bill-swift - November 3, 2012
It can be difficult to innovate with any video game when you get to the sixth iteration over 12 years. And make no mistake, both Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach count in the lineage running up to Halo 4. In fact, I'll point to ODST as the Halo title that made me pre-disregard Halo: Reach and skeptical about coming back for Halo 4.
But I've come back and I suspect it will be worth it for you to do the same if you're interested in the next trilogy of Master Chief adventures and are open to new chapters in some of the best interactive science fiction around. I give Halo 4 props for taking chances on new types of storytelling by way of the Forward Unto Dawn live-action series that sets up the game and the Spartan Ops component that continues where the main single player campaign leaves off. In fact, we'll get to more Spartan Ops later because --as I've been saying the whole time-- that's the best new reason to get down with the Halo universe all over again.
The main single player campaign is as epic and galaxy-spanning as any in the series yet I still felt that the extended voiceovers and monologues from various characters is a very inefficient way to tell such a complicated story. Essentially Master Chief is who we've always been told he is, but now we're getting better context for that whole story from new characters in Halo 4. Similarly Cortana is, as promised, in a much more central role and not just Chief's high-tech Jiminy Cricket this time around. Surely there will be different responses to the cliffhanger in this one but this the bright side is Halo 4 is just the first in this new trilogy.
It's probably best to reserve full judgment of the multiplayer component of Halo 4 until the full community gets hold of the new tools and customization options. For example if the hours of multiplayer I've run through is any indication the armor abilities, customization and specializations didn't make this game feel much like a class-based experience. If that's by design, then what's the point of adding that stuff? If it is supposed to be a class-based type of thing, then either the effects are too subtle or I've been playing with a bunch of suckers who didn't know what they were doing. I suspect unleashing the whole thing on the world where we can really see what the community does with those tools will reveal the true value of these additions.
Spartan Ops is the separate game mode --that will still contribute to the leveling up and customization of your Spartan-- that will send a roughly 10-minute CG episode of the continuing adventures of the Spartan squads aboard the UNSC Infinity that you watch and five playable missions that relate to that unfolding story. You'll get all of this for free every week for ten weeks once Halo 4 launches. I can't overstate the value this adds to the game. The CG episode is high quality, high drama stuff that would be at home on Adult Swim or something like that. The playable missions are meant to be played cooperatively on the highest difficulty settings and there will be tremendous payoff if you run it this way. After years of the single player-multiplayer dynamic, adding a piece like Spartan Ops --a standalone piece that combines the best of both worlds-- hopefully is a turning point in video games. The episodic nature --even though 343 Industries has ‘em all built and ready now-- means consumers will feel like they're getting a mysterious gift every week all the way through New Year's day. A gift that you know you want because it's like the stuff you already have yet still different. Spartan Ops is an achievement in simply giving gamers what they want.
Get Halo 4 if: you want to see what Master Chief does next; you're ready to forgive ODST and Halo: Reach; you want free bonus content showing up on your Xbox 360 automatically; you want to see how the Battle Rifle has evolved again; you want to see new weapons like the Promethean light rifle and Inferno Cannon; you want to see the ultimate expression of Halo possible or if you want to be among the first to embrace the multi-channel interactive story telling of the next generation.
Don't get Halo 4 if: you haven't played Halo since Combat Evolved in 2001; you've never understood the relationship between Cortana and Master Chief; you can't adjust to the slightly faster pacing of multiplayer games (called War Games now); you don't like original sci-fi (but then you can't play Starcraft either) or if you don't like more of this stuff showing up for free on your console every week for ten weeks.
Star Rating (out of 4): 4 Stars
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