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In-depth review of the long awaited “Halo 4”

Article by Pablo Agustí Chinchilla

As we said previously on this site, the fourth game of the Halo franchise launched worldwide recently! During its first day on sale, “Halo 4” (343 Industries, 2012) harvested over 22 million dollars and helped the XBOX 360 to become, temporarily, the best selling console (sadly, the game won’t be available for PC), although its selling success has been slightly smaller than the one achieved by Halo 3 (Bungie Studios, 2007), game that closed a plot circle. In general, this console-seller title has been a complete success, but this data doesn’t answer the most important question: is the game worth it? Or even better: can it even be considered a “Halo game” after so much time and so many changes?

As a strange mixture among classic science-fiction works such as “Ringworld” by Larry Niven, some of the most memorable FPS (First Person Shooters) like “Half-Life” (Valve, 1998) and the last multi-player tendencies introduced by recent titles such as “Call of Duty” games, Halo games made an immense and very diverse group of people to fall in love with its universe since 2001. Since then it has suffered changes in its look, plot, gameplay, etc. and now it’s clear that this last title constitute the biggest general change ever seen in this franchise. Many readers will suffer while reading this, as there are many failed sequels out there that, in order to innovate, have betrayed its heritage. Don’t be afraid, let’s analise every different aspect of the game in depth.

First, the plot. In previous titles the player was submerged in a science-fiction universe, drown in inter-stellar conflicts full of a sense of epicness and greatness, thanks to its exotic technologies and astronomically enormous artificial backgrounds that defy imagination, left there by ancient and forgotten alien races. Those of our readers familiarised with science-fiction know that there are no original elements in that premise, but the plot of the first Halo was made with intelligence and without showing too much, inviting speculation. Today, the inner universe of this franchise has a solid fan-base and has been enriched through more than ten novels, seven videogames, several comics, animation short films, a failed attempt of a film by Peter Jackson, etc. The player was easily introduced in the story thanks to a powerful character of few words, a fictitious super-soldier known as the Master Chief, or John-117. Surprisingly, the emotional element is usually given by the Master Chief’s artificial sidekick, a sharp AI called Cortana. Together, they are a virtualy invincible pair. After being adrift several years, since the ending of “Halo 3”, this time our heroes will face the most powerful enemy they’ve ever encountered, starting the so-called “reclaimer trilogy”.

Here we see the first difference: “Halo 4” is a more personal story and, in contrast to previous titles, is strongly influenced by the extensive contribution to this fictional universe made by its novels and comics, contribution that in recent years have grown to a critical mass and could not be ignored. Just like the ancient civilizations aforementioned are shown now as a more comprehensible and closer element, the same happens to our protagonist and his partner; what 343 Industries has already called “an inevitable step in the evolution of the Master Chief as a human being”. He has been always depicted as an efficient faceless machine, but he isn’t, and the developers of the game have undertaken the enormous task of showing his humanity without ruining the game or turning it into a soap opera. Have they succeeded? Yes, without doubt. Cortana’s unexpectedly emotional behaviour forces our hero to react in some ways that we wouldn’t expect from him, far away (or even against) the military mindset seen in previous Halos; everything in its proper measure, without interrupting the action and involving the player.

Second, its graphics and system in general. This last title forces the XBOX 360 to new heights, generating the most detailed backgrounds and characters ever seen in the franchise. In fact, this high graphic quality has a disadvantage: the game can’t generate maps as big as the ones we were used to by playing “Halo 3” and the strange but awesome “Halo: Reach” (Bungie Studios, 2010). This is, in the end, a minor disadvantage, given the fact that it’s compensated with deeper, greater and more dynamic alien landscapes that will delight many science-fiction lovers. Also, the game has an  absurdly short loading times. 343 Industries has done an outstanding work with this aspect of the game, as with the faces and human expressions seen in the cutscenes. Of course, nothing is perfect: some natural backgrounds are exaggeratedly bland and forgettable, some effects like the “wraith” plasma ball are just wrong and the reinterpretation of the bodies of some alien creatures will be considered heretical by some fans. Anyway, this is without doubt the best looking Halo ever created.

Next, we will talk about the sound. The music from the original trilogy was composed by Martin O’Donnell and rapidly found a durable place in our memory. Neil Davidge is the new responsible for the “Halo 4” soundtrack, fact that left many people worried, without reason, in fact. While the new soundtrack isn’t as memorable as the previous one, it fulfills its duty with pride and helps to show that this is an entirely different story. The sound effects of vehicles and weapons have also been redone from scratch, one by one. In general, these are positive changes that make weapons sound more real and lethal, excepting the sound of some iconic vehicle of the Halo universe that this time makes itself hard to endure. Lastly, the voice actors performance has the quality of a Hollywood production.

About the game-play: we can see this game as the natural evolution and refinement of the system used in “Halo: Reach” based on different habilities, such as visors, jetpacks, energy shields, etc. which add an enormous amount of possibilities to combat. The amount of new weapons and powers  presented in this game surpasses the ones of every previous Halo since the first one. To summarize, the game-play can be described in these few words: diversity, comfort and a job cleverly done.

Maybe, the only troublesome aspect is the multiplayer. This time, almost the entirety of the multiplayer mode has become “gold”, what means we have to pay for it; the “firefight” mode has been eliminated and replaced by the “Spartan Ops”, a cooperative extension of the campaign mode, which will receive a new episode every seven days during the first six weeks after the release of the game. It’s interesting, but repetitive, short and not worth of replay. We can’t even play these missions alone without being “gold”. Also, the diversity of modes seen in “Halo: Reach” has been reduced, mainly because of the need of generating smaller scenarios. It seems the old and noble tradition of playing a game with some friends in the same room has just been forgotten and cast aside. The rest of it, anyway, is almost perfect; there are more armor permutations (and more detailed) than ever, and the new weapons and powers ensure an almost never-ending fun.

As a conclusion and verdict: this game includes so many changes and new features that can hardly be considered a “Halo” game, in the common meaning of the expression, but if we consider it a Halo… Is it good? We can’t say it louder: it is the best Halo ever made. In fact, it’s so good, the only thing the player can think after completing the game is “oh, god, please, don’t make Halo 5, it can only get worse”. The previous titles were good, but suffered from a formula repeated too many times. The makers of “Halo 4” seem to have perceived this fact and applied changes at every possible level (even a little taste of Japanese anime) but in its proper measure. The former Bungie Studios created this franchise and, after completing the game, clearly this is not the title they would have made. However, 343 Industries, as fans of the original trilogy, have done something diferent: they have created the Halo game the fans would’ve wished. What the fans always wanted to see and never received; what they always wanted to know and was never revealed; all that is in there with it’s face uncovered. Despite some minor mistakes here and there, we only can  applause, and hope you enjoy the game.

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