Five years ago, the franchise that was, and still is, synonymous with the Xbox platform came to an end before being resurrected for a prequel story later in 2010. Reach was Bungie’s final Halo offering but not content with letting the adventures of Master Chief disappear into an abyss, new developers 343 Industries took over the reigns for a new trilogy and a new set of stories for the Chief to play. The first of that trilogy launched last week to critical acclaim, but the biggest question is whether Halo is in good hands with 343. The answer to that question? Yes,
As per last week with Assassin’s Creed 3, this post is a collection of my thoughts and opinions gathered in a non-review format, separated by the good and the bad. Your own thoughts on the game and this post are highly welcomed at the bottom of this post.
+ The graphics and sound in Halo 4 are easily the strongest the franchise has experienced to date. Everything, from the gorgeous landscapes to the character models, from the sound of a Promethean Knight disintegrating after being killed to the sound of your footsteps, is strong and clear. It’s very impressive what 343i have managed to achieve with Halo 4 considering the series has never really been famed for its stellar graphics or sound quality in the past.
+ Master Chief is back for another run of adventures and it’s a welcome return. Even though ODST and Reach had strong campaigns in their own rights, it always felt like something was missing, at least for me. Master Chief is the protagonist of the Halo universe; he’s recognisable, famous, and when one says the word ‘Halo’. he is what most people would think of before anything else. Resurrecting Halo without one of gaming’s most famous faces wouldn’t have worked.
+ As for Halo 4’s campaign, it’s generally a mixed bag. It does a decent enough job of establishing the foundations for the next two titles in the trilogy, and of bringing Master Chief back into play in a way that doesn’t feel forced, as well as exploring his bond with Cortana like hasn’t been previously done,, but it’s mostly a paint-by-the-numbers affair that utilises cliches in the narrative more than anything. That being said, I did generally enjoy what I played of it, but it’s definitely not the strongest campaign in the series or anywhere near that point.
+ Even though the campaign isn’t brilliant, the replayability that you come to expect from Halo is there once again. The campaign co-op, the hidden easter eggs, the various difficulty levels and so forth are all back, as well as skulls available from the start to change up the session. The story may be a little ropey in parts but the attraction of playing it with three others is always a winning factor.
+ The multiplayer is what will decide whether Halo 4 has a short life or a long one, and it’s sure to be a long one. Familiar modes such as Slayer, Big Team Slayer, Infection etc. are back (albeit with different names), as well as new inclusions like Dominion (you can probably guess what that is). I would’ve liked to have seen more modes available than what there currently is, but with the promise of playlist additions in the future, the small selection isn’t likely to stay small for long. What is there feels like a decent mix of old and new, as well as being varied enough to cater to those who just like to kill and to those who enjoy having objectives to fight around.
+ One thing you’ll immediately notice about the Halo 4 multiplayer is that 343i clearly used Call of Duty as a heavy source of inspiration. There are now loadouts, killcams, hit markers and more, all of which are completely new features in the Halo series. It would’ve been easy to have fallen into the trap of the game feeling like yet another CoD clone but it still feels like Halo at heart, even with all these features that aren’t typically associated with the series. Some don’t work as well as I’d like, and I’ll get to those later, but Halo 4’s multiplayer feels robust and strong for the most part.
+ The Firefight co-op mode, which was introduced with ODST and made a return in Reach, has been done away with. In its place are the Spartan Ops missions. Each segment is divided into a season, with each season consisting of ten episodes, each one containing five individual missions. A new episode will be released every week for the first season and possibly beyond, all for free. It’s a hugely ambitious aim and one that could easily have been monetised to make a profit, but it hasn’t been yet. The missions themselves are pretty straight forward but much more enjoyable with other players. Spartan Ops gives you a reason to keep coming back and it’ll give you a reason for some time yet to come.
+ Fan favourite features such as the Theater and Forge modes are back, just as you expect them. You can save clips, screenshots, map creations, custom games etc which can then be shared with other players. While it’s disappointing that there is no campaign theater yet, these things help to add an element of social interaction between players – something which Halo 3 and Reach also did well. I still wish it was possible to have public matchmaking for custom games but I’m still hoping that it happens in the future.
+ There’s a great variation in weaponry this time around. You have your usual guns – Battle Rifle, DMR, Pistol etc – but this time, every kind of weapon has a Covenant or Forerunner counterpart, such as the Lightrifle and the Suppressor. You get the feeling that each weapon has its own part to play with few truly standing out as potentially overpowered, increasing the sense of balance.
– The campaign, even with its successes, is a short, predictable and linear affair that dispenses with the big open spaces of previous Halo campaigns and condenses things into corridor sections that usually repeat the ‘go there, hit that button, proceed’ formula ad nauseam. It can get tiring quite quickly, unfortunately.
– The multiplayer map selection is pitifully small, especially when compared to the quantity of maps that Halo 3 and Reach launched with. None immediately stand out either so the result is feeling like you’re always playing the same maps over and over again. Map fatigue always kicks in eventually but with Halo 4, it’s going to happen a lot sooner than expected.
– As mentioned earlier, the Call of Duty-esque elements are a little too much to take sometimes. For example, I think the loadout system is totally unnecessary and I would’ve preferred they kept to the same system as Reach employed, with various loadouts selected which are determined by the playlist you’re in. Also, the ranking system doesn’t feel like Halo and neither do the killcams, although I don’t find them too much of an issue. Halo didn’t need to take inspiration from CoD because it exists in its own right and has its own style. These things just don’t fit in well with the game, in my opinion.
– Although it isn’t too big of a problem for me, there are a lot of power weapons on the map at the same time, all of which are visible on everybody’s screens for easy obtainment. Things like shotguns I can take; insta-kill weapons like rocket launchers and energy swords spawning so frequently I cannot. Why they insisted on having so many of them spawn so often is beyond me, but it’s made worse by the fact that everybody knows where they are at all times. It’s frustrating when an enemy team gets to the power weapons before you and before you know it, they have you by the balls with rockets, swords, gravity hammers, lasers etc.
– I’m not sure if it’s an issue exclusive to me or not but I often have difficulty with the matchmaking, namely how slow it can be – especially when in a party of more than just myself. Also, just like in Halo 3 and Reach, I have frequent lag when playing in co-op or Spartan Ops. I always used to have the same issue in the previous two Halo iterations and I’m having it again, to my dismay.
– Most of the vehicle controls are smooth and fluid but some have that certain ‘stiffness’ that I associated with Halo Reach. For example, the Banshee still feels stiff to control when piloting it, whereas it felt perfectly fluid and natural in Halo 3. It’s definitely not a big concern because even when they feel stiff, they still control easily, but it’s noticeable nevertheless.
343 Industries were always going to have a hard time in continuing a beloved and popular franchise, especially after its previous developers were as renowned as Bungie. Halo 4 is by no means a bad game. It’s flawed, yes, and sometimes it feels like 343i’s ambition in creating a game of this magnitude was bigger than what they might’ve been capable of, but there is no denying that Halo 4 is a strong, enjoyable game. Is it the best in the franchise? Definitely not in the campaign department but in the multiplayer, it could be after some tweaks are made.
Did Halo need to be resurrected? No, it didn’t. That being said, it’s still good to have the Master Chief back fighting the villainous aliens of the universe and if 343i can learn from their mistakes with Halo 4 for the future entrants in the new trilogy, the series will be in very good hands.