Review by horror_spooky

"Master Chief's greatest adventure yet"

In the past, I have voiced my displeasure with the campaigns in Halo games. They always seem like an afterthought, with levels stitched together from multiplayer maps, and a story that ends as soon as it gets good. Halo 4 is the first Halo campaign that I've thoroughly enjoyed, and as of the time of this writing, it is my Game of the Year for Xbox 360.

Halo 4 begins where Halo 3 left off. Master Chief and Cortana are floating in space aboard the Forward Unto Dawn. A strange alien planet called Requiem catches Cortana's attention, and so she begins the Chief out of his induced sleep. Fighting with the Covenant is renewed, and a new enemy rears its head as well. In the meantime, Cortana is slowly deteriorating, and it's a race against time to get her fixed.

The new enemies in Halo 4 are machines created by the Forerunners for protection. The Forerunners are the ancient alien race that built the Halo rings and are worshiped as Gods by the Covenant. They may be long extinct, but their machines are incredibly deadly and come in a variety of dangerous flavors. The Knights are the primary foe, with the ability to teleport and use their melee attacks to devastating results. Crawlers are small and weak, but they are many in number. Oftentimes they will swarm Chief from numerous directions, forcing a retreat right into the open, leaving Chief vulnerable to enemy fire. Watchers are a flying type of the Forerunner technology, and they serve a supporting role, offering shields to the Knights and even reviving them from death.

These new enemies add a lot to the gameplay and combat. Halo 4 is the most strategic Halo game yet, as dealing with these new enemies requires thinking and not just run and gunning. Players need to move strategically and use the right combination of weapons in each mission of the campaign in order to succeed. The Covenant is another viable threat, and whenever they show up, the strategy needs changed up even more.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with Halo 4's campaign, but it certainly is not perfect, especially during the first half of the game. Objectives become repetitive, often boiling down to destroying three of something in a particular area. The story starts off at a virtual crawl, and the environments in the first half of the game are dreadfully boring and fail to show off just how pretty Halo 4 actually is. Things pick up in the second half, with one fantastic level after another and an epic conclusion, even if the story and lore gets a bit muddy and hard to follow.

But people don't play Halo for the campaign. Granted, 343 Industries gave their best effort to try to change that mindset, and they mostly succeeded, but when people buy a Halo game, they are usually buying it for multiplayer. Halo 4 certainly delivers the goods in that department as well. The game supports four players in split-screen, plus four-player split-screen online. Multiplayer is now categorized as "War Games", and the menu is less cluttered and more efficiently organized than before.

War Games features a variety of game types, all familiar to veterans of the series. Nearly all of the most popular Halo multiplayer game modes return and thanks to improved matchmaking and a better online infrastructure, they are more fun than ever before. There are also twists on certain modes. For example, Infection is now known as Flood, and players now take the role of the dreaded Halo alien zombies from the other games instead of generic Spartans with swords. Unfortunately, there are some game types that seem to have gotten the shaft. 343 promises to add popular modes that have been abandoned in future free updates, such as Grifball, but the lack of these modes at launch is disappointing.

Firefight is also gone, which is disappointing, considering how much fun that Horde-like mode was in previous Halo games. To replace it, 343 has created Spartan Ops. Spartan Ops is an interesting idea and can be quite fun at times, but it is no Firefight. At any rate, Spartan Ops tells the story of a group of new Spartans as they explore and take over Requiem during the events of Halo 4. The story and cut-scenes follow the exploits of one team, but the player characters are on another team entirely, which sort of takes a bit of the punch out of the proceedings.

Spartan Ops has a unique set-up. 343 is releasing a new episode each week, making Spartan Ops episodic in nature. There are five chapters in each episode, and these levels definitely have a more "arcade" feel than the campaign. There are no checkpoints, and players can just constantly respawn. A lot of enemies fill the level, and players use their "Infinity" multiplayer characters to play the levels. Levels are often ripped from the campaign with slight changes made to the environment, or from multiplayer maps, so the scenery can get a bit on the bland side. Spartan Ops does offer another co-op mode, however, and despite its flaws, I'd be lying if I said I haven't had a blast with it so far.

Customizing your Spartan for multiplayer and Spartan Ops is a lot less of a hassle in Halo 4. Thanks to the better menu organization, going through all the different armor specifications is a breeze. The game makes it clear how to unlock all the different types of armor, and gradually makes new pieces of armor available as players level up. Emblems can be customized as well, with two layers now, and there are service tags that can be edited, too.

Taking a cue from Call of Duty, Halo 4 also features customizable loadouts. I was worried pre-release that this change would ruin the core foundation of Halo, but it's actually a very smart move and results in more consistently entertaining multiplayer gameplay. Choosing what grenade type to start out with is great, choosing whether to use battle rifles or assault rifles is great, and choosing your own armor ability to spawn with each time is great as well! There are also perks that can be added to the classes you make. This change is for the better. My only gripe is that sometimes customized classes reset for no discernible reason, but it only takes a second to recreate the class.

Power weapons are still a major part of the strategy online, but they are introduced in a new way that makes the matches feel much fairer. Instead of having the power weapons spawn in predetermined areas of the map, power weapons are earned by earning point streaks. These power weapons come in the form of "ordnance" that can be summoned and then collected, kind of like care packages from Call of Duty.

All the new weapons added to the game are awesome, and they make all the different modes a lot more entertaining. Forerunner weaponry is cool and effective, offering a third pillar of weapon types that gives Halo even more variety. Sprinting is no longer an armor ability, but rather it is a default function set to the left analog stick. New armor abilities have been added, such as a shield, and all the pre-existing ones return. The control scheme is slightly different because of these additions and tweaks, but once you get used to it, it all works fine.

Replayability has never been an issue with Halo, but Halo 4 takes it to an entirely new level. Each different game mode has its own set of Challenges. Multiplayer has daily, weekly, and even monthly challenges that encourage experimentation with a variety of different game types and different weapon usage. The campaign challenges typically encourage players to go after achievements in the game such as beating the campaign on legendary solo. There are also challenges for Spartan Ops that encourage replaying the Spartan Ops missions. These Challenges add a healthy amount of replayability to a game that was already brimming with replay value.

Besides these three main modes, the other features that have become Halo 4 staples return. Theater is easier to use than ever and a breeze. Forge is back, though I wish that the map customization in Halo was a bit more robust, it's still functional and can be fun if you're creative enough. Players can also create and save their own custom game types, changing up a variety of the rules and stipulations of each match type.

While the Xbox 360 is on its way out and the announcement of the Xbox 720 will likely occur at next year's E3 event, Halo 4 proves that the Xbox 360 is still an incredibly powerful machine. Halo 4 is probably representative of the maximum power of the 360, now that developers have had upwards of seven years with the console. Graphical detail is stunning, the game runs as smooth as butter most of the time, and the action is always hectic with zero lag. Even in split-screen when most games lose graphical integrity, Halo 4 is still better looking than almost every other game out there. Playing it single-player with an HDTV is awe-inspiring and downright impressive, even when compared to high end games on the more powerful PS3. There are occasional pop-in issues in the campaign, but nothing game-breaking, and it's hardly noticeable in the thick of the action.

Known for epic soundtracks, the Halo series consistently provides musical scores that capture all the moments in the game just perfectly. Halo 4 is no exception to the rule, sporting a soundtrack that could take the cake as the best Halo soundtrack ever released. Voice acting has also been improved greatly, and there's a lot more dialogue from Master Chief. Furthermore, we are able to see Master Chief go through a variety of different emotional situations, which gives him the opportunity to show he's more than just a mindless killing machine.

I've played virtually every Halo game released. That being said, I give Halo 4 the distinction of being the best Halo game that I've ever played. There is just so much content here that it's ridiculous. The campaign is actually of very high quality for the most part, and marks the first time that I was ever seriously into the campaign in a Halo game. Multiplayer is as fun and robust as ever, and the other new modes added make Halo 4 the ultimate package. It has a few flaws, but this game is most definitely worth the full asking price, and will likely provide hundreds of hours of entertainment. I can't recommend Halo 4 enough.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/19/12

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

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