Friday, November 23, 2012

Halo 4 Review Part 2: The Multiplayer

And we’re back with more Halo 4 action. Well maybe not action, but at least some more words and opinions. As with Halo there is a Campaign, and there is the multiplayer. Is it as good as the ones before it? Is it better? Is it worse? Continue on to find out.

Halo 4’s multiplayer component takes the form of War Games on the UNSC Infinity. The short answer is that the multiplayer rocks. As a Spartan IV, your abilities are a little different than what you’ve been used to. Sprint is a permanent ability and you don’t have to worry about health packs anymore. You can customize your loadouts and now have additional “perks” in the name of Support Packages and Tactical Packages, and still have Armor Abilities to battle fellow Spartans with. While you can customize your loadout with different primary and secondary weapons, you aren’t able to use any weapon in the game. 343 made the smart move by limiting the loadout weapons available to standard assault and medium-range rifles. As you rank up, you can unlock different rifles to start with, as well as other pistols like the Boltshot or Plasma Pistol. Most of this sounds like what Modern Military Shooters have been doing for years, but Halo has been unique in the way multiplayer gameplay has been implemented, and 343 did a great job at taking aspects from other games and giving them a unique Halo twist. The biggest change in multiplayer is the way your score is measured per match. Instead of tracking kills and measuring score by how many kills each player has, every game mode is tracked via a score system. Each kill is worth 10 points so you’re still playing the same game, but the new score system gives out additional point for various tactical moves, like being a distraction for a teammate to get a kill or holding a hill for an extended period of time. I don’t think the new system is necessarily better than ones before it, but it certainly isn’t worse. It is much more forgiving when you haven’t had a kill in a while or if you don’t have the highest amount of kills. You’re encouraged to work as a team and are rewarded when you do. After the game is done your points are totaled up and added to your overall point score, which serves as your XP bar as well. As you level up, you unlock more customizable armor and emblems. While it’s a purely aesthetic aspect of the game, it’s still fun to unlock new stuff. And with a new Halo comes new everything: maps, weapons, armor abilities, and what comes with all the new stuff is discovering how it balances out with everything else.

If I could guess, balancing all the new weapons and abilities with older weapons had to be one of the hardest things to do, and they almost got it right. One of the happiest changes was bringing the Battle Rifle back. Thankfully it mingles well with the rest of the medium-range rifles, in fact, most of the weapons balance well. Occasionally you’ll face the wrong end of a sticky detonator or a team of people shooting you in the face with a DMR, but it’s not unfair overall. Unfortunately, not all aspects of the Halo armory are balanced. Some of the tactical and support packages are just overpowered. Abilities like dexterity, which allows you to switch weapons and reload much faster and the ability to use your radar while scoped, can make the game not as fun when you die from someone who can do certain things you could never do before in the history of Halo, like beat someone in the face and kill them after two shots. The melee damage is pretty broken in Halo 4. Since you no longer have a health bar after lowering your shields, there are a certain number of hits you can take after your shields die, and you can beat someone in the face to take away their shield in an instant. I don’t think 343 purposefully put a melee attack that powerful in the game, but I do think the power of the melee attack should be lowered slightly. One of the interesting things about all these new weapons is when you actually get to use them in game.

When you start a match, new weapons are spawned randomly throughout the map. While most of the weapons received are random, there is a pattern and set points to where the weapons will spawn and what they will probably be. A shotgun here, a few plasma grenades here, as time goes on, more weapons will spawn throughout the map and much of the momentum of a game can change quickly depending on who picks up what weapons. Along with that, each person has their own personal orbital drop package available after a while. Each kill and score gain contributes points to a drop meter and once it’s full you can choose a random weapon to be dropped at your feet. There are a lot of strategic opportunities to the way your team can control the map and the drop points as well as timing your own personal weapon drops. The strategies differ in each game mode, which make each one worth playing. New game modes like Regicide are really fun and interesting right alongside the old standards like Team Slayer, Capture the Flag, and King of The Hill. Overall the multiplayer experience in Halo 4 is really fun and engaging. There is a lot to offer and plenty of depth in leveling up and playing with or against your friends. Probably the only real determent to the Multiplayer side of Halo is Spartan Ops.

Since this is being written and published a few weeks after the release of Halo 4, I have had a chance to sample Spartan Ops, 343’s new co-op experience. Spartan Ops follows the story of Spartan strike teams on the UNSC Infinity (cool campaign tie-in huh?) 6 months after the campaign as they complete various missions. Part of the draw of Spartan Ops is the ability to not only fight with your friends, but continue the story through weekly missions. Unfortunately these missions are light on the story and the fun. The story behind Spartan Ops is mostly the Spartan Commander yelling at you to shoot anything that moves. Without the deep characters or dramatic impact that is offered in the campaign, Spartan Ops feels like running and gunning in the most boring and grinding form. It is quite disappointing to see how the episodes play out when I had such high hopes before the games release. While there are plenty of episodes to go, I’m not sure people will come back and play Spartan Ops a few weeks from now to just shoot Covenant and Forerunners on the same maps you saw in the campaign in smaller, bite-sized chunks. Personally I wish I had Firefight back, because even if I didn’t play the multiplayer that much, my friends and I could always sit down for a while and enjoy a firefight map or two. I’m sure more maps and episodes are on their way, but I personally won’t bother playing them.

In the end, is Halo 4 worth buying? My verdict is yes. If you’ve ever played a Halo game ever, Halo 4 is worth playing. The campaign is interesting and fun, introducing new enemies and telling a really good story. The multiplayer is fun to play and has a lot of depth to work through as you level up. Spartan Ops is slightly disappointing to me but still worth playing at least once. I really like the Halo Franchise and this game is worth every cent of the $60 I spent on it. If you don’t like Halo that much or never really played it before, find a friend who does and just watch him play or play the campaign with him, you might find yourself enjoying it.

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