Halo 4 review: setting the stage under new management

If the newly announced Star Wars: Episode VII is anything like Halo 4, it figures to be at once ambitious but conservative; ready to rope in new fans, but desperate to please the old ones. As such, newcomer 343 Industries is looking less for a new beginning than to set the table for the franchise without alienating the fans. In that, they are reasonably successful.

16
If the newly announced Star Wars: Episode VII is anything like Halo 4, it figures to be at once ambitious but conservative; ready to rope in new fans, but desperate to please the old ones. As such, newcomer 343 Industries is looking less for a new beginning than to set the table for the franchise without alienating the fans. In that, they are reasonably successful. Halo 4 picks up where the last numbered entry left off, but a few things have changed in the intervening years. The Flood is long gone, and the franchise's namesake -- the galaxy-busting Halo superweapons--only warrants a passing few mentions. The Covenant is still kicking around, but they could be replaced with any generic alien villain and function just as well. Their presence in the story mostly feels like a product of 343 Studios trying to inject a sense of familiarity into the proceedings. From there, Halo 4 jumps into what amounts to its own Mass Effect or Star Wars Episode IV--a standalone story that leaves the door open for something bigger. Along with the new story is a new enemy--biomechanical aliens known as the Prometheans. Drawn with a minimalist style that brings to mind Platinum's Vanquish, their warriors are even nastier than the Covenant's famed Elites. Their best warriors teleport around the field, operate behind shields, and wield an array of devastating energy weapons. Halo may be under new management, but the A.I. is nasty as ever--maybe a little too nasty. Longtime Halo veterans will doubtlessly disagree, but I found Halo 4 to be tougher than usual even on the normal difficulty. It's not so much the AI as the enemy placement. Especially later on, Halo 4 absolutely loves its densely packed chokepoints, which can be a real bear to break on Heroic. Checkpoints are also a little sparse, which can be painful when you buy it after an especially long encounter. Higher difficulty isn't necessarily a bad thing--not when other first-person shooters are rolling out four hour campaigns--but Halo 4's difficulty can feel a little unbalanced at times. Matters come to a head in the final level, which combines fairly boring level design with those really nasty chokepoints, compounded by the fact that the Prometheans really only seem to have three types of fighters. Playing it leaves the impression that 343 was under the gun and needed to wrap the campaign as quickly as possible. The final battle does little to dispel that feeling. The disappointing finale aside, Halo 4 provides a very solid campaign. At its best, Halo 4 offers sprawling battlefields that can be tackled in a number of different ways. The best level appears around the game's midpoint, when Master Chief teams with a massive land tank called The Mammoth to hunt Covenant. It's big, it's beautiful, and it features encounters with solutions that range from hijacking enemy vehicles to abusing The Mammoth's big guns. Some of that scope manages to find its way into the multiplayer as well, thanks to the new Dominion Mode--a fantastic addition that combines the base-building of Starhawk with control point-to-control point fighting of Battlefield. The mode is centered around taking three bases and fortifying them into fortresses, which brings with it new weapons and vehicles. The swings of momentum can be huge as teams take the bases, knock the opposition down to their Spartan, then get thrown right back on their heels because they couldn't hold all three bases.

The Prometheans pack more of a wallop than the Covenant ever did.

343 has also seen fit to make a number of other changes that benefit the overall balance. Weapon camping is less of an issue due to the advent of more random weapons spawns, and sprinting is no longer a special ability. Those changes aside, it still feels like Halo. Veterans are apt to be pleased by the changes while feeling right at home. In both the single-player and multiplayer, Halo 4 is mostly content to hold serve and build on what's come before it. The new multiplayer modes, the new enemies, and everything else is designed to feel new without rocking the boat too much. Dominion Mode expands on the franchise's longstanding focus on diverse weapons and vehicles. The new Spartan Ops mode, a series of downloadable missions that tell a story over a period of weeks, are effectively a new brand of co-op challenge. It's not precisely accurate to say that 343 Industries is playing it safe, but it's obvious that they are very conscious of fitting in and building on what's already there. That's not to say that Halo 4 is afraid of striking out on its own. There's one story decision in particular that is apt to prove very daring, and may end up angering a legion of Halo fans. It's more that 343 is out to set the stage for the next decade worth of Halo games. Well, consider the stage set. The story stands on its own, the multiplayer is strong as ever, and the new components fit right in. 343 Industries hasn't quite made the franchise its own, but it has accomplished its first and most important goal--it didn't mess it all up.
This Halo 4 review was based on a playthough of the game at a review event sponsored by the publisher, as well as additional play time with a retail version of the game provided by the publisher. Halo 4 is scheduled to be released on November 6 for the Xbox 360.
From The Chatty
  • reply
    November 1, 2012 12:01 AM

    Kat Bailey posted a new article, Halo 4 review: setting the stage under new management.

    If the newly announced Star Wars: Episode VII is anything like Halo 4, it figures to be at once ambitious but conservative; ready to rope in new fans, but desperate to please the old ones. As such, newcomer 343 Industries is looking less for a new beginning than to set the table for the franchise without alienating the fans. In that, they are reasonably successful.

    • reply
      November 1, 2012 4:47 AM

      Can't wait to get my copy when it is out on Tuesday.

    • reply
      November 1, 2012 4:52 AM

      Just put in an order for my copy. The Halo games have been kind of a dice roll for me, and not in a logical way. Halo 1 I never finished, absolutely loved 2, played through 3 over the course of a couple of years, skipped the ODST or whatever, and then bought Reach, played it for a few hours, and haven't gone back since. I'm not quite sure there's anything wrong with the one I haven't finished, maybe it's just the mood I've been in when I've played each game. Talking purely SP, did some MP in 3 but it's not my thing, online shooters and pads don't mix too well for me.

    • reply
      November 1, 2012 5:23 AM

      Damning with faint praise, Kat? I bet you're still cranky that a Sangheili Field Marshal in a Phantom shot you in the head with a needle rifle!

    • reply
      November 1, 2012 5:38 AM

      I'd totally buy this now if I didn't have to pay 60 for a yearly sub to xbl again, I never use the Xbox anymore!

    • reply
      November 1, 2012 7:17 AM

      This is the review...

      • reply
        November 1, 2012 7:33 AM

        Yeah it looks more like a preview, I was looking for more depth .

        • reply
          November 1, 2012 8:30 AM

          They have to be careful about spoiling the single player campaign so going real in-depth about that part of the game may not be an option. They also didn't have a lot of time to spend in the multi-player modes so they should revisit that part a week or so after launch.

          • reply
            November 1, 2012 9:43 AM

            Though every other review I've read was atleast twice as long, I'd guess they got the same amount of time but bigger outlets may have gotten more.

    • reply
      November 1, 2012 7:39 AM

      I wonder how the story will merge with the rest of the fiction leading up to Halo 4. From a fans prespective I know why the Covenant are there but it must have been badly explained in game if it looked like they were just there not to upset fans, that makes me worry but I'm still getting this and couldn't wish more that the game was already out!

      • reply
        November 1, 2012 7:51 AM

        Unfortunately, I think it'll be the third Traviss book that will provide the explanation - and it's probably not coming out until next fall.

        • reply
          November 1, 2012 8:10 AM

          I read Glasslands. I need to read The Thursday War now.

          • reply
            November 1, 2012 9:44 AM

            I was hoping the audible version would have been out by now but I had to get the ebook instead.

          • reply
            November 1, 2012 3:15 PM

            I've heard very bad things about it, how was it? Someone said it should have been titled "Lets Crusify Halsey." I don't understand why they didn't have Nylund write it.

            • reply
              November 1, 2012 4:47 PM

              GLASSLANDS SPOILERS: In the book, Halsey is already starting to have second thoughts about her Spartan IIs and why she used clones that she knew would die. ONI Admiral Parangosky already has it in for her because she broke so many rules to try to save a bunch of her beloved Spartan IIs -- "kidnapping" them during a war. Parangosky doesn't realize they were trapped in a Forerunner Dyson sphere. Halsey and Mendez also go at it because Halsey is disgusted that the Spartan IIIs didn;t go theorugh the proper mental and physical tests needed to certify them as the best candidate for the program, with Mendez arguing, in essence, "You can't measure heart."

              Lots of other details too long to go into, but I enjoyed it.

              • reply
                November 1, 2012 5:13 PM

                I liked Glasslands but Thursday War was really repetitve and slow in the middle and a bit too touchy feely, not to mention there were many events that seemed far too convenient. That said by the time you hit the end you do appreciate a lot of what happened and I couldn't help but have a oh sh*t moment when everything came together.

                I'd say read the thursday war if you're really interested in the lore but I highly recomend the Forerunner saga they've been awesome so far and really show how the Halo franchise could never have been contained in the first 3 games considering how much more was out there...

                • reply
                  November 1, 2012 6:52 PM

                  I'm going to get Thursday War and I also need to read the Forerunner Saga. I do like the back story.

              • reply
                November 1, 2012 7:30 PM

                Thanks that makes sense then. I was under the wrong impression that they were hanging her out to dry for what she did creating the Spartans. I forgot about her kidnapping Kelly and getting forces redirected to Onyx to further her new mission of saving her Spartans no matter the cost. That sounds much more interesting and nuanced then pinning the Spartan program all on her when all the top ONI brass approved and funded it.

Hello, Meet Lola