You’ve been warned, I plan to write openly about my experiences with Halo 4 and if you haven’t played the game and actually care about the story then feel free to hit the back button now.
The short of it this; for better or worse, Halo 4 is Halo in every fiber of its existence. The long of it is going to take a few more, and possibly more critical, words of this beloved franchise.
This is one thing I felt that Halo 4 did fairly well. Though it was still incomprehensible at times and certain technical glitches in the game prevented my complete enjoyment (I couldn’t hear people talking over some of the environment sounds in some key scenes), the overall experience was sound (no pun intended). I had some gripes with the story but nothing that I particular held against the game’s overall assessment.
I got the feeling from the very first appearance of Cortana that something was going to happen. There was such a heavy handed attempt to humanize her that I told myself immediately, “yep she’s dead.” It was no surprise and at no point did I hold hope that she had any chance to live beyond the credits. 343 Studios made a classic movie mistake when they didn’t need to. There are 3 other games, amassing hundreds of hours of story, and a library of books that have already developed Cortana as a witty and lovable AI. I would have preferred to see the subtle clues with the kind of ending that begged me to play the game again and see how many clues were really there and how many I missed. Instead I was beat over the head with it and the ending was more a sigh of relief that they finally just did it already and stopped telegraphing it. I suppose the game is skewed for a younger audience but I definitely felt like Halo 4 was wrapping a bib around my neck and spoon feeding me difficult moments to come, as if they feared the fan rage that was sure to follow. “What am I supposed to do with all of this slash fiction I wrote?!”
The way in which they were describing her death kind of put me off. I never followed the books or comics or other spin-off media so my knowledge of the Halo bible is limited to the video games, however in what world does a digital consciousness start to subdivide and consume itself? That sounds like terrible coding practice; who wrote that crappy AI? This is also the program that is supposed to control death stars and defense systems and someone coded a decay function into her logic? I didn’t get it. There were a thousand other excuses for Cortana to slowly go insane. Perhaps her evolutionary program was making her more human over time and living as an immortal digital conscience was too much for her to handle. Perhaps her exposure to the Flood infected machines throughout the series scrambled her programming and the infection was somehow eating into her conscience. Heck, maybe Master Chief just hit his head one too many times and bent the pins on the chip. Any of those would have made more sense than taking scenes from Virtuosity and shoehorning them into this story.
Halo 4 is sadly a game that could have been amazing but settled for vanilla with sprinkles. Let me reiterate that there is nothing particularly wrong with the gameplay, I’ve just played this game before. The game is the definition of safe, including the use of classic Halo damage models and even the environments felt like strange replicas of Halo’s I have played.
As I walked through the environments I was constantly reminded of the previous games in the series. Like some weird sort of déjà vu – or a conversation you have with your friend after walking out of a movie theater – I kept telling myself, “Oh man, and you remember that time when I was standing right here and that guy almost stuck a grenade on me.” Except this time, I was looking at Halo 4, and thinking about Halo 1, 2, 3, and Reach. Every bend of every corner had a strangle sameness that made the game feel more like a reboot than a reinvention of the series; literally, like the game was reboot and I was playing Halo 1 again but this time with more Hollywood bloom effects.
I am genuinely afraid for Halo 5. The only parts of Halo 4 that seemed to delineate from the fan service; the quick-time events, the Call of Duty influences, the frustratingly slow and pointless interactive sequences like climbing up elevator shafts, they all felt uninspired and shamefully executed. I can only imagine the thousands of lines of code required for a scene that lasted 10 seconds and I wonder if that time could have been better spent on… I don’t know like coming up with original weapons.
Halo 4 seems to have designed itself into a corner. They introduced the forerunners, a new alien race, a new opportunity to breathe life into the franchise with new weapons to explore and consider. Except they didn’t. As if the forerunners gave the human race blueprints to make shotguns, pistols, and sub-machine guns, there is a re-skinned equivalent forerunner weapon. The behaviors of these weapons are only about as different as selecting an ammunition type or alternate fire in any other shooter.
I would have hoped to see cool weapons to immobilize pesky flying units, ensnaring them and dragging them to the ground. I would have hoped to see weird alien gravity guns that created vacuums and change the behavior of projectiles from the franchise’s staple weapons; something that would help the old weapons feel new or different under those conditions. I would have loved to see guns that let you lock on a target and shoot from around a corner. I wanted something that showed me how scarey and bad ass this new race was. Instead I got a shotgun that glowed real pretty. It’s clear that 343 was extremely proud of their new weapons, because I could count on 1 hand the number of times I was able to find a human weapon in the game. The levels were scattered with forerunner weapons and lame plasma pistols and rarely did I come across the weapon I wanted, forced to use the re-skinned equivalent.
Overall, Halo 4 struck me as a very polished reboot of the first Halo. The resemblance is uncanny but not in the most flattering of ways. This franchise is a poster-child for exactly what I feel today’s AAA space has become. It is polished to a blinding sheen and every rock and stone was lovingly placed, and every sound heard and shot fired was a homage to its predecessor in the form of real fan service. And through it all I couldn’t help but feel like I’ve played this game at least 5 times before.
Sadly I think I’ve given Halo just too many chances. The first Halo sucked me in. The second Halo felt like too many cooks in the kitchen. The third Halo was quite possibly the game that Halo 2 wanted to be, and the spin-offs were all formidable shooters that tried to mix up the equation slightly but not enough to be anything more than just another Halo game. Now with Halo 4, I feel like we have come full circle. The work that 343 Studios has done to the latest installment of the franchise has “made for the fans” written all over it in techno-colored sharpies but I wasn’t looking for a game made by Bungie 1.5, I was looking for a new experience that starred my favorite Spartan. I feel like I bought tickets to a U2 concert and showed up to see a U2 cover band. Sure they did a great job, but I would rather have seen something that defines 343 as the new generation of Halo and not a cover band to Bungie’s legacy.
Gut Score: 6/10
 You know after spending more time with Spartan Ops and watching the work that was done on that end I can see where a lot of the effort was put. Though the campaign was lacking the Spartan Ops at least makes things a little more interesting and the episodes are a nice surprise.
Gut Score: 8/10