footnote here, since you can make your way to the top in just a few hours. This is still very much a game about being better at shooting dudes in the face than the other players, not building a tough character with a competitive advantage over many hours.
When taken as a whole package, it’s hard not to recommend Halo 4. There are issues with the plot, and it definitely should have done more to set itself apart from previous Halo games, but the excellent campaign, decent co-op mode, and robust multiplayer options are enough to get the ol’ thumbs up from me.
BOG’s Halo 4 Review Score: 8.5
Why So High? Fantastic combat, great graphics, some interesting new enemies, tons of multiplayer options.
Why So Low? Clunky plot, generic villain, doesn’t bring enough new things to the table.