New game heeby jeebies, hype and reviews right at launch unnecessarily make a big release’s worth black and white. What’s lost in the usual Metacritic rush is the fact that games need to settle just like music before you properly critique it. That’s why TSS’s gamer division take its time with reviews or, as some call it, get caught playing them instead of timely publishing our thoughts.
Halo 4 (Xbox 360) received the usual gobs of praise with an initial dash of backlash. Nonetheless, it’s evident Halo’s already not the same exact game it was at launch. So we’re going to try something new here and go over the game’s worth after it’s first month of availability. Why did we pick this seemingly arbitrary time frame?
Usually if a game cracks your rotation for a month straight there’s a good chance you’ll stay with it who knows how long: ultimately yielding a proper value for your money. Plus games usually spend the first month or so ironing kinks. That doesn’t they get a pass but, when a game changes for better or worse soon after launch, it ought to be reported. Sounds fair, right? Now let’s get started.
Master Chief keeps kicking ass, sports occasional Indian tear
Halo 4 premieres with Master Chief awaking on board UNSC’s Forward Unto Dawn to stop an unanticipated Covenant heretics’ ambush on the ship. Chief eventually gets pulled into a gravity well onto Requiem: a mysterious planet also targeted by the Covenant. It’s there where an errand to investigate convincing yet boggled UNSC distress signal sets Chief up to free the Didact: a powerful Forerunnner and the game’s main antagonist. With respect to the story’s surprises, you essentially spend the rest of the game launching gradual steps to thwart The Didact, his personal Promethean army and his alliance with the Covenant.
Throughout the roughly 5-8 hour campaign you’ll deal with personal turmoil as Cortana, Chief’s longtime AI buddy, begins to “die” due to passing her expected seven year AI cycle. Her senses gradually deteriorate into moments of insanity and doubt: intended to bring an exclusive feeling of despair between them. These instances attempt to humanize Chief despite his patented deadpan delivery and reputation as a 7 foot killing machine. Nevertheless, while the game’s more poignant scenes become predictable, they’re not misguided and finally give Halo’s main hero a more developed character and personality.
The campaign’s action starts out with good pace, flattens out somewhat then steps up a few notches by the games end. At the same time the story presents a hefty amount of information to you in a short time frame. You may miss plot points and other details as you progress between stages. Yet the context is far richer than most shooters using their story as a green light to shoot everything that moves.
The Halo faithful usually opts to complete the game on legendary. Thing is, Halo 4‘s legendary mode stands as one of the hardest travails in the series. The enemies sharper accuracy and boosted weapons are just the beginning of your eventual grind. Halo 4‘s checkpoints after death will regularly drop you at awkward, frustrating impasses against heightened opposition and few resources available to you. What’s worse is the enemies don’t engage any smarter than they do on heroic. They just take more shots to drop: artificially making the game harder. Such is especially true for Promethean knights who eat gobs of firepower, teleport away from danger or towards you for one hit melee kills.
It’s recommended to play on heroic and below if you don’t have pals to partake in up to 4 player co-op locally or online. Legendary is far too frustrating for most going solo and its challenge obstructs the storytelling by making the pace recede to a crawl. The campaign’s compelling with the right settings and even better in co-op. At the same time there’s not much reason to run the whole story back unless you’re driven by Easter eggs like Halo Waypoint terminals.
The Highs and Lows of Infinity
Infinity houses all the online multiplayer playlists you’ve come to love like Team Slayer, Capture The Flag and SWAT. There’s also some new modes like Regicide, king of the hill with bonuses going to the king and Dominion: an extremely entertaining take on domination with resupplying, turret fortified bases. 343 Industries already introduced new playlists and a $10 map pack including Extraction: a twist on domination which keeps playing options varied.
The mode also attempts turns Halo’s multiplayer tropes on its head. The new scoring system grants credit for smaller feats like assists and being a decoy for a kill. Variations of kills still grant some of the highest point totals outside of playlist-specific opportunities like Dominion’s base attacks and defenses. Therefore, those with shaky aim still won’t have a major presence on the scoreboard.
A dedicated run button, shield with no health bar and instant respawns make Halo 4 the fastest moving Halo by a wide margin. It’s not a twitch shooter by any stretch though. Team play remains paramount and the learning curve can be pretty steep at the start.
New weapons and balancing comes with surprises and a few disappointments. For one, the Assault Rifle finally lives up to its name and doles out hefty damage in close range. The much gassed Battle Rifle is back with the DMR as well. Thing is, there’s no bloom anymore so the slower, more ranged and accurate DMR generally wins out against the BR except in SWAT; it’s spread for head shots gives it an upper hand. The new Promethean weapons emphasize power with 4 shot scoped-kill light rifles, the quick firing, spartan-disintegrating scattergun and the devastating Incineration Cannon. However, a charged blast from a boltshot, an unlockable pistol, can kill like a shotgun or scattergun from well beyond either of their ranges. It sounds broken because it is. Fix it, 343.*
Halo 4‘s upgrade and Ordnance drop system been discussed here with some trepidation. Turns out they’re not so bad after all. Ordance drop options are always random so your consistent play will be rewarded by a nice selection of weaponry or a bunch of merely ok advantages. You’ll start out with 0 armor abilities though so you may feel “naked” in your first matches against foes with advanced tech. For instance Promethean vision, introduced in the campaign, sends out and infrared sonar at the cost of a beeping signal exposing your location.
You’ll also unlock specializations like infinite run, faster weapon switching and faster shield recharge among other perks. Thankfully, you don’t unlock extra upgrades to your guns and whatnot which would further promote unbalanced play. Ranking up also unlocks extra outer customization options for your Spartan with no performance benefits. At least you can eventually look cool while going on a killing spree. You’ll look even better when you save, upload and share your clips of domination or all out goofball affairs to the fileshare.
Infinity works well and can be plenty of fun but suffers from occasionally suspect hit detection, some unfair spawns, the aforementioned bolt shot and having few maps available on disc. It plays best with a group of coordinated friends since playing on a team of strangers with no chemistry often leads to losses and unnecessary frustration. So, if you’re not the social type, your range with Infinity will go as far as your individual talents. Multiplayer here is pretty hard to have a good time with if you can’t compete and/or aren’t in good company.
*This reviewer complains about the bolt shot but has it in one of his loadouts. Don’t judge him.
Spartan Ops: A New Way To Co-op…or not?
In case you haven’t heard, Spartan Ops is essentially a separate cooperative mode where up to four players play as part of Fireteam Crimson: completing skirmishes on Requiem over a narrative relative to the main campaign. You and your ragtag bunch of Spartan 4’s act in “Seasons” of episodes each broken down into five chapters. The cut-scenes add to the mode’s back story while offering a more developed experience than Halo Reach‘s Firefight. Yet the adventure doesn’t feel like it’s own fleshed out story rather than some quick mini-levels wrapped in some nice CG packaging.
Spartan Ops has been consistent with its output by offering five episodes since launch with another on the way in January 2013. Each episode will run at least an hour long on the first try and yields plenty of XP. There’s not enough meat in it to give Halo 4 a “two games in one” distinction but it’s a worthwhile avenue for those who can’t get into or need a break from Infinity.
So, does Halo 4 pass the month long test?
Halo 4 packs plenty of pretty imagery and is easily the best looking game of the franchise. Its campaign stumbles somewhat but should provide an enjoyable ride for old fans and new heads as well. The dissent will come with the multiplayer offerings since the game changed so much to emulate rivals like COD and BF3. Hardcore fans who swear by Halo 2 and 3 like scoundrels probably won’t gravitate to Infinity’s radically different gameplay: rendering Halo 4 as a Redbox or Gamefly rental for said discerning tastes. Those new to Halo might see the changes as a plus since they never played any of the main games before or didn’t like how they played. So, with that said, Halo 4‘s a definite try before you buy kind of outing: especially since you have to have at least 4 gigs of hard drive space to play online.
However, if you take a liking to the game during your trial period, 343 Industries first crack at the respected Halo holds enough content and potentially exciting moments online to keep you glued past a month. Plus, if you’re the pro-DLC type, upcoming map packs and Spartan Ops seasons ought to keep the good times rolling well into the new year. Halo 4 ultimately aims to expand to a new audience even further than Reach did. However, the decisions made in the game’s design will once again split fans and newcomers alike.