After a little over a month’s hiatus I’m now ready to write about Halo 4. I’ve had plenty of time to fully immerse myself in 343’s franchise debut. Sip it like a fine glass of Scotch, and inhale it like a finely rolled…cigar… I’ve also taken in what others have had to say, from the mainstream gaming journalists on high, to my fellow plebeian scribes here in the underverse.
I have chimed in and discussed the game in great detail on my (shameless bump) podcast: PGCR. In that particular episode I joined my rapier wit, with that of my co-host Evander, laying waste to Halo 4’s campaign in true “Devils Advocacy”. But as many listeners are aware I simply enjoy frazzling another certain co-host who shall remain un-named but obvious. So without further delay allow me to offer my true Impressions on Halo 4.
I should start by saying that this is not a review. I find myself despising game reviews these days finding them more of a smarmy pissing contest, offering plenty of douchey commentary, but little constructive feedback about a game. And at the end of the day, after the hype is pulled away, and the fanboy giddiness subsides Halo 4 is merely another game. It’s only fair that I keep this in mind when critiquing any title.
Leading up to the games release I had always predicted that there would be little to no problems with Halo 4’s multiplayer. I (along with many community members) collectively agreed that it was time for change, and 343 delivered in a way that couldn’t have been better executed, nor at a better time in the franchises lifeline.
I’ve always been more of a campaign geek, but suffice to say that for the first time since H2 I have been deeply drawn into the online landscape and its various playlists, and modes and keep going back for more. It still has that classic Halo feel, but it’s almost as though 343 locked Halo, Call of Duty, Crysis, and Battlefield in a honeymoon suite with unlimited champagne and other FPS aphrodisiacs. Halo 4 is the streamlined love child of these other industry giants, resulting in a refreshed and revitalized online presence.
The new co-operative frag-fest which has kicked the beloved game-mode firefight to the curb like a used up hooker is ironically my biggest disappointment with Halo 4. Don’t get me wrong, it tells a fairly well delivered story with plenty of intrigue…via the cutscenes. In game play application it’s little more than a rehash of campaign moments, lightly dotted with some nods to multiplayer, and RVB.
I would have liked to see more diversity in gaming environments. Requiem is a massive artificial world, so it makes little sense to use copy/paste play-spaces from the campaign. It feels like a continuation of the campaign, but many of the scenarios play like redundant encounters like: “flip this switch, or destroy this objective.” in a cramped arcade-ish locale. In fact, it kind of contradicts 343’s supposed development formula of not re-using campaign play-spaces in Multiplayer… Too bad it never carried over to Spartan Ops. I can only hope that 343 pour some more creativity and tailor some new and exciting level designs into S-Ops.
Halo 4’s campaign was a roller-coaster ride for a long time fan like myself. Chock full of shocking revelations, hard truths, honestly emotional twists, and turns. But like any intense thrill ride, Halo 4 definitely has its ups AND downs.
Take Halo 4’s audio design for example. Lead composer Neil Davidge has created a lovely soundtrack that stands apart independently from the work of Marty O’Donnell. Sometimes H4’s musical background is recognizable as Halo, and at times it’s like Mass Effect and Tron had a sexy baby. (As awkward as that may read.) But this is a good thing. The MUSIC, is a triumph.
The sound effects on the other hand are an entirely new “Up and Down” all their own. The guns primarily sound absolutely succulent. The warthog on the other-hand is an alienating mess. When I first hammered down on the Warthog I literally slammed on the brakes as the horrid sound of a late 90’s racing game, or monster truck rally filled my ears. I can say with confidence that, it there’s one thing I hate about Halo 4, it is the sound of the Warthog.
Even the covenant seem to suffer. The grunts sound like nasally Steve Urkel ghouls, and without the ever classic “FEET DON’T FAIL ME NOW” dialogue they feel odd. The covies do however play well, and on Heroic or Legendary show their true ravenous and oft devious nature on the battlefield.
The story itself, starts off great, the characters are easily at their best. The facial animations, and voice acting are top-notch. I won’t bother going into great detail on Halo 4’s graphical delivery – but suffice to say it is the best looking 360 game I’ve seen since Crysis 2/3.
Where the story really hits snags for me, is gaps that may have been better left void, and newly opened gaps that simply leave me scratching my head. For instance, let’s just segue right into the new kids on the chief’s galactic block: The Prometheans.
The story behind them is definitely intriguing, and at the same time tragic. The terminals do a stellar job (no pun intended) of delivering a juicy new slice of Halo’s Forerunner story which began with Greg Bear’s recent literature. But fighting them at times felt like a Spray & Pray gong show which turned Halo’s original 30 seconds of fun formula into 4-5 minutes of pure monotonous bullshit.
Maybe it’s because I (admittedly) have not read Mr. Bear’s series yet, that I am so baffled…if not OVERWHELMED with the flood (pun intended) of information the player gets literally water-boarded with during the campaign, and terminals.
343 did take something away from Halo which I loved, and replaced it with a complex and sometimes baffling saga. For me, the feeling of humility, and humbling mystery behind the forerunners is what made them so interesting. A vanished and superior race which created ring-worlds, dyson spheres, and shield worlds, and there was nothing left of them. We didn’t even know they had six fingers on each hand yet. (wtf?)
Not knowing, for me was what made Halo so amazing. And in my opinion, shedding light on all these things so suddenly has taken that mystery, and sense of awe, and replaced it with a sensation akin to: “Oh. So that’s what that is…”
It felt…perhaps not “bad”..but after learning all this, the big mystery felt sullied and unfulfilled. Is it wrong that I’m not compelled to delve into Bear’s series? A big part of me didn’t want to know every last detail behind the forerunners.
Cortana really did steal the show, the ever lovely Mrs. Taylor really delivering her best material yet in this series. Her long developed on-mic interaction with Steve Downes was apparent, and pairing them in the same studio was a superb move for 343. Their performance was epic.
To wrap things up, I can safely say that Halo 4 was a great game. It is also a firm handshake from 343 ensuring their confidence, and dedication to developing a new and exciting direction for this series. It simply begs the question: Where are we headed now?
Bungie’s contributions to Halo are in a league of their own, but 343’s product is solid and obviously is a labor of love. From here on its their baby. Let’s all hope they can handle the lil’ tyke because it’s a handful.