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Halo 4 Review – 9.0

Halo 4 is here and thankfully it does not disappoint.  343 Industries took on a colossal task: to continue and even improve upon the Halo universe.  Bungie had created one of the most iconic series in the industry.  I remember spending countless hours trying to plow through Halo 2‘s Legendary’s mode.  I remember the scene in Halo CE when you realize the Halo’s actual purpose.  I have often fallen asleep to the soothing sounds of Master Chief’s voice (ok, maybe I’m starting to exaggerate a little).  You get the point, Halo stands as one of the best franchises we have seen over the past two generations.  To say that 343 took on a daunting task is really an understatement.

I'm so glad you are back Master Chief!

I’m so glad you are back Master Chief!

With the release of Halo 4, gamers across the world were able to let out a collective sigh.  Everything will be alright…  Master Chief is in good hands.  This review contains spoilers, so those of you who are still planning on playing through the campaign, I suggest you continue with caution.

Halo 4 starts out beautifully.  From the get go, it is apparent that 343 put in the work.  The prologue begins with Dr. Hasley (the creator of the Spartan-II Program) being interrogated by an unknown man.  We are thrown back into the world of the heroic Master Chief.  This opening cinematic is almost flawless.  The beauty of it, the fluidness, the dialogue, and the intrigue created.  Hasley perfectly sums up the experience that all of us have had with Master Chief and Spartans in the past: “Do not underestimate them.  But most of all.  Do not underestimate him.”  Of course, Hasley is referring to Master Chief.

Beginning with this opening scene, Halo 4 confronts what Master Chief is and what drives / influences him.  The unknown spectator in the opening scene theorizes that Master Chief succeeds because he is ultimately broken.  Later, Cortana questions whether it is she or Master Chief who is the machine.  Later, it is said that Master Chief is really the evolution of the species. More so than any other game in the series, Master Chief’s personality, desires, and influences are exposed.

The first real tension in the game is created by Cortana’s revelation that she is essentially dying.  She is suffering from an AI “disease” known as Rampancy.  It causes her AI to exponentially multiply, eventually causing total failure.   A brief aside here, the rendering of Cortana in Halo 4 is simply gorgeous.  It is impossible to argue that how 343 modeled Cortana is nothing short of exquisite.  But, early on, it becomes clear that Cortana is in trouble, and the Chief has to do something about it.

Halo 4 feels very much like the games that came before it.  Some may even find it to be too reminiscent of previous installments.  Indeed, I found myself playing through the campaign much as I did previous games, assault and battle rifle in hand.  But, relying on tried and true mechanics is not necessarily a bad thing.  It was clear that 343 was trying to introduce new elements to the gameplay while leaning on the familiar for stability.  The new armor capabilities, enemies, and weapon types were all a welcome addition.  There is certainly room for improvement.  Several of the armor capabilities are basically useless, like the thruster and Prometheus vision (though they may be useful for multiplayer).  The gameplay feels right but I do fear that it is starting to become a bit tired.  Hopefully, in the next Halo, we see some more changes to the mechanics to bring something new to the table.  The game is a little to familiar to be a classic.  343 took a formula that was already proven and built upon it.  It is still a great game, but to be truly spectacular, a game should be something fresh.

343 probably did the best possible thing they could for a franchise in transition.  Hang on to the familiar while beginning to introduce their own vision.  In the last scene, 343 basically tells us as much: “Every Great Journey begins with a single step.  This is our beginning.”  Halo 4 is their first step out.  Not ground breaking, but much more than simply adequate.

The main conflict of the story revolves around a rather convoluted relationship between the Master Chief, Cortana, the Didact, the Librarian, and a weapon called The Composer.  Per Bungie’s style, 343 leaves much of the backstory and complexities of these people opaque (though finding the hidden terminals throughout the game reveals much).  Even though the story line may at times be somewhat confusing, it is still compelling.  It is clear that the Didact is seeking to control and enslave humanity by using The Composer.  The pace of the campaign moves along fairly quickly and is really a strong point of the game.  It moves fast enough to keep you constantly engaged, but not so fast that you become detached.  You never really feel like you are simply spinning your wheels.  It moves quickly and with purpose.

The Didact.  Maybe not the prettiest guy around...

The Didact. Maybe not the prettiest guy around…

The ending of the campaign, especially the fight with the Didact, was relatively underwhelming.  It quickly became apparent that Cortana was going to essentially sacrifice herself.  The actual ending was just a little too obvious.  Though, the cinematic ending with the Chief overlooking the Earth, and finally assuming “The Mantle of Responsibility” was just about perfect.  I am starting to want more than a few quick time series at the end of games.  A lot of games are all aboard on this train, but sometimes an all-out fight would be nice.

Another giant, but mostly pointless room in a ship?  Alright, if I have to.

Another giant, but mostly pointless room in a ship? Alright, if I have to.

There were problems with the game.  Some of the level design was a bit hackneyed.  The levels on the ships were particularly middling.  How many winding hallways and random rooms do most ships have?  Are engineers of ships in the Halo universe interested in making spectacularly complicated interior designs?  Ship levels seemed like a trial in running through a maze that didn’t have any dead ends.  However, some of the level designs of the open world were amazing.  The level that stands out the most was the planet Requiem.  Not only did the world seem open and unique, but the plant life and terrain was natural and organic.

Final Toast: 9.0

If you enjoyed Bungie’s Halos, you will enjoy 343’s Halo 4.  It captured so many of the elements that make Halo great, while continuing the story in a new and different way.  It suffers a bit from having retread these elements (it is not ground breaking in any way), but it is still a spectacularly enjoyable entry in the Halo series.  I for one, am not disappointed with having 343 at the helm of the franchise, and am already eagerly awaiting their next entry.

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