Review by rubicon14

"An Outstanding Reboot of a Classic Franchise"

Halo 4: An Outstanding Reboot of a Classic Franchise
Score: 9/10 - Outstanding

OVERVIEW

Halo 4 is an exceptional game, and the new development team, 343 Industries, has made what is arguably the best game in the series.

It is important to note that Halo 4 marks a significant swing in the direction towards how Call of Duty games are currently made. Where Halo and Call of Duty games previously had distinct and separate styles, Halo 4 clearly borrows some elements from Call of Duty, and the result is the best of both worlds. As a fan of both series, I enjoyed the new direction, but not all the new changes are perfect, and as evidenced by at least one very negative review on this site, not all fans are satisfied. The result is a game that is controversial, but worth experiencing for yourself.

MUSIC/AUDIO

The music of Halo 4 is brilliant. As a long-time game, I love hearing scores that rival those of major films, which show just how far video games have come in the last 15 years, and Halo 4 has a beautiful soundtrack. I've left the title screen on a minute longer than necessary just to hear the music. Some of the tracks are so good I'll listen to the soundtrack when not playing the game. As background music, there are soaring themes that give the game an epic feel at times, inspiring you to push on to your next objective - which reminded me of Skyrim. Halo 4 has a beautiful soundtrack, and uses it better than any first person shooter I've ever played.

The sound effects are good, many taken from past games. New sound effects were created for the Promethian weapons, but the covenant and human weapons sound just like they used to. Same goes for the enemies themselves, except for the Grunts, who don't squeal and scream like they used to. While this makes the game feel more serious, it makes killing the little buggers less fun. Same goes for Elites - I don't remember them taunting me like I used to in previous games. They should bring these back in Halo 5. In sum, there's nothing very remarkable here, they are well done but don't stand out as fantastic.

GRAPHICS/VIDEO

In sum, Halo 4 is one of the most beautiful games ever designed. The enemies are detailed and well animated. The promethian weapons in particular look and feel great. The scenery is beautifully rendered, but sometimes repetitive - the designers would have you believe that Forerunner architecture is extremely repetitive, cold, and empty. While the structures are large and beautiful, they don't serve any legitimate purpose beyond what is needed for the plot, and the designers missed the mark on that. As a result, the time you spend in those levels is boring – not unlike the first Halo game where the interior of every Forerunner structure was the same. Today's sandbox games feature landscapes that sometimes exist just to be explored and convey a sense of awe in the player - that means repetitive level design, which has been a trademark of the series since the first Halo game, just doesn't cut it anymore.

The real beauty of Halo 4 shines through with its cinematics and in-game cutscenes - they are breathtaking. It's just like watching a movie. Space combat scenes rival anything you've seen in a major science fiction film, like Serenity or Star Wars, while the rest of them reminded me of the Final Fantasy film (visually, anyway). In-game cutscenes also do a great job of advancing the plot, and the voice acting is generally very well done. Primarily you will hear the Master Chief and Cortana, but supporting roles are also well cast. There is one scene in particular with a female researcher later in the game that is genuinely heartbreaking. Which brings me to the plot.

PLOT/STORYLINE
I haven't read any of the Halo books or seen any of the short movies on the internet, so I was very much at a loss during the plot of the campaign. I was very unhappy with this approach, because rather than fill me in on the stuff that happened between the development of Halo 3 and 4, it was clear that the game's designers wanted me to buy the books, which I'm just not going to do. I shouldn't have to read a book to know what's going on in a video game. So I advise anyone who plays the campaign to search the internet for a primer on the plot, otherwise it just won't make sense. You need to know why the covenant are opponents again, who the promethians are, and what the Didact is, just to have the game's main plot make sense.

The personal story between the Chief and Cortana is the heart of the game, however, and that needs no primer. It's an unusual love story, one that tugs at the heartstrings despite (or maybe because) the characters are an alleged sociopath and an AI. The opening sequence of the game asks whether the Spartans are homicidal maniacs, and the Chief answers that question by behaving more human than any other character in the game. This story development drives the whole campaign, and it's worth playing just to experience it. And the cutscenes and cinematics that tell the story are beautiful.
There are also cinematics for the Spartan Ops, though they create more of a sub-plot or back story to the main plot in the Campaign. Still, the storyline there helps explain the back story a little bit, such as why there are new Spartans and a UNSC ship at the new planet where most of Halo 4 takes place. Having story development outside of the main campaign is a very nice touch that enriches the overall experience.
GAMEPLAY
Halo 4 is like three games in one. There is the Campaign, Spartan Ops (like CoD Spec Ops), and War Games (Multiplayer). Each will be reviewed separately.

GAMEPLAY - CAMPAIGN
The campaign suffers from repetitive gameplay and button mashing events, but it is a generally enjoyable experience. Enemy AI, particularly for Elites and Promethian Knights, is pretty good, and the game is very challenging. Heroic mode is very difficult, and I haven't even tried Legendary. I recommend starting on Normal, upgrading to Heroic if that's too easy, and playing whichever difficulty is more fun. The use of vehicles is very well done, and there is even a Death Star trench-style level where you pilot an attack ship through obstacles and defenses.

GAMEPLAY - SPARTAN OPS
This mode was a surprise hit for me. I enjoy playing the episodes in multiplayer, and they do fill in gaps in the plot to boot, with gorgeous cinematics. It's a blend of the campaign and multiplayer/co-op modes that works well and is a lot of fun. The gameplay isn't really original (mostly you just kill enemies), and the difficulty is non-existent if you play co-op (playing online sets the difficulty to Legendary but gives you unlimited lives), but it still manages to be fun. It adds replay value to the game too.

GAMEPLAY - WAR GAMES (MULTIPLAYER)
This is where most Halo players spend their time. And on the whole, the experience is a great one. I found very few issues with lag or glitching. Games load quickly, quitting is discouraged with the new points system, and the level design is a nice blend of indoor/outdoor combat settings. The multiplayer is much more like what Call of Duty games are like, in that there are "ordinance drops" (kill streaks), points for assists, low health/shields, and unlocking more gear works like it does in Black Ops games.

The leveling system also is taken straight from Call of Duty games, a big departure from the ranking system of Halo 2 which lumped players of similar ranks together and forced them to compete to advance ranks. This is a more democratic approach to multiplayer which just breaks down games by type and tries to make "balanced" teams. Personally, I miss the old model, because it became more challenging as you rose through the ranks, and reaching a new rank brought a true sense of accomplishment (I still think it's pretty cool that I rose to Brigadier in Halo 2). That said, the new system is more welcoming to new and casual gamers. Skilled gamers will probably be disappointed, while new/casual gamers will appreciate how easy it is to pick up a game and rack up some kills. The "big team slayer" mode is a lot of fun because the levels are filled with vehicles and powerful weapons, so even inexperienced players will get their hands on some serious firepower to have fun with.

Multiplayer looks and feels tight, and issues of lag or glitching are minimized, but the game definitely favors some weapons and tactics over others, which makes customization limited. It's not perfect, but its fun, easy to pick up, but tough to master. Replay value is extensive.

RENT/BUY
Any Halo or FPS fan should buy this game, now. Most gamers will get more than their money's worth from this game. Only Halo haters or Call of Duty loyalists may want to consider a rental to make sure they like it, everyone else should enjoy purchasing Halo 4.

SUMMARY
Halo 4 is a great game that does just about everything right, and does some things exceptionally well. It has a few flaws and drawbacks, but the good outweighs the bad. It is an outstanding game that offers a lot of variety and is worth the price tag.

SCORE: 9/10.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/18/13

Game Release: Halo 4 (US, 11/06/12)


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