It was a sad day for Halo fans when Bungie announced that they would no longer be developing any more titles in the Halo series. We supported and watched the franchise as it developed from its humble conception to the gaming behemoth it deserved to be and we were with it every step of the way, so the news that no more titles would be produced saddened us all.
So, it was with great joy, that Halo 4 was announced. Rising from the ashes of Bungie, 343 Industries took on the mantle of continuing the series, promising to progress the story of Cortana and the Master Chief and no doubt delivering yet another slice of quality multiplayer action.
Does Halo 4 manage to outshine the magnum opus that was Bungie’s Reach?
The main starting point for most players will be the campaign. Following on from the stinger at the end of Halo 3, Cortana wakes Master Chief from cyrosleep after more than four years when the Forward Unto Dawn is attacked by Covenant forces. The souped-up graphics are impressive, but it’s when you first take control of John-117 that you feel like you’re in for something special: there are enough subtle changes here to make you feel as if you’re playing something new, but that Halo familiarity is present so as not to overwhelm you. The new guns on offer and the sounds they make are also a bit of a treat.
Soon enough you’re introduced to new enemies, the Prometheans. More robotic in appearance and behaviour than the Covenant, engaging them is at first fresh and exciting, as is trying out the weapons they drop, organic and fluid in comparison to your usual ordnance. It’s fun gunning down these new foes, but soon things become your standard Halo fare. The Covenant remain the primary antagonistic force and wearying slogs through huge amounts of enemies with badly placed checkpoints make a reappearance. It’s not unusual to spend a good few minutes fighting a massive wave of enemies, only to be unfairly insta-killed and sent to a checkpoint before the battle, meaning you have to win it all over again. An increase in difficulty, even on Normal level, only serves to exacerbate this frustration.
Enduring these irritations is worth it, however, due to the artful storytelling employed by 343, with the non-playable sections of the narrative truly shining. Gone are the days of Bungie’s hammy characterisation: here we have highly-detailed characters giving performances that feel truly real. The cutscene and FMV sequences really serve to immerse the player in the storyline: the graphics are spectacular and the characters have been given subtle, yet highly-nuanced, movements, making it feel as if you’re watching real people. The inclusion of Cortana rapidly declining into what is essentially robo-dementia adds a tragic tone to the tale. It’s a well-crafted tale that serves as a great continuation of the Master Chief’s legacy and a worthy beginning to the Reclaimer trilogy.
The meat and potatoes of Halo has always been the multiplayer, so it’s with great excitement that you’ll jump into Halo 4’s under the assumption that it’s bigger and better than ever before. In your first Slayer match, you’ll feel that familiar-yet-fresh sensation again. In no time at all, you’ll be running around, shooting other Spartans in the face and having a whale of a time.
After a few games, though, you’ll begin to see the online mode for what it really is: a stripped-down version of Reach’s stellar multiplayer. Loadouts are now the order of the day, which essentially boils down to players using nothing but long-range weapons for every match, meaning games usually consist of nothing but distant combat, a far cry from the varied combat scenarios of Reach. Tactical gun-play has also been eschewed for more fast and frantic gameplay. The motion sensor constantly shows enemy positions so it’s impossible to ambush players and an instant re-spawn system means that death is little more than a slap on the wrist. Weapon placement has all but been eradicated in 4, being replaced by random weapon spawns and ordnance drops. As a result, the huge variety of match types in Reach has been replaced with matches that are often boring and samey.
In all actuality, Halo 4’s multiplayer is lacking and frustrating. It seems that 343 took everything that made Reach’s multiplayer exceptional and stripped it back to its fundamental core and little else. Everything that made Halo’s multiplayer unique has been replaced by mechanics that you’ll find in a heap of other shooters. What we’re left with is a dull, watered down Halo experience that lacks any of the innovation or gameplay that made it fun to play in the first place. The maps are dull, customisation options are disappointing in comparison to Reach and it never feels very rewarding when you unlock a new piece of kit. It’s hard to shake the feeling that 343 are trying to appeal to fans of that other FPS giant. It’s as if they’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater and decided to make Space CoD instead.
The co-operative Spartan Ops missions don’t help, being simply terrible. Consisting of short ‘episodes’, these amount to nothing more than being dumped in the middle of a battlefield, being told to shoot lots of enemies and push buttons before the mission ends almost as soon as it’s started. The segments add next to nothing to the canon told in the campaign and are completely lifeless compared to the co-op missions of Reach. The fact that your mission leader Commander Palmer is highly unlikeable, needlessly patronising and insulting to your peers for no reason, doesn’t help endear you to this mode.
Taken as a whole, Halo 4 is a highly mixed bag. You’ve got a captivating and immersive story that effectively adds to the Halo lore placed next to a disappointing, dishearteningly spartan and often frustrating multiplayer experience. 343 have taken huge leaps with the campaign, but fallen flat with the online element. Halo 4’s appeal and longevity takes a massive hit as a result. It’s a shame that the latest Halo isn’t as an attractive package as Reach, but this is 343 Industries first foray into the franchise. Hopefully later instalments will be as heavenly as their predecessors.
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