Friday, November 2

Wrap up of Halo 4 Reviews from around the net

Here's a selection of choice paragraphs of the pre release press reviews of Halo 4. They are pretty impressive and it's clear that Halo 4 is a new era in Halo's chapter.

Game Informer loves it

343 Industries had a series of challenges in front of it when it began to create Halo 4: Take a beloved series from the original developer Bungie, maintain the legacy established through a decade of development, and reignite enthusiasm by delivering something new. That is a daunting list, but 343 Industries was clearly up to the task. Halo 4 is a thrilling adventure, and takes the science fiction franchise headlong into the future. The magic formula is intact, but the new development team isn’t afraid to put its own signature features into play, assuring that Halo is on a path to growth instead of stagnation.

Recent Halo entries felt ancillary to the core story. Halo 4 returns to the resonant drive of the series – Master Chief and his unrelenting defense of humanity. For the first time, the story has an emotional core that grounds the fiction: the connection between John and Cortana. As the two characters face a reemerging threat to the galaxy, we finally gain insight into the mysterious Forerunner race hinted at since Combat Evolved. Along the way, 343 Industries plays around with some heady science fiction concepts, from the nature of artificial intelligence to the planned shaping of a species’ evolution. While these ideas might be bewildering to newcomers, the story is the most cohesive and well-structured in the series.

It starts with a mesmerizing CG cutscene that flat-out knocks you on your ass. The lighting is flawless, subtle movements and animations abound, and it even goes so far that Commander Lasky (yes, the same Lasky we see as a teenager in the Forward Unto Dawn webseries) has crooked teeth – not the usual polygon-perfect Chiclet choppers that every other animated video game human has. It strikes a fine balance between old-school fan service and establishing context for new players, and it quickly segues into gameplay, where Halo 4’s greatest strength becomes immediately apparent: its gunplay.

Of course, gorgeous graphics are only one responsibility a console’s killer app must bear. Perhaps equal to Halo 4’s monitor-melting visuals is its bar-none, best-in-class sound design. If you think you’ve heard Halo, check your ears and listen again. Nary a gunshot, MJOLNIR boot clank, or Covenant Elite’s “Wort wort wort” passes through your speakers without a significant, authoritative overhaul that lends an aggressive, testosterone-inducing punch to Halo 4’s combat.


PC Authority

Taken as a whole, though, the overarching narrative of Halo 4 is pretty tight. It’s four years since the Master Chief went into cryo, and the game begins with him being woken up by Cortana.

Well, actually, the game begins with one of those odd bits that don’t quite belong – Doctor Halsey, the architect of the Spartan program, apparently in custody and justifying her actions. But this goes seemingly nowhere; a shame, because it’s a particularly affecting scene, and a hint that 343 really gets the heart behind the Halo story. It also looks amazing – the quality of custscenes throughout the game is quite amazing.

In fact, the game’s graphics in general are really quite stellar – this one of the best Xbox games I’ve ever seen.

Through all this, there’s the more personal story of the last first generation Spartan and his virtual friend, now approaching the AI version of senility. Poor Cortana reveals that she’s approaching rampancy, the point when an AI becomes too smart for their own good. Given the straights this pair have been through before, it’s oddly affecting seeing Master Chief fight for the one friend and constant he has in a very dangerous universe.

And, being the last of his generation, there’s more than a hint that the Chief is past his prime. As scattershot as some of the storytelling can be, there is heart and emotion aplenty.

Impressively, this time around each element we have come to know and love has been given even more polish. The narrative in particular has been tweaked so the focus is sharper, and the story feels more closely wedded to your actions. One of the criticisms of past games is at times the narrative has verged on being almost ancillary, as the action was always so simple you didn't need to know why you were shooting, you just had to keep that trigger finger primed.

This time around there are coiled narrative threads, with a number of parallel plot lines being explored simultaneously. Most importantly they “mean” something. The story carries weight and you will be drawn in by what is happening, not just be happy to blast wave after wave of irrelevant aliens.

Halo 4 delivers some massive places to play and the environments are everything Halo fans have come to expect. There are pressure cooker firefights inside close-packed environments, long range sniper stages that let you enjoy a good dose of scoping, and everything in between. The game also lets you loose with a enviable selection of tanks, guns and other destructive hardware, with plenty of new toys and some great favorites of old returning as well.

Halo 4 is a striking step up in storytelling for the series, but when it comes to the action, things are more familiar. Halo has always been a shooter built on clear gameplay systems that combine in complex and gratifying ways. The crafty and aggressive enemy AI squads work together, adjusting their tactics as you assault their ranks. Your four-pronged arsenal of guns, grenades, melee attacks, and armor abilities fuels a variety of different battlefield strategies. And the environments both large and small provide enough space to maneuver creatively, occasionally furnishing a vehicle or two for your driving enjoyment.

These systems are a through line in the series and they continue to hold up well in Halo 4, right down to the Covenant enemies that you fight at various points throughout the campaign (apparently not everyone knows the war is over). They still make great foes, but the new Promethean enemies offer a fresh combat challenge. Canine crawlers fire from a distance or swarm up close, while hovering watchers flit back and forth, offering maddening support to their allies. The hulking knights look fearsome and put up a mean fight, teleporting both defensively and offensively to make killing them from a distance a tricky proposition. New enemies come with new weapons too, and though these guns fit familiar niches, neat tweaks like the boltshot's shotgun-esque alternate fire and the scattershot's ricocheting bullets make them feel distinct.


In competitive multiplayer, by contrast, there is a tightened focus: evidence of Microsoft's desire for Halo to be taken more seriously in the eSports arena. Load-outs are more important than before, with far fewer guns available on the battlefield for collection. Rising up through the rankings unlocks new weapons, perks and armour options, many of which have tangible competitive benefits (such as the ability to run indefinitely or to deploy a sentry turret). It's undeniable that multiplayer Halo has lost some of its purity in this fashionable move - although the playing field will even out after a few weeks when dedicated players have unlocked all of the perks.

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