Halo 4 Review
Buried deep down, there’s a lot to like about this new entry in the Halo saga, but by refusing to take significant risks and playing it safe, Halo 4 is more mediocre than it ought to be.
Passing the crown to 343 Industries, Halo 4 marks the end of the Bungie era and the start of the “Reclaimer Saga.” Not since 2007 have we seen a game in this series with similar expectations. Advertising new weapons, new multiplayer modes, intricate enemies and a brand new story all within an unfamiliar setting, it’s easy to see why Halo 4 had so much excitement surrounding it. Unfortunately 343 doesn’t take many risks, making for a rather dull and oftentimes confusing addition to the legendary series.
Taking place more or less where Halo 3 left off, the Master Chief finds himself on an alien world with no way out. Pitted against enemies known as Prometheans, he and Cortana also find themselves battling the familiar Covenant. To make matters worse, Cortana is nearing the end of her artificial life and it’s up to the Chief to beat back both sides in order to find a way back to society to fix her. Sounds interesting, right? Well, it’s not.
For the first time ever, I can’t explain what was happening in a Halo game. From start to finish, you will partake in events that seemingly have meaning, but remain unexplained and confusing. Having played every game in the series and even read some of the books, I was constantly asking myself what the hell was going on. The central narrative makes absolutely no sense, characters you meet are never fully introduced and the Chief’s emotional connection to Cortana comes off as underdeveloped at best, and terribly contrived at worst. Who are these Promethean enemies? Why is the Covenant here? They’re working together now? Why? Prepare to be ignored. Ridiculous as this all may sound, 343 still manages to get some key things right.
The voicework in the game is absolutely top-notch. Characters never deliver a flat line and even hold interesting arguments that I wished lasted longer. One such character openly despises the Master Chief, something the series had yet to address. Intriguing as this moment was, this character’s arc hits a brick wall and he’s ignored for the rest of the game. You’re also introduced to a female Spartan, whose opening dialog is promising, but as quickly as you meet her she vanishes as well. It’s almost as if 343 is afraid to fully commit to introducing characters to the Halo series.
I will commend 343’s vision of the Master Chief as a whole. Normally a reserved character, Halo 4 gives us a more personal look at the Chief with more dialog and more emotion than ever before. Instead of being that faceless, apathetic hero we’ve somehow come to idolize, there’s more reason now to become interested in him. The Chief’s connection to Cortana is interesting and 343 does a great job at conveying its importance between both characters. They definitely delve into heavy-handedness at times, but overall kudos to the team for making a rather uninteresting character into something larger.
Halo 4 is also the first time the series has had a truly centralized villain. Call Tartarus or the Arbiter in Halo 2 decent fill-ins, but “The Didact” is immediately more of a threat than any so far. Interesting as he is, the game does a terrible job fleshing the story out. Worst of all, the Master Chief and Cortana somehow know who The Didact is without telling us a thing. You’ll never know anything about the character throughout the duration of the game (other than a plodding sequence of exposition seemingly taken from “The Matrix Reloaded”) which immediately prompted me to look up more information on his origins. Apparently you’ll have to read some of the books to know who he is. If this is the way 343 is going to tell a story, I’m officially uninterested in where it goes from here.
From time to time you’ll encounter various hidden terminals, a feature the series has become known for. Though there are key story elements hidden within, you can’t actually view these supplemental videos from inside the game. Instead, you’re forced to exit Halo 4, load up Halo Waypoint and then watch whatever it is you unlocked, which is usually story information that should have been in the campaign in the first place. The laughably inappropriate omissions of these clips from the main story is only accentuated by how much work it takes to actually watch them!
Taking some cues from Reach, Halo 4 contains some pretty massive battles that, quite honestly, tire quickly. Some areas are so big that it takes way too long to properly fight enemies, so the best option is to just run through it; which you can totally do. In addition, there are just three types of Promethean enemies, and all that’s left are Covenant foes we’ve seen a thousand times before. When these new enemies were announced, it seemed like the series was taking a step into the future, but this game would obviously rather leave one foot in the past.
Thankfully the shooting and fluid controls save some of the terrible design choices plaguing Halo 4. UNSC weapons feel fantastic and have real weight behind them when fired. The new Promethean weapons however, are just clones of UNSC guns, like the Covenant weapons have been since 2001. Speaking of firing though, whoever the sound designer is should be given a platinum trophy laced with astral emeralds. The sounds in this game are phenomenal. When you can hear the bullets ricochet in the distance and your bullet clips thud against the soft ground, you know whoever was in charge took things seriously.
On a visual note, Halo 4 uses a brand new engine that’s simply stunning. The world is beautiful, vast sprawling environments are fully realized and the motion-captured faces of your friends and foes are some of the best on the market. It’s truly inspiring what a dedicated studio can do with the Xbox 360’s hardware, which is essentially an 8-year-old computer!
Halo has always been known for its accessible and fun multiplayer component and Halo 4 doesn’t disappoint here. Following a more refined version of Reach’s class-based multiplayer, it’s everything you’ve come to expect out of a Halo game. It’s fun while it lasts and the customization options are nice and varied, but I personally found it pretty stale. Halo’s been following the proverbial ‘if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it’ approach for a while now and I think, instead of taking cues from Call of Duty, it’s time for a real change.
When it comes down to it, Halo 4 is a disappointment. For a series that’s taken so many risks in the past, and who also holds a deep and significant universe within its bounds, it’s a crime that Halo 4 does absolutely nothing with its narrative. With so many creative and imaginative ways to go, 343 opted to take the safe way out by giving the world the same predictable experience.
Much as I disliked it, Halo fans have no reason to avoid this title and will find more to love about it because, well, it’s a Halo game. However, regardless of where you are on the Halo Fan-O-Meter, there’s not much in the campaign you can honestly say you haven’t seen before. Unless you’re a multiplayer junkie, you’d do well to give the game a rental at best. Buried deep down, there’s a lot to like about this new entry in the Halo saga, but by refusing to take significant risks and playing it safe, Halo 4 is more mediocre than it ought to be.
Halo 4 / 343 Industries / Microsoft Studios / November 6, 2012
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