Halo 4 Thoughts

Since I am incapable on writing proper score-based reviews I'm going to write a bit about my ( slightly spoiler-filled) thoughts on Halo 4 having played through the campaign, Spartan Ops, and many hours of multiplayer.

You can say what you want about ODST, but it was a different Halo experience.
You can say what you want about ODST, but it was a different Halo experience.

While it may be obvious, I feel it necessary to say that I am big fan of Halo. I was one of those 13 year old kids who played Halo 1 way before they should have and who played through the other games time and time again pouring hundreds of hours into multiplayer. So I was filled with a certain amount of trepidation when Bungie split away from Microsoft and it was announced that Halo would be transferred over to 343 (who at the time had not yet announced Halo 4). It felt like yet another Harmonix situation where the franchise they had birthed had been taken away from them so they could pursue other games. But since Bungie was contractually obligated to release two more Halo games they went and released (in my opinion) some of the most fulfilling Halo experiences thus far. ODST and Reach felt like Bungie pushing the Halo gameplay experience to its natural limits combining new atmosphere (in ODST) and expanding the sandbox with Armor Abilities (in Reach). I'm not going to say that I loved those game as much as 1-3, but as a fan it felt like a whole experience and a more importantly a love letter of sorts to fans giving them the most complete Halo experience possible.

As dismissive as it might sound, the announcement of Halo 4 was essentially looked at by me from Day 1 as more of a cash grab than a logical extension of Halos story. We had reunited the Covenant, defeated the Flood, and Master Chief was floating far off in space ready to be reawaken. Bungie did a decent job of leaving it open ended, leaving 343 with the duty of creating a wholly new experience. After playing through the Halo 4 campaign and most of the other ancillary content its hard for me to say that I feel like they lived up to that premise. Sure, we are exposed to the planet/structure of Requiem, sure we encounter a new enemy and threats, but how much of it is really 'new'? The Promethean enemies are just slightly more different than the Covenant and the weapons fall a bit too neatly into existing weapon archetypes than I would have liked.

These choices simply doesn't make sense, Halo 4 feels like a game made a in a vacuum, it unflinchingly keeps to the Halo gameplay that has always existed, providing very little new 'game'. Not to say that Halo 2 and Halo 3 were so vastly different from their predecessor but I feel like you can point to specific additions (dual weilding, online multiplayer, firefight, forge) as substantial additions to the Halo experience whereas Halo 4's additions merely feel copied from Call of Duty and Reach. If anything the worst thing I can say of Halo 4 is that it bored me. I felt like time and time again that I was simply doing the same things over and over again. Sure, the game is broken up by vehicle sequences and environments but so is EVERY Halo game since the beginning. Not to mention the fact that over the course of the game the majority of your objects are one of the following: 1) Push the button. 2) Activate this console (aka push the button) and 3) Put Cortana onto a podium (press the button). Halo 4 is without a doubt the most expensive green button pushing simulator we will probably ever get.

The other disappointment is the story and narrative overall. While I'm not going to sit here and say that Bungie is a perfect example of story tellers in games, at least their entries were understandable and didn't ask for previous knowledge of its fiction. I'm fairly certain theirs a unwritten writing rule that says if you audience has to go online in order to understand the minutia of your story than you've fucked up. The biggest credit I can give 343 is that they finally made good on Cortanas rampancy. It was something that Bungie nearly touched on, but didn't mostly out of the fact that it wasn't necessary. She is absolutely the star of the show, providing decent food for thought about the Master Chief and his cold nature. Is the 'relationship' between Chief and Cortana still a little weird? Yep, but atleast its handled well enough even if the final scene falls flat due to odd writing and delivery. If the goal of Halo 4 was to expose the more human side of Master Chief than I would say it only partially succeeded. He certainly talks more than in any previous Halo games and by virtue of that being the case we certainly get a little more personality, but not really, we're left with a person who is essentially unchanged after his experiences during Halo 4, the only changes being the fact that Cortana is supposedly gone.

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As I believe the Giant Bomb crew have touched on already, Halo 4 feels like a stop gap. It feels like a safe 'feeling out' of 343. It barely takes any chances and leaves the game open to interesting places given the staple of Chief and Cortana seems up in the air. But that is exactly what the ending of Halo 4 feels like, up in the air. I don't feel like we have what you might want from a start of a new trilogy. The Composer (whatever the hell that is) is destroyed I guess, the Didact is presumed dead (sure he is) and Earth is seemingly safe. We don't have much to look forward to from a narrative stand point. You can say what you want about the Mass Effect series, but those games had a good through line in terms of what we could expect. We knew by the end of the first game that the Reapers were a real threat and they were coming. In Halo 4 were left with a uncertain future with nearly no real closure or mystery. And the Spartans Ops missions that I had hoped might provide back story or atmosphere boil down to tiny bite-sized missions devoid of either. They are so inconsequential that I can't honestly recommend them to anyone.

So I suppose on one hand I'm interested in what the future of the series holds and on the other it disappoints me that even a all-star development team like 343 was not able to add anything of meaning to Halo. I would love it if the series could really become something that I'm genuinely interested in again, but if Halo 4 is any indication its going to take a lot to get there.