Halo 4‘s single player is painfully brief. I got the game in the mail yesterday, and knocked through the single player campaign in a night, much to my own surprise.
But it was worth it. Although I’ve had zero investment in the franchise emotionally, in terms of storytelling and gameplay, I found this to possibly be the most engaging game of the series. There may not be a lot there, but what is there is polished to an absolutely exquisite sheen.
It may not seem like there’s much to do with Halo; it’s essentially a pulpy ’70s SF paperback that you shoot your way through instead of read. But, as a game, 343 Industries makes their intent clear right off the bat; the pacing of the game is very different. Ammo is scarcer, enemies are more aggressive and more intelligent without “breaking character”, so to speak. 343 doesn’t set out to reinvent the wheel here, but they do make it clear they’re not Bungie in the opening act, forcing you to use more strategy and think harder about where you go and what you do.
The writing is also easily some of the best in the series. The game is never going to win any awards for its story, and it doesn’t deserve any, but the writing doesn’t make the mistake of assuming you’ve played every Halo game and care deeply about the mythology. It’s easy for players to get caught up on what happened without feeling trapped in a loop of interminable cutscenes. It’s stock parts, and it always has been, but they at least put the parts together with care, even if it is a wee bit too self-serious for its own good. Come on, guys, this isn’t a serious military drama. It’s a bug hunt.
Needless to say, the graphics are stunning: this game, which along with Forza Horizon is likely the Xbox 360’s swan song, wrings every last pixel it can get, and it shows. Similarly, Neil Davidge’s score must have taken years: It’s gorgeous and often well considered.
If I have a nitpick, it’s that the weapons, even the alien ones, often stick too closely to the pistol/shotgun/SMG/assault rifle/missile launcher format. The series rarely gets goofy with its weapons, but you do kind of wonder why aliens don’t have weapons that are more, well, alien. Similarly, the design of the new antagonists is a bit stale, although really, you just shoot them. They are well balanced, well, aside from the Needler, and they all at least feel a bit different to use.
My major complaint is the length. I know it’s a modern shooter and expecting even low double-digits is asking too much of a game where single-player is not the reason most people are buying the game, but come on. Six hours? Really? That said the game does seem to be adding co-op missions at least, which should add to the length.
Most people are buying this game for the multiplayer, and dipping into it, it’s well-designed. Really, it’s kind of hard to screw this up, and 343 doesn’t seem to have monkeyed with anything too much.
The hardcore have already paid their $60, and if you like multiplayer, it’s worth joining them. But perhaps in the future, 343 could consider a longer single-player campaign. For the first time, a Halo game has actually left me wanting more.