a mixed bag of good ideas
When 343 Industries announced it was taking over the popular, and lucrative, “Halo” franchise from now independent Bungie Studios, the move was met with skepticism and restrained optimism by “Halo” faithful. Could Microsoft’s “dream team” of developers and personalities gathered from throughout some of the industry’s largest studios ever live up to the standards that Bungie set over the course of five games? If “Halo 4″ is any indication, the answer is yes, and no.
When the new studio set out to continue the “Halo” brand into the future, they wanted to embrace the extended fiction that Bungie largely ignored, and even contradicted with “Halo: Reach.” Novels, comics and game fiction were going to come together for one cohesive story that expanded upon the brief tidbits michael kors outlet left behind in the original trilogy of games.
Who are the Forerunners? The enigmatic alien race that left behind the Halo installations and shield worlds that have been discovered throughout the galaxy have largely been undeveloped. What is the true origins of the Flood? The parasitic lifeform has been at the source of much of the fiction, but has also gone largely undeveloped beyond as a cannon fodder enemy. But most importantly, who is Master Chief? John Spartan 117 has always been a vague avatar for gamers to interject themselves into while blasting away at endless waves of enemy aliens. construct, Cortana. For the most part, it succeeds.
Chief has always been a character of one liners. So hearing him speak and carry on full conversations, not only with Cortana, but other characters is somewhat awkward at first. Solid writing backs up the more emotive Chief, building up on the relationship between he and Cortana. Don’t worry, there are no “Mass Effect 3″ style human on robot love scenes between the pair. But their relationship is examined a lot more closely as Cortana begins to delve into rampancy a process by which she will literally think herself to death.
After an encounter with a rogue Covenant faction, the remnants of Forward Unto Dawn the ship Chief was stranded in at the end of “Halo 3″ is pulled into the Forerunner shield world, Requieum. There, Chief discovers a new race of enemies, Prometheans, which guard the true secret of the shield world. Not since “Halo: Combat Evolved,” has the series allowed so much freedom to explore such a vast alien world. Massive spires contrast against rolling plains of green grass, molten volcanic areas and vast deserts are only a small sampling of the variety of environments that players will experience, and explore.
While the Prometheans may be interesting to look at, and their tactics startlingly varied at first, they soon become a chore to battle, and are nowhere near as interesting or fun as the battle tested Covenant. Little four legged dog like enemies called crawlers scurry about the battlefield and along walls, shooting rapid shots from assault weapons, which usually do little more than irritate. The true foes are the Promethean Knights and Battlewagons. These bipedal constructs operate similarly to Elites in their battle tactics. But they also have the ability to teleport, which can prove troublesome in combat. Too often though, they feel like bullet sponges with little feedback as to when their shields have been damaged and they are near death. The final enemy is the watcher an aerial enemy that can provide hardlight shield support to the other Promethean factions and lob back grenades tossed their way. Combat against Prometheans is initially fun, but turns boring because of the relatively static nature of each battle. The variety and unpredictability of the Covenant combat is missing.
The Prometheans bring their own additions to the weapon sandbox, but are relatively redundant. The Promethean scattershot is nothing more than a re skinned shotgun, the Promethean light rifle michael kors outlet is a re skinned battle rifle and DMR amalgam and the Promethean binary rifle is an overpowered sniper rifle. The weapons do little to offer true variety to a proven sandbox with already established roles.
Despite the change in enemies, the campaign still plays like every other “Halo” campaign sans “Halo 3: ODST.” The wide open areas of “Halo: Combat Evolved” and “Halo 3″ have been cut down slightly, to smaller and more confined combat encounters. There’s still plenty of exploration, and there’s certainly nowhere near the confines of the standard “Call of Duty” corridor shooter. B michael kors outlet ut the massive open areas with a dozen vehicles and multiple routes are noticeably absent. Thankfully, the gunplay in “Halo 4″ is the best in the series, making the on foot sections just as fun as the vehicle segments.
Once the campaign is complete, players can join in a 10 week continuing of the story in “Spartan Ops.” Each week, Microsoft releases five new missions complete with a CGI episode that continues the story post campaign events. The feature was billed as a separate ongoing campaign, but falls short of that ambitious goal. The missions feel like nothing more than combat tunnels in the same environments each week. A few pieces of geometry are shifted, but it’s still the same combat, with different goals. The story elements of the episode videos are interesting, but add little to the ongoing “Halo” lore.
Where 343i really stretched its “creative” legs is in the multiplayer component. The studio took the groundwork established by Bungie with the armor abilities of “Halo Reach” and expanded their role and significance. New upgrades similar to “Call of Duty” perks have also been added to really help play michael kors outlet ers customize the game to their playing style. It’s a drastic departure from the level playing field of every player in previous “Halo” games. Unlike armor abilities in “Reach,” players don’t know whether an enemy has an upgrade to ensure shields recharge faster, or for more powerful grenades or any number of the other options. It can make engagements unpredictable, but also frustrating when one loses simply because of the loadout they’ve chosen.
The other issue that has arisen with the new customization elements is how so many are hidden behind a rank wall. Gametypes have two default loadouts that offer a taste of what is to come, but players won’t fully be able to customize their upgrades and starting weapons until they’ve leveled up enough to unlock them, and have acquired enough Spartan points to purchase them. It’s not near as balanced as the “Call of Duty” system it tries to copy.
These additions, including the a broken join in progress matchmaking system that starts games with uneven teams more often than not and unnecessary changes to Capture the Flag essentially removing any sort of stealth or strategy element really underscore the quagmire that is “Halo 4″ multiplayer. The underlying gameplay is the best in the entire series. The studio has combined the excellent gunplay of “Halo: Combat Evolved” with the smooth movement and traversal of “Halo 2″ with the expansive combat sandbox of “Halo 3″ and the depth of armor abilities of “Halo: Reach.” At the game’s core, it’s essentially a blend of all the best attributes of the individual games. Yet, the superlative stuffed added on top of the base gameplay and the changes made to proven systems really hurt the fun factor and its longevity.
Custom game customization has been severely reduced, stripping players of the ability to add more crazy gametypes like those that spawned Flood and Griffball. Players are unable to create classic Capture the Flag gametypes that remove the automatic flag pickup and waypoint. Assault has been completely removed, along with Territories both replaced by terrible gametypes like Regicide. The only interesting new addition is Domination, which feels more like a “Battlefield” Conquest style gametype with base fortifications.
“Halo 4″ multiplayer is essentially a few patches away from greatness. But for such a high profile game with so much money funneled into its production, these issues should not even exist. It appears 343i strived to capture the “Call of Duty” audience, but failed at realizing what made “Call of Duty” so fun and what made “Halo” so different. Strip away those superlative elements and “Halo 4″ multiplayer is the best in the series.
As a total package, “Halo 4″ is a mixed bag of great ideas, decent execution and pitiful results across the board. The game is a technical masterpiece on every front, with an art style that feels like a mature evolution of the “Halo” series combined with some elements of Retro’s “Metroid Prime.” The campaign succeeds, for the most part, as the start of a completely new, expanded story that focuses more on the Chief and Cortana. But once players move beyond the campaign into Spartan Ops and multiplayer, they may be disappointed with the final product. Spartan Ops feels like it could be so much more. The bite sized missions are entertaining, but feel more like arcade style shooting galleries than really significant moments.
Multiplayer has potential to be as fun and addicting as the series has been noted for. But in its current condition, it’s hard to argue the component belongs alongside its predecessors. Playing “Halo 4″ solo is often an exercise in futility, by either being put into games already in progress with no hope of winning, or by starting a fresh match with uneven teams that never get fully balanced by the end of the game. Combined with the ridiculous amount of content locked before investing a serious amount of time into the game, it’s to determine if 343i knew they were making a “Halo” game.” At least the core gameplay is so superb once the issues are ironed out.