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Halo 4 (Xbox 360) artwork

Halo 4 (Xbox 360) review


"343 really does a good job of illustrating emotion and feeling between Master Chief and Cortana. I wholeheartedly mean that. A more amateur take on the dynamic between Master Chief and Cortana would lead to their relationship feeling as cheesy and forced as my making light of the situation above. But through subtle movement and expression – and excellent voice acting – I felt compelled to see how their story would conclude with the hope that Cortana would come out her rampancy all right. This is all the more notable, I think, because basically we’re dealing with a faceless killing machine and a purple-blue sylph. A really hot purple-blue sylph, mind you. But a purple-blue sylph nonetheless. This is easily the best addition 343 delivered for Halo 4, and my hat’s off to them for creating new ways for me to care about characters I’ve been caring about for the better part of 10 years with the full realization that we’re dealing with two characters who are only partly human."



Imagine the opening to Star Wars without the triumphant, space opera theme blaring full blast to accompany monolithic, yellow-lettered prologue. Imagine, if you will, the sweeping strings arrangement from The Godfather, and now picture viewing its Mafioso underworld without it. Try to envision The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly without Ennio Morricone’s indelible soundtrack punctuating the silence between gun duels and Clint Eastwood’s nonchalant statements. It’s just not the same, right? Now, picture fighting against the Covenant horde - on Legendary, of course – without epic cello melodies urging you onward. And mute the resolute percussion beats and vocal chants that would otherwise confirm that your actions are as brazen as they are suicidal. Seems like you’d be missing an integral piece to epic scene. Seems like you’d be playing Halo 4.

For better or for worse (and really, Halo 4 is plenty good otherwise), its soundtrack sucks. None of its arrangements are memorable after they’ve died down and given way to clanking footsteps racing across cold metal corridors. Few are even memorable for the moment as they sound off during the course of battle. The most hallowed sounds you’ll hear are those of alien death squeals, the welcoming zaps and blasts from inter-specie ordnance, and the voice work done by Master Chief and Cortana. If there is one element to Halo 4 that I miss more than anything as a result of Microsoft transitioning the Halo franchise from Bungie to 343, it is the absence of its memorable, climactic, and moving soundtrack that defined the series as more than just a set of video games.

Alas.

In spite of that lapse, there is some good news to report: Halo 4 is pretty darn good otherwise. It feels like Bungie developed it – but with a hint of new direction. I suppose that sounds like 343 is getting credit for leaving the gunplay in Halo 4 mostly alone when comparing it to Reach or Halo 3, but it would have been far worse had they decided to scrap the foundations that make the series play so enjoyably well by leaving their own clearly defined stamp on the package. So, good job 343 for not tinkering too much with a sound formula. Maybe they’ll screw things up in Halo 5.

But until then, there will be a lot of fun to be had by playing Halo 4. I like its campaign. I like its story. I like its multiplayer. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as the old adage goes. That’s why I find so much frustration in Resident Evil 6 when its immediate predecessors were so good; it had to screw up everything. On the flip side to that, it’s why I wished for change in Assassin’s Creed III when it still flaunts the same flaws and hiccups since its series’ inception.

Halo 4 may play it a little safe – you’ll fight the Covenant aboard derelict space cruisers, across biome-specific battlefields, seek answers to the mysteries that greet your presence, and save not just earth, but all of humanity in the process. Essentially, you’ve done this before in every other Halo game before it. But during all of that, you’ll be entertained by the game’s build-up and progression; you’ll be entertained by the explosions and the gun battles strewn across the campaign’s eight levels and countless hours of life-sucking multiplayer; and you may even find the story behind the premise to contain a certain level of humanity that so many of today’s games strive for yet miss completely.

At the onset of Halo 4, Master Chief wakes up right where we last left him, aboard the derelict Forward Unto Dawn, waiting to be rescued. Cortana awakens him; tells him that something’s afoot. Turns out to be Covenant boarders ready for action.

“I thought we had a peace treaty with the Covenant,” Master Chief says wryly.

“That was four years ago,” replies Cortana.

The events that occur subsequent to Master Chief’s revitalization tell a story of desperation on two fronts – a combat-ready Spartan warrior seeking to destroy this great threat against humanity, and, in parallel to that, his more personal aspiration of ensuring that Cortana survives. Now I’m going to make light of the situation.

Cortana had been acting strange since Halo 3, and here she continues her insecurity and over-analysis of the situation. Depending on your personality and experience, you may find her behavior to be very similar to that of real women. This is all the more troublesome since Cortana is not a real woman, and I mean that strictly in the sense of how she is conveyed in the Halo series of video games. She is clearly AI. Her appearance, though strongly feminine in feature, does not counter the fact that she is knickknack-sized. She calls her affliction “rampancy.” It’s really just fancy AI talk for “menopause.” She is nearing the end of her shelf life. Cortana fears being paralleled to Windows ’97. Now, let’s get back to being serious for a moment.

343 really does a good job of illustrating emotion and feeling between Master Chief and Cortana. I wholeheartedly mean that. A more amateur take on the dynamic between Master Chief and Cortana would lead to their relationship feeling as cheesy and forced as my making light of the situation above. But through subtle movement and expression – and excellent voice acting – I felt compelled to see how their story would conclude with the hope that Cortana would come out her rampancy all right. This is all the more notable, I think, because basically we’re dealing with a faceless killing machine and a purple-blue sylph. A really hot purple-blue sylph, mind you. But a purple-blue sylph nonetheless. This is easily the best addition 343 delivered for Halo 4, and my hat’s off to them for creating new ways for me to care about characters I’ve been caring about for the better part of 10 years with the full realization that we’re dealing with two characters who are only partly human.

343 will probably receive more attention for creating the Prometheans, though, I suspect. One of their warriors was featured in a commercial for the game leading up to its release (they are the ancient evil unleashed, or whatever). They serve as a worthy replacement for the Flood who, as you may recall, met an untimely extinction in Halo 3. The Prometheans are fierce, numerous, and deadly. They come in different flavors, too. There is the canine type, the killing machine type dubbed “Knight”, and the annoying flying support bot that reanimates its comrades from the dead unless you’re quick enough to render it a scrap pile.

Clearly 343’s inspiration for the Prometheans was the movie Tron. Scarcely has the color neon orange ever been more utilized in a game. Vectors are a plenty. Even the Promethean-themed weapons utilize the neon orange vector motif. Woe to chrysophobia, which affects 250,000 Americans, or so I read on when I googled “fear of the color orange.” Promethean levels are especially Tron-y and therefore especially neon orange-y. It makes for a nice toss up between the more familiar Covenant and the organic realms one tends to encounter them in.

Behind all of the madness is a being called “the Didact.” He is didactic (har har), but I think he most closely resembles a magic space orc who uses a sleek sphere for his interplanetary travels. There’s this one point where he shoots a big orange laser at earth because that’s what magic space orcs are inclined to do. No matter, I find the Didact to be least as compelling as Tartarus from Halo 2. Did I mention I’m grateful that the Arbiter is absent from Halo 4, along with all fluently English-speaking Elites?

One last area worth noting: multiplayer. It’s awesome. Like it has always been. My most insane moment thus far has to have been the time I managed to stick the front right wheel of a Warthog right before getting killed, and then seeing the words “Triple Kill” appear on my screen upon respawning. If you’ve been keeping up with the series since at least Halo 2, you’re going to continue to find the same style of engrossing multi-person combat that you’d expect to encounter here, just now with customizable loadouts. I could give you a run-down of all the different type of game categories offered, but I figure you probably know by now what to expect. If Halo 4 is your first experience to the multiplayer universe of Halo, then good grief, I hope you may find it in your heart to pry yourself away from the controller every once in a while.

The only “downside” to all of this is that Firefight has been replaced (!!) by something called Spartan Ops. It’s like Firefight, but not really. I mean, you’ll kill aliens and have a bloody good time doing it, but the set-up is more in-line with campaign B-missions. Basically you get to hear a lot of chitchat between NPC soldiery barking orders and making stark observations every few seconds as you and a group of other people try to exercise an area with extreme prejudice. The fact that there are only five of these Spartan Ops missions, and that they are clearly labeled as “Episode 1” promises that there will be future episodes for download, provided you’re cool with ponying up additional cash funds in the form of Microsoft Points to see what they’re all about. Meh.

Halo 4 as it stands offers a lot of good value. I’ll be clearing its campaign on Legendary, or trying to better my gear in its multiplayer for weeks and months to come. It’s good to know that 343 did a pretty commendable job ensuring that the Halo legacy will live on. I’ll be looking forward to Halo 5, for sure.

Rating: 8/10

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Community review by Fiddlesticks (November 11, 2012)

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