Halo 4 game review
The Master Chief is back but the combat has not evolved
If you’re a Halo fan, it’s a no-brainer of course. You’ll buy Halo 4 whatever I or anyone else says. You’ll enjoy it too, no question, especially if you’re after its upgraded multiplayer experience. But if you’re hoping the game's solo campaign will let you relive the magic of the original Combat Evolved, you may be a little disappointed with the return of the Master Chief in this the first of a new trilogy of Halo games.
You’ll know the premise from the trailer. If you missed the online teasers, know that Halo 4 picks up the story four years after the climax of Halo 3, though five years after that game’s release and eleven after the arrival of Combat Evolved. The Master Chief is in deep freeze, but he’s about to wake to a world of hurt: a hollow planetoid constructed untold aeons ago by the Forerunners, the mysterious race that built the Halo spacestations and who still have designs on the universe.
You’re soon battling it out with boarding Covenant forces then literally plunging planetward to pick up the story, and the fight, on the artificial world of Requiem.
Requiem is Halo-lite: a variety of natural ecosystems and geographies on the outside, awesome - in the true sense of the word - Forerunner architecture on the inside. Halo 4 feels very much like the first title, just enhanced with today’s hi-def graphics technology. That’s not surprising: Microsoft’s Halo team, 343 Industries, took over from series creator Bungie with 2011’s ‘remaster’ of Combat Evolved, which slotted the slick Halo: Reach engine into the original game, bringing it to Xbox 360 gamers for the first time. Combat Evolved is, then, more of a starting point for 343's engagement with the Halo franchise than Reach and Halo 3 are.
Get your filthy hands off my desert
No wonder that Combat Evolved so informs the Halo 4 experience. Overseeing the CE conversion has clearly informed 343’s development of the new instalment. So, it too begins on a UNSC spaceship - now the Forward Unto Dawn, in CE the Pillar of Autumn - and continues on the surface of an alien installation and, later, inside it. All it lacks are anything more than a cursory beam up to a Covenant ship.
There’s a similar mix of Master Chief and NPC team-combat levels, courtesy of the Infinity, another UNSC vessel pulled into Requiem’s gravity well, and 'Master Chief goes it alone' missions. Some levels are simply about getting from point A to point B, others involve doing so before the world explodes: one Halo 4 level, involving a Ghost-ride across a landscape violently tearing itself apart, plays almost exactly like the original's dash-through-the-burning-Autumn finale. The rest involve what are essentially variations on the 'flip a set of switches to continue' mission, all classic Combat Evolved stuff.
A Promethean Knight channels its inner Alien Queen
There’s a real sense here of going back to basics after taking the Halo mythology in new directions in ODST and Reach. 343 doesn’t go so far as to chuck out all of the new Covenant races, weaponry and vehicles that were added in those games - and it introduces new ones, of course - but that does nothing to overcome the strong feeling of déja vu the new game evokes.
And I wasn’t struck only by the similarities with Combat Evolved - elements of Halo 4 recalled parts of other games and movies too. The new enemies, the cybernetic Promethean warriors seemingly constructed by the Forerunners to combat the Flood, strongly reminded me of other beings from beyond the Halo universe. The Knights, with their spindly, mid-torso extra arms, low, knee-bent gait, and huge bony head carapaces clearly channel Aliens’ Alien Queen. Heaven knows Aliens deserves a hat-tip. This is the movie that most inspired the pioneers of the sci-fi first-person shooter genre, Bungie included.
Fellow flyers: Halo 4's Watcher and Quake II's Icarus
iD Software was inspired by the James Cameron film too, and I can see some of the Doom developer’s Quake II creations here. The dog-like Promethean Crawler is a lot like iD’s canine Parasite; the Promethean Watcher, a flying warrior held aloft by what look like two circular impeller units reminded me a lot of Quake II’s Icarus flyers, who also move around the battlefield on two circular impeller units. The Watchers can shield ailing Knights and even bring them back from the dead, effects likewise seen before in Quake II.
I’m not accusing 343 of having lifted these creatures, merely pointing out how developers’ immersion in the sci-fi shooter genre will inevitably now result in the recurrence of older themes and ideas. Like pop music, FPS gaming will eat itself. Game creators need to work harder these days to avoid these unplanned parallels.
Next page: All dust and echoes
Re: Good review...
Easy explanation for lack of fauna - any species that run towards explosions/gun fire/big metal exoskeletons have become extinct. The fauna's there, it's just heading rapidly away from you :)
most overrated game ever
So many people rave about this game but i always found it really clumsy. The slow pace of play is designed as a result of the massive control shortcomings of a FPS using a controller. Sure it looked nice in its day but so did Rise of the Robots.
Besides, what happened to 'Finish the Fight'?
Re: You forgot to mention
It will still be short on content. You'll just have to do more shooting than moving.
A good review. Halo: CE was good. Shame 343 choose not to include fauna, as Bungie had originally intended to do so in Halo, but didn't due to time constraints. It's a bit like walking around the Eden Project: There's lush vegetation and some humidity, but the squawks and howls of the jungle are conspicuously absent.
Curiously, Halo: CE actually started out as a Real Time Strategy game for Macs, introduced by Steve Jobs at Macworld:
I know there are some people who don't like Halo: CE, as they prefer fast PC mouse-driven FPSs. Halo though felt more solid than PC shooters at the time, the weapons were very balanced with strengths and weaknesses, the Iain M. Banks-inspired plot was good with some nice twists and surprises, the vehicles fun, the split-screen multiplayer added an important social aspect. Not having to cycle through a dozen guns to find one with some ammunition was good, as was not having to look for health-packs all the time.
Re: Halo was always overhyped
Considering I had been playing Doom from the day of release and progressed through so many FPS that I had gotten sick of them by the time Halo came out.
I ended up with Halo I won an Xbox and got Halo with it, it was simply different, and was worth completing (despite some padding)
2 weapons and reasonably decent enemy AI (the grunts running away to get somebody bigger to help them was different and still is) and lining up single shot multiple kills from a sniper rifle was a game in itself.
No I didn't like the joypad controls and still don't but like it or not Halo changed the FPS game.
As for padding I would point at the alien world in Half Life as being considerably worse than anything that Halo inflicted upon me (it annoyed me so much that I never finished HL1 and will have to play the Black Mesa mod for HL2 to make up for the disappointment I suffered)