Monday, November 12, 2012

Review: Halo 4! It's Kind of Boring!

Halo 4 is an extremely polished, visually stunning, sci-fi/action sequel that is not nearly as fun as it should be. Which is probably a controversial opinion to have. A glance at the Metacritic paints a different picture entirely with most major reviewers awarding high nineties to perfect hundreds, so why did I continually struggle to connect? Why do large portions of the campaign feel like a repetitive chore? Haven’t we experienced a lot of this before?

To find out what went wrong (but also what they got right)... join me after the jump!

As initially stated much of my frustration stems from the campaign which has moments of intrigue, and even the odd surprise, but is ultimately let down by becoming a (prettier) retread of all-too-familiar experiences. In fact I’d go as far to say that perhaps the biggest problem with Halo 4 is that it’s a sequel to Halo. I feel that the game is often stifled by having to connect to all that comes before it, and only really shines when it gets the rare opportunity to do something new.

And the best and brightest additions are the new Promethean aliens, with their glowing Tron Legacy armour, energy weapons, and wall-crawling mechanical dogs. Their arrival instantly invigorates the game and gives us a handful of new toys to play with but, after a couple of levels of repetition, even they become rote. The game does a good job of putting you in pressure cooker situations and varying the way in which the enemies guard or attack, thereby forcing you to vary your approach, but all Halo games have successfully done that. This is the same game but with different architecture.

Fighting the covenant still feels the same. Riding a Warthog, Ghost, Banshee or Scorpion still feels the same. When I jumped in the giant Mantis mech suit I was excited for a moment, but then I basically trudged through a series of linear corridors. Flying a Pelican sounds fun, but it’s actually cumbersome, and the mission that had me landing at various towers to essentially turn off switches quickly felt belaboured. I kept wanting to walk away from the campaign. Nothing was driving me forward.

It’s not you, it’s me?

I know I’m being a little too harsh, and if you’re a huge fan of the series then I doubt this will disappoint. I think one of two things is happening for me here. Either games have plateaued (at least with this current generation) and we’ve already experienced all of the different types of gameplay on offer; or I’m merely suffering fatigue from the glut of sequels these days.

There has to be at least a couple of you reading this who are banging your heads against the desk and saying, “It’s a sequel to Halo, OF COURSE it’s going to have all those familiar elements!” I hear you. But is that enough to justify rushing out and buying it the first week of release? And more importantly (for many of us) does a re-skin of an old experience justify your valuable TIME?

Conversely, the sequel I’m most excited about is Bioshock: Infinite. Bioshock 2 was a lesser retread with some welcome innovations but a fraction of the impact. Infinite is a reinvention. From what we’ve seen it captures the spirit of the original but offers a brand new experience, greatly expanding the Bioshock world. That’s the sort of risk-taking that I’d love to see more of. I can understand why the first post-Bungie Halo game wouldn’t take that sort of risk, but I hope that it’s something they’ll consider for the future.

(Oh, and the other factor could just be that I’m getting old. Now in my mid-thirties it would make sense that Halo no longer holds the same allure that it did when it first hit the original X-Box. That was mindblowing, and back then I had a lot more time on my hands).

Now let’s focus on the positive.

I really can’t stress how great Halo 4 looks. I frequently found myself mesmerized by the scenery. The outdoor areas are especially vivid. And the character models have never looked better or more realistic, particularly the non-armoured characters. Cortana looks great and she delivers a very strong, emotional performance as she faces a predicament which is at the heart of the storyline.

And, of course, there’s far more on offer than the campaign. Most of your time will be spent in multiplayer war games. We’ve done all this before, but there are enough visual and gameplay improvements to make this the best version yet, so if you’ve enjoyed previous Halo multiplayer then this alone should justify a purchase for you. Couple this with the endless possibilities of the sandbox Forge world, plus new co-op missions with their own storyline, and there’s no end of content to keep you occupied. You get plenty of value here, and if this was your very first Halo experience then I think that overall you’d be thrilled.

Are we in Call of Duty territory now? Will each new installment feature a solid enough, but familiar campaign, secondary to incrementally upgraded multiplayer content? Perhaps and, even if that is the case, the Halo series will never have a shortage of fans. Despite my frequent lack of engagement with the campaign I will endeavour to dig deeper into the game, and will certainly spend more time with the addictive Wargames. And I’m yet to play co-op. As my friends also age and their own priorities change, it’s harder to find people keeping up with all these series.

If you’re reading this you’re either a big Halo fan (and I’ve raised your ire) or you’re mildly curious but have so far have given it a miss. So let’s expand the discussion. How are you coping with sequelitis? Are you more or enthusiastic or less enthusiastic than you have been? Has gameplay peaked?


  1. AND MASTER CHIEF SPEAKS. I am still recovering from this.

  2. "I’m getting old. Now in my mid-thirties"

    Oy VAY...that line, at age 45, is what I will fall asleep thinking about tonight. It's the years AND the mileage.

  3. Oh and in answer to your questions, I am loving Borderlands 2. Which is EXACTLY like Borderlands 1, only better. But I'm fine with that. I only hope Dead Island Riptide is exactly the same kind of thing. Similar yet improved. I'm cool with that in a sequel. long as it doesn't go on and on. And if it does, I just stop buying into the franchise.

  4. I agree with you on Borderlands 2 - I think it's way better than the first. I think most games should have a better sequel without too many problems. I think the issue is really only when you're four or five games in and you start to feel like you keep on purchasing the same game with a slightly different skin. That's the biggest issue with Halo for me.

    And I hear you on the mid-thirties thing. Suzanne gets upset she's in her late twenties, and I have zero sympathy there, as I'm sure you have zero sympathy for me :D But a valid point in this context, yeah? I know you have far less time to play games than I do!

  5. Halo 4 campaign was a repetitive chore. Just rubbish it pains me to say.

  6. I agree with you, Halo 4 campaign was repetitive!

  7. I knew it as soon as I walked up to the first sliding door and saw that it was rendered in 2D.. right then from the very outset I thought.. I've been had.

  8. At least Halo 4's campaign was ALOT better than Black Ops 2's campaign

  9. My two cents

    None of the characters have a unique personality like other halo games (Sgt. Johnson used to be so bad ass. Hell, even echo 419 from Halo CE was a better character than anyone in halo 4. Also, HALO 4's campaign became more of a love story than a battle for mankind's survival. I think 343 is just trying to milk Bungie's work and get some money flowing Microsoft's way. The graphics and physics were excellent though.

  10. Halo 4 is a just a puzzle game with a lot of walking around trying to figure out where you and the switches are located while brushing flies off your back. Bad Design is prevalent today. Designers extend game play by making the puzzle much harder in what should be a fluid move through one level to another instead of having to scratch your head for an hour trying to figure out how to get the !@#$%^ ghost over the falling cliffs. Ditto for Black Ops. What the hell happened to combat? Everybody wants to make a freaking movie! Story...who cares? Give me a BFG and let me get to it. These are GAMES people.Marathon 1 was a better experience.