Halo 4 is a perfect reminder of how much of a masterpiece the original Halo was. The only question is, has Halo 4 improved upon the masterpiece that was the original, where so many sequels have failed?
Somehow, someway, 343 Studios has done just that. Not only is this their first game within the Halo franchise, it’s their first game – period. To think that they’ve managed to recapture and even improve upon the winning formula of the first Halo game, on their first try, is simply astonishing.
Indeed, Microsoft spending more money on the game than America’s national defense budget certainly had its effects, but one can merely look to Star Wars: The Old Republic and see that just throwing money at a game isn’t enough to make it magnificent. So what makes Halo 4 just so, well, magnificent? To better understand that, it’s best to look into the past.
What made the original Halo so spectacular, was its introduction of each enemy type. Everyone remembers the first time they fought Hunters, or the first time they learned how to properly kill an Elite on legendary.
What Halo 4 does so well, is that it re-imagines that first Halo play through, by largely doing away with your old friends and introducing brand new baddies to do battle with.
And just like that, you’re no longer going through the motions of using your refined strategies to dispatch your foes mercilessly while manically laughing.
Now you’re back to experimenting with every weapon there is (of which, there are many) to try and find which weapons and tactics are best when dealing with this new race.
While facing the Prometheans, it became painfully apparent why it is that most shooters are boring me to tears. Killing Russians and Terrorists is as easy as a few bullets to the chest, but when dealing with Halo’s brutal AI and unique tactics, each battle becomes an orchestra that you must conduct with flawless rhythm.
Passive or aggressive, each easily identified alien must be taken out with different play styles and strategies.
There’s a certain bliss to organically changing your tactics in a drastic manner, depending on how the battle is flowing and who you’re fighting.
It’s fun to kill target A with weapon Z, only to toss weapon Z in favor of target A’s weapon, because target B just deployed onto the battlefield, and target A’s weapon is perfect for taking them down. This flow continues on and on until you’re left victorious, your heels on the skulls of your fallen foes.
My only complaint about this, is that weapons “disappear” from the ground far too quickly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve strategically placed weapons around the battlefield, planning to pick them up the moment I need them again; only to find them no longer there. This made my multi-step tactical planning feel very unrewarding, but it’s a minor complaint at best.
While the gameplay is certainly the highlight of Halo 4, there is much to be said about the setting and story. Like most Halo games, the scenery is so much more beautiful than your average corridor shooter extravaganza. The area for fighting is generally much larger, enabling you to take on multiple tactical roles as you see fit.
Want to hijack a ghost with an EMP blast from your plasma pistol? Done. Want to headshot a grunt and grab his fuel rod cannon to start unloading explosive death upon friend and foe alike? Done.
Alternatively, perhaps, snipin’ is more your style – that can be accommodated with the plethora of precision weapons at your disposal at almost every turn.
These massive battles where one can take the approach they want is such a treat in a genre saturated by hand-holding and indistinguishable weapons.
However, perhaps more prominent than the beautiful, handcrafted vistas of Halo 4, is its story. Without getting into the specifics, I feel as if this is the most powerful and emotional story of the franchise. This is in large part due to the motion capture technology used to mimic the actor’s exact movements, right down to their minute facial expressions.
These subtle additions to storytelling in video games make all the difference. Indeed, the ultra realistic CGI of the cut scenes combined with lifelike characters makes for an emotional experience few games, if any, can compare to.
Even Master Chief displays levels of emotion that I can’t recall ever seeing before. Perfectly timed quick jerks of his head, combined with the sound of his suit trying to keep up with his movements, as his visor stares blankly into characters is a haunting occurrence that never stops being incredibly powerful.
I think a lot of credit needs to go to the graphical performance of Halo 4. Not just in the outstanding CGI work that rivals Blizzard’s cut scenes, but in the sheer power 343 Studios mustered out of this aging console. Halo 4 looks, hands down, better than anything else on the Xbox 360.
Hell, it looks better than just about everything else out there—on any console. The graphical difference between this game and Halo Reach is simply astounding and leaves me waiting with baited breath in anticipation of what 343 Studios will bring us in the future.
Another area where 343 Studios both surprised and amazed me, was with the sound. Everything has been remastered and improved – weapons sound appropriately powerful and menacing.
Gunning grunts down with an assault rifle has never felt this good, and it’s all on account of the sound design. Even weapons like the plasma pistol sound as if you’re actually hitting your foes with hot molten plasma.
As always, the voice acting is top notch. Master Chief sounds just as velvety as he always has, while the new supporting cast comes in with a clear respect and understanding of the franchise – bringing their A game.
My only complaint with the sound, was with the music. It wasn’t bad by any means, but I sorely missed the old composers and music.
To me, the distinctive monk chants were just as much a part of the game as Master Chief and Cortanna – seeing them go is sorely disappointing, even if it does make sense given the new tone of the series.
Something that remains relatively the same, however, is the multiplayer. Halo has always brought with it a fairly unique multiplayer, as a direct result of how heavily it caters towards getting headshots with precision weapons.
If you’re looking to run around, lone wolf style, hip-firing with a fully automatic weapon, Halo isn’t your game.
In this regard, I kind of wish Halo was a PC game. It feels really awkward trying to be so precise with your shots on a controller, when there’s a perfectly good method for precision based gaming in the form of a mouse and keyboard. However, once you get accustomed to it, there’s a certain level of addiction that comes with landing headshot after headshot.
As for what has changed about the multiplayer, the ordnance system is both a curse and a blessing. What was once a game of strategic map control, in the form of fighting over weapon spawns, has now become more a game of luck.
The random weapon spawns add a level of chaos to the game that I’m not entirely sure it needed. Weapon spawns can completely change the game, in such a massive way, that it feels almost wrong that it’s completely random.
I also feel as if the personal ordinance drop was a great idea that hasn’t been fully formed yet. As it is, it takes too many points to earn it, for the drops to be so random. Again, this randomness seems to add more luck to a game that’s always been about skill.
I would have loved it if you could call in specific weapons based on how many points you had. A needler costing substantially less than a rocket launcher would have added really interesting and strategic choices to a skill-based game.
In that way, one could tailor their loadouts with the idea in mind that they would be using specific call ins, contrary to hoping that they get lucky with ordinance drops that synergize properly with their abilities and perks.
I will say this though, between piloting the Mantis in multiplayer and the new game mode Dominion, I’m willing to forgive just about anything. Like, for example, the problems with Spartan Ops. Because the new game mode uses the campaign editor, it is extremely sluggish and laggy when you put four Spartans on the screen.
This originally ruined the experience for me, until I played through them all with a friend. When treated as just a two-player game mode, Spartan Ops delivers.
Since the game doesn’t scale up or down, based on how many players are in the game, playing it through with just two players becomes a hectic, fast paced experience in which you and a buddy can clash against wave after wave of enemy combatants.
Furthermore, due to lore reasons, you get access to a lot more UNSC weapon drops and ammo, which makes the combat substantially more fun if you felt that the campaign was lacking in fun toys to play with.
With the advent of a brand-new faction to face, ultra realistic cinematics and the weekly episodes of Spartan Ops, I’d say that Halo 4 has, for the first time, truly added something to the masterful formula the first Halo game created. While I don’t think, any Halo game will ever truly amaze the way the first one did, it seems fairly apparent that 343 studios has cracked the code on how to make a perfect Halo game.
Halo 4 brought the series back to its roots by introducing the Prometheans, alongside a plethora of new toys to play with. As far as shooters go, you can’t do better than Halo 4.
I’m assuming 343 Studios used black magic to conjure up graphics this good, on such an old machine.
Between the stellar voice acting and palatable weapon sounds, Halo has never sounded this good. I just wish there were more monk chants.
The money shows. Everything from the crisp UI to the emotional story is polished to pristine.
With weekly cinematic and gameplay content via Spartan Ops, a robust multiplayer experience, and the most memorable Halo campaign since the original – there’s more than enough content to be worth its $60 price tag.
While the Halo series isn’t for everyone, Halo 4 is a masterpiece for those whose appetites are whetted by what it delivers – a rich FPS experience that puts more emphasis on skill and tactics, in comparison to its competitors.