Gamersyde Review: Halo 4
The Halo saga is without a doubt the most iconic franchise of the Xbox era, so when the Master Chief is about to return after a few years of cryogenic rest, there are good reasons to be excited. First original Halo game to be developed by 343 Industries and not by Bungie, Halo 4 made many people hope for the best, but also fear for the worst. After completing the single player campaign and trying some of the many multiplayer modes available in this new opus, it is now time to deliver our final verdict and a bunch of homemade videos.
Note: Videos are all from the multiplayer modes since direct feed gameplay footage of the single player campaign isn't allowed until November 6.
Requiem for a Dream
This Halo 4 review could have easily been our shortest review ever. All we had to do was simply to give ourselves a few seconds to write down our verdict. Because we never go for the easy path, that's not how we decided to handle things, far from it. What you are going to read is then a very thorough and detailed review of every single aspect of the game, our main singularity being that, at the end of this article, you will not have been spoiled in any kind of way. "With great power comes great responsibility" someone once said, and that's exactly how it feels to have been able to play Halo 4 almost two weeks before you guys. You who have played just about every single Halo game for the past 10 years, you who have managed to overcome your aversion for RTS to complete Halo Wars, you who have read every single novel written around the Halo universe, stop everything. Stop playing your favorite games, stop reading the last bestseller you bought, stop working too as there really is no time for all this anymore. While some feared that Bungie's departure would mean the end of a cult series, the exact opposite has happened. Developer 343 Industries has indeed managed to best all the Halo games released so far, making Halo 4 one of the most thrilling FPS of this year.
At this point of the article, you fans are so excited that you certainly won't mind us turning our attention to the others, those you like to call the Heretics. Rest assured that the strength of Halo 4 does not only rest on its sole community of adepts. If you have never fallen under the spell of the franchise, you would be ill-advised to turn a blind eye on this new episode. For what we like to call an entire colony of good reasons, Halo 4 deserves all your attention, it even calls for it, even if it means you have to catch up with its complicated and interesting storyline. Nothing to worry about if you don't know anything about the game's background, there are tons of things you can find on the Internet to brush up on your Halo mythology. It probably sounds a bit scary put like that, but to enjoy the plot of this new episode to the full, you must take some time to read a bunch of things before starting to play. Believe us, you won't regret it. Now, to PS3 and/or PC owners, you should be aware that Halo 4 is the kind of game which could very well give you a good reason to buy a console many claim is already outdated. After blowing us away with Forza Horizon, the 360 proves us one more time that it still has some great potential. Just like Combat Evolved 10 years ago, Halo 4 manages to impress both in terms of gameplay and visuals.
It all starts with a breathtaking CGI cut-scene, so incredible-looking that it takes a while to realize it is actually CG. Professor Hasley's face looks so detailed and real that she could almost pass for a true human being. The few minutes the introduction lasts are so perfectly staged that within seconds, the player is engulfed in the Halo universe. With such an impressive appetizer, we feared the return to the reality of the game's actual 3D engine would be harsh, how wrong we were! When the carcass of the Forward Unto Dawn appears in the void of space, it is impossible not to be mesmerized by the game's presentation. When Master Chief wakes up after more than 4 years and a half of cryogenic sleep, the lighting effects and the metallic textures of the ship are like a wake up call: the game looks great and the rest of the adventure will never contradict this first impression. The environments are not only varied, they are beautifully designed, from the green plains of Requiem to the dimly-lit corridors of the human space station you'll set foot on, from an inhospitable jungle to the skies, theater of war of many iconic vehicles of the series. You wanted pace, you got it!
The single-player campaign sets the tone quite rapidly. Cortana is in danger and her protector for the past 8 years cannot give up on her and abandon her to her faith. The pretty AI has been alive for 8 years, such a short time for a human being, but already the dawn of life for the artificial being she is. We soon learn that AI start to deteriorate after seven years and the events which follow rapidly prove that Master Chief's precious ally is no longer in full control of herself. This new fragility of the character is all the more poignant as 343 Industries' work on facial expressions is very impressive. Thanks to performance capture, the same technique used in Avatar, each human character manages to convey such a vast array of emotions that the impact of cut-scenes gets even stronger. It becomes impossible to resist the charms of lovely Cortana, whose face shows a moving mix of determination and resignation. Some sequences will mark you, because one cannot remain indifferent when seeing that even Master Chief seems pretty shaken by what's happening to his friend. Little by little, the war hero realizes there is still a trace of humanity in him, something he actually owes to the one who's been guiding him for so many years. Suspense, pace, the single-player campaign is tastier than the best dessert you have ever dreamed of.
To Infinity and beyond
Not only is the single-player campaign perfectly balanced in terms of action and plot, but it is also never redundant when it comes to environments. Even when it could be justified to find the same kind of architecture and design inside the same facility, Halo 4 never fails to offer variety in the way the interiors are designed. No abusive cloning of scenery then, everything feels fresh, and the same can be said about the different gameplay sequences as well. Sometimes you're given a few minutes to catch your breath, to enjoy the atmospheric landscapes of the game, and then you find yourself fighting for your own survival, desperately trying to defend your position while Cortana is doing her best to unlock an electronically locked door. In certain areas, different types of vehicles bring even more variety to gameplay. Whether on the ground or in the air, each of them controls just like in the old days, with the same impressive physics engine that has made the previous games so fun to play. You don't always have to use them, the choice is up to you, but they can make your life a lot easier, like when a entire army of Covenants stands between you and the UNSC ship Infinity. In this sequence, it'd be a shame not to make a good use of the powerful Scorpion standing there, just waiting to welcome you on board. In some other circumstances, you don't have a choice and you become a pilot for a short while, like with the brand new Mantis, an over-armed mech you control twice during the single player campaign - the second time being quite memorable we must say. There are obviously more surprises, and though some might think one of the sequences at the end is a bit too Star Wars-ish to their liking, there is nothing to complain about. Well, one thing maybe, no Scarabs to be found in Halo 4, too bad, but we'll get over it.
As far as weapons go, fans will be happy to find the typical UNSC arsenal of the series, with a few new toys to play with. Battle and assault riffles will return with the Magnum, the Rocket Launcher and a few other familiar guns, while players will also discover the efficiency of the Rail Gun, the SAW (a sort of heavy machine gun) and the Sticky Detonator (which is really fun to use). There's more but why would we ruin the surprise for you? Covenant weapons are also back for the most part, the Plasma Rifle having been replaced by the Storm Rifle. It's a bit disappointing for those who enjoyed the Plasma Rifle like we did, especially because the Storm Rifle quickly runs out of ammo. Thankfully, the Needler is as efficient as ever and should never be underestimated. Most of the new stuff will come with the Forerunner weaponry though. Although their guns are all inspired by their UNSC and Covenant counterparts, their design is particularly well inspired and their effectiveness is very useful against the new enemies. Let us give you a few examples of the Forerunner guns you'll have at your disposal: the Boltshot, the Lightrifle and the Incineration Cannon (pretty deadly as you can see in some of our videos) to name but a few. Also back are the different pieces of equipment which can give you access to new abilities (camouflage, jet pack, shield, hologram, etc.). We particularly liked the sentinel which gives you precious support fire when you're outnumbered (which happens a lot!).
Spartans! Prepare for glory!
With such an awesome single player campaign (which you can play with up to three friends), one may have thought that 343 Industries would not have to put a lot of effort in the multiplayer aspect of the game. The developers could have used Bungie's work to make sure everyone would be satisfied with the end result. Instead of doing that, they decided to bring their own touch to the series by creating the Spartan Ops mode, a fully story-driven cooperative mode tied in to the main campaign. It seems several seasons are already planned, but only the first season will be available at launch. Well, not all of it, since you'll only be able to play the first episode (composed of 5 different missions). 10 episodes will be released for the first season, which means there will be a total of 50 missions. Each episode will come with a CGI cut-scene presenting the plot and the first one is pretty impressive we must say. The good news is that this first season should be entirely free, which ensure you'll keep playing the game for a long while. The icing on the cake is that 343 Industries chose not to use the same environments as in the single player campaign in most cases. The maps are all pretty different, they all offer big open environments with several objectives to take care of. Every time you die, you simply respawn, which makes things a little bit easier, but it should also incite you to play in heroic or legendary modes. The support of a few friends will clearly even the odds as the number of enemies can be really overwhelming at times, especially since they are always heavily armed (whether they are on foot or piloting Ghosts, Banshees or Apparitions).
Even in death, you will always have a lot of fun, should you be accompanied by a bunch of friends, and this is not just true in Spartan Ops mode, but also in more competitive modes. Well, things can get a bit frustrating too, if like us, you find yourself facing a few guys from the development team. Our good friend Ptitdoux from Belgium will tell you, playing as a team, organizing your every move together (so basically playing like the guys of 343 Industries) will always give you the upper hand over a disorganized team (so us, the press). Something we experienced the hard way when we captured our videos. In our defense, we must denounce that some of these guys already had a pretty high level, which means they had better equipment than us, and clearly better skills as well. Gaining experience gives you access to more weapons and perks to personalize your style of play. You need to use the points you earn to unlock the different pieces of equipment and with a bit of time, you can also customize several loadouts to choose from at the beginning of each game. The maps are well designed overall and there are a good number of multiplayer modes to find something that suits you well: Infinity Slayer, Team Infinity Slayer, Dominion, Regicide, Flood, Capture the Flag, Oddball, King of the Hill and Team Slayer Pro. We did not manage to try them all, as there weren't a lot of people playing when we were available, but although some of these modes are pretty classic, others are a bit more original. The Flood mode, for example, involves 8 players, with only one of them as a Flood. Not really fair you might think, but you know how fast the Floods can spread, so every time a Flood player kills another player, the latter becomes a Flood himself.
My Halo is rich
You probably got it by now, Halo 4 is a very good looking game. Reach had already shown some good progress visually speaking, since Halo 3 and Halo: ODST had been pretty disappointing in that respect. The quality leap is even more striking here, with impressive lighting effects, detailed textures and very atmospheric environments. To be honest, discovering Halo 4 for the first time felt a lot like being back 10 years ago, when we were blown away by the visuals of Combat Evolved. Of course, not everything is perfect, some textures aren't as detailed as we'd like, the in-game armor of the Master Chief is a bit pale, there are a few pop-up issues with the grass and a bit of aliasing too, but other than that, the game looks great. Even the multiplayer maps do not suffer from any major graphical downgrade, which isn't always the case in other games. We even found ourselves regretting that none of them had been used in the single player campaign. Add to that the fact that the framerate is steady as a rock, no matter what happens (and things can get pretty hectic), and you have the perfect exclusive title to end 2012 on Xbox 360. Another important element in the series is Halo's physics engine. Even years after Combat Evolved, it still looks great and seeing the grenades of a fallen enemy roll down steep inclines never gets old, even today. As for AI, we felt the enemies were a bit too predictable, and rarely inclined to flank us or attack from behind, even in heroic mode. It's not bad by any means, but we would have liked to see a little more initiative.
Gameplay hasn't changed much, at least at first sight, but then again, Halo didn't need to improve much in that area. Master Chief can now sprint without having to use a dedicated perk as the Spartans of Reach. Now don't believe that you can exploit it without any restrictions as Master Chief's stamina will deplete little by little. No dedicated bar though, you have to learn not to overdo it so you never find yourself unable to run to cover. In multiplayer though, with the proper perk equipped, you can sprint indefinitely. Something else has been improved over the previous episodes, though maybe not everyone will agree with it. Before, every time you got shot when sniping an enemy, you would get "unscoped". It's not the case anymore. We are aware some might think such a choice can break gameplay somehow, but to us, there was nothing as frustrating as losing the scope view when shot. Also nice is the fact that, contrary to most shooters today, Halo 4 hasn't given in to the QTE trend. There are actually two of them (both very short) in the whole game, and that's just enough in our opinion. In the end, Halo is still Halo, even if the main theme of the franchise isn't there anymore. Again, that might sound like a poor choice at first, especially for hardcore fans. However, when hearing the new music score, we were completely convinced that it was the right thing to do. We sincerely hope you will too, because the pieces are just fantastic, sometimes orchestral, sometimes closer to the electronic feel of Mass Effect.
With Halo 4, developer 343 Industries wants to invite us on a new journey, but a memorable one to say the least. A new start for the Master Chief, who experiences here his best adventure ever in his career at the UNSC. Just the single player campaign makes Halo 4 a must have for any Xbox owner, but if you add to that the excellent Spartan Ops mode and a multiplayer component worthy of the series' legend, you really have the perfect package to spend the next months fighting for the human cause. Visually superb thanks to a great artistic direction and divine lighting effects, Halo 4 can also count on a superb original soundtrack which manages to make us forget about the absence of the series' main theme. Sure there are a few flaws, some objective, some more subjective, but the bottom line is that this new installment in the franchise has offered us more than any other first person shooter has in the past few years. For that, we just want to say thanks.
About the game
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