Platform: Xbox 360
Date of Game Release: November 6, 2012
Date of Publication: November 15, 2012
I wrote this game review for the Western Front. It won 2nd place in the “Editorial/Commentary, Arts & Entertainment” category of the Washington Press Association’s 2012 Communications Contest.
Halo 4 is perhaps the riskiest Halo title produced since the franchise began 11 years ago. It not only borrows gameplay elements from a plethora of other shooters in recent years, but also marks the first full game created by 343 Industries with original developer Bungie having nothing to do with the project. Despite all that, Halo 4 still maintains the traditional Halo feel of previous titles and delivers an experience few other games can match.
Without giving anything away, Halo 4’s campaign is a remarkably satisfying experience. Providing a healthy blend of infantry and vehicular combat in environments that range from the depths of swampy jungles to vast plateaus in the desert, to aerial combat around floating Forerunner skyscrapers and firefights on the outer hulls of starships, Halo 4’s campaign is filled with combat that is wonderfully varied and fluidly paced. The new Promethian enemies add some particularly refreshing spice to the game’s combat, and the host of weapons they come with add nicely to the game’s sandbox.
Yet for all it’s superbly implemented gameplay, the campaign’s story is a bit of a mixed bag. For those who’ve seeped themselves in the lore of the broader Halo universe, Halo 4 is sure to delight. But, if you’ve only played the Halo games, you may become lost in this game’s plot and the importance of some pivotal characters. The story is definitely less accessible than previous Halo games, which at times makes cut-scenes feel more like fan-service than something meant to carry the plot forward.
Halo 4’s competitive multiplayer is dramatically different than previous Halo online play. Featuring the ability to join a game in progress, a progression system complete with unlockable weapons and passive bonuses for players to equip upon spawning and a host of other changes, Halo 4’s multiplayer may sound closer to Call of Duty or Battlefield, but the result is gameplay that offers something fresh to Halo gamers while retaining elements that make Halo great.
This is not Halo 3.5. The core mechanics of gametypes like Capture The Flag and Infection (now called Flood) have been changed, new weapons and vehicles have been introduced alongside old favorites, and maps are varied and balanced for the most part. The game’s maps can also be altered in the game’s Forge mode, where players can even create their own maps almost completely from scratch with an interface and set of tools that are both improvements on previous iterations of Forge in past Halo games.
In addition to competitive gaming, Halo 4’s online offering includes Spartan Ops, an episodic series of downloadable story-driven missions set after the events of Halo 4’s campaign. Spartan Ops replaces the cooperative defense-based Firefight gametype of past Halo games and allows up to four players to cooperatively slay Covenant and Promethium enemies in a variety of environments during campaign-like missions that span 10-20 minutes in length. At the time of this writing, only ten missions are available, but future episodes of five missions each are scheduled for release on a weekly basis free to players with an Xbox Live Gold subscription, which is required to download and access any part of Spartan Ops.
While Spartan Ops does retain the fun of cooperative gameplay that Firefight provided, it does leave behind a lot of the tension and high stakes of the previous game mode. If you die in Spartan Ops, you respawn without any consequences, which removes almost any challenge from the gametype no matter how high you crank the difficulty. Some sections of Spartan Ops are genuinely fun to play, but it often strays far away from the teamwork-oriented gameplay of Firefight and into a realm of mindless shooting, since the only objective at hand is to kill all the enemies on screen. Aside from the cut-scenes that accompany the episodes of Spartan Ops, this is a gametype that is hard pressed to differentiate itself from a re-hashing of sections of the campaign which can be played with fewer consequences and require an Xbox Live Gold subscription.
Halo 4 also suffers form some technical issues. Many lines of dialogue are too quiet to understand, often times requiring players to turn on subtitles if they want to get the full story, and some story elements are explained to the player while they are surrounded by noisy battlefields. A noisy combat zone is the worst place to hold story time. Many weapon sounds also leave something to be desired, and the sniper rifle’s firing sound in particular lacks punch.
Halo 4 also effectively demonstrates the age of the Xbox 360 platform. Any access to the game’s multiplayer requires a 2 GB installation to the player’s hard drive. Even when installed on the hard drive, Halo 4’s graphics are perhaps the worst of the series to appear on the Xbox 360 platform.
Texture pop-ins and a limited draw distance for certain objects are noticeable in single-player and prevalent when playing split-screen. The framerate also takes a dive during some of the more intense firefights, which is an unwelcome distraction at the least opportune time. Halo 4 also lacks as many particle effects as previous Halo games, which make some elements like Wraith mortars and plasma grenades lack the sparkle and easy visibility they had in previous games. Halo 4 still runs relatively well the vast majority of the time, but for a game series which has always boasted impressive visuals and consistent framerates, Halo 4 is a bit of a step backward. And Master Chief even lost his flashlight.
Ultimately, Halo 4 is a fresh take on the franchise. It modernizes the Halo model in ways that fans of other shooters will feel much more at home with, but at the same time clings to the elements of the Halo series that set it apart from others in the over-saturated FPS genre. The game does have some graphical issues and the new Spartan Ops mode has so far proved to be a letdown, but Halo 4 is still a solid game sure to delight veterans of the series and newcomers alike.
To see this article as it was published, follow this link to The Western Front’s website.
This game review was no cakewalk. Experiencing all this game had to offer in as short a time as possible while juggling my other classes was very difficult, although in the end I was able to turn in my final draft to my editors less than a week after the game’s release.
The other challenge here was objectivity. I’ve been a big fan of the Halo series for over a decade, and my initial reaction to this title was overwhelmingly positive. But I tempered that attitude by scrutinizing the negative sides of the game. I soon realized this title had a lot more flaws than I expected, and I adjusted my final score down from a 9 to an 8.5. Deep down inside I wanted to give it a much lower score because as a Halo game I felt it was a major negative change from previous titles, but I had to recognize that it was still a pretty good game in many respects.
Any kid in front of a keyboard can write about how a video game is the best or worst thing ever, but only a critic can write a review that more objectively gauges the quality of a product or service. That’s my core philosophy when writing reviews for anything.