Halo 4 Review (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, November 15, 2012
There's been plenty of skepticism surrounding the handing off of Microsoft's flagship franchise from originator Bungie to new comer 343 Industries. Understandable, given how sure fire the former has been in crafting memorable, must have exclusives over the past decade. I can categorically put that fear and hesitation to bed. Halo 4 offers much of what fans have come to expect and expands it in meaningful ways, breathing new life to a multiplayer offering that's been around for longer than this console generation. Every aspect of the game has been dialed up to eleven in order to keep the formula from spoiling. Let's dive right in to the specifics.
As the length of this console generation continues to be artificially elongated, graphics have taken more of a backseat role in game sales. What sort of leaps can we honestly expect developers to make on seven year old Xbox 360 hardware? If Halo 4 is to be an sort of measuring stick, we should be taking other developers to task. I would never have imagined it possible, by the newest installment of The Master Chief and Cortana show is gorgeous, eclipsing even the most magnificent of Halo: Reach's vistas. Your eyes and brain will be locked in constant combat, fighting over ogling the scenery versus keeping your weapon trained in the tactically logical place. Exceedingly cooler, from an immersion standpoint, is that the glass outline of your helmet's visor is visible as part of your HUD. It would seem like a minor addition, though it is one more step toward feeling like an eight foot tall bad ass encased in space armor.
It's the feeling of escapism which drives us toward these games. The epic scale and grandeur of the Halo series has never been in dispute. As players are returned to the boots of Master Chief, whom they last saw adrift at the end of 2007's Halo 3, the stakes are measured anew and set appropriately high. The plot sees humanity and a faction of the Covenant converging upon a massive Forerunner Dyson Sphere. The wreckage of Chief's ship just so happens to be orbiting this structure, and he joins forces with the crew of the UNSC Infinity, a five kilometer long prototype human warship (though it fills many roles). The story is the first portion of the "Reclaimer Trilogy", and in that role it is adequate, though shorter than I was expecting. Playing straight through on legendary CO-OP with three friends, I managed to complete the main story in only five hours and thirty-six minutes (consequently, just enough time to shower, vote, then head to work after picking it up at midnight!). In a gaming society that is obsessed with game length, this could be damning. And yet, the game never dragged; no portion ever overstayed it's welcome. It also begged replaying with difficulty skulls engaged. I do need to note that Legendary seemed to be less difficult than that of Halo: Reach, but that may be because it seemed easier to respawn on team mates who were engaged in combat than it was in previous incarnations.
Significant changes to the Halo DNA make themselves known as you venture on over to the multiplayer side of the equation. Rather than remaining a stand alone collection of versus mayhem, the multiplayer has been plotted along as a side dish to the main story. Versus matches are designated "war games", taking the form of combat exercises on the UNSC Infinity's enormous simulator (told you the ship was massive). In this way, the squads of onboard Spartans (part of the SPARTAN IV project) are able to train for whatever lies ahead. Most of the modes you've come to expect are represented, including an updated version of Infection entitled "Flood". The newly added mode, Regicide, is probably the best of the bunch. Whomever has the highest score becomes king, and stays that way even if he is killed. The only way to take the crown is by overtaking his score. This becomes easier as the more kills the king makes, the more points his head is worth. I've easily spent the most of my multiplayer time fending off pretenders to the crown in Regicide.
Longtime fans will lament the removal of firefight mode, which pitted your team against ever increasing waves of AI forces. In it's place is a fascinating experiment: Spartan Ops. This mode provides five scripted story missions for you and your friends to conquer each week. 343 Industries has ten episodes (of five missions each) on tap, available for free to all Xbox live gold subscribers. The missions last about ten minutes each and include original voice overs and objectives. They've been a blast so far, and encourage replays for both experience and better performance, but I can't help but wish that this was an addition to the game without requiring the removal of the popular firefight mode.
Even bigger additions to the arena floor come in the form of level progression, weapon and ability unlocks, and customizable loadouts. That's right Halo fans, you're being enticed with more carrot chasing action. Upon leveling up, you're rewarded with spartan points, which allow you to purchase starting default weapons, backup weapons, armor abilities, tactical abilities, and support abilities. Combining these together, there are a wide variety of specializations which players can craft to give themselves the upper hand in any situation. I'm happy to share that sprinting is now a standard ability shared by everyone, so you can utilize your armor ability slot for more important things, like the new Hard Light Shield (making you a Spartan in everything except blood), or Promethian Vision (which allows you to detect enemies through walls). Players who reach level fifty are given the option to specialize in a number of disciplines. For ten levels you are locked into these awesome loadouts, after which you may choose another. Very similar to prestiging in Call of Duty, this specialization comes with added benefits, such as even more armor customization.
For those number crunching stat heads among you, Halo Waypoint is a gateway to statistical overload. Every little minute happening of every match is distilled down to the bassists elements, and made available on the website, allowing you to sift through the data to adjust your online lethality for maximum pop. Also returning to further customize and indulge your future soldier needs are Forge and Theater modes. Forge allows you to modify current levels or create brand new ones of your own from thousands of selectable pieces. Theater allows you to rewatch any game you've played, pause it in mid assassination of one of your friends, then send them screenshots of that epic moment.
Halo 4 is the total package, retaining what so many love about the core gameplay, while at the same time taking the graphics to the next level, adding in addicting level progression, and bringing more customization to the table. If you even marginally enjoy spending hours virtually murdering your friends in fascinating ways that make you feel like a space bad ass, this game should already be among your collection. If you've blown off the Halo series for no other reason than it's liked by many other people, I urge you to reconsider and actually find out what all that hype is about. Halo 4 hot dropped from low orbit on November 6th for the Xbox 360, retailing for $59.99.
Mania Grade: A
Game: Halo 4
Developer: 343 Industries
Released by: MicrosoftStudios