Monday, November 26, 2012

Halo 4 Game Review

(Originally written November 10, 2012)
Halo Man’s back in action! Er... Master Chief’s back in action. I can’t say I’m the biggest Halo fan. I generally like the series but definitely felt it was going in the wrong direction since Halo 3 and ODS or whatever that other one was called. Halo Reach did bring me back to respect the series again with a good story acting as a prequel and a farewell from Bungie. When it was announced that there was going to be a Halo 4 my first thought was ‘…really? I thought Master Chief died.’ I only found out about the true ending to Halo 3 last year…  Yeah, I didn’t really care to play through the game on legendary. So my very first impressions for Halo 4 weren’t too good and it has really stayed off my radar till this week and sometimes it’s best to not have your hopes up for a pleasant surprise. Maybe it’s because AC3 was such a disappointment but I really liked Halo 4. It’s also been awhile since I’ve played a shooter. I stopped playing them for awhile because I had grown tired of them (THANKS CoD…). I have to say this is the best Halo game I’ve played since Halo 2 back in 2004. It has some miss steps in game play and story but seems to be a promising start to a new chapter in the Halo series.

STORY: The game starts aboard the wreckage of the UNSC starship Forward Unto Dawn, four years after the events of Halo 3. The holographic vixen AI that is Cortana wakes up Master Chief from his long cryogenically induced sleep as the remains of the ship they are on is being attacked by Covenant forces. They discover that they have drifted near the mysterious Forerunner planet Requiem. During the battle, the planet activates a gravity well and sucks them into it. On the surface they encounter the Covenant who are searching for something and they also encounter cybernetic beings known as Prometheans. As they explore and battle through this bizarre planet, they discover a being called The Didact that was imprisoned here and inadvertently release him. He, of course, wants to kill all humans and take over the universe. In the midst of all this, Cortana reveals to Master Chief, who has been with him since the beginning of the series, that she is going rampant, a condition that happens to AI’s over 7 years old and ultimately results being shut down aka death. And this plot point is the strongest part of the story. The interesting relationship between Master Chief and Cortana gets really looked at and developed here or more so than in the previous games. You know that the fate of Cortana can’t end well and it weighs in on the heart strings throughout the game. It also shows that Cortana, a computer AI seems to be more human than Master Chief, a human. Not an ordinary human, but human none the less.

The campaign finishes up around 10 hours, which is sadly rather long for an FPS game these days. The story is presented well and has a good pace. It kind of sags in the middle which is not helped by game play that gets a little repetitive by that time but it does pick up again. It is a bit predictable, especially if you’ve played other Halo games. Outside of Master Chief and Cortana, other characters are not really explored. They are just mainly there to move the plot along. There are some new Spartans including a female Spartan who is there, says a couple lines then is gone. I think she is supposed to be from the expanded universe but I’m not sure. Speaking of expanded universe, I think there are a lot of references to the Halo books in this game but, me having not read them, did not pick up on them. Like I said, the best part of the story is the relationship between Chief and Cortana and even that I wish was developed a little more. The story and game doesn’t do much to take any risks outside the usual fair that the series puts on. I will say it does have a bitter sweet ending and I am curious to see what comes of this new chapter in the Halo series.

GAMEPLAY: For those who are familiar to the Halo series, there are no big surprises to the controls and plays like pretty much all the games before it. Heh, though some hardcore Halo fans are mighty pissed at some new additions because it’s too much like Call of Duty. I don’t know what they’re going on about because the only thing I can see that was added was a sprint button which is great. I would have liked to see the ability to aim down the sights with all the weapons besides the ones with optics but then again, some of the weapons in Halo don’t even have sights. I don’t know how anyone is supposed to actually aim with the assault rifle but anyway. There are a lot of weapons we know from previous games that return a long with all new weapons use by the Prometheans. The coolest thing about these guns is how they look and act. They disassemble and reassemble on their own when you pick them up and reload. The first time you see it, you’ll be like WOAH THAT’S AWESOME! Some of the weapons feel a bit under powered but that’s mainly the assault rifle type weapons, the other guns feel just right. A really cool new weapon that was added is called the sticky launcher and is fun to use. It shoots a little sticky explosive that you can remote detonate. It’s great for killing large groups of enemies.

The new HUD is neat looking with the corners of Master Chief’s visor visible in the corners of the screen so it feels more like it’s from his POV, kind of like Samus in the Metriod Prime games. It does, however, make the screen a little cluttered, especially when holding a big weapon. Makes me feel kind of claustrophobic, I don’t know. Now one thing that has always bothered me about Halo is that, Master Chief, this guy with super power armor, doesn’t really feel all that powerful outside of a regenerating shield and being able to jump like he’s on the moon. Now I never gave this all that much thought until I played Crysis 2. Crysis is the way to do an FPS with a character with power armor. In Crysis, your character has invisibility, hard armor mode, increased speed, jumping, and strength that are all regulated by a power meter in your HUD. You don’t need any items to do any of this, it’s up to you to manage these powers with the energy meter and it adds a dynamic that lets you play the game however you want. I was hoping there would be more things like that in Halo 4. My wish was half granted in the form of power ups that you can swap out. Things like hard energy shields, cloaking, thermal vision, portable sentry bots, come in the form of these powers that you can find and swap out. These are kind of like the shield items from Halo 3 but instead of being one time use, they recharge when they are not being used. They’re not bad but sometimes it’s hard to really know which one would be more useful to you as you progress through certain areas and most of the time it doesn’t exactly matter.

The game play tries to stay exciting and varied with some fun vehicle levels and flying type space shooter levels that return from Halo Reach, though I feel the space combat level from Reach was better. There are some levels near the middle of the game where some of the repetitiveness from some of the older games shows through, ie run and gun from way point to way point. It would have been nice to see Halo try and step out of its safe zone more than it has. That’s the problem a lot of these mega franchises have; they are afraid to step out of their comfort zone in fear of upsetting and losing their fans and the majority of their fans pretty much ask for the same thing over and over again, be it they realize it or not. I’m looking at you Call of Duty. Speaking of which, there is this multiplayer part. Totally not the reason I bought the game but I know it is the reason millions of fans did buy the game. Now, I have no way to play it online at this time so I know I’m missing out on the meat of the game that the fans really care about and if you want me to invite me to your house to play online or whatever, I’d be down with that. I do miss the old Halo parties I used to go in the mid-2000s. But we didn’t need the internet; we just needed a bunch of tvs and networking hubs. Anyway, from what I’ve seen, the actual game play in multiplayer looks pretty much like it has been since Halo 2. I know there is a new class system that is supposed to be a lot like how Call of Duty’s multiplayer system which has a lot of fans up in arms since they want Halo to be nothing like CoD even though Halo’s multiplayer success is what paved the way for the success of Call of Duty’s multiplayer and becoming the money making machine it is today. Multiplayer is no big deal to me. I’m an old school gamer in the sense that multiplayer is that extra little thing you do after you beat the game and have some friends over. If there are any real changes in the multiplayer that I should be aware of, please let me know.

GRAPHICS: So I’ve been kind of ragging on this game about the game play and such but I can proudly say this about Halo 4: This is one of the BEST looking games I have ever seen on the Xbox 360. This game is just beautiful. The environments are so lush, vibrantly colored, have amazing lighting and are heavily detailed. You have look, I mean, really look to find any slightly blurry textures or anything. The weapon effects and explosions all look awesome. The HUD and sights for the weapons are all nicely detailed and look great. The character models all look fantastic and use facial scanning animation technology which I love and add depth and feeling to the characters. Master Chief looks amazing and his armor is so finely detailed. Cortana looks hotter than ever. Yes, I think Cortana is the hottest hologram AI ever. The rendered cut scenes are so high quality I honestly thought I was watching something that was filmed live action at first. Best of all, there is absolutely no slow down or frame rate drop in the game. 343 Industries really knew how to use the 360’s hardware and produced one of the best looking games for the system ever.

SOUND: Just like the graphics, the sound design is something to marvel at. To the loud explosions and sounds of battle to the little clicks of reloading your weapon, everything sounds so crisp and clean. The musical score is beautiful and I even went and downloaded the soundtrack after playing the game. All the voice acting is well done and believable with the exception of Master Chief. This game is probably the most I’ve heard him talk and while he sounds great in his usual calm and cool voice, it’s the few moments where he actually has to raise his voice and make an emotion that made me laugh. However, it’s Jen Taylor performance, who voices Cortana, which really steals the show. The heavy emotional state that Cortana is going through is brought to life by Taylor and oddly makes her feel like the most human character in the game. Excellent sound for an excellent looking game.

Overall, Halo 4 is a beautiful game that sadly has a few missed opportunities. If it had just found a way to expand the game play more, take some more risks, and enrich the story a little more, I’d say this would be THE game of the year but it misses the mark. This game is meant to start a new chapter in the series so I am curious to see where they go with it and hope they can do more to really expand it in the future. If you’re a Halo fan, what I say probably isn’t going to bother you because I know you’ve probably already beaten it and are spending hours playing online. If you absolutely hate Halo, this game isn’t going to change your mind at all. If you’re on the fence, I’d say it’s definitely worth picking up in a couple months after the price goes down some.

OVERALL: 7.5/10

Reviews coming up in the near future: Call of Duty Black Ops 2 and Borderlands 2. If you have a game you want me to review, let me know and I’ll see if I can’t get a hold of it.  

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