Halo 4 Review: Campaign
The past few Halo games to be released have been very focused on multiplayer gameplay while putting very little effort into the campaign segments (I consider ODST to be an exception). The campaigns became short and the stories far less interesting. Halo 4 does not follow this pattern. The campaign is a decent play-through on its own.
This aspect is first on my list because it was the first thing I noticed. Halo 3 made many advancements in graphics but they seemed to be focused more for the multiplayer experience. The vehicles, landscapes, armor, and weapons all looked better, but the people still looked wrong. Their faces were oddly shaped and somewhat two dimensional with mouths that were awkward and looked painted on. Halo 4 doesn’t make this mistake. As soon as the first cutscene was going on I had a moment where I said “Wow! The faces look so good! This has to be live action. Wait a minute, it’s not!”. For the first time ever in a Halo game I was convinced that the people were actually people and not just talking mannequins that occasionally shoot things. These graphical improvements carry over into gameplay as well, making your interactions with people have a lot more weight. This includes Cortana who seems a lot more emotive now (AI: 1 Kristen Stewart: 0). This does a great deal to benefit the story. While the other visual aspects of the game have some more polish, they aren’t as noticeable since Halo 3 actually made improvements on those.
The Halo 4 story shows vast improvements over some of the past games. I don’t feel there’s a need to give a full plot synopsis here, so I’ll just stick to talking about aspects I feel worked well and ones that weren’t so good.
One of the biggest plot points is that Cortana is going rampant. This means that she’s been in service too long and is starting to go crazy and degrade. I feel this was mostly done well, especially with Cortana being depicted with so much more humanity and emotion. There are times, however, where instead of subtly showing the player the onset of Cortana’s rampancy, it’s thrown in your face at levels that are quite ridiculous.
The next big thing of course are the Prometheans. What purpose do they serve in the story? They show us what will happen to humanity if you fuck up.
Now, focusing on the big antagonist, we have the Didact. He’s a pissed off forerunner who wants to wipe out humanity using an artifact called the Composer to turn all humans into Prometheans and Master Chief is the only person in the universe who can stop him. Unfortunately that last part isn’t a joke and brings me to my first issue with this plot; it has some serious Jesus syndrome. The being that caused humans to be re-created set things in order so that Master Chief would exist, so that he could defeat the Didact. While this does one good thing by explaining Master Chief’s insane luck, it’s just plain silly. There’s also a missed opportunity here as the Didact is actually released (accidentally) by Master Chief. This would be a great opportunity to explore the idea of whether a super soldier aged in a cryo chamber with a quickly deteriorating AI should be responsible for so much of Earth’s defense whilst they so clearly fucked up. But that whole idea just gets swept under the rug with the whole “Chief is destined to destroy Didact” thing and we never talk about it or see any remorse from Chief for all the people who died because he didn’t know a prison from a jammer. The only person to even remotely talk about this is promptly court martial-ed and replaced by long time MC fanboy, Lasky.
I’ll start with my number one complaint about the campaign. It’s short. The main reason for this is that the story, while interesting, doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for lengthy gameplay. Most of the back plot is handled through a short exposition segment leaving the player with the story of a single crisis to follow. Unlike other Halo games where the crisis is taking place over an entire world, this one is centered on a single entity. This leaves fewer options for diversifying the missions.
In order to combat the lack of long gameplay to accompany the story, there’s a lot of padding in the missions. Often, a single objective is simply duplicated so that the player has enough gameplay by doing whatever task is at hand two or three times. This makes the game fairly repetitive. I have no idea how many times I fought my way through a wave of enemies in order to push a button, that was part of a three button series, that then allowed me to patch in Cortana after fighting some more enemies, in order to defend and area, in order to open a fucking portal to where I actually needed to go to push a bunch of buttons to advance the plot, only to have the portal open to a wrong place and have to do all that shit again. At these points, Cortana’s rampancy is milked for all its gameplay repeating goodness.
While variety is the spice of life, I never like it when games try to force variety on me. Most modern shooters do in one way or another. Halo has always been sort of bad for this. Trying to get players to switch between Covenant and human weapons and trying to get players to use different vehicles. Halo 4 is particularly bad for this, likely because there’s so much shit for the player to use. The game wants you to try all of the human, Covenant, and Promethean weapons, use all the equipment, try every grenade, and drive every vehicle (except the wraith, oddly enough). The game uses a mix of the CoD method (giving the player a different default loadout every level) and the Left 4 Dead method (making ammo sparse but new weapons frequent, the only difference being I can’t simply bash everything’s skull in with a cricket bat in Halo 4). I tend to try out new guns because of this natural human instinct called curiosity. I don’t need to be forced to carry this cool new weapon you created, I want to try it because it’s a new device for blowing shit up and making aliens dead. I want to try out everything, discover that AR/DMR is the best loadout, and gratuitously murder things with those for the rest of the game. I don’t like saving shots with the guns I really like because I’ll soon run out and have to pick up the Promethean equivalent. I want to place well aimed shots in Grunt’s skulls and giggle. I’ll try your big blow shit up guns but I probably won’t want to keep using it so stop fucking making me. The only vehicle I actually used twice was the Mantis (if you count the Warthog varieties as separate vehicles) and that’s probably because it’s the new one.
Let’s just quickly skim over the rest.
Prometheans: Kind of like elites, only they can respawn.
Mammoth: Great if you like manning a turret on a really slow vehicle.
Spartan 4s: A great improvement on the marines and ODSTs of the previous games, but still rely on you to do everything despite being a more advanced type of the same super soldier.
Piloting the Broadsword: Remember Starfox 64?
Despite ending things on a negative, sleep deprived, and long winded rant, I liked the Halo 4 campaign. It wasn’t the best of the Halo franchise (Halo 2) but it wasn’t just another Halo game. It did some interesting and original things, although some didn’t work out in the game’s favor. It’s a decent start on what I hope will be a good era for the franchise.
Final Score: 3.5/5