Halo 4 Review

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By the time Halo 4 came out I was completely burnt out on the series. I played the first three games non-stop for a while. Then ODST and Reach came out and consumed a lot of my time. So when Halo 4 released, I got it, I beat it, and never looked back. Until now. I didn’t remember much about the story but I did remember a few gameplay sequences and it was good for me to play this now as a refresher before playing Halo 5. Developed by 343 Industries and published by Microsoft Game Studios, Halo 4 was released for Xbox 360 in November, 2012. For this review, I played The Master Chief Collection version of Halo 4. I also teamed up with Jeremy for a local co-op playthrough. Halo 4 was the second game to be developed by 343, the first being Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, and is the first new entry in the series to not be developed by Bungie.

At the end of Halo 3, Master Chief and Cortana were basically trapped in a piece of the Forward Unto Dawn ship, just floating through space, waiting to be rescued. Master Chief entered cryonic sleep and told Cortana to wake him when needed. Halo 4’s story takes place after the events of the comic tie-in Halo: Uprising, which I’ve never read, and four years, seven months, and ten days after the events of Halo 3. Cortana decides to wake up Master Chief after she realizes the ship was boarded by rogue Covenant forces. After clearing out the hostiles, the ship is caught in the planet Requiem’s gravity well, eventually crash landing on the planet, itself. After crash landing, Cortana reveals that AI’s normally start deteriorating after seven years and she, herself, has been active for eight. She begins to suffer from rampancy and Master Chief makes it his mission to take her back to her creator, Catherine Halsey, who they believe would have the solution to stop the rampancy. And this is actually one plot hole that’s never resolved by the end of the story. However, on their quest, Chief accidentally releases the Didact, an ancient Forerunner, from imprisonment. Under his command are a new set of enemies known as Prometheans and they’re actually immune to Flood infection. And, no, thankfully, the Flood is not in the game. Promethean Knights were once humans that were converted to these mechanical beings by a device known as the Composer. The Didact attempts to use the Composer on the planet Earth so, obviously, the Chief and Cortana set out to stop him. Honestly, I don’t think the story is as interesting as anything seen in prior games. I appreciate the developers going for something new here but, in my opinion, the story loses steam pretty quickly. I do like how the plot digs a little deeper into the relationship between Chief and Cortana. If you have knowledge of the Halo extended universe, you’ll probably get a lot more out of the story. It seems like the developers intended to start a whole new saga or at least set up a sequel. Now, the voice acting is actually pretty good. Steve Downes reprises his role as Master Chief and Jen Taylor returns to voice Cortana and Dr. Halsey. Also lending their voices is Laura Bailey and Jennifer Hale. All of the performances were pretty believable, some of the drama felt forced, but overall the voice work gets the job done. I think Master Chief speaks more in this game than in all of the prior games combined.

Halo 4 includes four difficulty modes – Easy, Normal, Heroic, and Legendary. Jeremy and I completed the game cooperatively on Legendary and I completed it solo on Normal. You may be wondering why I didn’t complete it on Legendary, myself. I was going to but I played it with Jeremy first and realized I just wasn’t feeling it. It’s not so much because of the difficulty or challenge but because the atmosphere and story just weren’t doing it for me. Don’t get me wrong, Halo 4 is a solid shooter but it’s also a mediocre Halo game in my opinion. So I really wasn’t up for the Legendary challenge in a game I’m not that excited about. Now this is the final game in The Master Chief Collection, and just like all the rest, the skulls and scoring system return. As you play through the campaign, with the scoring HUD on or off, you’re awarded points for kills, kill streaks, and unique kills. The higher the difficulty and the more challenging skulls you have activated, the higher the point multiplier. There are plenty of skulls that make the game harder and only a few that make the game easier or are just considered non-scoring. Activating these skulls will also disable any achievements related to scoring. There are terminals you can find scattered throughout the environments that provide backstory and lore. When you activate one, it does take you out of the game and into the Halo Channel if you have it installed.

Master Chief can run, jump, crouch, man and detach turrets, and perform a melee attack which can now result in a cinematic kill viewed in third-person. Master Chief can also sprint now, a mechanic I’m very grateful for. It’s just nice to be able to quickly move to a destination on foot. The game employs regenerating shields which doubles as health so if you’re taking damage you’ll want to stay out of harm’s way until your shields regenerate. For some reason, the developers decided to remove the flashlight or functional headlights, whatever you want to call it. I don’t really know why, although there isn’t a lot of dark areas so it doesn’t matter, I guess. Armor Abilities make a return, can only be active for a brief time before needing to recharge, and you can only equip one at a time but swap them out with others found throughout the environments or from fallen enemies. Active camouflage lets you turn invisible. The Hard Light Shield ability is a shield that the Chief whips out and it can deflect enemy projectiles. It can actually be quite helpful on the Legendary difficulty. The Autosentry ability lets Chief spawn a little sentry bot that will fire at enemies. Promethean Vision lets you see things like enemies through walls and objects. The Jet Pack lets you fly around and the Thrust Pack allows you to rapidly move along the ground. The Hologram ability returns and sends out a holographic decoy of Chief that marches straight forward and can distract enemies. There’s also a Regeneration Shield ability that’s exclusive to multiplayer. Apparently, it creates a spherical field that will recharge any shields of those within it. It sounds like it functions the same as the Regenerator from Halo 3. Keep in mind that the enemies can use some of these abilities, too. For example, you’ll see Elites using active camouflage and the Knights will use the Hard Light Shield and Autosentry quite frequently.

Classic UNSC and Covenant weapons return and some have been redesigned. The assault rifle, battle rifle, sniper rifle, DMR, magnum, Covenant carbine, beam rifle, plasma pistol, needler, energy sword, gravity hammer, fuel rod gun, frag and plasma grenades, and the rocket launcher are all here, among others. The Storm Rifle is a new Covenant weapon that I guess is supposed to be a replacement for the plasma rifle. It does feel more like a traditional assault rifle since it rapidly fires projectiles but I do kind of miss the plasma rifle. New to the UNSC arsenal is the Sticky Detonator which fires sticky explosives that can be detonated manually. You can also equip a Rail Gun which, when fully charged, fires a devastating explosive slug. I think my favorite new UNSC weapon is the Squad Automatic Weapon, abbreviated as SAW. It’s a light machine gun that just feels badass. Now there’s a whole new set of weapons introduced here which I guess you can categorize as Promethean weapons and they do have their own unique ups and downs. If my knowledge of Halo lore is correct, many of the Covenant weapons are based on Forerunner technology so some of these new weapons will feel familiar like the Boltshot, for example. It basically functions the same as the plasma pistol. The Incineration Cannon is an extremely deadly weapon that fires a cluster of explosives, basically killing any target immediately. The Lightrifle is a good weapon to have equipped at all times and functions as a mid-to-long-range weapon. The Scattershot is basically a Promethean shotgun and the Suppressor is like a Promethean machine gun of some kind but it only seems to be useful at close range and can be pretty useless on Legendary since you’ll never want to get too close to enemies. The Binary rifle is like a Promethean Sniper Rifle and it can be quite useful, although it can only hold up to ten rounds so it’s best to use it on tougher enemy types. Along with Promethean weapons is a new grenade type called Pulse grenades. Once thrown, they generate a sphere that will drain shields of any targets in its vicinity before finally exploding. Most weapons include a crosshair bloom to indicate weapon accuracy and from what I understand, a lot of people are not happy with this mechanic. But I assume it’s for multiplayer reasons because I, honestly, have no real issues with it. Now the Promethean weapons all look pretty cool and everything but, honestly, they’re not that exciting. They all just feel familiar. The Binary Rifle and Incineration Cannon are easily the most satisfying and the rest are just kind of… There, and you’ll use them often because sometimes they’re the only weapons available in the area.

Several vehicles and aircraft from prior games make return including the Warthog, Mongoose, Ghost, Banshee, Wraith, and Tank. You can finally pilot a Pelican in one mission and it’s equipped with an autocannon and turret which can be manned by another player. There’s a couple of segments where you pilot a mech thing called a Mantis. One arm is like an autocannon and the other arm can fire missiles. These sequences are actually pretty fun, letting you stomp around and blow away enemies and it never really gets old. Another mission lets you pilot the Broadsword which is a UNSC fighter equipped with cannons and missiles. However, as cool as it is to pilot this thing, the experience is over before you know it. The Covenant have a new aircraft called the Lich but you don’t get to pilot it. You still need to watch out for Wraith plasma mortars, and yes you can still sabotage them with grenades to blow them up, you can still hijack enemy Ghosts, and enemies like Elites can even hijack you if you’re piloting a Ghost so you need to be careful. All of the vehicles control like they did in prior games and if you’re playing on Legendary, they’re not always going to be the saviors you want them to be. Enemies can blow up your vehicle in a matter of seconds on Legendary, specifically the Banshee. You won’t last two minutes. At least I didn’t. It’s very possible I suck, however, enemies can shoot your Banshee with pinpoint accuracy, even if you’re dodging and it’s absolutely nuts and just not worth the effort. You’re better off engaging them on foot or in a vehicle.

Now let’s talk about the enemies. Several Covenant enemies return including Grunts, Jackals, Elites, and Hunters. Drones and Brutes do not make a return for some reason. I know the Grunts and Jackals were redesigned which is noticeable from the get-go but they still act the same. Jackal Snipers are present and do pose a significant threat on the Legendary difficulty. The Covenant AI is just as smart as it was in prior games with Elites being the most deadly types of the bunch. You know, they dodge projectiles and grenades efficiently, they’re equipped with shields, and without retreading old ground, the Covenant enemies are no pushovers, especially on Legendary. Halo 4 introduces a new enemy faction known as Prometheans and, honestly, they’re just annoying. Not Flood levels of annoying, but still annoying. You’ve got Promethean Knights, Crawlers, and Watchers. Knights and Crawlers have their own variations. Promethean Knights are the largest of the bunch, kind of humanoid in appearance, and can wield most of the Promethean weapons. They are equipped with a shield and they can teleport around areas which really becomes irritating. They’ll frequently teleport behind you or directly in front of you and one strike from their melee attack can kill you so you always need to be alert. They will run away when under attack, especially when they’re shield breaks, and they’re pretty good at staying behind cover until their shield recharges. Knights can also deploy Watchers which are these flying sentinels that can, quite frankly, really start to get under your skin the further you progress. They can resurrect Knights, deploy beam turrets, and even return your grenades. I found that making Watchers primary targets to be the best course of action unless of course I was up against a Knight with an Incineration Cannon. Now the Crawlers are basically Promethean dogs that can jump, crawl along walls, some can snipe, and if you’re focusing on other enemies, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the Crawlers. They like to rush you and can be a real pain in the ass. I’m going to say this outright – I prefer the Prometheans to the Flood, but these new enemies are definitely what drag Halo 4 down. In my opinion, the Covenant and their AI have always been staples of the series and the Prometheans just don’t match up. The Crawlers just rush you, the Watchers are literally designed to frustrate the player, and the Knights show the only real form of intelligence but it’s not on the same level as Elites. I guess because they like to teleport which doesn’t really make them smart, just annoying.

Much of the game takes place on the planet Requiem but you’ll also fight through some other locations as well. Requiem has a pretty diverse geography and is filled with jungles, forests, and even a desert. Just like previous games, your objective is always to go from point A to B. And there seems to be an insane amount of button pushing. It seems like you’re always pushing buttons or activating something. You did this in previous games as well but it just feels excessive here. It’s not a bad thing, I guess, it only takes a couple of seconds but it feels like every other objective has you pushing or activating something. You’re also going to be running through a lot of portals that take you to wherever Cortana says. While Bungie had improved their level design with each passing game, 343 didn’t take any notes because Halo 4 seems to regress a little in that area. There’s a lot of similar looking rooms, corridors, and areas. It’s nowhere near as bad as the design repetition in Halo one but it does become noticeable, especially since many areas look all too familiar. There are a few standout missions like the ones that let you pilot a Mantis and the other where you’re flying the Broadsword. One mission has you accompanying UNSC soldiers on a Mammoth, which is this massive transport vehicle, and you’re objective is to destroy multiple particle cannons and shut down a gravity well. You’ll get to man turrets, blow away enemy vehicles, and even infiltrate a Covenant ship. This segment in particular is reminiscent of the Scarab segments in Halo 3 but not quite as exciting. My favorite mission has to be the one titled “Composer”. This mission requires you to rescue scientists on a UNSC science station while it’s overruned with Covenant forces. I like this mission for two reasons. One, it doesn’t include any Prometheans. And two, in my opinion, it’s the only mission in the entire game that gave me a Halo vibe.

In terms of visuals, Halo 4 is noticeably better looking than any of the prior games. That includes the original Halo 2 and not the Anniversary Edition. Everything is well detailed, character models and animations look incredible, and the environments are filled with neat little visual touches like dust, debris, and particles in the air, among other things. I love the new redesigned weapons like the battle rifle, for example, and the shotgun just looks badass. During gameplay, there’s kind of this visor HUD thing going on since you can see parts of Master Chief’s helmet at the edges of the screen. I should also mention that Halo 4 does introduce a grenade indicator which is helpful. I did notice that some text that appears on the screen looks… not good. Like’s it’s not scaled correctly or something. It’s hard to explain, you have to see it. For what was originally a 360 title, Halo 4 looks pretty damn good. The new Forerunner environments seem to include a lot of sleek and shiny structures and there’s a lot of lights. It gives off a nice futuristic and sci-fi vibe, I just wish the developers mixed it up a little because it does add to the environment repetition I mentioned about earlier. As for the audio work, the music is a real disappointment in my opinion. And I don’t mean that as any disrespect to the composers but if you’ve played prior games, the soundtrack here is just not up to par for a Halo game. I did enjoy one tune heard during the last mission but there’s not many tracks that really stood out to me. The sound effects, on the other hand, are phenomenal. The assault rifle sounds beastly compared to how it sounded in some of the previous entries and all of the UNSC weapons finally sound powerful. Even the reload sound effects are noticeably crisp, clear, and satisfying to hear. On the technical side, we did experience some frame rate dips but it wasn’t often and I noticed some pop-in here and there. And once again, this is yet another entry where local co-op is displayed in the 4:3 aspect ratio, making it hard to see shit, especially with all of the glowing lights in some areas. Unless you have a massive TV, the mission where you fly the Broadsword can be a real pain in the ass in split-screen because it can be hard to make out the obstacles you’re supposed to avoid. So now that I’ve completed each game in The Master Chief Collection, I really think 343 could have done a better job. Halo 2 is clearly the only game that received any significant attention. Yeah, the rest got a frame rate boost and resolution increase but I really question some of the design decisions here. The local co-op aspect ratio is one of my biggest complaints because they can clearly fix it as seen in the Anniversary Editions of Halo one and two. I understand it would be an undertaking but I think they should have done it. Outside of Halo 2: Anniversary, every game in this collection is basically a straight port with very minor improvements, making the whole collection feel a bit inconsistent. And let’s not forget the missing ODST Firefight mode. And keep in mind my complaints are isolated to the campaigns, although I hear the multiplayer had some serious issues at launch, too.

I had fun with Halo 4 but not as much fun as I had with any of the previous games. There was no “wow” moments or genuine feelings of satisfaction after a tough battle. When playing on Legendary, most of the time we just felt relieved after tough battles because the new enemies are just annoying. Shortly after I started playing Halo 4, I just felt like something was off and that feeling never subsided. And that’s my biggest issue with the game. It doesn’t really feel like Halo in many ways. It’s got all the bells and whistles but something is missing. If you’ve played the prior games and this, you may know what I’m talking about. And, no, it’s not the Flood. As mediocre as this is for a Halo game, it could be worse, it could include the Flood. I only really enjoyed one mission and the rest were just kind of “meh”. I think the biggest issue is lack of war as a backdrop. I think the human-Covenant war added a lot to the atmosphere of previous games and it’s just simply not here. The Covenant are not really the focus here and the Prometheans just aren’t that exciting. I think I enjoyed the second half of the game more than the first but there are a few sequences in the first half that include the Covenant and Prometheans battling it out which is cool and reminds me of the faction battles in the first two games.

Ultimately, Halo 4 is a good game. Yes, I would recommend it. But as a Halo game, it’s not quite there. Keep in mind, this is all based on our personal preferences so you may actually enjoy it. But for me, personally, this is probably my least favorite game in the series, despite not including the Flood. I think the plot caters more to Halo fans than anyone else, the Promethean enemies just don’t cut it, and the new weapons look cool but feel familiar. The audiovisual presentation, minus the music, is definitely a huge improvement compared to previous games and I would say that The Master Chief Collection iteration of Halo 4 is the definitive version of the campaign, despite some design choices when talking about the collection as a whole. I appreciate the developers attempt at digging deeper into Halo lore and bringing the Forerunners to the stage but something just doesn’t feel right. The tone, the atmosphere, all of it just feels off. With all of that said, Halo 4 is a solid game, and unless you’re a fan of the series, a forgettable Halo experience.

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