2012-11-27

Halo 4 – Game of the Year?

by Yo Snyder

Is Halo 4 the Game of the Year? Now, there’s really no one
more surprised than I when it comes to considering that question. I’ve
never really been much of a Halo fan. I’ve enjoyed the games, I thought
the campaign in Halo Reach was great, but I’ve always felt out-of-sorts in Halo multiplayer. However, Halo 4 made me feel not all that bad about not finding any great deals on Black Ops 2 over the Black Friday weekend. It’s also taken time away from Battlefield 3,
and lessened my anticipation for more of that game in the upcoming DLC.
That speaks volumes to the high, all-around quality as a shooter that Halo 4 brings
to the table. It doesn’t just have a compelling campaign story, it
doesn’t just have an improved multiplayer, it doesn’t just have tons of
free, fully-featured DLC; it has all of those things wrapped up in one
slick looking package. Game of the Year? Halo 4 is a serious contender.

Halo 4‘s campaign picks up a few years after the end of Halo 3.
Master Chief is awakened from cryo-sleep by Cortana, and it’s back to
work as usual…but not quite. First, there’s the issue of Cortana’s
health. She’s far exceeded the life-span of an A.I., and may not be long
for this world. Chief finds that unacceptable, and despite everything
else going on, his main focus is finding a way of getting her home and
getting her well. This provides a surprisingly emotional core for Halo 4‘s
story, which has plenty of epic moments and plot-twists and
jaw-dropping reveals. Speaking of that, the new enemies, the Forerunner
and the Prometheans, are pretty awesome. They provide some fresh variety
from the Covenant and the Flood (who unfortunately, in my opinion, make
an appearance here). The new enemies make for a formidable foe, with
some unique capabilities and weapons. Yeah, those weapons you can get
from the Prometheans are among the coolest parts of the game and among
the best additions to Halo yet. So the campaign is great, and you can
play through it with friends, and you’ll probably even want to come back
to it. A shooter with a single-player campaign with a story that’s
actually worth the time and effort to get through; when’s the last time
that happened?

It’s been rather interesting, heading into the
Christmas season, just how often the them of “how much is one life
worth” has come up. From Arthur Christmas to Halo 4, it’s
cropped up a number of times. Putting aside the debate of whether or not
an A.I. construct such as Cortana actually qualifies as a life (she
does to Master Chief, so that’s pretty much all that matters), it’s
pretty compelling to see her be Chief’s priority is an epic story that
includes a massive new threat reemerging in the galaxy. No matter how
big the big picture gets, Chief’s top priority is saving Cortana. It’s a
reflection of God’s top priority. Over and over again we see it
expressed in the Bible. Luke 15:7 talks about how there’s more rejoicing
in heaven over just one who repents and finds salvation than
ninety-nine who don’t need to do that. Did you get that? God isn’t happy
with a 99% success rate, he still cares about the one. The one matters
to him, you matter to him. God doesn’t want anyone left out, he doesn’t
want you left out (2 Peter 3:9). God went to extraordinary lengths not
for the masses, but for the individual. Jesus Christ died and rose again
on the cross to save all, and to save the one, to save you. He
literally went to hell and back again for just one life, because to him,
in the big picture, in the grand scheme of things, that’s what matters
most; each and every individual. Halo 4‘s story is just one more reflection of that key truth.

Now,
in addition to the epic campaign, we get Halo’s multiplayer. I’ll get
to the multiplayer proper here in a moment, but first I wanted to
comment on my favorite aspect of Halo 4; the Spartan Ops
missions. This is basically a whole other campaign story, delivered
weekly, to play through with your friends. It’s like getting 10 weeks of
DLC for free. Each episode has five missions that tie-in to the
overarching story of some stuff that was going on concurrently with the
main Master Chief story in Halo 4. It’s pretty cool stuff, plus,
you earn XP to upgrade your soldier for other online multiplayer modes.
That’s amazingly awesome that 343 Industries would tie together the
co-op and competitive multiplayer elements like that, and is something I
hope other shooters do in the future. Spartan Ops add a whole lot of a
value to a game that’s already value packed.

As for the
multiplayer, I’d have to say that the addition of loadouts and
specializations are among the best additions to come to it in some time.
I know there a those who lament how this is Call of Duty-ifying Halo,
but it’s really not like that. In truth, it just gives players the
ability to tweak the game more towards their playing style by allowing
players to use gear they’re most comfortable with. Plus, after you reach
a certain rank, you can specialize in something like stealth to further
enhance you play style (and you get some cool armor to go along with
your specialization). Loadouts, care packages, and specializations may
put Halo 4 a bit more in-step with the shooter juggernaut that is
CoD, but it’s all done with a unique Halo flair, and I don’t think it
loses its unique identity with these additions. I think it’s a better
game for it. Many of the familiar modes are all here, Dominion (which is
Halo’s version of Conquest) now features some tower defense elements as
you can set up turrets and other minor defense elements for the bases
you catch. Flood is a new mode which has Spartans holding out against
the Flood. If you get killed by a someone playing as the Flood, you
become one. It’s pretty fun, and one of the easiest and quickest modes
to start earning that all important XP. Regicide has players vying to be
the highest scorer. When a player dies, whoever has the highest score
becomes the king, and all the others gun for them while building their
own score by taking out each other; chaotic mayhem and fun ensues. I
miss the firefight mode, which Spartan Ops basically replaces, and I
miss things like dual-wielding and the mostly helpful filters for
matchmaking, but overall the changes to the multiplayer have been for
the best. 

Now, as for the look and sound of Halo 4, they definitely deserve some call-outs. Visually, this is one of the best looking games on Xbox 360. Remember when Halo: Combat Evolved
was the reference game for showing people how awesome things could look
on the original Xbox? Well, those days have returned with Halo 4.
It’s not just graphically impressive, but the art-design for the levels
are absolutely outstanding. Many times I just stand and gape at the
vistas before me. Best of all, there is a huge variety in the looks of
the levels, and they all look amazing. Plus, the cut-scene CG is almost Avatar quality, rivaling even Medal of Honor Warfighter‘s
top-notch CG. It’s easy to forget you’re playing game and think you’re
watching a movie during these scenes they look so convincing and epic.
This complimented by some excellent sound design. Quite frankly, I’ve
always felt the weapons in Halo sounded a little weak. Well, they’ve
been impressively beefed-up sound-wise in Halo 4. Now they sound
like they have some oomph and punch. Even the Warthog sounds beefier,
like some sort of hot rod (still handles awfully, though). And of
course, the narrative wouldn’t be any good without some excellent voice
work. The actors really sell the emotional and epic moments of this
story, both in the main narrative and in the Spartan Ops episodes.
Finally, this is probably one of the best Halo soundtracks so far, and
one of the best video game soundtracks out there. 

343 Industries
had no easy task when they took over the Halo series, especially since
they’re were going back to Master Chief and his ongoing saga. Well, the
series is in good hands. 343 Industries have not only lived up to the
legacy established by Bungie’s run on Halo, but have even improved upon
it in areas. They’ve delivered the best-looking, best-sounding Halo yet
that tells an epic and emotional story coupled with some fantastic
changes to the multiplayer that really helps it move forward in a great
direction. Halo fans obviously will love this game, but any shooter fan
should give it a chance. Yes, even all of you Call of Duty and
Battlefield lovers; it’s just an all-around solid shooter, and in a year
of great shooters, it may just be one of the best out there. Game of
the Year? By defying all expectations, stepping up toe-to-toe with the
competition, delivering a truly compelling campaign and some excellent
additional content through Spartan Ops, Halo 4 achieves a lot that puts it in the front of the competition for that title.

Score: 6 of 7 (The game is rated M, but could be rated T. The violence isn’t gory or graphic, and any blood is basically purplish goo. More problematic is the fact that Cortana is basically naked. It’s not only distracting, but it detracts from the serious, emotional moments. However, that is a very minor part of the overall content)