OXCGN’s Halo 4 Review
Reclaiming the Chief
by Nicholas Laborde
©2012 Nicholas Laborde
It’s quite difficult to properly express how great my anticipation was for Halo 4.
Halo. The innovator and father of the modern console FPS.
Eleven years ago, Halo under Bungie redefined what was possible with a shooter on consoles.
Now, with new developer 343 Industries at the helm of a new trilogy, the fate of the Master Chief is in the hands of the world.
Luckily 343 hits the mark and the Chief will live to fight many more days.
The campaign takes place a little over five years after Halo 3, with the Master Chief and his AI counterpart, Cortana, barreling into the farthest reaches of outer space.
Now, the Legendary ending of Halo 3 showed them floating towards a planet of Forerunner origin, which by logical reasoning cannot be the one on which Halo 4 takes place (unless they stood still for nearly six years).
Back to the “description” aspect of this review, Cortana awakens Chief because of their ship being boarded. Because everyone wants half of a massive, abandoned space warship, right?
The Chief repels a group of rogue Covenant forces from the ship, only to be sucked on to a Forerunner planet via a massive gravitational pull.
After crash landing on the planet (which Chief has a PhD in by now), it’s revealed that Cortana is undergoing rampancy. AIs are programmed to “live” for seven years. Cortana is well past that mark and happily enjoying her eighth year.
By “happily enjoying” I mean yelling uncontrollably and literally engaging in mental abuse of the Chief. [Ed. Sounds like a married couple to me…]
The story of Halo 4 revolves around Chief attempting to get back to Earth to find Dr. Halsey (the architect of the Spartan program) and fix Cortana.
It’s easily the shortest Halo campaign to date, but that’s no criticism. We’ve been complaining since Halo 3.
A primary enemy embodies itself in the form of the Prometheans, which are Forerunner “guard” creatures. Unfortunately, there are only two: Knights, and strange dog-esque creatures.
Knights are the Promethean equivalent of Elites, but are much stronger. They’re the toughest enemies in the game, and even on Normal difficulty, they’re a solid challenge. I loved their design and innate ferocity compared to enemies that we’ve seen before.
The dog creatures, on the other hand, are quite generic. While they do look interesting, the “shoot it in the head and it explodes” archetype has been used far too much as of late.
New weapons abound at every turn, from the UNSC Rail Gun, a massive grenade launcher, to the Covenant Storm Rifle (see: water gun), all the way to the pistol-turned-shotgun Promethean Boltshot, you won’t face any boredom when it comes to eliminating your foes.
For the very first time in the franchise, I felt genuine emotion at events in a Halo game. I felt honest to goodness pangs of sadness several times throughout the story, thanks in part to the incredible narrative 343 has crafted.
While brevity is the name of the game and it may not have been quite what we were expecting, Chief’s newest outing is utterly brilliant. You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll fall in love with his new masters.
Oh, and while Neil Davidge’s musical compositions certainly weren’t bad and complemented what was happening, they unfortunately aren’t nearly as epic or memorable as Marty O’Donnell’s classic Halo pieces.
Every Halo‘s multiplayer was fine tuned and felt extremely polished. No weapon was too weak, but none were too powerful.
Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical of how 343 were going to handle Halo 4‘s multiplayer.
The final product? It’s better than I ever could have dreamed.
343 made no attempt to manipulate Bungie. Rather, they decided to modernize Halo, but at the same time, refused to compromise on what Halo is.
Instead of the multiplayer just being a separate entity in which Spartans waged war, there is now a subtle logical story behind it. Multiplayer is now known as “War Games” and takes place aboard the ship UNSC Infinity.
In terms of canon, this makes the name self-explanatory: it’s all a simulation, so it makes sense now (as if we ever needed justification for shooting our friends in the face).
The usual assortment of modes appear under new names, such as Team Infinity Slayer replacing Team Slayer as the standard team deathmatch mode.
All the games we know and love are here, except standard free for all, which is strangely absent in favor of new mode Regicide, which is reminiscent of Juggernaut in Halo 2. In Regicide, traditional free for all rules are in place, but with a twist: the highest scoring player is visible on all players’ screens, and is the king.
The other major new addition to the multiplayer comes in the form of Dominion. Think of this new mode as a mix of King of the Hill and Horde from the Gears of War franchise.
Dominion places players on maps with neutral bases to capture. Once they are captured, a short “fortification” period follows where light barriers are placed in front of entrances.
After the base is fortified, the base is resupplied every forty-five seconds with power weapons such as the shotgun, rocket launcher, etc. This gives players incentive to stick around and defend their base, rather than going out and racking up kills.
If your team manages to capture all four bases, the enemy team is down to a final life and an overshield, and must dash to the nearest base in an attempt to break the lockdown and continue their war effort.
It’s a genius mix of slayer and objective, and is my personal favorite mode.
The entire user interface (UI) is redesigned to fit more modern, sleek accommodations, which is a bit disconcerting since Halo 2‘s lobby system set the precedent for most modern console game lobbies.
A traditional ranking system of up to 50 is present, but with a Halo twist: instead of having a “prestige” system, achieving level fifty earns you a specialization. The beginning one is SPARTAN-IV. The next is Wetworks.
Upon reaching level fifty in the first specialization, you get different armor and an ability that goes with it. Each following specialization has different armor and an ability at the final level, and so on and so forth. Eight total specializations are in the game.
It adds a tremendous level of depth to the game, and while the abilities aren’t necessarily subtle, they’re not over powered and don’t give any unfair advantages over others.
The ranking system ties in with much of Halo 4‘s customization options. No longer do you have to buy armor with credits as in Reach; now, you unlock them by achieving certain ranks/specializations, or by working on commendations for certain gameplay feats.
Strangely enough, you have to unlock more options for your emblem, which is the strangest design decision I’ve encountered in Halo 4. Apart from that, everything else is solid.
You can pick your primary and secondary weapons, along with perk-like abilities that aren’t intrusive or over powered (such as slightly faster shield recharge, or a little bit more ammo in your starting weapons).
Upon maxing out a specialization, you can also apply that.
Finally, the biggest addition to Halo 4 is that of ordnance. It’s not a kill streak system, but it operates the same way. Achieve a certain number of kills overall (not restricted to one life) and you’ll be greeted to the announcer telling you “Ordnance ready!”
You can choose from a multitude of new weapons, suck as the sticky launcher (a remote detonated explosive) or the SAW (a glorious Halo imagining of the M249 SAW), or even classics like the energy sword or gravity hammer.
Thankfully, it appears in front of you rather than dropping from the sky, and you have no fear of losing your hard-earned weapons.
It all ties together very, very well, and ends up being the most addicting Halo experience yet. I haven’t found myself saying, “Okay, just ONE more game so I can rank up, and THEN I’ll stop playing!” since Call of Duty 4.
Oh, and the Battle Rifle is still the weapon of choice for Halo aficionados.
Forge and Coop
You can still edit everything on a map except the level itself, and have a budget limit as to how many things you can place in a map.
The newest and most helpful feature is that of the “magnets” that objects have, so that you no longer have to spend an agonizing amount of time lining things up perfectly. Instead, they just snap on and you’re good to go.
I can’t wait to see what people come up with.
Finally, we have coop. The campaign supports up to four players as always, but the real cooperative play happens in a new mode called Spartan Ops.
Essentially, we get an hour of free content every week for about a year. I’m not complaining.
While the missions themselves aren’t exactly the most story-laden or vastly interesting, free content is good content, and they bring with them an accompanying set of challenges and rewards.
Halo legend continues
It’s best described as a new paint job: 343 gave the Halo we know and love a new coat of paint, but if you peel it away, you’ll still see the Halo we all know and love.
By no means is it a perfect game. The net code is STILL atrociously outdated and the lack of dedicated servers for multiplayer is nothing short of infuriating.
And really, why don’t we have a way to search for custom games yet?
At the end of the day, though, 343 pulled it off. They managed to diversify Halo in their own way, while still maintaining the signature feel and formula.
It’s nowhere near the scale of Halo 3, but it’s arguably the best one yet.