Sorry this review is a bit late. With the holidays, major announcements and a zillion other things, I’ve been busier than an Unggoy with two primed plasma grenades! But as a long-term fan of the series and Science Fiction in general (read Ringworld people, the original Halo!), I thought you might want to know what I thought of Master Chief’s new outing.
The big deal with this game is that Bungie didn’t make it. It’s now in the hands of 343 Industries. Which is a good thing, as a new studio will bring new ideas and a fresh take on the franchise. In theory, that is. I actually think 343 was a little too faithful to the series, for fear of alienating long-term fans like myself. I think they should have deviated from what we all have come to expect from Halo, but I understand why they didn’t.
One area where the game sorely needed improvement is in the beginning. You’re literally running from area to area activating this or turning off that with firefights in-between for the first chapter of the game. It’s easy to say “That’s Halo for ya!” but in reality, most shooters have moved beyond this, and Halo should as well. Also, the first chapter of the game is quite lonely. It’s just you and Cortana (who has been seriously “sexed up” and now features an amazing big old butt!) running around big empty corridors hitting switches. Luckily, as the game opens up you hook up with other troops and it becomes a lot more fun.
The story is, well, the story is what the story always is—you have to shoot a lot of aliens to save mankind. Nothing new here, but there is an interesting twist as Cortana is succumbing to a debilitating condition that affects AIs and is losing her mind and dying. All the story bits with the new alien bad guy are confusing and more or less forgettable, but the interaction between the dying Cortana and Master Chief is engaging. To a Sci-Fi guy, the concept of a human and AI “falling in love” is interesting. And it’s handled well in the game, rarely getting too sappy or maudlin.
I can’t say enough about the graphics in this game, they really are something special. Halo 4 is a visual masterpiece. The best looking game I’ve seen on the Xbox 360. And this is mostly due to the excellent art direction. This is one of those rare games, where you stop and just take in the scenery. Since the beginning of the series, Halo has been famous for its stunning alien landscapes, and this game continues that tradition. Whether you're inside, tripping out on the cool lighting patterns in the floors and walls of alien structures, or trapped on an asteroid staring up at a massive planet that takes up the entire sky, there’s much to take in in this game.
And there are some really cool new enemies in this game. The exploding wall crawling dog thingers are fun, as they can scurry on any surface, making for some tense firefights. But the Knights are my favorite. They come with flying robots that have to be destroyed first, or it will the shield the Knight making it near impossible to kill. And Knights can “warp” through space making them harder to kill, and a lot scarier, as they might just warp right behind you. I definitely had some “where’d he go?!” freak out moments with these guys. And as for design, they truly look bizarre, and well, alien. I really enjoyed battling them.
Halo 4 is exceptional on nearly every front. The graphics push the envelope of what's possible on the Xbox 360. The story (the Cortana part) packs an emotional punch. The gameplay stumbles in the beginning, but is rock solid for most of the game. The score, the presentation, and all the other details that separate good games from great are all here.
This is the best Halo since the original. Halo 1 was a masterpiece. I was sorely disappointed with Halo 2. Halo 3 started to get things back on track, and I couldn’t even get through ODST. Reach was the best since 1, and this new game easily tops it. It’s very clear Halo is in good hands. I look forward to their next entry into this storied franchise.
Note: I did not review multiplayer. I have one of those strange gamer brains that finds FPS multiplayer insanely boring and repetitive. I’m weird that way!
Hint: In true Halo fashion, your rifle butt is still insanely powerful. Use it in combat often, it saves bullets!
by Urian Brown