Grizzly Gaming

Friday, November 9, 2012

First Impressions: Halo 4

Booting up “Halo 4” for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve been a huge fan of the series since the first installment on the original Xbox and hold the series in fairly high regard. “Halo 4” marks the first time that a company besides Bungie will have produced a Halo title and I was a bit apprehensive about that fact. I always maintained faith that anything bearing the Halo title would be great, but I was unsure if I would be able to personally bear any changes made to the series or the mechanics of the game itself. After playing both the new campaign and War Games (the new title for multiplayer), I’m absolutely blown away with what 343 Industries has accomplished. “Halo 4” is more than just a sequel; it’s a spectacular reimagining of the series that will create as many new fans as it will floor series veterans.
 “Halo 4” is the first game of a new Halo series, dubbed the “Reclaimer Trilogy” by 343 Industries, and takes place four years after the events of “Halo 3.” In those four years, Master Chief and the AI Cortana have been floating adrift in space, aboard the wrecked UNSC ship Forward Unto Dawn. As the ship nears an unknown planet that seems to be of Forerunner origin, Cortana awakens Chief. Though humanity and the Covenant have held a fragile truce since the events of “Halo 3,” Chief and Cortana encounter fanatical remnants of the Covenant who are intent on preventing anyone from reaching the planet. Only in “Halo 4,” the Covenant are the least of the Master Chief’s concerns.
For the first time since the introduction of The Flood, “Halo 4” introduces a new enemy force to the battlefield – the Prometheans. Once on the artificial planet Requiem, the Chief and Cortana encounter this ferocious new enemy. More than just an amalgamation of reconstituted Covenant forces and tactics, the Prometheans are a distinctly synthetic race of creatures. Featuring numerous inventive enemies as well as a brand new class of Promethean weaponry, these enemies require drastically different tactics to defeat. Being synthetic in nature, the Prometheans strike with a startling ferocity and efficiency and can easily overwhelm and outmaneuver unaware players.
Despite the grand scale of the conflict on the planet Requiem, I continually found myself in awe of how well 343 Industries was able to humanize the Master Chief and Cortana in “Halo 4.” Moreso than in any previous title, through the use of outstanding writing, storytelling and dialogue, the two main characters exhibit actual emotions, giving them a life and depth that, until now, just did not exist. Until this title, Chief has been seen as little more than a faceless, mindless human weapon, capable of little beyond killing. Cortana suffered a similar fate. Though she is essentially the Chief’s brain, she usually offered little more than exposition or directions to the next objective.
Giving these two characters a personality and depth is an achievement on its own but the way that it is handled through the story is stunning and superb in its effectiveness and subtlety. Cortana’s is the more obvious struggle. An AI of her kind is only in service for seven years. Cortana is in her eighth. Over the course of the game, she struggles to contain and control her mounting rampancy (a condition which she describes as AIs literally “thinking themselves to death”) and though Chief remains as calm and collected, as he always does, his reactions to Cortana’s spiral isn’t obvious but it is noticeable. His relationship with Cortana is the most meaningful he has ever experienced. Without her, Chief would be completely lost. Though we could view his actions on Requiem as another mission to protect humanity throughout the universe, it continues to seem that most pressing matter, from Chief’s point of view, is preserving Cortana and curing her rampancy – that his actions on Requiem are but steps along the path to saving Cortana.
But beyond the surprisingly well-produced story of “Halo 4” there are plenty of other improvements and additions presented. The multiplayer now actually has an explanation within the game itself. As mentioned earlier, multiplayer is now titled War Games and takes place on board the massive UNSC ship Infinity. Your character is actually a Spartan-IV soldier, participating in training exercises aboard the massive starship. Though this doesn’t change the actual mechanics of the multiplayer mode much, it was a great touch to actually explain its existence within the context of the Halo universe. The multiplayer is business as usual with a few minor changes. First, your character now gains XP and skill points for each level that can be used to unlock new weaponry and armor pieces. Unlocking weaponry, you say? That’s right, “Halo 4” introduces the ability to create loadouts to use in particular match types.
Ok so this “First Impressions” is running a bit long so I’ll wrap it up briefly with a few bullet points:
-Along with War Games, “Halo 4” introduces a new cooperative play mode titled Spartan Ops. The game comes packaged with a handful of missions to embark on, which tells a unique story that runs parallel to the main story. Each week, a new Spartan Ops “episode” will be released which contains about five missions. The first season of Spartan Ops is free but more are allegedly in the works, though they will cost money. And don’t worry, you can still play the main story cooperatively too.
-“Halo 4” is easily the best looking game of the series, bar none. Cutscenes are spectacularly detailed and somehow 343 Industries managed to give the entire game that detailed, nearly photorealistic look. Character models and environments are more detailed than ever. For example, the Covenant forces have distinctly more reptilian look than before, as the higher detail on characters conveys the rough texture of their skin. Similarly, the synthetic Prometheans seemingly gleam in areas of brighter light, as they’re essentially entirely composed of metal. On a related note, I noticed that the lighting can be a bit overwhelming in brighter areas.
-The sound design of “Halo 4” is great, though having been a fan of the series for so long, hearing different sounds come out of well-known weapons was a bit of a shock. No weapon report sounds bad, necessarily, just different. I’m sure I’ll get used to them in time but for now many weapons, especially Covenant weapons, just don’t sound right to me.
-There’s already a DLC map pack out which adds 10 or so maps to the 10 which are available from the get-go. I’m a bit miffed about this, but it seems the “War Games Map Pack” is on-disc content, as the Marketplace lists the cost of the map pack at 2000 MS points (around $25) but the size of the download is only 108k. I get that they are extra maps and that I wouldn’t bringing this up at all if they were released later for that (fairly high) price. But this isn’t later. It’s now. And I paid money for this game so I’d like to be able to access the content of the game disc without being made to pay more money.


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An avid gamer and long-time pro wrestling fan, stay tuned to Grizzly Gaming and the Delco Elbow Drop for game reviews and pro wrestling news.

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