inFocus

“Ain’t No Sunshine When Shes Gone

Game Info
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: 343 Industries
Genre: FPS
Release Date: 11/06/2012
Meta Score


The release of Halo 4 is a pretty momentous occasion. Aside from being the return of one of biggest titles in video game history, it’s also the first time one of the major console trilogies has gone past the third numbered entry in its franchise, breaking wide open the Pandora’s box that has kept developers thinking a story ends with a three. It’s safe to say that Halo 4 is one of the most anticipated games of the year, and with the development reigns being taken over by another studio, it has lot to prove.

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The good news is, the game is still very much a Halo game. Quite a bit has changed, but so much of the game has stayed the same that it often feels like a romp through old times. The bulk of the changes comes in the form of the multiplayer, which has been modified to fit into the more modern leveling and unlock system of this decade’s shooters

Halo is back, that’s for sure, and while this is a good entry into the franchise, it’s certainly not the best one in the series. It doesn’t match the freshness of the first Halo, the epic intensity of Halo 2, or the emotional intensity and feeling of rejuvenation that Halo Reach brought, but it’s certainly a head above the jumbled mess that was Halo 3.

Story: The story is the weakest aspect of Halo 4. The series has always had a reputation for introducing big ideas and not expanding upon them, and Halo 4 is no different. The game opens up with a very intriguing interview with Dr. Halsey, a huge character in the extended Halo universe (but not really mentioned in the main games, sans Reach), but the political intrigue brought up here never returns to the game again.

After this initial red herring, the game sets players back in the armor of our favorite SPARTAN-II: Master Chief. He’s a legendary character in video game canon, and getting to step back into his suit is great fun. Master Chief gets woken from cryo sleep by Cortana and told that they’re being attacked by Covenant ships, which the Chief finds strange since there is now a peace treaty between the humans and the Covenant.

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The presence of the Covenant turns out to be another plot point that is set out and never expanded upon again. Why have these aliens turned on the treaty? Is this happening in other places or are these just uber-fanatics who didn’t get the message? You’ll never know because the game doesn’t want to tell you.

The story starts to pick up after Master Chief lands on the planet Requiem, but it feels hallow throughout. The entire problem of the game – Chief wakens an ancient evil and has to stop is before it wipes out humanity – never really seems too threatening since you only see the main villain in the game twice (seriously, when he’s introduced, and at the final fight), and you have no connection to what you’re fighting for.

The earlier Halo games made you feel for Earth. You cared about the humans that you were fighting to save, and you wanted to see those random Marines home safe. Halo 4 does itself a big disservice by only placing you with Marines for a handful of missions, and making the main human you interact with a mean asshole. It’s supposed to showcase that Master Chief has become less than human, a machine dedicated to finishing his fight, but since the audience already has an emotional connection with him, it only serves to make the humans seem like dicks who forgot what sacrifices he made to save them in the last war.

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Far more important to the story than saving humanity is saving Cortana. She functions as both the driving purpose for Chief and the avatar for Halo 4’s great metaphor. The game really tries to hammer home the idea of what separates humanity from machines (Is Cortana human? Can she feel? Is Master Chief still human if he can’t feel? Is the enemy right for using his turn-people-into-robots-gun?) and her rising rampancy is the reason Master Chief wants to find his way home.

Unfortunately, like the Halos before it, Halo 4 is unable to tie all of its plots together. Yes, the story ends with a resolution, and the plot of Cortana’s rampancy and the Promethan (err, Forerunner) threat are tied off, but there are so many character motivations and ideas left behind like ashes in a sandstorm that you begin to forget why you were fighting in the first place. Halo 4 is essentially a nonstory. It ends in the same place it begins, not really taking you anywhere, and not showing you anything new. Aside, of course, from the new guns.

Graphics/Presentation: Halo 4 is hands down the best looking game in the series, and one of the best looking games on the 360, bar none. The opening cinematic is so well done that it sails right over the uncanny valley and had me wondering why the game started off with an FMV. Outside of the prerendered stuff, Halo 4 still looks slick. The lighting lends perfectly to the shiny yet dark aesthetic of the franchise, and the colors pop in ways not often seen in modern shooters.

The guns again take center stage here, and many of them, especially the energy weapons, look utterly astounding. Watching a Promethan weapon spin around before locking in when you equip it is mesmerizing, and even simple weapons like the Assault Rifle or the DMR look slick in their minimalistic and efficient design.

When you start to meet some of the other humans in the game, you’ll see 343 showing off some of the best character modeling in the industry. Most of the characters, but Captain Del Rio especially, look fantastic, and they portray emotion on their face better than most characters in other games. It’s sad that they were so underutilized, instead choosing to show the glass face of a Spartan.

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The one graphic change I did find to be rather strange was the redesign of Cortana. I get that she had to be updated so she could reflect the emotions 343 wanted to bring to her character, but she looks so radically different that it can be distracting at times. Though she’s modeled after Mackenzie Mason, there are times she looks so much like Jessica Chobot that my immersion in the game was broken (and terrible Mass Effect 3 memories were drudged up). In order to make here more relatable, and human I suppose, her face is no longer see through, just blue, and her body looks less digital and more naked. I’m sure some people will appreciate it, but since this game is basically a love story between Cortana and Master Chief, getting weirded out every time I saw here detracted from the story appeal in a big way for me.

Halo 4 does suffer a bit of texture pop-in and latent loading of objects, which you’ll see materialize digitally as you run by them from time to time, but the fact that the game can push the 360 so far and have so little graphical errors is a feat unto itself. And, you can rest assured, Halo 4 looks far better on the 360 than it does on the PS3. Because, you know…

Gameplay/Controls: Speaking of new guns, the weapon system in Halo 4 got a serious overhaul (as the Halo games are wont to do). Gone are the spike based weapons of the Brutes (as well as the Brutes themselves. And the drones too… but screw those guys) and say welcome to the energy based weapons of the Prometheans. The new class of guns aren’t revolutionary, in fact, they’re almost binary to exact conventional weapon counterparts (shotgun vs scattershot, DMR vs Lightrifle, SAW vs Suppressor, etc), but their visual design of hovering and expanding interlock parts is so visually striking that I’m glad they made it into the game.

There are also a few neat ideas in the way some of the weapons work. The DMR now give you a range tracker so you can see how long your shot is. The Lightrifle fires like a shotgun when zoomed out, and like a sniper when zoomed in. Small changes in the weapons you know give them a new life that really jumps out. With a story so weak, it’s good to see the weapons stepping up to take a role as a major player.

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The armor abilities have been substantially upgraded from Reach, and they’ve been through a heavy balancing wash. The jetpack doesn’t fly as high, sprint is gone and replaced by a lateral thruster, armor lock has been replaced by a forward facing shield, and there are new ones like a floating turret and Batman’s detective mode. The armor upgrades work really well and are one of key changes to the feel of the game.

I could write pages on the minutia of the changes between Halo Reach and Halo 4, but needless to say, Halo 4’s gameplay really works. The game is fun and fast paced, and the guns feel fun and snappy. The sci-fi aesthetic feels shinier than it ever has before, and it’s the one thing that makes returning the Halo universe truly entertaining.

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Like the change from spikes to energy, the other major change in Halo 4 is from Brutes to Prometheans. Though you still fight the Covenant, the main enemy here is your robotic foe. The handful of new enemy units change up the flavor of the game in a few interesting ways. It’s too bad they only introduced a handful of new enemy designs, because every time you get in a vehicle, you’re back to fighting the same old Covenant from the last few games.

The level design for the game generally works pretty well, but it isn’t as varied as the previous enemies. You still have the requisite drive-as-things-explode mission, and you get to play in some old favorite vehicles like the Scorpion tank and the Broadsword jet, as well as fight on the new Mammoth, a super-sized Elephant carrier, but even those can’t make this iteration feel like the Globe-trotting game the past Halos were. Every time you enter a forerunner structure, the environs are the same confusing layout you saw in the prior ones, and it really makes the game feel monotonous at times.

Sound: When it comes to sound, Halo 4 is pretty much the same as you remember. With my eyes closed, I don’t know if I could tell the difference between the iterations of the franchise. Human weapons are still loud and clackety, and Covenant weapons bring back that same fizz. All of the vehicles sound like you remember. The only real change is the human sniper rifle, which for some reason sounds terrible and not at all that booming echo from Halos past.

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The voice acting in the game is mostly top notch as well. Jen Taylor’s portrayal of Cortana is some of the best V.A. work I’ve heard this year, and I’d even call it award worthy. Sadly, she’s placed against Master Chief, one again voiced by Steve Downes, who was a good voice when Chief was a mostly silent and imposing creature who would rather use his fists than words, but since he’s now talking all the time, he feels far out performed by everyone else in the game. The other big voice in the game is Mark Rolston as Captain Del Rio, who does a fantastic job at yelling. That guy needs to be in more games, stat.

Replay: Halo 4’s campaign isn’t going to last you a long time. Playing it in co-op, having to replay an entire chapter due to a failed save, and dying far more than we should have because grenades, my total play time clocked in at 4 hours and 2 minutes. You could probably finish it in under three if you knew what you were doing, and far quicker in a speed run.

I personally don’t think there’s anything near enough to warrant playing it through multiple times, aside from beating it on Legendary to get a glimpse of Chief’s face, or for brag factor. But if you’re into that, there are still the four difficulty modes, and you can equip the skulls to change the way the story mode plays.

But the story isn’t what keeps people on Halo.

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The multiplayer is back in Halo 4, and it’s pretty much everything you remember, but with some Call of Duty crawling up and infesting it like the Flood. You have weapon load outs now and you have to unlock weapons instead of finding them on the map. It changes the ebb of gameplay substantially, and matches begin outright now instead of people flocking towards the power weapons. When you get a certain number of kills, you can take an ordinance drop, which lets you summon one of the weapons to the field in front of you. Normally you pick these up, but I’ve seen people use them to lure in players for quick kills.

Aside from the leveling system, Halo 4 plays like all the others. Staccato DMR shots to the head still echo to through the maps, and you still see people tea bagging their dead foes. Hell, your hologram will do it for you now (for real). Halo has always managed to engender in-match rivalry that other FPSs have a hard time replicating, and that can be found in full force here. Even with the changes to leveling, the multiplayer still feels like a Halo game.

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There are tons of multiplayer modes, and outside of that, there are the Infinity missions that play like little story vignettes, though the ones I played felt more like firefight missions than extra story. 343 has promised that more content is to come, and it seems like they will deliver: 9 more maps are already on the way as DLC, with Spartan Ops missions coming soon, too. If you’re getting this game for the online play, it will probably last you a long time.

Pefromance: Halo 4’s performance is a thing of beauty, as seen in the analysis video Halo 4 maintains a constant 30 FPS throughout. Although, there were some screen tearing that we noticed, but it only would occur  in hectic firefights with bunch of enemies on the screen at once. Finally, most of the screen tearing  we observed were on the upper half of the screen near or above the over scan area. Below are the screen tearing percentages and frame rate averages we captured.

Halo 4:  Analysis Stats
Clip 1 info:
Length of clip: 4006 frames
Average FPS of clip: 29.99
Percent of torn frames: 0.17
Clip 2 info:
Length of clip: 5769 frames
Average FPS of clip: 29.93
Percent of torn frames: 0.06
Clip 3 info:
Length of clip: 7721 frames
Average FPS of clip: 29.95
Percent of torn frames: 0.11
Global percent of torn frames: 0.18
Global average FPS: 29.95

 

Overall,Halo 4 is not the best game in the series, but it isn’t the worse either. It’s a solid entry to Fall Shooter Season 2012, and if you’re a Halo fan, the multiplayer will probably keep you online for a while to come. The story is weak and has little resolution, but it works well enough to keep you entertained shooting things, and there are a few genuinely touching scenes between Cortana and Master Chief. 343 has said they plan to make at least two more Halo games and that this is the beginning of a second trilogy, so hopefully the next game will try harder not to abandon the plot lines they build. For now, though, Halo 4 is here, and at least it brings good online play.

Written By: D.R. Maddock