[Review] Halo 4: 343 Does Bungie Better Than Bungie
Fans have been eagerly awaiting this newest release in the Halo series for what feels like forever. This enthusiasm was tempered with some serious concerns. Fans didn’t know if the hand over to 343 Industries would be successful. I’m relieved to say that they went above and beyond any and all expectations. They did such a great job, my amazing coworker Brett McLeod (also Twinfinite’s multiplayer Halo master), demanded to contribute and wrote a little piece detailing his experiences with the multiplayer aspect of the game.
Hit the jump to see how 343 does a better job with the Halo franchise than Bungie ever did.
The very first thing I noticed starting up the campaign was how amazing everything looked. I was extremely disappointed with how Halo 3 looked with the multiple years Bungie had to get everything up to the standards they set with Halo 1 and 2. I was prepared to be let down with this iteration as well, but I was floored. Everything looked crisp, clean, and new. Even the multiplayer visuals look better than before. If you’re landing headshots on enemies, you’ll see their head pitch back a bit. As the campaign progressed, I was constantly impressed with the large set pieces that were bigger and more tense than anything from the previous games. The only point I was slightly confused by was why 343 decided to hypersexualize Cortana, but seeing as she’s plugged into your head for the majority of the game, the confusion didn’t come up too often.
Other than the occasional soundtrack selection for a game, you almost never see the need to talk about the sound design in a game. Halo 4 changes that. Every gun has its own signature kick and feel. With every squeeze of the trigger, you feel more than hear the bullet roaring out of the chamber. Same goes for the numerous explosions. More than once, I found myself wincing from a blast and even reaching down to turn down the volume. Everything feels like it’s happening in the same room as you.
Coming back to the soundtrack, 343 knocks that out of the park too. Halo 4 sticks to the orchestral style and it gives the entire game a larger sense of urgency and grandeur. In what has to be a genius move, 343 even incorporated the original them into the game, but with a twist. Instead of giving you the classic Halo theme right off the bat, the game sets the mood with a phenomenal score and after mowing down hordes of Covenant and Prometheans, it comes out of nowhere and punches you right in the gut, in the best way possible of course.
The story of Halo 4 is the one aspect of the series that received the most attention and it pays off big time. I’ve always considered myself a fan of Halo’s storyline but if I had to be honest with myself, there has always been a lack of any major character development. It has always been pretty much shoot all the aliens and move on to the next checkpoint. This story also has you killing aliens then moving onto the next checkpoint but it prefaces all this with the revelation that Cortana is going through rampancy and will soon deteriorate and “die”. This immediately starts the game off with a heightened sense of urgency. Every time I had to stop moving to fight a big group of enemies, in the back of my mind I was furious that they would keep me from trying to get help for my AI.
More than in previous installments, you can feel the relationship between Master Chief and Cortana. These two have been together through thick and thin for countless battles and the repartee between them show it. Halo 4 takes place more than four years after the end of Halo 3. Chief shows actual concern for his partner’s well being and Cortana shows great sorrow when her rampancy affects her work and almost gets Chief killed multiple times. The NPCs of the game also show more human emotions and thought processes along the way. Whereas in previous games, the entirety of the UNSC was behind John-117 and did whatever it could to help him, now it has bigger goals and acts more like what you would expect a real military to be, where individual soldier are expendable as long as the mission is a success. Chief’s requests are sometimes even shot down outright. There’s one scene in particular after meeting up with the UNSC Infinity that had me thinking to myself, “Why don’t they just do what I say? I’m Master Chief!” A welcome face aboard the Infinity is XO Thomas Lasky, who was the focus of the prequel YouTube miniseries, Forward Unto Dawn. The fact that 343 used this character from the extended universe shows how much effort they are putting to further the story and make it as engrossing as possible. As the game wrapped up and the credits rolled, there were tears in my eyes, which is something that has rarely, if ever, happened to me, and the fact that it was because of the story of a Halo game was surprising.
The first enemies you come up against will be familiar to any Halo veteran and includes Grunts, Jackals, Elites, and Hunters. Soon after however, the story introduces new enemies in the Prometheans and their mysterious leader, the Didact. Promethean Knights, Crawlers, and Watchers all add a new wrinkle to the familiar combat. Alone, these new enemies are formidable enough, but once the game adds two types of enemies or more, the real stress test begins. Watchers heal their teammates, provide shielding, and create more Crawlers. Knights create Floaters and are infuriating to fight with their teleporting techniques. Crawlers are devil spawn and should all be thrown in a giant pit of lava. Once you have to juggle fighting all three types at the same time, combat becomes a frantic chess game where you have to decide who to take out first. To balance out the challenge, 343 gives you one of my favorite vehicles in the series, the Mantis. Chaingun in one hand and missle launcher in the other, this thing is a wrecking machine.
Another new feature is the episodic Spartan Ops, which replaces Firefight as the newest cooperative multiplayer mode. New episodes release weekly and you can play through them solo or with up to four friends online. Each episode is broken up into 5 sections and can be played in about an hour. The events of the episode take place six months after the end of the campaign and feature Spartan IVs that are aboard Infinity. It gives you a better look at life aboard the city-sized starship and how Spartan IVs go about their lives and missions.
Now for the competitive multiplayer, I hand the reins over to Brett “Halo Champ” McLeod!
While the campaign may be the selling point of the game, Halo 4′s multiplayer is nothing short of fantastic. The newly named “War Games” isn’t much different from the standard Halo multiplayer we all know and love, but minor tweaks to the formula and new game types make this the most fun, erratic, and hilarious game yet.
The first thing you’ll notice is the addition of loadouts. Instead of scurrying to the Battle Rifle in the beginning of each match, you’ll be able to spawn with one at your discretion, which also applies for most basic UNSC, Forerunner, and Covenant weapons. With each loadout comes your standard primary weapon, secondary weapon, and grenades. In addition, there is an Armor Ability, which was added in Halo: Reach, as well as the new additions, Tactical Packages and Support Upgrades.
Tactical Packages are designed to enhance your abilities in combat, including upgrades that enhance shield regeneration, allow for more ammo and grenade drops, and equipping a primary weapon in the secondary slot. Support Upgrades increase the integrity of your armor, by increasing reload speeds, increasing damage from explosions, among others. While these additions may not be incredibly original, they are more than fitting in the Halo universe, and it makes perfect sense for these Spartan superhumans to have these superhuman abilities.
Each of these new abilities and weapons are purchased with Spartan Points, which are earned by playing almost any mode, and gaining experience points that are the summation of your SR rank. The higher your SR rank, the more options you have for armor (which is completely aesthetic), weapons, armor abilities, and basically anything else you can include in your loadout.
In War Games, you have your basic modes from all of the Halo games, with a few additions to the mix. You see King of the Hill, Oddball, Capture the Flag, and the newly renamed Infinity Slayer and Big Team Infinity Slayer, which are simply Team Slayer and Big Team Slayer, respectively.
The newest additions are Dominion and Regicide. Dominion is a ‘capture the territory’-esque mode in which two teams of six are to capture three different points on any given map. As they’re captured, they gain defensive automated turrets, weapons, and vehicles that are only available for the team who owns the base. If one team if able to capture every base, they have the chance to eliminate the entire opposite team for the instant victory. If they are unable to attain every base and eliminate the enemy team, they must gain the required amount of time holding each base. Regicide is a new spin on the standard free for all which grants the leader of the match kingship, and places a bounty on his head according to how many kills he has managed to rack up over the course of his life. If you’re able to kill the king, that bounty is added to your overall score for the match. Both of these modes are incredibly fresh and fun, and are a joy with good friends.
If you’ve played Halo before, you know exactly what you’re getting into. It’s the same fast paced fun that we’ve all experienced it before, but the small tweaks to that same old formula make a world of difference. It’s all of these small changes that make this truly one of the freshest, and most fun multiplayer experiences in years. (Note from Muaz: If you ever want to play with us Twinfiknights, feel free to add me (Muazimus Prime) and Brett (BRETT McBAM), we play a lot and frequently.)
If you’ve played previous Halo games, you owe it to yourself to give 343 and this game a shot. You won’t regret it. If you’ve never played a Halo game before, this is the one to jump into headfirst. It is the beginning of the Reclaimer trilogy for 343 Industries and the first chapter does not disappoint. This is a serious contender for my Game of the Year and perhaps one of my favorite games I have ever played in my life. Heavy words, but I feel this game can carry that weight and more.
[+Visuals and audio are better than they have ever been] [+The best story in any Halo game bar none] [+Actual character progression] [+Fun and addictive multiplayer] [+Polishing of old features with addition of great new ones] [+Weekly episodic content] [-Extremely spaced out checkpoints get frustrating if you die a lot]