Halo 4 Review: A Brand New Day In The Same Old Town

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When Halo 4 was first announced back in E3 of 2011, I can willingly say I had no expectations for it whatsoever.  In the past, I had quite enjoyed the Halo games; they’re a ton of fun, with fantastic gameplay and an always enjoyable multiplayer component.  That said, I felt that the series which its pinnacle in Halo: Reach, and that a Halo game not made by Bungie just wouldn’t be a good Halo game.  Well now Halo 4 is finally here, and developer 343 Industries has A LOT to live up to.  Does the studio succeed and, most importantly, does the future look bright for Master Chief and this beloved franchise?  For the most part…yes.

Halo 4 is the type of game that simply shouldn’t succeed.  It was made purely for money reasons, as Microsoft wasn’t ready to put down its most profitable franchise following the conclusion of the first trilogy (and really, can you blame them?)  It was making a huge transition on the development side of things, as creator Bungie Studio divorced itself from the series following the conclusion of Halo: Reach.  And in return, it was given to a brand new studio created with the pure intent of making new Halo games—and nothing more.  This could have easily been a Microsoft controlled, by the numbers entry into the franchise purely made with the intent of “rebooting” the franchise.  And while Halo 4 isn’t a complete reinvention of the franchise—it’s pretty damn close.

Halo 4 begins with a pretty kickass CGI opening, which breaks down the person (or more aptly, LEGEND) that is the Spartans…and the best of them all, Master Chief.  We find Chief in the same place that we left him back in the end of Halo 3, on the partially destroyed remnants of the Forward Unto Dawn, awaiting the moment until Microsoft the world needed him again.  Well the time has come, as AI unit Cortana wakes him up from cryosleep to let him know that a whole fleet of Covenant are breaking apart the ship bit by bit.  Man, this guy can’t even take a nap, can he!  Chief jumps into action, but it’s too late; both the ship and the covenant fleet are dragged down to a planet below know as “Requiem”…where a dark and evil force known as the Prometheans await them.  Alone and pressed for time, Chief and Cortana must find a way off Requiem before Cortana is lost forever.  Oh and there’s a big and scary force that threatens THE VERY EXISTENCE OF LIFE AS WE KNOW IT. Forgot about that part.

Yes, there’s a new enemy on the block, and they’re known as the Prometheans.  Despite sharing a name with one of the most frustrating movies of the year, the Prometheans make for a pretty decent race.  Their weapons for the most part are awesome, and their design is both menacing and practically.  And well I won’t spoil what they actually are…it’s pretty damn twisted.

But the core of the game isn’t the new enemy types, new guns, or even the combat; no, the focus of the campaign is squarely on Master Chief and Cortana, and rightly so.  I never really thought about it in Halo 4, but the two make an odd pairing; a badass and mostly silent brute of a man, and a chatty and basically non-existent AI would make an excellent buddy cop pair, that’s for sure.  But through the past few games, a bond did form with the two, which is a strange concept considering what the duo really are.  None of them should make friends, let alone with each other.  But they did anyways, and their partnership serves as the center point of the entire game.

And that’s one thing I absolutely loved about the campaign for this game; it actually has a theme!  Not to bag on the incredibly fun campaigns in the Bungie developed Halo games, but they really didn’t aspire to be anything more than FPS fun in a sci-fi settings.  And when they did, it was easy for the story to get bogged down by some confusing plot element and over explanation of Covenant politics.  Halo 4 is more of a return to form of the original Halo, in that the mystery is everything.  You really know nothing about the world you are inhabiting and where the story will go.  Being a mild reboot of the series, the mystery has returned, something we’re really happy about.  One of the best aspects of Halo: Combat Evolved is its amazing atmosphere and universe building, and Halo 4 is the closest that the franchise has come to maintaining the same tone.

The one element that really helps the game maintain that tone has to be the graphics which, this time around, are god damn beautiful.  Everything, from the lush forests of Requiem to the character models of the various UNSC soldiers shines, delivering  not just the best looking games yet, but one of the best looking games of the ENTIRE generation.  Props to the art direction too for establishing a similar, yet still fresh looking environment as well.

Gameplay wise though, everything is COMPLETELY familiar.  I mentioned this in my first impressions for the game, but the controls are almost exactly identical to the other Halo games.  Honestly though, I have no problem with it; the controls in Halo have always been solid, so I wasn’t exactly looking for an overhaul of them this time around.  If you’ve ever played a Halo game before, then you basically know how it’s done. 

I only really have two knocks against the campaign: the length and the music.  In Halo fashion, the campaign is pretty damn short.  Well you get to explore Requiem, you only do it for a handful of levels, as the game can easily be beaten on normal in five or six hours.  Still though, at least it doesn’t feel like Halo 2 and in that you’re playing one singular game, not something that feels like two games that were simply cut in half.  And as I already said before, I really think the story is stronger in Halo 4 than the previous trilogy.  Having a central villain known as The Didact really helps this time around, as does the relatively simplified storytelling process.  And well it would have been nice to have new and fun characters introduced ala The Arbiter or Sargent Johnson, hopefully we can see that in Halo 5.

And now onto the music, which is honestly the most disappointing aspect of the game for me.  The previous Halo games have some of the best scores of all time for pretty much anything, and I was hella worried when I heard that series composer Martin O’Donnell.  And well the score for the game is okay, it’s not nearly as amazing as the ones that came before it.  A lot of the orchestral elements have been taken away, replaced with some techno and rock twinges.  And well it sounds good in the background, it’s nothing that’s ultimately very memorable.  A lot of it has to do with the use in the game too; when I use to roll around in a gigantic vehicle in the previous Halo games, it was accompanied by a loud and bombastic theme that really made me feel like a badass.  But in Halo 4, the score is mostly somber, and just kind of there.  For me personally, that really brings down some awesome moments a couple notches.

Before we close off this review, let’s focus on the multiplayer for a bit.  Honestly, I’ve never been a super huge fan of the multiplayer in the Halo games.  Well it still remains the best game to mess around in with a bunch of buddies, I never really felt attached to the Xbox Live multiplayer component like I did for say Call of Duty.  And well the multiplayer in Halo 4 isn’t a huge improvement, it’s steps in the right direction.  The level up system has been slightly overhauled since Reach, which is kind of nice.  And a lot of the maps really shine in Halo 4, such as Complex or Haven.

But the best thing about the multiplayer in the game is, just like with the previous Halo games, how freaking fun it always is.  As mentioned before, it’s the seminal game to whip out with a group of friends and just play for hours.  Unlike it’s Call of Duty cousin, Halo 4 isn’t about ranking up or beating the opposing team—it’s about having a ton of fun doing it.  And for the most part, Halo 4’s multiplayer succeeds in that area.

As I said at the beginning of the review, Halo 4 could have easily gone bad.  But despite all odds, the game is an achievement.   It takes the series into new and interesting places, which is honestly the only thing you can do when it comes to making a new entry in an incredibly long running franchise. 343 Industries proved to me that you CAN make a good Halo game without the help of Bungie.  I’m excited to see what 343 will do with Halo 5 because, one thing is for sure—the Reclaimer trilogy is in the proper hands.