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Halo 4 (Xbox 360) artwork

Halo 4 (Xbox 360) review

"Thankfully, Halo 4's War Games excels with its improvements and tinkering to provide tremendous amounts of replay value. I haven't had this much fun with a Halo multiplayer since vanilla Halo 3, back in 2007."

Reach's multiplayer had huge potential as a fantastic follow up to Halo 3's component, introducing new elements, mechanics, and maps, but it just wasn't gelling together when I got my hands on the disc. There were enough irks and unnecessary issues to turn me away from the franchise for a long time, and that's saying something considering I've been playing Halo games since 2003. I even skipped the anniversary edition of Combat Evolved because it used Reach's multiplayer! However, when Halo 4's release date drew closer, I figure giving the series another chance was in order, and I jumped in completely blind, without checking screenshots, videos, or reading about any info on new features and such. I went in with zero expectations, and came away surprised... then I went back to play for an unknown number of hours. It was like this: I got more joy out of Halo 4's multiplayer during the first two hours than I had during Reach's first two weeks.

Though, when all's said and done, Halo 4's multiplayer, War Games, is basically an extension of what Reach did. Describing it that way actually feels insulting, but that's what you're getting. However, the improvements and adjustments make all the difference, because it's like going from Rice Krispies to Cocoa Pebbles, and you wonder why you had to suffer through Rice Krispies to begin with. One such drastic change has been made to the loadout system, which was just a generic batch of premade sets in Reach. To put that in perspective, other games already had a loadout aspect long before Reach came out, and they did it in greater detail. You still get the premade stuff, but Halo 4 allows you to customize your own set. It's not as simple as it sounds, since weapons and abilities have to be purchased through points, which can only be earned through ranking up, and the more you rank, the more things will unlock for purchase.

While stuff like BRs and Plasma Grenades can be obtained, special abilities and advantages are what most players are likely going after first. The Hologram and Jetpack make their return from Reach, along with new ones like the Hardlight Shield, summoning a frontal shield for extra protection, and the Autosentry, an ability that calls forth a hovering bot that guards its immediate surroundings. There's additional perks, as well, such as a power that grants added blast radius to grenades, and another that permits the use of a primary weapon, like Assault Rifles and DMRs, to be equipped in the secondary slot, normally used for smaller arms. Though, your customized loadouts can't be used in specific modes, like Flood (previously Zombies) and Team SWAT. Understandable, to keep those modes balanced. I'd be horrified if SWAT, a mode with no radar and one hit to the head equals instant death, allowed abilities like Camouflage!

Several other modifications to the battlefield have been made, too, making Halo 4 significantly different from its predecessors as far as normal Matchmaking is concerned. Sprinting, which was originally a special ability attached to a loadout in Reach, is now just a normal move. That, along with the option to spawn instantly in some modes, certainly makes the overall vibe more fast-paced. Halo's powerful weapons, like the Spartan Laser and Beam Rifle, are treated like special acquisitions this time, through another new addition called Ordnance. Simply kill enough players or assist (preferably kill), and you eventually have the opportunity to pick one of three weapons with the D-pad, landing in front of you inside a pod. Sniper Rifles, temp speed boosts, Sticky Detonators, and so on, if you want the good stuff, the game encourages you to be a more open participant. Other players can steal your Ordnance weapon, but a delay safeguard is in place to guarantee you grab it first when others are around. Now, dying before you can get one, that's another story. Oh yeah, there's also a bipedal robot you can control. And it looks like a Metal Gear. I shouldn't have to emphasis how cool that is.

There's one odd alteration I don't like, however, and that's how easy it is to get splattered by vehicles. Splattering actually took a semblance of effort in past games, but for some reason, all it takes is a bump to do you in here. I can't count the number of times I was killed by both friend and foe because a Ghost touched me while at full shields.

With all these changes going on, there's no need to fret, because multiplayer is still very much a Halo experience: Spartans soak up ammo like sponges, Warthogs and Ghosts bounce and tumble around the map as always, man cannons and lifts aplenty, and Forge is back for another go. If you're worried all the new stuff makes the gameplay unbalanced, 343 did a great job making sure multiplayer wasn't borked beyond belief. Special abilities, as good as they are, always have that one flaw that can be found. Camouflage, for example, is something you know is being used, since the radar will always display a bunch of erratic, grey dots. Things like speed boosts, too, don't mean jack if a player can't dodge a good DMR user from a distance. Also helping to keep matches fair is how grenades and ammunition are much more scarce on maps, meaning explosion fests are no longer a thing for the former. For the latter, it's not uncommon to exhaust weapons real fast, so you'll either attempt to melee someone to death or run around the battlefield, scrambling to find a fresh corpse for a new weapon.

Halo 4 wouldn't have been half as enjoyable if it weren't for the solid map designs, something Reach unfortunately struggled with, especially the bigger maps. As far as I can tell, a lot of the maps don't have any glaring issues that can be exploited; there's always an object to hide behind, but not too much of it, and there's numerous pathways to pass through, usually ending in front of opponents that should've paid more attention. Longbow, a snowed landscape map with several outposts, displays this in a great way. There's one particular outpost stationed on a hill in the center, which either team can easily gain access to and pick away at the opposing group from afar. That is, if they just rush up in the open like fools. The biggest disadvantage to being at that outpost is how there's not a solid view of things below, thanks to mountain structures and walls obscuring areas. That's good, it means you have to work for your spot. As the opposing team, you have ten possible ways to infiltrate: four open entrances, two gravity lifts, two tiny hills, and two back entrances through tunnels. For those that learn the terrain, this map is really accessible and prone to many a comeback win. Thankfully, a lot of the maps in Halo 4 share this similar type of design, especially the bigger maps.

343 also put in surprising effort into the Campaign mode, its story resuming after Halo 3's Legendary cliffhanger ending, marking Master Chief's return as the protagonist after two prequels, an RTS, and a remake. Picking up four years later with Cortana waking MC from cryogenic sleep aboard the damaged Forward Unto Dawn, the two stumble across a mysterious Forerunner planet, and they're not alone. What seems to be a simple scuffle between a rogue Covenant fleet and the Chief, with the UNSC ship Infinity coming into the fray, quickly turns into a doomsday scenario of intergalactic proportions. After over a decade of Halo stories involving super soldiers saving the day, you'd think it would be difficult to care much this time around. But to the dev team's credit, they managed to create a story filled with enough intensity and emotion to make you invested. I had my doubts when the Campaign began, but the adventure goes into overdrive when things spiral out of control, and by the time the credits were rolling, I was exhausted.

What really helped was the overall presentation, with production values up. the. ass. The Campaign is filled to the brim with fantastic set pieces that are both gorgeous and creative. I was awestruck when, after navigating through a graveyard of destroyed metal, I found myself at the edge of a cliff, staring at a ginormous Forerunner building; it's an abstract-looking design with giant, sharp pieces nonchalantly floating in the sky as soothing music plays in the background. The structures only get more abstract and filled with imagination from there, accompanied with a great soundtrack and beautiful lighting effects. You're really given a sense that this truly is something otherworldly, and right in the midst of it all is you. If I can sum it up in one way, it's as if the previous Halo titles were part of a long-running TV series, and Halo 4 is the big budget theatrical follow up that pulls all the punches.

Can't say the same about the play mechanics. I'll stress that the gameplay isn't bad, but if you've played a Halo Campaign before, you've seen this done much better. You'll get a hefty dose of Grunts, Elites, Jackals, and Hunters, and along comes their usual attack patterns and weaknesses. New enemies are introduced, though, and they actually provide a challenging fight for the Chief. The Promethean Knight, for one, is an insectoid-like fellow that has nasty abilities, teleporting around the area and warp dashing in front of your face unexpectedly. The Crawler is a dog-like creature that attacks in packs, being troublesome with its erratic movements and wall-climbing abilities. And the biggest pain of them all, the Watcher, is a floating foe that provides extra shielding to those you're trying to kill, and even fly for cover when you turn your sights on them. They definitely force you into new strategies than what you're used to, so it's a shame no more than those three types were created. Being on a new planet and all, I was disappointed by the lack of fresh resistance.

I won't harp on the Campaign too much, because it's still good, albeit on the safe side, and there's some pretty fun moments, like when you jump into the bipedal robot and wreck Covenant forces. There's also a really, really awesome segment later on, but I'd be heartless if I spoiled that. Let's be real here while I'm at it: no one buys Halo games specifically for the Campaign. We'll play and dominate it for the Legendary achievement, but we keep coming back for that multiplayer action. Thankfully, Halo 4's War Games excels with its improvements and tinkering to provide tremendous amounts of replay value. I haven't had this much fun with a Halo multiplayer since vanilla Halo 3, back in 2007. After my unfortunate experience with Reach, I thought my run with the series had burned out, but Halo 4 has changed my opinion, and I'm hoping future installments will be just as fun and well-built as this.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (November 19, 2012)

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