Halo 4 (Xbox 360) review
"There was a time when every shooter on the market wanted to be Halo. Now they all want to be Call of Duty, and Halo is off in another room doing its own thing, and it's all the better for it."
Let me get this out of the way.
Unlockable loadouts. Whoa. Stop right there, 343 Industries.
See, one of the reasons that the Halo brand has continued to hold my interest over this generation is its obstinate refusal to bend to the genre's altered standards. I have nothing against cover systems and ironsights aiming per se, but I'm worn out on them, and it's relieving to play a shooter free of such restrictions. Halo's multiplayer is colorful, large-scale, strategic, and just the slightest bit off the wall. There was a time when every shooter on the market wanted to be Halo. Now they all want to be Call of Duty, and Halo is off in another room doing its own thing, and it's all the better for it.
Halo 4's multiplayer – all 8GB of it – generally preserves that rather well. It's shorter on game variants than Reach, and it replaces the popular Firefight mode with a significantly-less-inspired cooperative campaign sort of thing, but it also makes just enough improvements in the right areas (namely, better map design and the welcome removal of reticle bloom) for me to call it the superior experience. But. Unlockable loadouts. Egh. Bungie always cited a desire for a level playing field as their reason for limiting player progression to cosmetic upgrades, but now, dumping more time into Halo 4 grants you better weapons and abilities at the beginning of any match. It's not a game-changer by any means, since Halo's inventory is fairly limited anyway, but it's worth noting as one of 343 Industries' few missteps in what is otherwise an impressively faithful continuation of this franchise.
This is a touchy subject for a lot of us, because Bungie is no longer involved with Halo, and this latest installment is new developer 343 Industries' chance to demonstrate that they have firm control of the franchise. I was not a fan of their Halo: Combat Evolved remake, which I felt played it safe to a fault. It seemed lazy, the product of a team more committed to earning money than pleasing fans. Thankfully, a Bungie-esque welcome message when you first boot up Halo 4 earnestly spells out their dedication to the community, as does a thank-you at the end of the campaign. And while some of the worst things have been done with good intentions, I'm pleased to say that 343 Industries' passion for the franchise has paid off, because Halo 4 is pretty great.
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