Ever since November 15, 2011, the Halo series has been captivating gamers all around the world. The franchise has become synonymous with gaming, commanding the honour of being praised as one of the best first-person shooters on a video game console. That’s no easy feat. In 2011, the current owners of the Halo franchise, 343 Industries (or 343i), announced the release of the 8th game in the series; Halo 4. The game is the first official title released by 343 Industries, with all previous games being produced by the Microsoft-owned Bungie. Most of the staff who work at 343i moved from Bungie during the transition in 2007. All of the signs were indicating that Halo 4 was to be a game that would change many, if not all, of the first-person shooter stereotypes and clichÃ©’s. Here is an in-depth review of the outstandingly successful Halo 4.
The opening release of Halo 4 was a flurry, having pre-ordered my copy I was left waiting a whole 11 hours (yes, 11) before it arrived through the post. What greeted me upon starting the game was a slick, well constructed user interface, which took extremely little getting used to. 343i had kept the nostalgia alive with Halo’s trademark blue menus and epic theme score, so far so good. One aspect of the initial release that was quite different was the fact that there was no game manual included in the box. To some this may be a real shock, but 343i’s justification was that they had chosen a more eco-friendly method of producing an interactive online game-manual, a feature that thoroughly impressed me.
As for the hype and promotion of the game itself, I personally think that 343i have gone above and beyond in terms of marketing and the ability to draw attention to their product. I’ll start with the biggest and most obvious feature of the pre-release; the Forward Unto Dawn video series. This weekly series featured many well-known actors, as well as some fresh faces, and was really the highlight of a Halo fan’s week. Despite this, the plot of the series was simple enough to attract and entertain the freshest of gamers, who would enjoy stunning special effects, brilliant cinematography and great moments throughout. The series actually served to prime the audience to the events that would unfold in Halo 4, with several characters appearing in both the game and the series.
343i had numerous other hype-generating promotions, such as competitions and licensed merchandise. They even allowed Halo 4 to be featured at the Major League Gaming (MLG) Fall Championship in Dallas, Texas. This was a week-or-so before the release date of the game, so viewer numbers were astronomical, so much so that the servers that were streaming the event crashed numerous times.
All of these factors would add together to culminate in a game-release that should be seen to be the ‘textbook’ release of a such a successful game. All systems go!
First Impression Rating: 10/10
My first target was to blast mercilessly through the Campaign, not in the ‘Easy’ difficulty setting, but in none less than ‘Legendary’; the name is quite self-explanatory. I loaded up the game with an open mind, I’m not the sort of gamer who gets overly attached to a specific way of doing things, such as how a game looks or plays. The first thing that made the most impression to me was the sheer radiance of the graphical content, the colors were vibrant and the world around you was popping with tiny details that resulted in complete immersion in the game. While you were playing, you WERE Master Chief.
Speaking of whom, the iconic super-soldier from the original Halo games, the Master Chief was well and truly back in all his ass-kicking glory. His armor had somehow changed in-between Halo 3 and Halo 4, in which time he had been floating in a destroyed spaceship with no contact with other military forces, and only his trusty A.I., Cortana, for company, but this fact is swiftly forgotten as you realize that 343i have improved on what was thought to be perfect character design. The enemy forces were extremely well matched and never appeared stagnant, which was aided by the inclusion of a brand-new race, the Prometheans. The new foe added a new feeling to the game and kept things fresh, without detracting from the overall nature of the game; you felt like you were still playing Halo.
The missions in the Campaign played extremely well, with astoundingly little repetition compared to some of the previous titles. At no point, even on Legendary difficulty, did the game seem to be boring or have me lose interest, which is the result of a carefully calculated equation of ever-changing stimuli which can keep the player engaged and entertained for hours on end.
Speaking of entertainment, I would instantly recommend Halo 4′s Soundtrack to anyone who wants to listen to a score that can make you feel like an adventurer when you want to, but that also contains tracks that could send even the most rage-filled gamer find his/her eyelids start to droop. I personally have taken to listening to the soundtrack on my train commutes, and it should definitely be appreciated for the outstanding amount of work Â that has been put into creating it. The many other sounds that you will encounter during gameplay have a similar effect; the weapon sounds, in particular the Human weapons, sound truly breathtaking. From the percussive booming of the DMR, to the world-smashing Sniper Rifle, the weapons have been finely thought out, down to the very last detail, and that fact just adds to the complete immersion.
As for the plotline, I’m trying to pick a fault in it here, but it’s proving to be quite a struggle for me. I was completely overwhelmed by the depth and detail of the plot and narrative of this game, culminating in an extremely emotional end-game cut-scene which, judging by my Twitter feed at the time, had many a player reduced to tears.
Overall, the Campaign was extremely pleasing, and thoroughly enjoyable. It engrossed the player to the extent that most of us formed extremely emotional bonds with the characters in-game, and left us with intense excitement for us to get our hands on the next game in the series. Buckle up!
Campaign Rating: 10/10
Feeling sufficiently blown-away by the Campaign, I decided to stumble my way into Matchmaking to see how the game played on the Multiplayer side of things. The first thing that struck me were the gametypes; you had several that were making appearances once again, such as Big Team Battle, Capture the Flag and King of the Hill. You then were presented with new offerings, with the addition of Regicide; a Free-For-All gametype, Infinity Slayer; a new and improved version of the classic 4v4 team matches. A particularly nice surprise was to see the inclusion of the Flood gametype, which was made popular during Halo: Reach as a fan-made gametype that features a sort of zombie-invasion plot.
I found the initial experience of Matchmaking to be a bit frustrating though, as 343i’s servers were struggling with the extreme amount of pressure it was suddenly being placed under. I wasn’t the only one, many users were unable to connect to the online Matchmaking systems, which proved to be one of the very few negative points I found during the release. I was not particularly affected by this, as I was still able to join player-organized Custom Games with my team, and experience Multiplayer that way.
I found the style and flow of the gameplay to be very pleasing, there are very few stagnant moments during a match, which lead to a constantly evolving style of gameplay during the first few matches I played. Once team-work began to improve as people got used to how the game works and various map details, it was necessary to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate situations and the game constantly required you to play smart, or pay the price. That said, it was fairly easy to learn the ins and outs of the game, so much so that a new player wouldn’t find themselves being spawn-killed in the very first game they play and stop playing altogether.
An aspect of the Matchmaking system that I really did not enjoy was the newly implemented ‘Join-in-Progress’ feature. If a game being played had someone quit, the spot would be quickly filled by someone searching for that gametype. Sounds like a good idea right? Not so much. The main reason for a player to quit would be because they were frustrated with playing a stronger opposition, so in the majority of times that I was placed into a game, the score would usually be extremely stacked in the enemy’s favor, which made it very frustrating. Despite this, it sometimes did offer the opportunity to embarrass the opposition, who thinking they have the game won, decide to relax and leave themselves vulnerable.
Halo 4 introduced us to a new type of gameplay as well, releasing their much-anticipated Spartan Ops, a series of short missions, which can be played solo or co-op, that are released every so often in an ‘Episode’, with numerous ‘Seasons’ comprising of several of these episodes. It’s a very new concept that I’ve not yet encountered, and I feel that it could lead to a much stronger and long-lasting community support for the game.
The overall experience of online Matchmaking is that of a positive nature. Clearly 343i have put a lot of hard work into this part of the game, questioning nearly everything that has been thought of as ‘standard’ up till now, and implemented new and radical ideas. Saying this, there are a few gaps and problems that remain, such as the inclusion of Instant Respawn, and the late development of competitive settings with the involvement of Major League Gaming (MLG). These points aren’t game-breaking however, I feel that 343i are going to be very capable of listening to the community as a whole and changing the game as it needs to be, constantly evolving it into a well-crafted online multiplayer experience. Keep those guns blazing!
Multiplayer Rating: 9/10
Halo 4 was a fantastic success, both for 343i and the consumer. I’m really glad to see that the game has been recognized for this by receiving both the “Best Graphics” and “Best Xbox 360 Game” awards at the Spike Video Game Awards ceremony that was hosted shortly after its release. The game looks set to continue drawing in players and progress with a much-loved storyline into the future with 343i registering the web domains for all games up to Halo 9… Now that’s what I’m talking about!