Once upon a time, or more like ten years ago, this female gamer decided to buy her very first Xbox because she played Halo at a friend’s house and fell in love. Ever since then, a passionate love affair has existed between her and subsequent Halo games, so of course you could expect her to highly anticipate Halo 4.
But as with most love affairs, there are ups and downs, sacrifices to be made, and compromises to be had. Halo 4 is like a compromise, but one that’s growing into a hopeful up. After playing through the entire campaign, all of the Spartan Ops, as well as many hours of multiplayer, here are my initial thoughts and reactions to the game.
*WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. DO NOT READ IF YOU’RE A HALO 4 VIRGIN.*
Story – The plot surrounding Master Chief and Cortana’s survival and of course the continuing salvation of the human race has little issues and runs very fluidly from one level to the next (and oh, man, is Cortana’s rampancy excruciating to watch). Many fans were wary of how the relationship between Master Chief and Cortana would play out considering the fact that neither is actually romantically tied to the other, but 343 Industries stayed true to that status, keeping the couple’s relationship based 100% on mutual trust, dedication, and shared experiences. How this will play out in future games, though, will be interesting not only because of the apparent loss of Cortana, but also because Master Chief suddenly has to deal with the fact that he has emotions that she slowly pulled out of him, and that he is more human than he’d like to believe.
My only concern with the campaign was that outside of the immediate Chief/Cortana storyline, there are threads of stories that tie in to theirs that are never truly explained or satisfied. For example, Halo 4 starts 4 years after Chief disappeared, and suddenly humans are fighting the Covenant again, a fact which is never explained. The game also starts with an officer questioning Dr. Halsey about her involvement with Cortana and Master Chief; the only valuable information we get out of this is that the leaders-that-be consider Chief to be dead and they want to replace him.
However, after finishing the first five Spartan Ops, my husband and I watched the video that was released to us for completion, which clarified one of my concerns about the story. I must say that if 343 Industries planned to leave these threads in the campaign unanswered simply to be filled in by the Spartan Ops videos and other supplementary material, all I can say is that they made a genius marketing decision. I’ll want to make sure I can download every single video to get the entire story, and I’m sure many other players will be hooked on this method of storytelling, too.
Gameplay – A blast. I only experienced one glitch total, and the rest of the time gameplay was tight, fast-paced, and purposeful (there never seemed to be a ridiculous number of enemy waves or useless confrontations of any sort). Many new weapons are introduced and though I could get into the benefits and drawbacks of all of them, I think in general that the Promethean/Forerunner weapons are not impressive and tend to be lesser versions of both human and Covenant alternatives (this is especially true in multiplayer). Personally, though, I am glad to see the beam rifle back, which was my favorite sniper weapon for quite a while (yes, even above the human sniper) even though I’m not that good at sniping. However, the binary rifle is quickly becoming my top favorite because of its smooth, quiet functioning.
The new Promethean enemies were fun to figure out considering they are purely digital constructs, a concept that may be hard to grasp at first for some Halo players because we’ve never fought enemies of this sort before. Specifically, I love that the Knights are able to teleport closer to you and swipe their swords right across your face. The experience was different from previous games, which made it a challenge and forced me to stay alert and interested in the game the first time through.
Music – I have to throw this in here because I simply fawn over all the previous Halo soundtracks, even ODST. At the initial load screen of Halo 4, a haunting, single female voice starts chanting in the style of ancient Celts or even Egyptians, reminiscent of the original Halo theme of a monk-like, a capella chorus. I was excited to hear the rest of the score as I continued play.
However, there were several instances throughout the campaign where I felt that something was amiss, and I finally pinpointed the issue ¾ of the way through the game: the composers brought in too many horns for my taste. The horns overpower the strings on a fairly regular basis, which is frustrating because Halo music became famous because of its ability to combine what normally doesn’t get put together (strings, guitar riffs, drums, and chorus) in an epic, powerful wave of sound.
On the credits list, I couldn’t find either Martin O’Donnell or Michael Salvatori, composers for all previous Halo games, which would explain why the score for Halo 4 sounded different. The new composers seemed to be going for the traditional heroic sound with triumphant horn crescendos, but I prefer the old-school Halo strings and monk singers any day.
Gameplay – In general, 343 Industries has some work to do on multiplayer. Almost every game that I played (that loads properly) had some sort of glitch or situation where, even if I wasn’t doing that well, should have turned out a bit more in my favor. Then again, I’m sure many players right now feel this way.
Multiplayer feels like a throwback to Halo 3, where reactions seem slightly lagging and less tight than what Halo: Reach achieved this last year. I know many disagree with me, but this is what I have experienced thus far. Melee has a split-second pause from when you pummel to when the enemy dies, or vice versa. Sometimes the Spartan abilities don’t load at all, which makes sense then that you can’t always call in ordnance properly, either. Grenades are pretty bouncy and may or may not go off where you’d like them to, and let’s not even get started on how unbalanced the weapons are.
Weapons/Vehicles – No, actually, let’s talk about that. As I mentioned earlier in the Campaign section, I felt that the Forerunner weapons were crappy versions of human and Covenant weapons. The bolt shot, for example, is a less powerful version of a human pistol, and the suppressor is good for what its name implies, but little else.
The only two Forerunner guns I prefer are the rail gun and binary rifle; otherwise, I avoid all else in favor of traditional Covenant and human weapons. This could be because I am used to these, but I truly feel that the Forerunner weapons have good uses in the campaign, but are hard to work with in multiplayer.
In regards to vehicles, I think that the Mantis, though a great new addition as a vehicle, is overpowered and will probably have its damage infliction reduced in future updates. It’s a bit much to have a Warthog, Mantis, AND Banshee coming at you in some of the maps, and nearly impossible for the team not in control of these machines to have a balanced and fair game. Fortunately, though, the Banshee and Warthog have all remained in similar states to what they were in the past, and haven’t received any game-altering updates.
Maps – We need some diversity. Right now, most maps are medium-sized spaces that really don’t allow for proper one-on-one combat nor long-range options. There’s no such thing as a massive Sidewinder version nor lots of compact maps like Blood Gulch.
My other problem with the Halo 4 maps is that they involve lots of little environment details that unfortunately only hang you up as a player. My husband and I have had several instances already where we get caught on a branch while we’re backing up, or where the Warthog wouldn’t drive over a rock. That seems really inconsistent when you’re a freaking Spartan warrior and can supposedly flip over a Warthog all on your own; I’m not sure why you wouldn’t be able to crack a branch under your foot.
So there you have it. As a Halo fan since the original game, I am disappointed in the multiplayer experience this week, and yes, I do realize that 343 Industries is most likely receiving constant feedback and planning to implement patches on a regular basis. However, since 343 kept their promise to stay mostly true to the Halo universe in regards to the Campaign and Spartan Ops missions, this is why I am calling Halo 4 a compromise in my love affair with the entire franchise, a compromise that will hopefully grow into a more positive experience over time.