Monday, November 12, 2012

Halo 4 Campaign Review: What a Ride

First off, let me say this review will be almost completely spoiler free. Nothing about key sequences or end spoilers.

Halo 4 launched just under a week ago, and already it has cries for Game of the Year. After playing the campaign, I have not doubt it will win that title. The characters are much more developed and come across as actual people rather than a single minded automaton you take control of for a few hours. Previous Halo titles limited the cut-scenes to basic conversation without putting much feeling into it. This always made it seem like they were trying to put you into the character's shoes rather than flesh out who you were playing as. That's a great path for a unique RPG without any character development. Just a nameless face that you create and build. This was always a mistake for Halo.

Halo 4 breaks that monotonous path and tosses it into the dumpster. This time around, the characters feel. They interact more. They grow. They actually make you feel like you are there in the room and make you care about them and their futures. This isn't just done in the cut-scenes (which are probably the best I've ever seen in any game, and better than a lot of movies), but during the gameplay as well. Emotional conversations back and forth over the com remind you that this story is more than just escaping off of a Forerunner planet.

The story starts with Master Chief being woken up by a terrified Cortana. Distressing sounds on the hull make her concerned about an attack and whispers the words Master Chief told her at the end of Halo 3, "Wake up Chief, I need you." MC is a little foggy about why he's been woken up, but he immediately is ready for action. He's a Spartan, and Spartans don't rest. Ever.

Going through the first part of the game is like any other previous title. Elites, Jackals and Grunts have swarmed the remaining part of the Forward Unto Dawn that you've been sealed in for the last 4 years. Moving through the ship, you have to beat back the Covenant and then turn on the ship's automatic defense systems. Pretty routine stuff. There are some cool moments in zero-g watching dead enemies float around, and a short climbing sequence beats most games that have them all game long.

Once you've done that, the Dyson Sphere you've been orbiting opens up, and a gravity well sucks your ship in. With you on the outside. Not exactly a nice time for a free fall when your ship is exploding into bits around you, and those bits flying at you. But that's Master Chief for you. Path of most resistance.

Skipping a few cut-scene moments, you eventually find yourself being attacked by the Promethean AI's that inhabit Requiem (the planet inside the Dyson Sphere). These fights are different than the original games, but they soon become routine. Shoot the glowing dogs, kill the remote controlled helicopters, beat on the Knights. The enemies change with each playthrough, but the same method works for all of it. You also find Covenant that have landed on Requiem. These enemies are easier and more predictable, since you've been fighting them for 10 years. They still pack a punch though, and be wary of grunts carrying live plasma nades.

Driving in this game is the same as it has always been. The graphics and the sounds have changed for the better, except for the Warthog. The new sound is a bit dull for me. The Banshee is still menacing as ever, and the ghost speeds through everything just fine. A new addition, the Mantis Mech, is slow, but packs a huge wallop. Dual minigun/rocket combo makes it a force to be avoided at all costs. But since you are the only one driving it, abuse it like crazy. There's also a new vehicle called the "Mammoth". It makes the the Warthog look like a moped sitting next to an 18 wheeler.

There are a couple flying missions but these handle much better than past ones, so that's a big relief. One of them involves a Pelican and you gotta love that. After years of being stuck in the back, you get to drive this bad boy!

The relationship between Cortana and John grows a lot more in this story, as 343 brings it to the front, and you really get to understand how close they are. Cortana's rampancy brings out Chief's emotional side in a way nobody has ever seen before. He's always been a machine. Cold. Stoic. Untouchable and unreachable. This really shows how much Cortana means to him, and how he would do anything to save her.

The beginning of this second trilogy is absolutely incredible and a fantastic first step for 343i. I can't wait for it to continue in Halo 5. If you haven't picked up a copy of Halo 4, I highly recommend it. It will be the most thrilling game you've experienced in a very long time.

Overall Score: 10/10

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