Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Video Game Review: Halo 4

So Halo 4 happened! Only a few days after Assassin's Creed III crossed my Xbox, I had Halo 4 in front of me. Now, if you read last week's review, you know that I found ACIII disappointing unfortunately. At this point, I'd hyped myself up and really needed a good game, something to fill the hole that ACIII failed to fill. I put my faith in Halo 4. And you know what? It did exactly what I wanted it to. Halo 4 is great.

Background: What's my Halo history? Halo 3 was our first Xbox game when we (being my bro and I) got a 360 a few years ago. We charged through it and loved it. We got a hold of the original and played that, and then my bro also played Halo 2, which I didn't like as much (the New Mombasa segment was great, as was Delta Halo, but anything with the Flood or the Arbiter was kinda lame). We got ODST when it came out, and Reach as well. I got Anniversary and really liked it, though bro didn't as much - I agree that it wasn't up to the standards Reach had already set. Reach was my favorite overall, though I eventually have found some true coolness in ODST, it just takes a different playstyle. I still long for some Halo 3 scenes though - The Citadel, and the first mission on the desert-y sequence on The Ark and stuff really stick with me.

So, I wanted to just give my first impressions of the game. I'd gone at midnight to pick it up, and had just come home. Here's the thoughts.
* Okay, let's see how this really is. I really hope it's good.
* Nice, the title screen is very pretty. And I like the music too.
I'll note that by this point I'd already listened to the soundtrack.
* Okay, options, cool, customization is back, wait, all this stuff is locked? Dammit. I don't do multiplayer, I hope I can get the stuff.
* Campaign start. Here we go.
* Oh hey, Dr. Hadley survived the whole war! I knew she got off Reach, but here she is! This is an interesting direction to take things, replacing MC...
* Man, I know these are cinematic graphics, but seeing as ACIII could've really used a top-notch set of graphics like this I'm still really impressed. These are incredibly lifelike faces.
* Okay, we have in-engine graphics and the Forward Unto Dawn. Everything still looks gorgeous - good sign.
* Oh hey Cortana! Your mo-cap actress changed, but your voice didn't! And thankfully the Chief's voice actor is the same. I got weirded out when it was all strange in Anniversary. I don't quite like this Cortana version as much as the old one.
* Still marveling at all the pretty.
* Alright, alright, matching to controls. Hey, they're pretty close to how I remember!
* Guns...*krakrakrakrak* OH MY GOD that should not have felt really good. I'm only shooting a wall *krakrakrakrak* HOLY CRAP the gun just sounds great and it makes it FEEL right. Is...*blam.blam.blam* yup, pistol's feeling good too.
* Covenant! I was hoping to fight them. Why though? Oh, I guess "a lot can change in 4 years" makes sense.
* Yeah, these guns just feel right.
* Oh my goodness, how did I DIE? This is easy mode! I hope this doesn't become a trend...

So yeah, straight from the get-go, the game got me on-board with almost no effort. Everything just FELT right. Aftr 343 had trouble making everything just feel right in Anniversary, this is a huge sigh of relief. The graphics are right there at the top of the 360's arsenal as far as quality goes, and the art direction sure ain't bad. I noticed the Covenant Grunt has a makeover, and had, like, scales on its bulgy arms and stuff and looked more like a creature and less like a generic enemy thing.

Let's hit the basic topics:

PLOT: Mostly, I liked it. You can tell they were leaving things blank for the next games, but the stuff they give us is generally pretty cool. I really like the inclusion and canonization of Rampancy (linking in Marathon). In general, the story got a little less strong as the game progressed, especially two particular scenes. First, the scene with the Librarian was silly as all hell. For the remainder of the game (which I was co-oping with my bro by that point), my reaction to absolutely everything was to tease the game about the word "Genesong." Really, what the fuck is that? I was really trying to take it serious, but that kinda snapped it a bit. The other bit is the final scene. The, uh, "final boss." That was pretty pathetic. We eliminate the villain and prevent his escape, and the whole thing with Cortana really makes no sense. The ending is really a pile of gibberish. I'm not sure how the plot from this one can be strongly exapnded into a trilogy the way the Flood from H1 could, but I'm interested to see them try and pull it off. Everything else about the game has given me faith in 343's ability to continue this series.
I do admit, it was saddening to have the game go by without the other heroes of Master Chief's story. Sergeant Johnson and Miranda Keyes are dead, and I miss Johnson very much. Additionally, I was pretty sad not to hear Reynolds' (Fillion's) voice in the game - I mean, Buck survived Reach and New Mombasa and the Ark, right? Still, I suppose it gave it a much more close feel to be just Master Chief and Cortana. Master Chief showed a lot of emotion for being what he is, and he's growing on me not only as an icon, but as a sympathetic hero too.

GAMEPLAY: It was rock-solid. As soon as I got into the swing of things, I was really into it. It was fun, it felt right, and the enemies were varied with good AI. I'll mention that those flying shield-things that the Promethean Knights let out are a bitch to hit and their presence immediately makes them the priority target and amps up the difficulty. Three of them is just nasty. But with a partner, I was okay with it.
My big sticking point was the guns. There were a LOT and a very varied selection. Even when guns filled similar roles, such as the Shotgun and the Scattershot, they behaved somewhat differently. I loved the Promethean guns, and liked some of the Covenant guns. I was sad to see no Plasma Rifle at all, but there was a lot of good still. One thing that DID kinda piss me off was the utter lack of Gravity Hammer save for a single one in an unexplained "Here's one of every gun, the final boss is coming soon" room, and you don't get to use it very long. See, I just really love the Grav Hammer. Swords are cool and all, but those hammers are boss.
Difficulty isn't always stable through the game, but other than that the gameplay is rock solid, as I said.
Of course, there's not a ton of divergance from the norm - it's ALMOST a little too the-same to be fresh, but the new coat of paint and everything, plus a carefully refined and recalibrated system make it worth it. Also, the new batch of armor abilities and always-having sprint is great. Hard-Light Shield? Fuck yeah. Also it's great that one of the control schemes is almost word-for-word Borderlands 2 (which my bro had been playing, so it worked out perfect for him actually).

GRAPHICS: I am blown away. THIS stretches what the 360 is capable of and looks better than just about any game I've seen, even on the PS3 or PC. Everything is just utterly well-designed, well-made, stylish enough to avoid the uncanny valley of photorealism, and the animations are smooth, natural, and interesting. I'm blown away.
They filled the world with monumental, wondrous things. However, as some have said, it doesn't wield that power in quite the right way to get us to feel like we did when we first witnessed the Halo ring on our screens. Not for lack of trying though - the stuff is awe-inspiring, but not impactful in that same never-forget-it way.

SOUND: The soundtrack is great. Neil Davidge did a good job. There's a major flaw in that the game lacks a single truly iconic theme that will be pervasive through the trilogy the way Marty's Halo theme was. That said, some of the songs, like Arrival, which is on the Music page, 117, in October Songaday, or Green and Blue, up top, are stellar pieces. I miss the Halo theme by the way, but understand the purpose of the split.
I'll shout out again about the sound effects. Combined with the specific jerking of the recoil, they make the game feel incredible to play. It's visceral and raw in a way that I haven't felt shooting in any other game to be.

* I haven't a clue what the multiplayer is like, which is a guiding criterium for many who play Halo. Sorry, but I don't do online multiplayer really. It is not a judging criteria here.
* That said, aside from potentially the multiplayer, the game lacks replay value. No individual level is so fun that I want to play it over and over like I love The Ark level from 3 or New Mombasa in 2. It lacks the medals and scoring system that made me play Reach obsessively, trying to unlock components for my Spartan and trying to do runs in different styles. Frankly, there's not a lot to hold interest beyond a single playthrough unless you're a multiplayer person.
* The game doesn't do a great job with making the characters you interact with, like the Spartan IVs, very deep people at all.

CONCLUSION: The game filled the gap I was facing from ACIII perfectly. It was exactly what I needed at the time. It's a strong game, and among the most gorgeous looking things to come out this year.  But chances are you're gonna play it once and either go to the multiplayer or be done. Also, the game isn't going to be bringing you into the fold if you already disliked the way Halo games work. Still, it's a bearer of good tidings that the new developer doesn't indicate a drop in overall quality.
Score: 8.5/10.

End Recording,

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