It’s been a while since Halo 4 was released, so here goes…
There are a number of things that I think are somewhat problematic in Halo 4 and plenty of elements that work well. But all in all it’s a great package which is sadly let down by a small number of intrusive flaws. But as a first time effort from 343i, I think it’s a job well done.
The first element – and I’m going to hate myself for saying this – is the narrative of Halo 4. Not exclusively because of content but primarily because of how that content is delivered to the player.
I also believe that Halo 4 has been geared primarily towards the campaign and fiction fans – like me – and I thank them for it. But Halo 4 is a game, first and foremost, and it should stay that way. The story should be an additive to the campaign – it should complement the action.
So here are the story elements that I think are intrusive to gameplay:
Extensive cut scenes – though I deeply enjoyed the cut scenes, the ‘Prologue’ in particular, there are times during the campaign where that’s all you are doing and seeing. The conversation with the Librarian is a prime example. Though we do learn a great deal, and my love for the fiction was almost saturated to the point of exploding, Halos previous strengths have always been in providing a balance; a balance for all. Fans of Halo will love the story. Fans of Halo will like it. And there is the distinction. Some of us didn’t buy Halo 4 because of the campaign, but I did. But don’t just cater for my predilection for narrative.
Another example of this is when travelling through the portals on Requiem. On one occasion you travel through one portal, chat a little and then jump through another without anything going on in between, which to me is superfluous. Everything carried out in a game should be for a valid, gameplay-reliant, reason. Not because a writer MUST literally ‘bridge’ the gap from point A to point B.
Fiction overload is another reason. Previously, Halo games feature elements to satisfy every level of fiction and gameplay fan. For the hardcore fan, Halo 3 provides a number of Terminals that describe the last days of the Forerunner Ecumene. Halo Reach features the odd reference to previous events such as the mention of Pegasi Delta in the trailer or the radio transmissions. But in Halo 4 these are glorious visual terminal episodes that go deep into the fiction. And for a fan like me this is great. But for everyone else they don’t go as far as explaining the simplest mistake: who the Didact is and what is his purpose and why is he SO intent on destroying mankind. Sure, the composer is explained, but not the hatred. Only when reading Silentium do you understand why the Didact has a screw loose. But your average fan won’t have a clue. And it’s not like they can simply view the terminals like in CE Anniversary. No. If you want to watch it you have to head over the Waypoint. So accessibility is another flaw.
To me, Halo 4 this is aimed at the hardcore fiction fan.
So what about the gameplay fan?
Well, the gameplay is Halo 4 does feel like ‘Halo’. You still move and jump and shoot like a Spartan. But I know some people have complained about ‘Sprint’. Mainly because they feel it is unnecessary. And I agree, to a point. A Spartan should be able to pick up the pace when required. And for big maps it’s invaluable. And for ‘Invasion’ it would be essential, especially when you spawn far from the action. But Halo 4 doesn’t feature ‘Invasion’. So I would suggest returning ‘Sprint’ to Armour Ability status. If you need it for a big game use it. If it’s a compact arena then leave it out and take a jet pack or active camouflage.
Weapons are a problem as well. I like ‘Ordnance Drops’. They add some spice to the combat. And if you’re not careful anyone can steal your weapon and use it. But don’t remove the weapon I dropped thirty seconds ago. After getting a Rocket Launcher I expect to go back and pick up my Assault Rifle and carry on where I left off, unless, of course, someone steals it. But at least give me the choice.
On the flipside, however, Ordnance is also problematic. I can survive quite well and for quite a while on some maps, simply because of ordnance. Instead of being forced to engage the enemy, I can sit back, relax with the sniper rifle or anything else with decent accuracy at range, deploying my auto turret every now and then, whilst collecting additional weaponry that’s delivered from the UNSC Infinity. And, to be honest, it becomes quite tedious. Multiplayer has become a system with too many variables, too many choices, too many options. Instead of a simple and reliable system that focuses on combat, large and small. I suppose I could say there are currently too many gadgets and gizmos. Tactical flexibility need not be wholly reliant on what equipment or weapons you have. Simple teamwork and unique terrain can provide that. But then again, I rarely hear anyone on Halo 4 speak anymore. Even in objective games.
I would also recommend lowering the availability of the plasma pistol on vehicle dominant levels. But instead they current swamp it, overwhelm it. Sure, I want a back up plan to take out the scorpion or the Mantis. But when it reverts to plasma bolt after plasma bolt, the experience is seriously hampered, silly almost.
I don’t personally have a problem with the music. We have to move on. Marty isn’t available for future Halo games, so moving on isn’t just practical it’s necessary. I loved the soundtrack for Halo 4. It’s evocative. But I don’t hear it that much when playing. It’s there, quietly in the background, instead of pumping through the speakers as I send my enemies to their split-jawed maker.
As for revealing so much about the Forerunners, I don’t have a problem with it either. I loved the Didact and how he looks, and the Librarian. And it was nice to see a Forerunner installation that actually looks and feels alive. But I’m not concerned about some secrets being revealed, because we have the Precursors, I presume, to deal with at some point in the future.
I don’t want the rest of what was the Reclaimer Trilogy to revert to civil wars, or constantly fighting Promethean Knights. They were the Didact’s creation. So I expect any future presence of these guys to be limited. I would, however, like to return to a Halo again. Feel the curved grass surface beneath my Mjolnir boots and perhaps see the Covenant issue resolved in some way. But I’d also like to see Blue Team at some point and not just relegated to fictional references or events in the novels. Of course, some of you may see this as pandering to the fictional element and swamping the non-fiction fan with too much to take on board. But Halo 3: ODST introduced a different style of Halo game and a bunch of ODSTs. And I think the inclusion of Blue Team should take a similar route. That way it doesn’t interfere with the rest of the series but introduces everyone to the remaining Spartans. And then, like in Game of Thrones, we become personally invested in the characters – hoping they survive, when 343i can kill off any one of them at any moment. Unlike the Chief, who most of us believe will probably survive everything.
All in all, Halo 4 is a great experience. I loved the ending. It had meaning for once. It struck home. And that’s one thing that definitely shouldn’t change.