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Game Review: Halo 4

Posted November 7, 2012 by Colm O'Brien in Action


Ramp Rating


Genre: ,
PEGI Rating:
Release Date: November 6th 2012


Excellent fun. A solid experience that will please newcomers and fans alike, with enough added to the formula to keep it fresh.


A bit slow to get going. Music, despite some highlights, is generic and underwhelming.

As 343 Industries take the reins, can Halo 4 match the scope and success of its predecessors? With affectionate homage paid to everything that makes the Halo universe unique, we’re going with “Yes”.

by Colm O'Brien
Full Article

In 2007, the original Halo trilogy ended with series protagonist Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 adrift in space, presumed dead by the UNSC forces on Earth. Halo 4 (and thank Christ they didn’t call it H4lo) marks the start of a new saga — the Reclaimer trilogy — that opens with the Chief’s AI companion Cortana waking him from stasis to respond to an unknown threat, whereupon they find themselves in orbit above a mysterious artificial planet.

This is the first Halo game not developed by series creators Bungie, who handed the reins to 343 Industries after the release of 2010′s Reach. 343 (who are named for 343 Guilty Spark, a character from the original series) are clearly aware of the weight of expectation on this title: one of the first things you see when you load it up is a message thanking you for putting your trust in them, and hoping, basically, that you think they done good. It’s kind of a weird moment, but it goes to show how protective fans are of the Halo universe, which at this point encompasses not just games but comics, novels and short films as well.

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The good news is that 343 have pulled it off. Halo 4 is smashing fun — nothing terribly original, but a pure and loving encapsulation of what makes the series enjoyable, with enough new to ensure that it never just seems like a rehash. The high-camp stylings are present and correct (a big selling point, in this reviewer’s opinion; if you’re the kind of writer who comes up with names like ’2401 Penitent Tangent’ and ‘the Pillar of Autumn,’ it is likely that we are going to be friends) and the plot is decent space-opera fare, aided by a few memorable characters and some excellent voice acting (I’m struggling to remember another game where people shouted and I actually believed they were angry). The environments are nice and varied, with some outright gorgeous vistas, and as usual there’s a focus on open arenas rather than the narrow corridors of other mainstream shooters.

The Master Chief has always been the best of the videogame-standard armoured space-marines, and once again he comes off as a basically decent skin — exceptionally competent without being arrogant, with a stoic compassion where in lesser games you’d find nothing but irritating machismo. His relationship with Cortana, which has always been nicely understated, comes to the fore here as she starts sliding into rampancy (a condition that afflicts all AIs in the Halo universe as they age and their increasing cognitive activity starts to tear them apart), and the Chief’s protectiveness and desire to help her recover form the major subplot.

Though she does make this face slightly too often.

The new enemies are pleasingly alien, with early encounters especially feeling much more eerie than you’d expect from an all-out action game. The sense of strangeness is heightened by a minimal score and the enemies’ general lack of chatter, in contrast to the more bombastic music and shouted orders and taunts that soundtrack fights with traditional series enemies the Covenant. The new enemies come with a complete arsenal of new weapons, which are incredibly satisfying to look at and use, and there are a couple of nifty additions to the human armory as well.

You can blow through the campaign very quickly on the lower difficulties — six hours comfortably, if you’re not shy about taking the odd shortcut. There are rewards for exploring though, with consoles and audio logs scattered around the maps giving deeper background on the story and the universe. Higher difficulties will force you to take your time, and playing on Legendary is as brisk a challenge as ever — you’ll have to take full advantage of the terrain and the variety of weapons provided if you’re going to survive. As has been custom since Halo 2, a series of mutators can also be activated, allowing you to fundamentally alter the game on future playthroughs, with effects from populating the map with higher-level enemies to hiding your HUD and weapon.

Further longevity is provided via the meaty multiplayer modes, which include the traditional (and increasingly well-implemented) free-for-all and team-based games, in both straight deathmatch and objective-oriented flavours. There’s also the new Spartan Ops, short story-based missions that can be played either solo or co-op. At least one ‘season’ of these is planned, with ten weekly episodes of five missions each. Given the depth of lore in the Halo universe, and the level of dedication to the community the developers have shown in the past, it will be very interesting to see what 343 make out of this. They’ve certainly shown they’re worthy of the mantle.

About the Author

Colm O'Brien

Born in Ireland at the tender young age of 0, Colm is an ardent fan of literature and computer games, and the curator of South County Wicklow’s third-finest head of hair. He likes shorts more than he used to.

  • http://twitter.com/Sarklor Ciaran O’Brien

    I was ready to predict a shit sandwich. I’m content to have been wrong. I never particularly liked the Disney-esque enemies (the little grunts and their abominable one-liners especially), and I despised the shoddy laziness of the Flood with the fiery passion of ten thousand suns, so if they’re not present in the new one it can only be a huge improvement as far as I’m concerned.

    • http://www.emesq.com/ Colm

      The Flood are gone, but the Grunts remain (albeit far less common, and with changed voices — I didn’t hear any one-liners this time, but then I was mostly cackling at how good the AR sounds these days).

      I quite liked the idea of the Gravemind and I wish they’d done a bit more with it, especially when it and Cortana were left alone on High Charity for however long it was. Everyone loves a networked AI.

      • http://twitter.com/notRuairi Rú Hickson

        Helios ftw. Moreover, yes, the game was very solid fun, particularly the multiplayer. Big Team Infinity Slayer was as fun as ever.

        • http://www.emesq.com/ Colm


  • http://twitter.com/notRuairi Rú Hickson

    Also, one of the game’s stars should be reserved just for the fact you can get credit for being a distraction, even making the useless among us feel wanted.

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