The 343 era of Halo is generally seen as the fall of the franchise. After Bungie left the IP behind, there was a noticeable shift in tone, presentation, and… well, quality. Every single Halo release under this new studio has been plagued by controversy.
And it all started here. Halo 4.
343 had a lot to live up to with Halo 4. Halo 3 took the world by storm, becoming one of the most well reviewed and consistently played FPS games of all time. ODST didn’t quite reach those heights, but it became iconic in its own way. While Reach was definitely divisive, but the majority agreed that it was a worthy send-off to the series. Safe to say, expectations for 4 were high.
Did it live up to them? Well, depends on who you ask. But seeing as you clicked on this article, you’re clearly asking me. And… well, the answer is in the title.
I remember thinking Halo 4 was okay when it first came out. But playing it now, I can’t help but wonder if there was a hole in my brain. Because good fucking god this game is the antithesis of fun! Every time I thought the disappointment train was pulling into a station, the conductor turned the intercom on and went “Ha ha, sucker” then sped the fuck up!!
Story: Trying to Be More Than It Is
Halo stories aren’t especially complex. Their solid, albeit simple, sci-fi war stories. The characters have never been especially deep, though they make up for it by being likable and memorable. They worked because they knew what they were and ran with it all the way to the end!
Halo 4 tries to be more complex. A bit more mature. Unfortunately, the writers didn’t realize that these are not the characters with which to do that with.
A few years after the events of Halo 3, Cortana wakes the Master Chief from his stasis. Shortly after this awakening, their trip crashes onto a strange nearby planet, pulled in by a powerful ‘gravity well’. All the while, Cortana starts to malfunction, suffering from something called Rampancy, which spells death for an AI. Now, Chief and Cortana must find a way back to Earth while fighting off the Storm Covenant and a brand new enemy.
Hoo boy! Where do I even begin? It’s incredible to me just how sloppy this story really is!
For one: the Storm Covenant. Narratively speaking, these dudes have no reason to be in the game at all aside from giving the players something familiar to shoot at. Hell, none of them even speak to you! Why were they there? Why were they attacking Chief? Who cares, because now the new bad guys are controlling them like slaves!
Speaking of the new villain: holy shit, it feels like the Didact was scientifically put together to be the most boring character ever! He may as well be curling a mustache whenever he speaks! His primary character traits are ‘evil’ and ‘hate human’. What a thrilling bad guy.
Most of the other new characters fall into similar camps. None of the new soldiers accompanying Chief on his adventures are all that memorable, charismatic, or interesting. I don’t even remember their names. Their only roles in the story are ‘spout sci-fi military jargon over the radio and tell the player what to do.’ None of them have the charm that characters like Johnson or the Keyes family had in the Bungie games.
Then, at last, there’s the relationship between Chief and Cortana. I can appreciate what they’re going for here. The idea of making their dynamic more complex and emotional is a good one in theory. Unfortunately, it’s a shift that doesn’t work because of what was already established in the previous three games. These two characters aren’t built to be complex or deep. They were very much just utility based; Chief was a badass and Cortana told him what to do.
Plus, there’s a mild problem that takes all the emotion out of the tragedy: Chief doesn’t have a face. Sorry, but you can’t muster emotion out of me when I can’t see a character’s face. If you were to remove the subtitles and turn the sound off, it would literally just look like two robots talking to each other. You can’t get anything out of it.
Also, Cortana splitting into a mini-army and ganging up on the Didact may be the single dumbest thing I have seen in my entire goddamn life.
This game tries so hard to be cinematic and dramatic. Unfortunately, it chose the wrong characters to try and do that with. It doesn’t feel like an official release. It feels like a Halo fanfiction that was written in an afternoon.
Actually, now that I think about it, it basically is.
Presentation: A Shift in Identity
Technically speaking, this game is very impressive for an Xbox 360 game. The environments are all highly detailed, the character models have much higher fidelity, and, thanks to the PC port, it runs at insanely high and smooth frame rates!
And I hate it.
For one, I really hate the character designs. Everyone jokes about how 343 tried to make Cortana hot… which they didn’t. But for god’s sake, just look at what they did to Chief!
Here, this is what he looked like in Halo 3.
See that? Nice and simple. It’s got plenty of detail, but it isn’t overcrowded. The colors are bright and they all work well together. A plain but effective design. Rock solid.
Now look at Halo 4.
Why is it so much darker? What is that giant collar thing? Who thought to make his shoulder plates so much bigger? This looks like a robot I’d draw in my notebook back in middle school when I thought it would look cooler if I just added more stuff to it.
Like… it isn’t a bad design! But it’s a bit much, don’t you think? Like, pump the brakes a little bit guys. Less is more.
The enemy designs suffered just the same. In the older games, they were adorned in bright colors that stood out among the backgrounds. One look and you knew where everything you needed to kill was. Here? These bastards are all dark, adorned in mute colors. They blend right into the background, forcing you to play hide-and-seek to end a fight!
Some of them straight up have the same colors as the environments! You know how the new enemies are glowing orange and black? Naturally, you’d want to put them in an environment where they stand out, right? NOPE! LET’S PUT ‘EM IN A BIG ROOM THAT GLOWS ORANGE!
Still, it isn’t all bad. The UI looks very nice, being clean, simple, and eligible. All the animations are nice, with some solid motion capture and cinematography in the cutscenes. The weapons all look alright (even if the Covenant weapons sound awfully metallic for guns that shoot plasma, but whatever). I do wish the bloom would chill the fuck out and the camera wouldn’t shake so violently when things explode. But the whole isn’t all that bad.
As for the music… meh. It’s not bad, but it isn’t especially memorable. It completely fails to reach the insane heights that the previous Halo OSTs managed to reach.
Plus, they never stop! One of the strongest aspects of the music in the older games is that they’d stop after they go on for too long! This was done intentionally; silencing the music every now and then not only made it more impactful, it also made the games more immersive! When the music went away, you were left with the sounds of the world around you, which made it feel real! Halo 4 lacks this strength, which makes the music suffer immensely.
But that hardly compares to how the actual game has suffered.
Gameplay: So Much New, So Much Suck
Now, to be fair: I think the multiplayer in this game is okay. It’s not incredible; it does sort of blend in with a lot of other FPS multiplayer modes. But each game is quick, chaotic, and decently enjoyable. It’s not something I’d play as frequently as what was offered in Halo 2 or Reach, but it’s alright.
I cannot, unfortunately, say the same thing for the campaign.
There are many issues that drags the campaign down. From the gunplay to the level design, the campaign is super tedious and frustrating to play. Sure, there are fewer levels. But each one is much longer than an average level from the other games, so it makes up the difference.
Let’s start with the guns. For one: several guns fulfill the exact same roles as others. The Lightrifle, for example, is just a combination of the Battle Rifle and the DMR, both of which are already in the game. Second: the ammo count is way too low! You can drain a plasma pistol with a single charge shot! You will, not can, run out of ammo at least once in most firefights throughout this game.
Not to mention that it really pressures you to use the new variety of gun. Unfortunately, the new guns are actually garbage. There are two that aren’t objectively worse than every single other gun in the game. Unfortunately, since the new Forerunner enemies are the most frequently used throughout the game, they’re the ones you’ll be stuck with more often than not.
Speaking of the new enemies: they suck. They’re either so weak that they’ll die in one shot or they’re bullet sponges that will suck away all of your limited ammo. The Knights can teleport, which is just about the worst ability you can give an FPS enemy. They’ll either warp away mid shot or appear right in your face and hit you with a melee attack that you can’t possibly dodge.
Remember when Legendary was brutal but fair? Ignoring Sniper-Jackals, of course.
On top of that, their A.I. is a huge downgrade. They don’t react to what you do in interesting ways. The Covenant will just bombard you with fully-charged plasma shots or send a whole fleet of Banshees at you. The Forerunner enemies will just charge at you dick-first or bombard you over and over from a distance. Both varieties very frequently run straight into walls or stand around like a soulless husk.
How compelling. Hey, remember how Grunts would freak out when you stuck ’em with a plasma grenade? Or how they’d run away when you killed an Elite? I miss that.
The new ability pickups are… fine, I guess. Most of them are either recycled from other Halo games or are just… unnecessary. Useless. The only time I actually used them was when the game straight-up forced me to do it. Of all the things to bring in from Reach, why this?!
The levels themselves aren’t anything to write home about. Most of them are just ‘run through hallways and shoot enemies’. Others are basically on-rail sections where you’re either stuck in vehicles that you can only kind of control or that you can’t control at all. For god’s sake, one level is just you sitting on top of a tank! You don’t even get to control it! And they’re so goddamn long and tedious that it sucks the energy right out of you!
Mediocrity plagues this game at every single turn. It feels like a little kid trying to copy their older sibling’s drawing without understanding what made the drawing good. It wears the skin of a Halo game, but it lacks the incredible depth and fun that makes them so infinitely replayable!
You know, I used to be okay with this game. I never thought it was as good as other Halo games, but it wasn’t all that great. Still, I didn’t hate it.
But now, after playing it again? I really hate this game!
Even if you didn’t compare it to other, older, better Halo games, it still wouldn’t stand out! Sure, it looks okay! But it is miserable to play and the story is downright laughable! I can’t recommend people play this game, whether they’re new to Halo or they’re a long time fan!
And you know what’s really horrifying? Halo 5 is infinitely worse than this game!
Which is why I’m not gonna review it. Probably. Unless they bring it to PC. For less than a buck.