I have finally reached level 130, this is the highest rank possible in Halo 4, and I though I would do something special for it.
One thing I always hate about reviews is that they don't take into account the lasting appeal of something, over time our opinions can change, our thoughts can solidify, and we can work out in our mind what we truly liked about something, and what we did not like about it especially in a muliplayer game, where exploits come into play, and play styles emerge that often can't be predicted. That being said, I have now played a fair bit of Halo 4, I have thought a lot about what worked, and what didn't for me.
I this will essentially be my review of the game for lack of a better term, keep in mind I am aware that I am not the greatest writer, but I will do my best to articulate my feelings about this game, I will be breaking it up into sections to help organize my thoughts about it.
I initially upon the announcement of Halo 4 felt some what betrayed. I thought that the continuation of the franchise was forced, was the beginning of the end for Halo, and that its future would be annualized whoring of a once great, lovingly crafted franchise. I was so convinced of this that when I even expressed this to both 343 and Bungie employees when I went to PAX in 2011 , and Halofest. I talked to one man especially about this, his name was Jay Wienland, he was the sound lead on all the Bungie made Halo games, he told me that he was looking forward to the future and could not wait to sit down and play 343's envisioning of Halo 4, he was genuinely optimistic. After that I though maybe I should start being more cautiously optimistic, if Bungie employees were trusting of 343 with their baby, then maybe I should give them a chance too. As Halo 4's launch came closer I became more and more convinced that my initial reaction was not in fact the case, clearly the people there cared about what they were making, and its future. Some things worried me, but I could not deny, the more they showed of the game the less worried I became.
- The Campaign
A lot can be said about the Halo universe and its games but one thing is for sure, love it, or hate it, Halo's story has always been a large part of a lot of people's love for the Halo franchise. Halo 4 told a story that took a different approach to a lot of things than Bungie's game's. for the first time it really seemed that the Books were now being acknowledged as a huge part of the back bone of Halo's canon, and it shows. Halo 4 tells a story that is basically about the Chief and Cortana. 4 years after Halo 3 something that us Halo junkies all knew was that eventually Cortana would reach her 7 year lifespan, something touched on in the books but never really mentioned in the games. I loved this aspect of the story, the human aspects of John being explored are something that I have always wanted, Cortana is the way to unearth those. The Spartan program was brutal and what a lot of people may not know is the Master Chief is the way he is because of a very gruelling past. Cortana is all that he has left of that past, and for as stoic as he is in the games I have always felt remorse for him as a character because he is so strong, and because he was forced to be.
That being said I think that Halo 4's story also had some major issues. First off why was the feeling of being alone in a strange world abandoned so quickly? For as much effort as was made in Halo 4 to feel like you are alone in a strange world again, halo 4 was much too fast to drop you back into the UNSC mix of things. I also really felt that a lot of the moments that should have had large impact in the story did not. Lasky and the Spartan IV's meeting chief, there was almost no reaction. Onto the Didact, why was his arrival no big deal!? This is the last living Forerunner, the first ever seen, and he also happens to be their warlord! Why is this not made out to be a bigger deal than it is? Why do Chief and Cortana know who he is? Why do the except his arrival as no big deal? Why is he portrayed as an evil Disney villain, and why does his depth have no shadow lifted on it? I mean for those who don't know, the Didact fought Humanity before the Forerunner/Flood war. He has his reasons for hating us, and he was not always a cantankerous asshole. He lost all his sons to Humans, he lost his entire species to the Flood, something that he believes we brought to his front lines Some of this is touched on in the terminals but my point is that his character was much more than what was shown, he has motivations, and he is a pretty big deal.
The other thing about the current state of Halo's universe that bothers me is the portrayal of the UNSC. We are now on the offence, the Covenant has all but crumbled, and those of them that are still opposed to humanity are simply gorilla fighters, this combined with the UNSC Infinity makes it feel like the stakes are now gone. Another thing I am not sure about is the Spartan IV's. In the past Spartan were something special and rare, they were different than regular humans, and seeing them in Halo: Reach, and in Forward Unto Dawn was somewhat awe inspiring. Halo 4's new breed of Spartans are not only numerous, they are wise cracking, and some what... Normal. The idea of four Spartans taking on Hundreds of Covenant in a last stand was something I always dreamed of seeing. But if we have hundreds of them, there is no real threat, and they're just regular Marines/ODST's with fancy armour, genetically upgraded bodies, and better training. I feel that Spartan are no longer a thing of legend, they are now just there.
The end result of Halo 4's story was that is was a little too safe in a lot of ways, but dispute leaving you in a largely familiar place, maybe a little too familiar, it still had redeeming factors. Watching Cortana go insane had impact to me, it was a similar feeling of watching a grandparent lose themselves to Alzheimer's. Cortana and Chief are interesting characters in that Cortana is Chiefs humanity, while being a machine, and Chief though he is human, behaves more like a robot than well, a robot. These two are also interesting because they were both built for the same purpose, war, and by the same person. They don't get to do what they want to do, the are treated like pieces of equipment, for their entire lives. In the end Halo 4 had Cortana deteriorating to the point that she was unable to tell you what to do, she was afraid, facing her own mortality, one of her primary roles throughout the last 10 years was telling you what to do, making this change somewhat felt. 343 actually had some balls in the end, because by the end of Halo 4 Cortana, Chiefs last friend in the world (or so he thinks) dies, this was an impactful moment, the ironic thing about it for me is that in Chief and Cortana's last moments together the thing that hit me home hardest was seeing Chief emote, "Cortana, please." That ending in itself left me feeling something that few games have ever really done, it made me genuinely upset. 10 years I have known that character and they killed her, sad stuff duder. Dispute that lack of explanation for how the ending worked, and despite the quicktime event required to defeat the Didact, that scene will be something I remember.
On the gameplay and presentation side Halo 4 got things right and wrong in many ways, the presentation is amazing, especially in early parts of the game. This is the best Halo's gunplay and movement have ever been, and visually Halo 4 is absolutely incredible, especially on 7 year old hardware as good as Reach looked, Halo 4 stepped it up again. This game plays beautifully Almost Every weapon serves a purpose, since Halo CE this has not been the case. Weapons are fun to use, you feel like a bad ass just running, the visuals are fantastic, and the sound is amazing. The assault rifle, BR, DMR, Shotgun, Plasma Pistol, and so on, these weapons are fun, and effective.
The first third of the game really shines, from the opening on a derelict ship floating into a giant Dyson sphere, all while huge Covenant ships loom around, like a school of sharks waiting to pick a dead whale apart, to driving through an awe inspiring alien world, with the new and improved Warthog. Where it falls apart though is later on. halo is a sandbox game, if you build in interesting place, populate it with the right AI's and weapons/vehicles the player can do what they want to do, and this is where Halo thrives. Unfortunately Halo 4 forgets that all to often, from fighting Prometheans in dull grey corridors too often, Promethans are cool, but knights are often too big of bullet sponges, I like Challenging enemies, but they should not just have unlimited health and one hit kills to do so, and often in these encounters 343 is giving you only three weapons to chose from one which is almost useless. Also to having crap poor allied AI, that makes the large set piece scenes feel empty because you are the only one doing anything. Even enemy AI is not so great at times too, Elites stand still too often they are still one of the primary bad guys after all, they should be cunning, that is what makes them fun to fight. these are some of the places Halo 4 falls short.
Over all I would give Halo 4's Campaign experience a 4 out of 5. It falls short in a few ways, but its highs are still high enough to make it a very good game.
- The multiplayer
Halo 4's multiplayer is a huge part of the game, some would argue that it is the most important aspect of Halo, and the reason that these games have such a long lasting appeal Since the adoption of Call of Duty as the standard multiplayer shooter formula, it is no surprise that Halo 4 has taken some of those conventions and added them to its unique brand of muliplayer madness.
One of the thing a lot of Halo "fans" were crying before Halo 4's release was that it would play like Call of Duty, that is of course not the case, but how does it play? Well, I am here to tell you that the combat, gunplay, and core of Halo 4's multiplayer is butter smooth. The Battle rifle is back and arguably one of the most satisfying weapons in a shooter to date, the feeling of finishing a kill with it is fantastic, and one that I find myself increasingly addicted to the more I play. That's not to say that it is the only weapon in the arsenal there are a host of weapons to choose from, and for the first time in Halo multiplayer you can actually choose to spawn with them. This is a HUGE change to Halo's design one that I think works well. Previously is Halo there were always weapons that were ignored on the map, in Halo 4 almost every weapon serves a distinct purpose. The assault rifle has kick, the Beam rifle sounds amazingly lethal the Needler is now a power weapon, and there is now more variate in the weapon use over all then ever before. That is an amazing thing.
There are some inherent issues with weapon balance though. As of right now the DMR is too dominant at all ranges, and the Boltshot has become the go to side arm because of its stopping power. it promotes a lot of camping, and can create some pretty frustrating situations.
Another change to the multiplayer is the ability to call in ordinance. This is a change that has met a lot of scepticism my thoughts on it are that it works, it's a nice change, and that it mixes up the combat in some interesting ways. Now there is still an inherent flaw to this system, say I am on a killing spree, suddenly my ordinance is up, well, turns out on Valhalla I can use Speed boost, call in grenades, or call in a Shot gun... Now next game am am in the same position, but this time I have gotten over 20 kills in a row, now I am randomly awarded a Binary rifle (the most powerful weapon in the game), while the best player on the other team is stuck with a Gravity hammer. You see my point here?
Another issue is that on the stock maps weapons spawn randomly, this is sometimes a pain as you can often be winning a game, then boom, the losing team happens to have a rocket launcher spawn in their face. It does not promote map control, or competitive, balanced game play.
The armour abilities and other secondary perks all work fairly well, there are a lot of fun classes that you can build to suit your play, and aside from the jetpack I would say that they all work fairly well, and are well balanced.
Halo 4 launched with 8 playable maps out of the box, slightly lower than the past games, but the good news is that there are some real gems in thier. haven is a great competetive semi symmetrical map that promotes a lot of team work and calling out to get the one up on your enemies. Adrift, though a terrible Slayer map is a very solid CTF map. Exile is a great map for vehicular mayhem (Halo 4's vehicle combat is the best yet!), and Abandon is great for hard core competitive player, promoting getting multiple sightliness on the other team well controlling vital power points around the map.
The last point to make about the multiplayer is unfortunately the net code. I am disappointed in Halo 4's hit detection and the level of lag in a lot of the matches that I play. I think it is actually a downgrade from Halo: Reach's average game quality. This may only effect some player, or I may just notice it more because I am a bit competitive than some others but this is my single largest issue with halo 4's online, Spartan Ops suffers from the same issue.
Over all I will say that Halo 4 plays great, it is the most fun that Halo's combat has ever been, it is butter smooth, and well polished. Movement, vehicles, and just shooting dudes is fun, however there are some things that just can't be ignored. lack of a fileshare browser, no tittle update three months after launch, and seemingly poor netcode are fairly major issues in my book. Halo 4 is a 4 out of 5 in terms of the multiplayer experience for me.
- Spartan Ops
Spartan Ops is something with immense potential, however Halo 4's attempt at potentially creating a revolutionary new story driven game mode fell short for the first 5 episodes. The CG cutscenes are cool, but the missions linked with them felt boring, tacked on, and rather than well designed felt like dull shooting galleries filled with as man dudes to shoot as possible. Spartan Ops is not finished, so what I will say is that I won't be finishing this part of the "review" until it is, but Episodes 6 and 7 have set my hopes high as they blow the first few Spartan Ops missions out of the water. The plot is also heating up as Jul 'Mdama gets closer to his ultimate goal, and DR. Halsey learns that John 117 is still alive.
In closing I will say that Halo is a great passion of mine, its future is important to me, and I hope for the best, I like Halo 4 a lot. despite the fact that I am let down by a fair few of the decisions in this game I am hopeful that 343 will learn from their mistakes, and next time around we we have an even better experience than this time.
I will be uploading a video of my last match to reach SR130 sometime tomorrow, it will show the unlocks and such that you get when you get there.
I also want to thank @demonknightinuyasha for hooking me up with a ridiculous about of double EXP codes in Halo 4, out of the goodness of his heart. ;)
I God, I forgot to mention the soundtrack... I will have to add that tomorrow.
EDIT: This is my second attempt at a review, please, let me know what you think guys, about the review, and the game!
EDIT 2: Well I decided that the 10 minutes of 1080p footage I took of my last game to reach SR130 was just too long to upload, so here are to sweet shorter clips instead!