Halo 4 was a somewhat surprising choice. At the time it was generally believed that the next Halo after Reach would be on the new Xbox system (later called Xbox One). In someways Halo 4 was seen as a bit unnecessary as such a late release. In 2012 as the 360 had already been around for 7 years. There were also a lot of opinions about how 343 Industries took up the mantle. Visually I think the game manages to meaningfully look better than Reach which is quite a feat on the same platform. The animation, faces and especially the lighting improved dramatically. The sound has a bit more depth and the music has a full orchestra nearly all the time, not a lot of synth. It's also much more focused on cinematics. There are a lot more scripted sequences and QTEs (Quick Time Events). This does enhance some of the feeling of the game but can also detract a bit from the core gameplay. Halo 4 also got a fair bit of flak for how they changed series regulars like Cortana. "AIs go rampant after 7 years" is added as a story conceit but Cortana was also redesigned to be more opaque and look much more human-like. The end result is a voluptuous looking pseudo-naked purple woman which probably titillated some and made others uncomfortable and was panned as overly sexualized. Halo 4 also took a huge departure by changing up the main villains. With the Covenant prophets destroyed, they need to invent something new. The funny part is that 343 had stolen a lot of talent from Nintendo-owned studio Retro Studios makers of Metroid Prime and you can tell. The Promethians definitely have a Metroid Prime look to them and the environments give off that organic vibe as well. Gameplay-wise things generally stayed the same, there was no real re-invention, not from a single player perspective at least.
They did introduce a number of new Promethian weapons:
- Bolt Gun - like the Halo 2 Magnum but more powerful but since it doesn't have a scope it's garbage
- Suppressor - basically a Promethian assault rifle/storm rifle but it spreads out a bit more
- Light Rifle - a Promethian battle rifle/carbine
- Scattershot - a Promethian shotgun that spreads out a lot
- Binary Rifle - a Promethian sniper rifle but more powerful
- Incineration Cannon - a Promethian rocket launcher, you get one shot per reload but it creates extra smaller explosions on impact and is an insta-kill for anything.
- Promethian grenade - Creates a sphere on impact that engulfs and does damage to anything inside
I really like the look of these, there's a sort of child's toy element as it emits all sorts of lights but with neat designs and animation. The binary rifle in particular can instantly kill enemies with a headshot but it does so with a massively satisfying effect that disintegrates the enemy in a flurry of sparks. The suppressor also has a nice forceful sound to it even if the actual damage doesn't quite live up.
There's a lot of returning weapons too. For some reason you get both a DMR and Battle Rifle in a game that contains a Carbine and Light Rifle. I guess I shouldn't complain, they're such workhorse weapons on Legendary the variety alone is somewhat welcomed. The Plasma Rifle was also replaced with the Storm Rifle which is closer to an Assault Rifle.
There's also new armor abilities and they're not as liberally handed out:
- Cloaking - same as in Reach
- Hardlight Shield - you go to 3rd person and hold up a shield that blocks frontal attacks until it runs out
- Auto Sentry - creates a non-moving sentry that shoots at things in it's field of vision
- Promethian Vision - lets you see through walls and paints threats red
- Booster - lets you quickly dodge in a direction.
- Hologram - same as Reach
We take control of Master Chief who has just awakened. You get to look around the spaceship and marvel at the new soft lighting, fog and particle effects. Fancy and pretty impressive for an Xbox 360. You also encounter your first QTEs opening a door and then climbing an elevator shaft while dodging debris. While the sequence is awkward from a gameplay standpoint I do appreciate the attention to detail of where your hands grab on to things. You quickly find that you have been boarded by Covenant, or at least some set of Grunts, Jackals, and Elites. They've gone through some changes. Grunts especially look different having more rounded forms and and bigger forearms. Nobody speaks English anymore, maybe it's a different dialect of Covenantese your universal translator doesn't understand, I have no idea what the lore explanation is but I still like it better than talkative Covies. Maybe it's just me but enemies seem much less aggressive too. I was wary of the Elites but had no trouble staying alive fighting them. Of course Halo 2 PTSD means always carrying fresh Plasma Pistol and since the Magnum is still scoped in this game that's the go to combo. There's a cool sequence when they bust tube through the windows and then you go outside to activate the missile. Outside is neat. It's a little more fleshed out than Halo 2 or Reach as there's a sort of magnetic gravity. You move normally but things like dropped weapons float. The Grunts have also learned how to use jetpacks, and even the Jackals have space gear. Some long range fighting ensues and activate the missile. In typically narrative fashion it jams and you need to fight another wave of Covenant to make your way over and do the pushing QTE. It turns out that big planet you're orbiting is a giant machine or something? It's trying to suck you in so you go back inside. You walk through some cinematic debris explosions and structure collapses (it really goes all in with this), and eventually Master Chief can't hold on and gets sucked into the void.
I can see why I don't remember much from playing Halo 4 in the past. This level is long and goes through a lot of scenery changes and yet doesn't really offer anything interesting. First you start in a crash site on not-Halo. As you move past the dead and dying enemies you get to a vista of a giant structure. Pretty. A Warthog survived so you get to drive. There's nothing interesting here though, just driving and taking in the scenery. Eventually you get to some rocky hills with sniper towers. I really want to note my appreciation for the rock geometry and textures, someone worked very hard on it and it looks great. The battles here are not too dissimilar from Halo 3 but you don't have any marines so if you want to use the gun you need to stop and get in back. This isn't a terrible strategy though as you can take down sniper towers with it and enemies generally won't attack at long range. Only a little ways into the valley and inconvenient rock blocks the Warthog so you're on foot. You need to clear some enemies in front of the building and then enter. We're reintroduced to Sentinels and they don't seem interested in you so at least we don't need to fight them. Here you have to press a bunch of switches in a very large room, each time a new wave of enemies appears. You take the back way out and cross several bridges. It was at this point I stopped enjoying JJ Abhrams Star Trek lighting, in these types of areas the bloom is just ridiculous. Still, the textures and design are still pretty cool. You also get a new armor ability, the Hard-light Shield which pulls out to 3rd person but lets block forward shots. Semi-useful. You'll come to a larger outdoor area where again you'll assault a large structure. To be honest none of the battles here are memorable at all. Some, Grunts, Elites, Jackals, the occasional sniper (that can't kill you in one hit thank God) you know the drill. At the top there's some Hunters but they are distracted by Sentinels so there's pretty easy targets. Inside you get a cool room that looks like something out of Half-Life 2 and a big elevator to end the level.
Finally we get to change things up, it was starting to feel like a bit of a rehash. We're teleported to some cool looking glowy cave structure where we start to find the Promethians. The low tier ones are dog looking things (Crawlers) that are fast but easy to kill with a headshot. The humanoid ones are Promethian Knights. These are neat looking techno-robot skeletons mixed with Chozo Ghosts from Metroid Prime. They hurl grenades and sometimes teleport but they occupy roughly the same position as Elites. Still, they are a lot tougher because they wear face armor that protects them from headshots (similar to Brutes) and they sometimes come with these extremely annoying flying things called Watchers that will assist them by summoning a shield when they are weakened, deflecting thrown grenades back or by reviving them if they are within a certain time window of death. The Watchers also run away and because they like to fly behind cover to regenerate their shields they can be hard to snipe. To go along with the Promethians we get a new set of weapons too. The caves are pretty linear and you'll get a lot of practice fighting with the new guns. Like Elites you generally need to remove the fodder before engaging the knights. Knights aren't super aggressive and love to throw grenades so you can take that opportunity to take down their shields even if all you have is a Suppressor and you'll probably have to a few times. Once the shields are down you need to land 2 headshots or just keep emptying your magazine into them. Better would be to engage with a scattershot as 3 good shots will kill them. At the end of the tunnel things will open up and you need to destroy 3 shield generators. You can tackle this as you want with each one triggering the checkpoint and containing some ammo. You are then teleported to side 2 where the Covenant and the Promethians are fighting each other. Most of the time the best bet is to wait and clean up the rest but sometimes they get stuck in a cycle and you'll need to manually put a stop to it. You'll get a Ghost which is a handy too.
The room with the 3 shield generators is super annoying on legendary. There a 3 Banshees and 2 Ghosts. Even if you make a beeline for cover the Ghosts will get you while other enemies pin you down and if you are out in the open the Banshees will kill you. If you hijack the Banshee by the door you're likely to take too much fire from around you and the other Banshees to survive. What I did was kill the Elite with a light rifle and then lure the Banshee that starts above the door out and killed it with a Ghost from inside the hallway as once you exit the door you can't go back. With 2 out of the way things get easier and you'll likely engage the 2 Ghosts as well. As long as they come one-by-one you can probably outlast and destroy them. Then take the Banshee and kill the remaining Banshee and whatever else you can bomb before taking too much damage. If you clear the left side there's a second Banshee too. In any case once done you teleport back and then move to the core. At the core more Covenant and Promethians are fighting. This can be treacherous as sometimes you'll catch the eye of one of them and they can have big weapons like Fuel-rod Guns or Binary Rifles. The latter is super fun to use. It holds only 2 rounds but a single headshot can end pretty much anything in a glorious display of sparks and disintegration. After you open the core cyber-Dracula pops out. Seriously this guy looks ridiculous. There's one last section where you need to use a turbo Ghost to escape as the walls close in. This section is annoying because there's too many effects like explosions, speed lines, screen shaking going on and you can't see anything. With a little practice it's doable.
Master Chief starts out wandering the forest. There's lots of cyber-doggos to shoot and a few Knights. You'll come across some scattered bodies that active small dialog sequences as you follow the linear path forward. The Promethians are starting to get a bit boring because the fights are almost all exactly the same, clear Crawlers with precision, use strong attack to break Knight shield, headshot. The Watchers do spice it up a bit but nothing crushes the spirit more than a revived Knight. Luckily you can find binary rifles which make the task easier. Eventually you'll come across a team of humans. They'll die in then next area because they are no match for the Promethians so again you are forced to fight solo. You get a new weapon called the Railgun. It's like a short range Spartan Laser but when you actually stop to think about it, it's really just a instant travel time (hit-scan) plasma pistol. Eventually you come upon a door with a lot of ammo strewn about which should hint at what comes next. Some Promethians are going to attack the position and on Legendary you cannot survive, there's too many. What you can do is cheese the fight but even that's not as easy as it sounds. Knights teleport in close to the barrier but Crawlers run in the back. So instead of sticking around, you can run toward the back. For the most part the Crawlers will run by you and you'll now be on opposite sides as the enemies don't like to leave their positions once they get there. From here you can start using precision weapons to thin out the Crawlers, and hopefully you have some Railgun ammo to deal with the Knights. You can easily run out of ammo this way as the enemies bunch up toward the door so make shots count and use dropped Boltguns to take out the Crawlers. I had just enough Railgun for a shot per knight, there's about 5 that spawn. Also once you kill a wave of Crawlers more come in from the back so be prepared to get out of the way. A Watcher will also spawn but you can get the jump on it while it's spawning enemies. After that grueling part is over you go into a cave. The Covenant and Promethians have joined forces! This cave is nasty because the Scattershop wielding Knights will rush you so you need to be prepared to deal with 3, one after the other. I started by killing the Knight, going right to kill the sniper and retreating in the cave you come from when the Knights come but it's a bit of luck. Then you jump in a Pelican and are teleported to the next area. No cool in-game transition like in Reach.
In the next area you fight with fellow Spartans as killable NPCs, a series first. You need to make a mad dash for the Scorpion in order to take out a Wraith. From here you just follow the tank-size corridor, shooting Ghosts and sniper towers along the way. When you get to the Infinity docking bay you'll get a Mantis. This is a mech but it takes your shield power so it has extra durability. It has 3 attacks, the left arm shoots missiles in a straight line and can shoot 5 before it must reload, the right arm is a typical machine gun and can overheat if used too much and you can also stomp to get rid of enemies that are close around you. All you need to do is stroll down the Mantis-sized corridor shooting things and hanging back if you take too much damage. It's fun if a bit mindless. The final encounter at the top of the elevator is removing 3 blocks on the ship's gun turrets. You can mostly hang back and shoot things from a distance though the last one is behind a wall so you'll need to move out to get it. You need to hurry back to the door area as some Phantoms will swoop in and start shooting you. No problem.
This is an interesting new level and I'm surprised I forgot about it. You get to ride in the Mammoth which is sort of a human Scarab. It has lots of ammo, some missile turrets and even a warthog in the bottom. You start rolling through a Mammoth-sized canyon, you can shoot things if you want but they can't really damage the vehicle so you can hide too. You'll make your first pit-stop to retrieve a Target Locater from a crashed Pelican. This is easier said than done. There's a Phantom guarding it but it cannot be destroyed due to scripting reasons even though you can hit it with a missile turret. So if you advance on foot a bunch of Covenant including a Wraith will appear. The Wraith likes to hide behind the small landmass so you can't hit it with missiles but even when you can it'll just destroy the turret with a mortar. To complicate things there are Ghosts as well making on-foot attacks difficult. The best I could find was to take the Warthog and then swap for a Ghost near the back side. Since in this game you can dish out more damage than you receive you can kill the other Ghosts and the replacement wave if you're careful. Then you can peekaboo shoot the Wraith safely from behind the small plateau and the Wraith that replaces it once you kill it. Once that annoyance is over you get the Target Locater. Unlike Reach, it's not a weapon but for scripted events that allows the Mammoth's main gun to shoot things. Once you get back to the Mammoth, you roll along until you get to a big energy shield. Taking out the little generator huts is pretty easy as you can clean up the things around it and then play chicken with the enemies inside the bubble. I like to jump in, punch and then back out before they retaliate. After that shield goes down the Mammoth keeps truckin' until its hit by a laser and forced to stop. You need to face many waves of Ghosts and Wraiths and to do that you get a gauss-hog that's just kinda sitting out there in the middle of nowhere. Next is time to get revenge on the ship. This is similar to boarding a Scarab in Halo 3. Get on the grav-lift and then kill enemies and punch the large bulge at the back. The Mammoth is able to limp a little further and then the path is blocked (I know it's for gameplay but couldn't we have used a Pelican instead?). As Master Chief we walk off the main trail into an area with lots of snipers and sniper ammo. This area is pretty fun. Inside the structure you'll walk down some techno hallways until Cortana gets lost. I have to hand it to the environment designers, this stuff is top notch cool looking and the desert rocks and stuff also look fantastic. Appreciation aside, you use a bridge off to the side and get pulled into a cut-scene. It's pretty bad, Master Chief is the destined universe's savior, ancient battles and evils locked away cookie cutter fantasy non-sense. Enemies bust in, you need to beat them and then jump into a portal.
On the other side there's a battle raging, you need to get the nearest tank and take out the Wraiths and start cleaning up. There's another shield generator section following 3(!) Wraiths. This gives you access to the vista where you can see the gravity well. This whole section doesn't make any sense to me. You're telling me Infinity can't hit the absolutely massive structure it's hovering over without Master Chief pointing a laser at it? Is your gunner crew a bunch of cats?
For the first time you get to actually fly a Pelican, or at least a variant of one. This one has a forward gun plus a Spartan Laser type secondary gun. You use it to very slowly approach the swarming beehive of Phantoms and laser them at a distance where they can't retaliate. Inside, as usual you need to destroy several targets and each time more enemies spawn in. You do however get access to a new weapon the Incineration Cannon. It's generally a Promethian Rocket Launcher but it drops a bunch of smaller bursts when it hits and will generally kill most enemies in a single shot. When you head back out to the landing pad you'll notice that some helpful elves have restocked and repaired your Pelican, how nice. Then it's time to head on over to location 2. Here we're riding a gondola across to the other side of the really big room. This gives some Halo 2 flashbacks but it's not as bad. While you can't cheese it, you do have a big stock of ammo on the gondola and can take your time jumping out onto the scaffolding "islands" that you stop at. The enemies are really just messing with Master Chief at this point, flipping the off/on switch on the platform. At the other side you overload a big light-beam and then ride back to the beginning, this time with the express setting. For whatever story reason you need to go to a 3rd location. You'll be moving from island to island with light-bridges fighting enemies at a distance. Then up the light elevator and you do it again. This time there are turrets and Fuel-rod guns to balance your access to a Banshee. I used it for a bit but mopping up the small guys is just easier on foot. At the end you press another switch and make a death-leap onto a Phantom.
Your Phantom crashes into a human space station and you need to remove the Covenant from it. In the beginning you'll be given a new weapon, the Sticky Launcher. It's just a remote mine that you can shoot into enemies and explodes when you press the trigger. If it just exploded on impact that would be fine too, I don't see the point. There's really not that much to this level. You clear out a bay full of Covenant, then clear out another bay full of Covenant. There's a bunch of waves in this one so I took it slow and saved some good ammo for the Elites at the end. You clear out another bay, and then you get a new armor ability: boost. Boosting is fun but the cooldown is a little too much in my opinion. Essentially it's a quick dodge in whatever direction you press. This is somewhat useful for Hunters as you can evade the close range attacks. It feels cool to pull off. The Sticky Launcher works well on Hunters too. Wouldn't you know it but you need to clean out more halls and bays of Covenant. Toward the end you get to the artifact chamber where you'll be reintroduced to the Mantis. I found it best to just stay in the starting area and let them come to you. The vehicles are the main threat but the worst case is if a Grunt gets close enough to stun you with a plasma shot. I remember this being harder than it was but it's somewhat anti-climatic. The artifact doesn't even summon a portal to hell. After this you'll get some more cutscenes and you're done.
Here's something new. Do your best Death Star Trench run impression. I found no point in using the missile because they are too slow, and whenever you have a straight shot keep boosting to avoid fire. At the end it opens up and you need to destroy a few targets. They made this easy too as the openings are on the side of the structures you just need to fly one loop around the arena, easy. Halo: Rogue Squadron ends and we're back on foot. The next section is jumping through portals into little mini arenas with Knights. Then a rather awkward defense section where you defend a location from 2 hallways that spawn Crawlers. The first wave is a pointless trickle, the second you get help from drone guns, and the 3rd I'm pretty sure you have to run past because it might be endless. I just waited for a bunch to jump up on the higher platform and then ran, since only a certain number can spawn at a time not much can appear in front of you. You get a little treasure trove at the end where you can pick from a number of weapons, though your ammo won't last long so it doesn't really matter. Binary Rifle and Light Rifle it is. Finally the "boss" fight. Mercifully they spared us any Halo 2 nonsense, there's no actual boss just more shooting Knights. You need to go to two platforms and press a button. At each platform you need to fight your way up the structure. The first is all oops all Crawlers so it's trivially easy. The there's a transition platform full of Crawlers and Knights before the finale. Platform 3 has a ton of Knights. Once you get to the second level you need to beat 6 in a row. The only way you even have ammo for that is to use the Scattershot. Since they don't have minions, you can position yourself to fight each one-on-one and it takes 2-4 shots to take down each. The last one is the absolute worst as it has an Incineration Cannon. It's highly unlikely you still have power weapon ammo so you need to fight him conventionally. Scattershot is suicide, so I used the Light Rifle and extremely conservative peek-a-boo shooting. Even a slight miss from the cannon can still kill you with the splash damage so you need to stay deep behind cover. After that you're pretty much done. You need to fight 4 more Knights back on the beginning platform but you have the Incineration Cannon and enough ammo to one-shot each of them. Finally, you face the Didact in a glorified cutscene. One of my few memories of Halo 4 is failing this cutscene about 10 times because I didn't notice the prompt changes. But so long as you press left-trigger when it flashes you win.
The beginning of the level is a nice change. Alternate gameplay is usually risky but here its done well and doesn't last too long and is not too hard cough Reach. The rest of the level is forgettable and the ending is completely anti-climatic but considering how Halo 2 turned out I prefer this over a bad boss. The ending makes no sense. Chief survives a nuke perhaps from some Forerunner fridge offscreen. The scene with Cortana is definitely a little weird but I can buy it at least.
Halo 4 isn't as bad as I thought. I didn't remember much about it after I first played but it's interesting to see some of it come back as I replayed it. It's still forgettable because the encounters are forgettable. There's a lot of engineering with constant gun racks to inorgancially give you ammo and mostly even-paced difficulty that makes it all a blur. Every encounter feels roughly the same. But I really have to hand it to the art team. The game is beautiful both technically for an Xbox 360 title and artistically. While the bloom lighting was a little overdone (Halo 4 was hardly the worst case in the 360 generation) the texture work, the environments and the lighting were excellent. I'm not as in to the the design of the knights, but the weapons are some of my favorites. They could have done without the transform animation every level though. Character models too were really good especially the faces. It's interesting to see the contrast with Bungie's work as there's a clear style difference. Bungie tended toward something a little more comic-book than straight realism. You can also tell the little differences in how the engines work. Halo 4 has big areas but there's a lot of faking going on with sudden re-enforcements you didn't see before. Despawning is also pretty aggressive especially compared to 3 and Reach. If you leave a gun on the floor it'll likely be garbage collected before you finish the fight. The characterization of Chief and Cortana was a change. It's not terrible but it's not quite expected given the other games. ODST and Reach were starting to move this direction but Chief was always a robot and let Cortana have all the personality. At least they did a decent job balancing it so Chief maintains his stoic self but still gives off those traces of emotion. They did a good job there whether or not this decision was ultimately what players desired.
All in all there's lots of good here and I'm glad I replayed it so that I can remember that, yes, it was a fun game with a few quirks. It's not my favorite but it's not my least favorite, it's just an average Halo game and so I won't be surprised if I need to come back in 10 years to remind myself, "what was that game about again?"Back to Home