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12/19/2012

REVIEW: Halo 4 (Xbox 360)



The Master Chief’s newest adventure is finally available on the Xbox 360. This is actually not usual since Halo was supposed to be a trilogy, but Microsoft, Bungie and now 343 Industries have expanded on the universe with a new game that makes justice to the high profile the franchise has always been known for, since 2001 when the original Halo: Combat Evolved came out for the first Xbox.

Halo 4 takes place after the Master Chief is left stranded in an unknown part of space on a broken UNSC (United Nations Space Command, the humans) ship called “Forward unto Dawn” along with his AI and best friend, Cortana. Four years after the events of Halo 3, Cortana is forced to wake the Master Chief up after the human ship encounters a planet of Forerunner origin, an extinct and very old alien race.

With that, the green-armored Spartan soldier will once again live through an adventure that will take them to a beautiful Sci-Fi world filled with tons of allies and foes. He’ll use dozens of weapons, engage in very intense firefights and give the fans an opportunity to learn much more about the Halo universe and its surprisingly deep storyline.

Before going into the game modes, I’d first like to talk about how beautiful the game is visually. Every time a Halo game comes out, the Xbox consoles seemed to have reached a new ceiling for the graphical power of Microsoft’s consoles. Halo 3 did in 2007 followed by ODST and Reach in the following years, but to be quite honest, Halo 4 looks much better than all those and I don’t think I’m wrong when I say this is the best-looking game in the Xbox 360 right now.

Halo 4 is simply a fantastic looking game. It makes an almost-perfect use of HD textures, colors, anti-aliasing and a very realistic HDR for the lightning effects. 343 did so good with this that you’ll often be fooled about the world in the screen being 100% real. I remember back in Halo 3 that I complained a lot about the faces of the human characters like Sergeant Johnson or Miranda Keyes not being very good-looking. Well Halo 4 takes that all away and makes every character in it look simply fantastic, whether is a human being, a Covenant race or a Forerunner Promethean (the new enemies that replace The Flood).

The characters in the game are excellently animated, they move smoothly and feel much more natural than before. It’s easy to compare the animations for the Covenant warrior’s moves from Halo 1 to 4. In this game, Grunts, Elites and Jackals truly feel like they are actually real, thinking beings instead of random enemies popped up for the Master Chief and allies to kill. Textures look solid, frame-rate is stable at 60 at all times (except when your internet decides to do something about it in a specific game mode), lightning is realistic and the environments are extremely beautiful. Halo 4 looks amazing.

This game has excellent sound effects as well. Every weapon, footstep, wind, explosion, vehicle, debris and literally every single thing in that world can emit sounds that help a lot with the immersion. There are no cartoony sound effects, everything feels real and is done in a fantastic way. Voice-acting is great as well and it helps with the narrative. The Halo universe is actually pretty deep and has hundreds of characters, worlds, events and other things so, unlike most first-person shooter games, this one needs a solid narrative to explain what happens and the voice-acting does its part in a very good way. One of the things I actually didn’t like personally is that they changed the voices of the Grunts and Elites which, to me, sounded perfectly fine before, but that’s more of a personal thing.

Sadly, not everything went according to plan in the sound department. While the sound effects and voices are excellent, the soundtrack is kind of generic and seems to have lost most of that iconic feel the past five games passionately expressed. Halo 4’s music was done by British composer Neil Davidge instead of Martin O’Donnell like before and the style of each composer is easily noticeable. The soundtrack is actually nice, but not even close to the beats of the previous titles. It simply doesn’t feel like Halo music.

Halo 4 has a pretty cool campaign with tons of cinematics to explain the story, lots of places to visit, thousands of enemies to kill and dozens of weapons to use. There are some radical changes that will most likely bother fans though. The Covenant are back as enemies but some of their races are nowhere to be found. Drones, Brutes, Prophets and Engineers are gone and there’s no mention of them. There might be story-related reasons for their absence but gameplay-wise, the game feels hurt by this because most firefights with the Covenant will be the same. The Flood are gone too and were replaced by a new “race” of digitally-engineered Forerunner warriors called the Prometheans that look good for the most part and they have their own set of excellent-looking weapons but around 80% of them are these dog-like creatures called Crawlers that are more an annoyance than fun to fight against.

Most classic weapons are back too. The Chief will use fan-favorite weapons like the Assault Rifle, Shotgun, Battle Rifle, Plasma Pistol, Covenant Carbine and even Halo Reach’s DMR. This is great because it makes players feel familiar with the franchise though some of the weapons’ attributes and performance changed a lot (remember the Needler being useless? Well it’s extremely powerful now). There are a lot of new ones too and not only the Promethean ones, the UNSC arsenal got their hands on a fantastic light machine gun called SAW, a Railgun perfect to badly hurt enemy vehicles among others. The arsenal of weapons in Halo 4 is extremely well-designed and great-looking.

Firefight mode is gone and replaced by a new one called Spartan-Ops. This is a co-op game mode that takes place after the main campaign and has players return to the Forerunner planet the Master Chief and Cortana find to complete a lot of missions. There are a lot, around 25 of them and more are coming as free DLC. The mode feels similar to Firefight because players are met with never-ending hordes of Covenant and Promethean enemies and have to move around different maps. The difference is that instead of just surviving and going for a high score, players will now have to run around activating switches, escorting NPCs, killing specific enemies and the like.

Spartan Ops is very cool actually though it can get a little repetitive because most missions are similar, but the fact that it can be played with friends both offline and online is more than enough reason to give it a go. Besides, it has its own storyline that is actually really interesting, especially for hardcore fans of the franchise. It’s also a great mode to try weapons and just “play for fun” if anyone doesn’t want their competitive multiplayer stats to be affected negatively.

This brings me to the most complete part of the game, the competitive multiplayer. Halo has always been one of the most praised FPS franchises when it comes to multiplayer and Halo 4 does most of things right. The game’s multiplayer will look similar to the previous ones but is actually quite different because many key aspects of the gameplay were radically changed.

All the game types are there: Team Slayer, King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, Oddball, etc and some new ones are available like Regicide and Flood and they can be played by Matchmaking made by 343 or Custom Games elaborated by the players themselves. The thing is that most of those game types now suffer from radical changes like for example, the ability to immediately respawn after getting killed instead of being forced to wait a few seconds. Weapons are no longer scattered around maps in a set way, this time they randomly appear like ordnances and whatever appears is up to the game. Sometimes the game can drop a Rocket Launcher and others will decide to make an Energy Sword appear, it seems to be random for the most part.

Another drastic change is that now, like in Halo Reach, players customize a few set Loadouts for equipment when they respawn so they can decide to appear with a DMR and Plasma Pistol but those weapons will never be in the map itself by default, so to get your hands in the power weapons like the Sniper Rifle or Fuel Rod Cannon you have to kill enemy players and assist your teammates to gain score and be allowed to call ordnance that is also random generated. Sometimes you get a killing spree (five kills without dying) and get the opportunity to call the Binary Rifle, the most powerful weapon in the game but other times for the same killing spree you’ll only get to call a Shotgun or a few extra grenades.

Players now have the ability to equip their armor with some useful abilities like a hologram to confuse enemy players, camouflage to avoid detection, a jetpack to fly vertically and things like that. There are a lot of these abilities and they add tons of variety to the multiplayer but to be honest, sometimes they get a little annoying. It’s up to getting used to them, learn to use them yourself and learn how to deal with them. Players also have the ability to give their character a few other tweaks like extra ammo for Loadout and ordnance weapons, the ability to pick grenades from fallen players or unlimited sprint time.

The maps are pretty cool, beautiful, varied and have tons of things to do in them and ways to play them according to the game type. Some of them have powerful vehicles like Warthogs, Banshees and Scorpion tanks while other smaller ones keep things more personal and allow players to fight by themselves. 343 will periodically release new maps for the game. In fact, the first batch of DLC maps is already out, called Crimson Map Pack, it adds some new great maps for modes like Team Slayer and Capture the Flag.

Another new thing is a universal level-up system where by playing Spartan Ops or any competitive multiplayer game type and completing set challenges, players earn experience points to level-up their Spartan. With each level, players gain the ability to buy and equip new weapons for their personal Loadouts or abilities for their armors. They can unlock different nice-looking parts for the armor as well; the game has dozens of helmets, chest plates, arms, legs and shoulder pieces with different designs and colors. It’s nice because each player looks different and can customize their Spartan however they decide to. Sadly, the option to play as a Covenant Elite is gone.

Forge mode is also back and it seems to be better than ever. This Little-Big-Planet-like mode allows people to fully customize everything from any map. The layout, textures, weapons placement, rules of a game type, jumps, respawn points, etc.  This allows for the creation of extremely good and curious things. The competitive community is already working on bringing some of the best maps from the old games like Lockout from Halo 2, The Pit from Halo 3 or Sanctuary from Halo: Reach. So, while the game itself seems to be aiming more towards pleasing the casual community in multiplayer, the hardcore competitive one can also feel right at home because there’s more than enough content for them.

In short, Halo 4 is a fantastic new game in the franchise. Everything fans like about it is there. It has a great campaign, cool co-op modes and an excellent competitive multiplayer with infinite possibilities and customization options. It’s probably the best-looking game in the Xbox 360 right now and in gameplay, it’s vastly superior to the majority of other FPS games out there. While I personally liked the older games more, Halo 4 is simply excellent.


Pros:
-          Quite possibly the best looking game in the Xbox 360.
-          Great campaign, story and narrative.
-          Excellent weapon variety.
-          Spartan Ops is tons of fun.
-          Competitive multiplayer is really varied, complete and simply a blast.
-          Forge adds limitless customization options to Multiplayer.
-          Excellent network stability.


Cons:
-          The soundtrack isn’t as good as before.
-          Firefight is gone.


-          Graphics and Visuals…….…..10
-          Music and Sound Effects…......9
-          Gameplay……………………9
-          Replay Value…………….…..10

Overall Score………………... 9.5 / 10

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