Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Halo 4 Review Part 1: The Campaign

While first person shooters (FPS) had been released on consoles before, the original Halo was the game that reintroduced the idea and proved the financial viability of an FPS on a modern console. A lot of new genres, games, and amazing experiences owe their thanks, at least in some small part, to Halo’s success. Now I find myself sitting in front of Halo 4, the seventh installment, barring the PC ports and anniversary edition, of the Halo franchise. 343 Industries took the lead as Bungie stepped away to make their own game and many were speculating whether 343 could produce a game that is part of a franchise that everyone held in such high regard. I am a huge fan of the Halo franchise and have spent many hours shooting people in the face, but is the $60 investment worth it?

From the first loading screen, it is apparent that this is not going to be the same experience that I had in the past with previous Halo games. The music gives a much different feel as you navigate the menus and look at the art in the background. But the moment I started the campaign, I instantly felt at home in a small way. The story picks up 4 years after the Master Chief locked himself in a cryo-tube and told Cortana, “Wake me when you need me.” Something has happened and the pair found themselves outside a Foreunner planet. As usual you go through a more or less tutorial phase explaining the controls and introducing new mechanics one at a time. An interesting new piece to Chief’s arsenal is the sprint ability. An Armor Ability from Halo: Reach, Sprint is now a permanent part of the Spartan arsenal. While having sprint permanently is great in multiplayer, I’m not sure I liked it as much in the campaign. Some of the areas you move through are small enough that you could sprint through, press a button, and advance the story. If you opt to do so, additional comments and side stories may be missed. Throughout the game there are consoles hidden that can be interacted with to give you additional backstory as well as video content on Waypoint. Sprinting through the level isn’t always the best option but it’s a hard temptation to resist when you’re fighting through waves of enemies area after area. Either way, the story itself is epic. The tone is different in Halo 4 -- you spend a lot of time interacting with Cortana, who seems to not be doing well. And the cutscenes and dialogue show the Chief trying to reconcile this new idea of his own humanity with the years of training that made him more or less a machine. The best part is that all this drama doesn’t take away from the action.
One of the biggest new elements in the campaign are the new enemies, the Prometheans. The Prometheans seem like they live on this forerunner planet, more or less, and don’t like the fact that you are there messing things up. The Covenant are there as well, but they aren’t nearly as interesting as the Prometheans. They come in 3 varieties: the night, the watcher, and the crawler. While it doesn’t sound like much, their strategic abilities are insane. The crawler is the equivalent of the Covenant grunt: lots of them around and easy enough to kill. However they are really quick on their feet and can flank and surround you really fast. I’ve jumped in head first way too many times and found myself surrounded by a bunch of crawlers with weapons that tear me to shreds. The knights are the walking foot soldiers who are more or less like Elites, except that they are stronger, have better weapons, and can spit a watcher out of their back. The knight is a powerful opponent that can take advantage of your mistakes very easily. With all of the new enemies, the AI has been improved to where you can’t just run ‘n gun your way through an area. The watcher is the most interesting of the new enemies. It hovers around the battlefield, providing assistance to the knights around it. It can catch grenades and toss them back, create a shield to protect the knights, and revive them if you take one down. These guys are hard to hit and annoying to deal with. Quick tip: if you see one on the battlefield, kill it immediately. You don’t want to deal with the hassle it can give you later. The Covenant is pretty much the same, with a few new weapons and tactics. Most of the difficulty in dealing with them comes from attacking them and the Prometheans at the same time, though that’s nothing compared to the difficulty in the new multiplayer.

And cue the cliffhanger! Unfortunately today will not be the day you get to read about Halo 4’s multiplayer. If you want to check it out come back on Friday and see the conclusion to this review as well as some more cool images. See you soon!

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