Review: Halo 4

This cover art copyright belongs to Bungie and Microsoft Studios.

This cover art copyright belongs to Bungie and Microsoft Studios.

How can you differentiate buyer’s remorse from simply wishing a good game was longer? This is the question having played and finished Halo 4 has left me with. Before I delve into the game itself, let me elucidate you on how the situation stands between Halo and I. Firstly, I’m definitely not someone who can be described as a Halo Devotee. I’ve never played in 8-player deathmatches, either in LAN or over the internet. I’ve never squatted to dangle my armour-clad ass over a fallen warrior. I am in no way obsessed with it.

I do, however, quite like it. I’ve played around half of the Halo games (Halo 2, ODST and now Halo 4 are amongst my conquered victims), and I can quite honestly say that I’ve never come away from the experience dissapointed. If there is a game where I want to be a burly superhuman shooting aliens, I very much consider Halo to be in my top two games, although I think gaming would be in a better state in general if “burly superhumans shooting aliens” wasn’t basically a genre in itself right now. I also enjoy the setting of the games, which has obviously matured with time, and Halo 4 certainly pleases me, serving up another heaped scoop of background material.

So, when it comes to Halo, I think I’m on quite a level playing field. I’m not bonded by deep and terrible oathes of fealty to talk about how much I enjoyed pwning newbs, etc…, but nor am I predisposed to dislike it, despite it being the forerunner (Huh? Huh? Get it!) for most things that I don’t enjoy in modern gaming. Although don’t count on me for accurate description of online multiplayer. Any game where I need to spend several days mastering it before I can be allowed to do anything before being immediately shot in the head is not something worthy of my, or anyone’s time. However, I won’t blame Halo for that; it’s the same with any online game and basically boils down to some people having way too much time to spend playing video games (how I envy them!).

So without further ado:

Gameplay

First thing’s first, for those who care, this is definitely still Halo. I know a lot of people were concerned that with the move to 343 Studios after Bungie were done with the series, the game just wouldn’t be the same; I definitely don’t think that is the case. Compared to ODST it plays much the same. Of course, there are some mechanical differences; as far as I can tell there’s still no dual wielding (a feature I always enjoyed from Halo 2), and some of the classic guns have dissappeared, especially some covenant weapons. The plasma rifle has been replaced by the Storm Rifle, which is essentially the same gameplay wise, and, according to the fluff, is the replacement for its now outdated predecessor. Still, I miss the classics.

However, as far as I can tell, the gameplay sticks to the classics, which is an obvious move on the behalf of 343. They know Halo will sell, and if they can produce a game that provides the same experience as the last few, then people will praise them for it. However, as was my experience with ODST, there’s nothing new. The armour enhancements from Reach are still included, with a few extras, I think, but I feel there’s very few true innovations in the game. They have come up with a whole new suite of weapons to compliment the new enemies in the story, but it’s so much money for old rope. There are some standout weapons, and the design of them is definitely impressive, harkening back to Tron Legacy in design I feel, but in reality it’s the same combination of assault rifle, battle rifle, sniper rifle, shotgun and rocket launcher. Sure they do fire and work differently enough to be different from the human and covenant weapons, but once again nothing new.

I’m also of two minds on the length of the game as well. On the one hand I was a bit bored with all the repetitive FPS action by the time I got to the final levels, but, after I’d finished it, I felt like I was a good few levels short of a full game. Thinking back, I don’t think it’s any real amount shorter than the other Halos, but I think the phrase it left me wanting more definitely applies.

I won’t linger long with regards to the online/multiplayer, mostly because I didn’t linger long myself on these aspects. The Halo 4 multiplayer was what I’d come to expect. I got shot. A lot. Woo. However, I did very much enjoy the Spartan Episodes; co-op play with a group of other random players vs a couple of missions that look to be updated on a regular basis allowed me to enjoy online play much more than before.

But, as a final word for this section, that doesn’t stop me coming away from this game having had a good time. Sure, it’s all jumping around incredible looking landscapes blowing up alien monsters with the aforementioned list of weapon types, but it’s still great fun. There’s a reason we’re now around 6 games deep into the series. The formula works.

Story

If there’s one thing I have to compliment Halo 4 on, it is definitely its story. In the same way that the main game is compact and to the point, its story doesn’t go through whirling loops or throw any red herrings. Land on planet, find evil alien, kill evil alien. At its core that’s what it boils down to. And in reality, I don’t really want anything other than that for the main plot of my Halo game. I don’t want to wonder whether this alien is right or wrong. He’s wrong and needs shooting. Lots. And maybe also a grenade.

However, for me, the standout element of Halo 4’s story is the interaction between the Master Chief and Cortana. Ever a strong element of the series, this episode really does it for me, contrasting the Chief, a human who might as well be a machine and Cortana, the machine who might just be human, at least inside. As the game draws to a close, and it lingers on the idea that there are hundreds of other Cortanas out there and that, if things go badly, the Chief might even end up partnered to another of the same, but it wouldn’t really be her, really cuts to the core of the situation for me. Oh, and the final scene is as close to heartbreaking as I think a game like Halo can ever get. It really exemplifies how a supersolder like the Chief, built for nothing but constant war, struggles to express emotion. Good stuff.

Presentation

As always, Halo looks good. 343 have clearly spent a lot of time making sure that, on any amount of close examination, Halo 4 can hold its own stood next to any other member of the series. The animation looks beautiful, the skyboxes and backgrounds suitably awesome, and the detail on the character models is exquisite. I really can’t fault the game in this area. If I had to pick one thing that bugged me, the only thing I could say is that by the end of the game I felt a little bit sick of fighting the same enemies over and over, especially the new Prometheans, who I felt were somehow more repetitive.

Conclusion

I was pleased by Halo 4, it was the same short burst of sci-fi action shooter that I had come to expect from the series, and considering it had been handed off to the new 343 Studios to develop, I suppose that is a compliment. I can’t say it was worse for having changed hands, and achieves the same benchmarks as the rest of the series.

As I stated at the beginning, I’m still not sure whether I feel that the game was too short and compact for the £40 price tag, and therefore I feel a little bit cheated, or whether I felt that it was just the right length to stop me getting bored. Or they should have varied the gameplay a little and added a few more levels. I really can’t decide which I would have preferred. Regardless, my conclusion is still the same; this is a good game. It’s enjoyable, action packed and has a story that, while not gripping, may at least make you shed a holographically generated tear.

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