Sunday, April 10, 2016

Halo 4 review


    The passing of the torch from Bungie to 343 Industries was something which changed the nature of the Halo games as well as called in serious questions as to what would be the future of the franchise. Halo: Reach was an excellent game but the central storyline is and always would be built around the character of Master Chief. Could they really bring back the character and tell a new story which would launch the franchise into a new trilogy?

    Eh, kind of?

Some beautiful visuals in this game but that's just standard.
    The game opens with Doctor Halsey, creator of the SPARTAN program, being arrested by ONI for her war crimes. This is ironic due to the fact ONI is the person who facilitated her performing all of those aforementioned crimes. It's also confusing because said arrest plays almost no role in this plot and only shows up in the Multiplayer Spartan Ops campaign.

    From there, the campaign switches to Master Chief awakening in the middle of nowhere with a Covenant armada nearby. Despite the treaty with the Covenant, these forces are extremely hostile and Master Chief swiftly disposes of them only to find himself on a Forerunner "shield" world which is home to an ancient evil he helps unwittingly unleash. Things go from bad to worse with the revelation Cortana has reached the end of her seven-year-lifespan and is suffering a horrific degenerative brain-death via rampancy.

Cortana and Master Chief's relationship is the emotional heart of Halo 4.
    So, yeah, a perfectly serviceable story tied to an impressive emotional core between Master Chief and Cortana. In truth, it reminds me a great deal of Max Payne 2 where the shooting was less important than the relationship between our hero and Mona Sax. In a game series about shooting up small pig-like aliens and snake-men, it's strange one of the most affecting parts is dealing with the loss of the person you care about the most to a disease you have no ability to fight.

    Even then, I can't give the game full points because so much of what makes the Cortana and Chief relationship so important is the previous three games worth of interaction they've had. It's also a rather cheap emotional gut punch to use despite its effectiveness. The game holds out hope for her survival but dangles it like a carrot before a starving rabbit. I will say the actors for both Master Chief and Cortana knock it out of the park with their interactions.

The Didact is basically just Darkseid but  that's as good a villain concept as any.
    The Forerunner robot army isn't quite as entertaining to fight as the Covenant forces with the machines being too overpowered and hard to hit to really be enjoyable in battling. Despite this, the concept for them is fundamentally sound and they're a nice visual and gameplay change of pace from killing Elites as well as Grunts.

    Their leader in the Didact is also a character who is a trifle two-dimensional but one which serves his purpose. He's effectively Darkseid in that he's a Galactic Conqueror with pretensions of godhood, an army of cyborgs, and a quest for an artifact which will allow him to remove all of the free will from the universe. Oh, and he's got a boatload of family issues with the good members of his family too. A two-bit Darkseid knock-off is better than what we could have gotten and I expect to see him again in future installments (then again, I expect to see Gravemind too).

The misty jungles are a neat touch when fighting robot armies.
    The game attempts to create a supporting cast for Master Chief in Sarah Palmer (Jennifer Hale), Commander Lasky (Darren O'Hare) and the crew of the Infinity. Unfortunately, we don't get to spend enough time with the Spartan-IVs or Infinity crew to really get to know them. The newcomers lack the over-the-topness necessary to make them as memorable as Sergeant Johnson, Captain Keyes, or Miranda Keyes. The absence of the Arbiter is also confusing as you'd think he'd come up in a renewed Covenant-Earth war. All of this is explained in the Expanded Universe but that doesn't really count as the game should include enough to fill in the blanks.

    Lore-wise, the game incorporates many elements from the Forerunners novels including the appearance of the Forerunners, the conflict between their leaders, and what they were like as a culture. We also get insight into the idea they were once enemies with a prehistorical space-faring humanity. The anthropologists among Halo fans will be made to cry because of this backstory but I didn't have too much trouble with it. Sadly, I think they would have been better off making the Forerunners humans themselves if they were going to punch evolution in the face.

The Infinity's crew just don't endear themselves quite the way the game expects them to.
    Gameplay-wise, the fighting isn't quite as enjoyable as previous installments. Fighting the Covenant is fine but the Forerunner robots, as mentioned, are a bit of a time sink to kill and hit. There's some more needless control changes. On the plus side, I liked the changes to the equipment with the armor abilities from Reach expanded to be outright superpowers here. I had a lot of fun blocking laser blasts and explosions. New weapons include Forerunner holographic light-rifles and cannons which are really just analogues to UNSC equipment but still a lot of fun.

    The shield world of Requiem isn't a terribly memorable location, being another mixture of ruins and jungle but I enjoyed fighting in the interior of a UNSC starship. Furthermore, the game has a couple of segments where you fight inside a Gundam-esque mecha which I really enjoyed and are probably the most entertaining new innovation to the game. A starfighter sequence is an homage to Star Wars and while I don't really think being an ace pilot is in Master Chief's bailiwick, was still pretty damn fun.

The X-wing-esque trench-run of the game was a welcome surprise.
    I do have one major disappointment and that's the ending of the game. Halo isn't a game which has much in the way of boss fights and virtually all of its enemies can be taken down without much difference from regular mooks (Hunters aside). The Didact seemed the perfect opportunity to avert this since he's possessed of super-technology which would make him a wonderful enemy to fight mano-a-mano. Unfortunately, the climax of the game is resolved in a cutscene which, while leaving room for future games, felt like an enormous anticlimax.

    Surprisingly, I can actually comment on the multiplayer element here with Spartan Ops. being a story-based section you can do solo. Sadly, doing it solo is a long and arduous slog through hundreds of enemies with no level scaling. The least the game could have done was provide some A.I. partners for it. Spartan Ops story-mode didn't work on my Xbox One edition of The Master Chief Collection either. The story is fairly straightforward but has a number of interesting twists which I recommend players to check out on Youtube if nothing else.

Poor Cortana really gets put through the ringer here.
    In conclusion, Halo 4 isn't really all that great. It's a serviceable game but it feels like 343 is composed of fans more interested in showing what they want to happen in the setting than organically adding to it. The storyline, except for the Cortana/Master Chief bits, are a mess and there's glaring plot holes which are only filled in if you read the novels. In short, it's an above-average game but nothing akin to the home run many were hoping for.

8/10

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