Customer Review

619 of 755 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 343i Delivers, November 11, 2012
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: Halo 4 - Xbox 360 (Standard Game) (Video Game)
I gave up writing Amazon reviews years ago, as most product reviews are neither helpful nor critical, and seem to be written by those without even a 7th grader's grasp on basic English grammar. For Halo 4, however, I am making an exception.

I wasn't originally excited when Microsoft and 343 Industries announced Halo 4. A fan of Bungie since Marathon (that's pre-Halo, for those that don't know, and by several years), I wasn't too keen on Microsoft pulling an Activision and allowing somebody else to mercilessly butcher Bungie's pride and joy for some easy sales. Fortunately, 343 Industries really do understand what makes Halo unique, and deliver it in spades while simultaneously reinvigorating the franchise that had started to stagnate towards the end under Bungie.

The first thing that truly hits you are the visuals. Bungie makes great games, but the truth of the matter is that Halo 2 was probably the last time a Halo game was the best-looking title on Xbox. The work done with the Halo 4 engine is astonishing, and those claiming Halo: Reach had superior visuals are in need of an optometrist. The models, textures, lighting, and design are all top tier this time around, easily among the best seen on the Xbox 360. More importantly, the performance is as near as I can tell flawless. Not once during the campaign did I notice any screen tearing, drop in frame rate, sluggish controls, or issue of any kind with the engine. In multiplayer, the map Exile brought some slight stuttering, but it was gone so quickly and consistently that I suspect it was more network latency than a rendering issue. I once remarked that I thought Bungie and MS should have licensed DICE's Frostbite engine for the next Halo game (I was very impressed with Battlefield: Bad Company 2's environments and destruction), but I proudly eat my words. Halo 4 looks fantastic from top to bottom.

The second thing thing you notice is the sound. The assault rifle delivers furious, mechanical, bass-filled kick through your speakers or headset, while the sound of incoming ordnance hitting the deck generally gives you goosebumps. Every weapon system and sound has been gutted and rebuilt from scratch. While some fare better than others (the AR sounds exquisite, while the Battle Rifle doesn't quite hit the same stride), the overall package is fresh and a kick in the pants. The music too is different, marked by the departure of Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori, who remained with Bungie when they split from Microsoft. Neal Davidge and Kazuma Jinnouchi step in to fill their shoes, with Davidge (of the sensational duo Massive Attack) providing a much darker and more electronic ambiance than previously seen in the series. Jinnouchi composed the gorgeous new character theme for the Master Chief, appropriately titled "117." Together, they only briefly pay homage to the well-known Gregorian chant that has identified the series since 2001 (it DOES come back, but very subtly and as more of a leitmotif than a full-fledged theme). While it's sad to lose such an iconic piece of music, it's also necessary to allow Davidge and Jinnouchi to establish their own stamp on the series, and the music in Halo 4 is beautiful and fitting to the story.

What of the story? The best in the series, bar none. 343i's writers understand that a seven-foot stoic cyborg isn't always an interesting character, even if he's a total badass. As a result, they use the AI Cortana as the story's focus, and it works. Cortana's fear, uncertainty, and eventual heroism really do make the story, and by the end, even bring humanity out of John-117's iron clad shell. There are some issues that seem to be just passed over, and little things in the plot aren't fully explained always. My understanding is the supporting media (novels, webisodes) fill in the gaps, but I dislike this style of cross-media storytelling. Each medium, be it a novel, a game, or a mini-series, should be connected and reference the greater universe but must be able to stand alone as a singular story. Halo 4 suffers in that regard, but it's not enough to ruin the final product, which is a terrific campaign story filled with emotion and love.

On Heroic difficulty and played solo, the campaign took me approximately 7.5 hours, which is about par for a Halo game and the industry. The campaign itself is tried-and-true Halo, with a mix of tight corridor shootouts and larger, more open arenas that reward the more tactical player. Either way, one cannot simply charge straight through guns blazing on Heroic or Legendary, though I did notice more range in the enemy AI than I would have liked given the Halo series pedigree. Some opponents, like the Promethean Knights, are vicious and brutal, making every battle a life or death challenge. Other opponents seemed to occasionally run out in the open, only to turn around and face the wrong direction. These instances were few and far between, but noticeable. Other than a handful of quick-time events (QTEs), I was exceptionally pleased with the whole campaign experience. Some of the levels where you are required to enable/disable multiple switches can be a grind at the higher difficulties, but only due to the exceptionally challenging enemy combatants.

Now to multiplayer, source of much controversy. 343i has made some serious changes to the design. First, customizable loadouts are in, meaning you can choose between the classic AR, the much-loved BR, and the excellent DMR as your starting weapons (among many others). Power weapons (shotgun, sniper rifle, energy sword, rocket and grenade launchers) are still found out on the map. More interestingly, however, is that weapon spawns are seemingly random or at least rotational, so the rocket launcher doesn't always pop up in the same spot during longer games. Finally, as you fight and score kills, assists, or save your buddies, you earn points that fill your ordnance meter. Once filled, you can call in resupply that drops down in a miniature ODST pod with a satisfying THUNK. These are NOT kill streaks like Call of Duty, as no Pelicans fly in to air strike your opponents for cheap and easy kills. Rather, they are usually power ups such as over shield or power weapons like the new SAW machine gun or shotgun. Additionally, every Spartan now has the ability to sprint for a short period of time. All of the game modes minus Firefight are back (I assume Bungie reserves the rights to Firefight and it will appear in their next title).

Does it all work? Here is where it gets sticky, and simply a matter of opinion. Some more critical reviews have expressed dismay at the increased movement speeds, as if moving like a tortoise was somehow essential to Halo. It does increase the overall pace of the game, yes, as you spend less time looking for opponents and more time fighting them, but the truth is sprint is most effective when used as a means of retreat from a unfavorable situation. And THAT is true Halo. The ability to tactically retreat, to ambush your opponent around the corner when he chases with a grenade, or to escape completely is what makes Halo unique, especially today in the wealth of one-hit kill military shooters. And none of that has changed in Halo 4.

As for the loadouts, it resolves my biggest pet peeve of previous Halo games: I didn't want to play "Shotty Snipers" yet everyone else did, so I am stuck using weapons or playing a mode I dislike. The whole "Bungie knows best" model of previous game types and weapon choices infuriated me, and the ability to choose and stand my own ground as I wish is a welcome addition (especially since the AR is no longer completely useless). Furthermore, battles in Halo 4 are much more fluid, with combat migrating all over the maps as opposed to previous games, where combat with predominantly occur around choke points or power weapon spawn points. The fact that power weapons can now be called down anywhere is an incredible balance equalizer, meaning games are never a race to see which team can grab the shotgun on Countdown or the rockets on Ivory Tower as they often used to be. Some older players might argue that learning where the power weapons were and knowing the maps was part of the "skill" of Halo, but that's such a superficial and basic skill. A superior player should win based on their ability to fight anywhere, to turn the tables in their favor in their favor by skill, not because they knew where the shotgun was and got there first.

Halo 4 isn't perfect: Spartan Ops is rather mediocre in its current state, the Promethean weapons look cool but fill very standard weapon class criteria without much creativity, and I was disappointed to spend so much time fighting still fighting the Covenant. Regardless, the fact is it is true to everything that is essential to Halo while contemporary to the industry today. This is Halo 2012, not 2001, but it's still Halo through and through. Halo 3's multiplayer was near perfect (for its time), but the campaign was a disappointing slog that failed to move the story forward or create any kind of emotional impact. Reach returned some glory to Halo's campaign mode, but its multiplayer felt half-baked compared to its predecessor and never achieved the same level of saturation. Halo 4, though imperfect, looks back to Halo 3's multiplayer standard while simultaneously surpassing Reach's campaign (if just barely). It's nothing new. It doesn't revolutionize the first person shooter. It's just tried-and-true mechanics flawlessly presented in a supremely polished engine.

The Chief is back.
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Comments

Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 24 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 12, 2012 10:53:51 AM PST
My only real disappointment with the game has been the removal of FireFight. The mindless bashing of Grunts or bringing a rocket launcher to a gun fight was a great way to pass the time. I look forward to the next iterations from 343.

Posted on Nov 15, 2012 9:00:02 AM PST
JG says:
Regarding the campaign mode, I found the Prometheans to be unsatisfying as adversaries. When you shoot an enemy and he just evaporates it feels like you were robbed of a kill. They just replaced one boring enemy (the Flood) with another one.

Posted on Nov 15, 2012 9:07:38 AM PST
MK37 says:
So just a couple things. The graphics are not the best because the environments are very limiting along with enemy count and their A.I.. Also some of the explosions are very lacking. Grenades are terrible.. The cut scenes are very well done though along with some of the backgrounds... Also in multiplayer sprinting away from a fight and surviving is not true Halo. Understanding the balance of shields vs. guns is true Halo. Also the severe lack of melee and grenade impact takes away the trinity of "True" Halo. This game is far from perfect. Good but not good like Halo should be.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 16, 2012 8:39:52 PM PST
C. Sneed says:
the spartan ops mode took over firefight. Spartan ops is now firefight and also an co-op objective mode as well so basicly firefight never got deleted its still there. But not only that you get to watch episodes every week from that which is really epic.

Posted on Nov 17, 2012 12:01:21 AM PST
E. Manns says:
A very well-written review, I would've had a difficult time expressing the same thoughts in an ordered fashion. I am also a "grizzled ancient" Bungie fan, and am very excited that Halo may Finally echo he final plot points of the Marathon trilogy. Personally, I think Bungie did want to end the Halo series with Halo 3, and had a more significant campaign in mind, but Microsoft basically said "End our most iconic franchise? Hell no!" I also loved Cortana's humanity (I thought she was going rampant and far more central to Halo 3's plot than ended up happening), expect her to have a more "Durandal" destiny in future games. The Flood may or may not return as the thing referenced in Halo 4 as what the pre-historic humans were running from... they do seem like a logical binary to the Forerunners (I wonder if the promethians will continue?).

Basically, I don't think the plot has had this much potential since Halo 2. Totally expected Truth to be power-hungry and not a true believer of the Covenant faith.

My favorite campaign was ODST's, I loved the interweaving of detective discovery, two timelines, and the radio story all leading up to the finalé. It was a novel way to tell a story, but I do admit it could've been better implemented.

Halo 4's multiplayer feels like a revalation after I had played so much CoD and BF3. You hit the nail on the head why I think Halo 4 raises the potential skill ceiling, and why it has such a nice flow of movement and balance. It feels nice to have an aggressive play style rewarded rather than camping and riding on cheap killstreaks, and the impressive audio is also clear and nuanced enough to give advantage to headphone junkies like me while also providing chills and thrills.

I feel like I'm losing focus now, hopefully that's just an effect of the time of night, but thank you for such a well-articulated review.

Posted on Nov 18, 2012 6:02:15 AM PST
J. Hunter says:
Well said. I'm an avid Halo player, but I'll try to keep it simple for those that are new to the series...
I've been a Halo fan for years, and was really disappointed with Halo Reach. Too clunky, no Battle Rifle, and the maps were all generic. If you knew the story, you knew our character was going to perish at the end....
That was Reach. Now onto Halo 4:
Halo 4 is original, the gameplay is much smoother and some of the guns are just cool.
I'm glad that Halo 4 has brought the Chief, and the fun back to Halo.The campaign is in my opionion, the best one yet. The cut scenes are nothing short of amazing. Spartan Ops is branched off of the campaign, and the multiplayer is countless hours of fun.
I do like Call of duty games, but I didn't even get black ops 2 because I know that I'll be on Halo 4.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 23, 2012 7:14:59 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 23, 2012 7:18:29 AM PST
Just wanted to thank all of the people who actually took the time to voice their disagreement in a logical comment. It drives me completely insane when people vote a review as "Unhelpful" just because they disagreed with the verdict.

@ JG, I can see your point. I just find it funny to me because I find the disintegration absolutely satisfying, especially in War Games when you scatter shot another player at close range. I think sticking people with a plasma grenade is the only thing more satisfying.

@ MK37, Did we even play the same game? The environments are just as Halo games have always been. The second level, Requiem, is absolutely massive. The cavern in which you depend the Composer later in the game is monstrous, with plenty of room to run on foot, hijack a Ghost or two, or dominate with the Mantis. The first mission in which you find and defend the Marines on that uphill slope is easily as wide as the beachfront on Silent Cartographer or Long Night of Solace, two of the best missions in Halo history. I mean, the game is no Skyrim, but Halo never has been.

Also, I think you were trying to imply that the number of enemies to fight was lowered as a result of the visual upgrade. You may be right, but I'd rather fight 2-3 Promethean Knights and work for it than fight 30 idiotic Call of Duty pop up baddies.

Finally, sprinting away from a fight and surviving is not true Halo? Strategic use of your abilities is not Halo? If you enter a fight you must die? You and I clearly play a different Halo. The trinity of guns/grenades/melee is very much Halo, and is still very much a part of Halo 4. In fact, I'm pretty sure I got at least a half-dozen melee kills last night while playing War Games. Just because melee isn't a 1-hit kill anymore (unless you get the drop with an assassination) doesn't mean it's not there and effective. I'll admit that grenades have been nerfed a bit, but I'm sorry the rest of your argument just doesn't make sense.

Just last night, I had another player get the drop on me. I used sprint to get out of his line of sight, and dropped a sticky launcher grenade on the floor just past the corner. He pursued blindly, and as he rounded the corner, I detonated the sticky grenade. Tactics, strategy, execution. That is true Halo. Name one other game on the market for Xbox 360 that allows you to play like that.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 24, 2012 5:46:03 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 24, 2012 6:00:49 PM PST
C. S. says:
i found your review to be mainly great. You start by expressing your wariness over product reviews. I will express my wariness over long reviews that make it to "first review" status on a certain page. Generally, these writers pack the review with fan-service proclamations. Yours had only a couple. "The campaign itself is classic Halo." And "The Chief is back." You seem talented enough as a writer to avoid these anthemic statements, which just beg for "likes" from fanboys. (I don't say you wrote them for that reason, but it's how those phrases can come across to this reader.)

Personally, I didn't find the campaign to be classic Halo, not at all. Yes, there was the familiar jump height of Master Chief, and there was Cortana, and the environments were pretty. The elements were there, but the gameplay wasn't. The problem was the Promethean enemies, in my opinion. There were fewer enemies overall, and tougher ones. It isn't like you couldn't go through the campaign on Legendary, but the decision to reduce the enemy count from Halo 3 (remember those big fights against 10-15 Covenant at a time) causes the gameplay on harder difficulties to stagnate.

On Legendary, Master Chief becomes Sam Fisher. The Promethean Knights know where you are, always. They stand behing pillars. They spawn Watchers. They are bullet sponges against anything but a Lightrifle or a Scattershot. The campaign has a stalemate effect that I found tedious, and frankly, kind of boring. What happened to the Master Chief who was part tank, part ninja, who could pull off bumper-jumper hops around a small army of enemies? Halo 4's campaign felt more intimate, less dense, which is fine as it goes along with the more intimate story of Cortana. But I didn't find it as fun as previous Halo campaigns, except fun to look at, because as you say the graphics are amazing.

Sure, Legendary requires hiding at times. Don't dispute that. The levels felt static. I don't want to go through it again.

You were spot on, in my opinion, about Spartan Ops. It is trying to be special, and the effort deserves praise, but the effect is warmed-over campaign, with painfully goofy dialogue that tries to be clever. (You hear the "rescue the nerds" line from Episode 1?) The mode has no identity either. There is a competition of sorts against friends who play with you, but no penalty for death, and rolling checkpoints. Spec Ops from Modern Warfare 2 and 3 is a great mode, challenging and replayable. Spartan Ops has no challenge or star system. What's the point?

You hit on something with Bungie's old "my way is best approach" to multiplayer. I don't know if loadouts is the solution, but I'm glad 343 tried something new. I also disagree with you about sprinting away being the essence of Halo. To me, Halo 3 was so competitive because, at a certain distance, you were locked into a gunfight with your opponent. You couldn't sprint away, couldn't escape. The better shot won, and that fact celebrated the skill of players.

You could strafe, hide behind objects, pop in and out just fine without sprint also. It's here to stay, but it's a crutch, and I say that freely because I use sprint very well. If I don't like how a battle started, I'm gone, and with auto-health regen, I can start over from another vantage point. It makes multiplayer less frustrating, sure, but also less special.

I liked how you mixed in praise and critiques in a five-star review, which I think is the right score--in a five-star system. (In a 10 point system, I think it deserves a 90.) I'm not sure the title "343 Triumphs" quite captures your review, however. Whatever you think of the campaign, with one-third of the package--Spartan Ops--a stale exercise (and the proven mode Firefight absent, even for custom games), the game can't necessarily be called a triumph. It's definitely excellent, though, and a promising start to the new trilogy.

Posted on Nov 29, 2012 1:57:26 PM PST
Joel McGee says:
Thanks for the informative review. I share your feelings on the multiplayer, although my friends disagree with me. The only part I disagree with you is on Reach's campaign. It just seemed like a giant spartain ops mode, run here shoot this, it felt like a shell of a campaign to me whereas I loved halo 3's, the story, the pacing, and setpieces were just amazing. I hated the forgetable genaric spartain that I played as in Reach, master cheif has alwasys been the spokesperson for Halo, and no halo game has felt right without him. But that's just my opinion. Spot on review though, otherswise.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2012 6:53:00 PM PST
No no NO. the flood in Halo 1 was horrific in an awesome way that made your hairs stand up. in halo 2 and 3 it was "oh no this again". The Prometheans have more purpose, and aren't a tired and hopeless fight against the flood.
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