Over the holiday break I had the chance to complete the campaign for Halo 4. A nine-hour adventure when set on the heroic difficulty, Halo 4 felt more like the prologue to a trilogy than the true first act. While it continues to hold up to the standards set forth by Bungie, the original creators of Halo, it doesn’t do enough to break away from the accomplishment of past games.
Where it Shines
Halo has always been known for it’s atmosphere. The visuals, music, and voice acting all blend together to deliver a great game experience. Halo 4 continues on this trend and builds with small tweaks that enhance the gameplay experience.
First Person Difference
In most first person games, the game is viewed from the front of a camera. You see the entire landscape with hud elements around the edges. Just about every game from Borderlands to Skyrim has this default view. Halo 4 turns it up a notch by changing the first person view. Instead of the stand view, 343 has placed you inside the armor of Master Chief…literally. When you play Halo 4 you will see the world as chief would inside of his armor. The hud elements are placed within the helmet, and vision is “limited” to the edges of Chief’s helmet. It takes a few minutes to get used to, but it makes you feel like Master Chief instead of his puppet master.
Great Voice Acting
Chief might be a man of few words, but when he does speak it holds weight. The same voice actor who played Master Chief, Steve Downes, is back and delivers a solid performance as Chief. Downes shines during scenes where our “emotionless” hero begins to show signs of human emotion. Unlike Master Chief, Cortana has new life in Mackenzie Mason, the new voice actor for our digital side kick. Mackenzie is great as Cortana, so good that I thought she was the original voice for Cortana. Cortana is one of the main driving forces of the game and Mackenzie’s performance moves you to take action for Cortana in her time of need.
When it comes to first person shooters, the shooting mechanic is one part technical and one part “magic.” You know when a shooter doesn’t feel right. The cross hair feels like the rules of gravity don’t apply, and hitting a target relies more on luck rather than skill. Thankfully, 343 has both the technical and magic down in the shooting department. Aiming feels weighted and crisp. You can easily manage multiple enemies and kill fast moving targets as easy as you would the slower ones. The shooting mechanic gives you that sense of ownership that all games should strive. Where death is due to your actions and not a result of bad mechanics.
Where It Falls Short
Mass Effect Called, They Want Their Story back…And So Does Bungie
You ever play and game and have a strong sense of deja vu? Halo 4’s story borrows so many plot points from Mass Effect it’s ridiculous. There are plot points regarding certain factions in the game that mirror the Mass Effect franchise to a tee. Even the Didact, the central villain in Halo 4, his back story and mission mirrors that of the reapers. It’s hard to really care about a story when you feel like you know how it is going to play out. Not to mention the old tropes of previous games have made their way into this game. The transition to corridor shooter to an open environment with a tank or warthog are still here. The open environments still suffer from the faux multiplayer element that plagued previous solo campaigns. The ebb and flow of the campaign mirrors those of Chief’s previous epic. It’s a well told story, but it is one that we have heard before.
The Covenant. Why are They Back?
Remember the Covenant? Remember how you fought them in every Halo game including the side games like Reach and ODST? Well, apparently someone thought it would be only right for you to fight them…AGAIN! And to add insult to injury, Master Chief asks a question at the beginning of the game that was never answered: “I thought we had a truce?” The covenant went from main villains to lackeys and it shows. Compared to the new Forerunner enemies, it would seem the Covenant were thrown into the game for familiarity. To make sure players felt comfortable in this new story. The problem is, they were boring. We’ve already fought against them for 5+ games. The last thing I want to do is fight against them in another trilogy. This was 343 Studio’s chance to create an entirely new set of enemies, instead they played it safe by creating two new enemy classes and blending them with the familiar. Too bad their plan to play it safe backfired.
New Weapons? Or Reskinned?
The first time that you equip a Forerunner weapon is magic. The way the weapon constructs itself around your hand is one you will remember…until you shoot the damn thing. The Forerunner weapons, like the Covenant, are throwaway assets that aren’t really needed in the game. They aren’t as powerful as Covenant or Marine weaponry, and are damn near useless against your new foes. Not only are they weaker, but they are the same as the other weapons. There is a shotgun, rifle, sniper rifle and pistol. If the weapons were as unique as the Forerunners we would have had something special. Instead, 343 played it safe again and it has worked against them.
In the world of video games playing it safe normally has its advantages. Gamers enjoy familiarity, it helps them to immerse themselves into the world quicker than a new universe. It is the reason you see sequels entering the marketplace at such a rapid pace. 343 has done an amazing job meeting, and in some places exceeding, the bar that Bungie set with the Halo franchise. Technically, Halo 4 is a great game. Tight mechanics, great graphics and voice actors. But that isn’t enough anymore; it’s time to take risks in the story and design departments. It’s a game that we have seen already. And while it might have worked here, I don’t think it will work for the next two games.
Halo is an established franchise with a well developed universe. 343 played to this strength, but did not do enough to distinguish itself from the campaigns that came before it.