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Halo 4 campaign playthrough: 343′s safe first step

Thursday, 1 November 2012 07:01 GMT By Dave Cook

Halo 4 developer 343 Industries has delivered an outstanding, yet safe first step into the franchise. VG247′s Dave Cook discusses why it’s already got him excited for Halo 5.

Bravo 343 Industries. You did it, you actually went and did it.

I’m not a Halo fan, but not for a lack of trying. I’ve played all the games – even Halo Wars – and I simply couldn’t get into its muddled canon, floaty controls, and grandiose attitude. But Halo 4 has its hooks in me, so again – well done 343 – you finally got me.

“Whenever new studios take over development of an existing franchise, I pay attention. I do this because getting fresh eyes on something that already exists can often produce welcome and unexpected results.”

But here’s the catch: I’ve never once viewed Halo titles as bad games. I have to stress that right now because while I’ve always seen the appeal of Bungie’s franchise, it just never stuck with me the way other series have. Even I can’t fully explain it.

Whenever new studios take over development of an existing franchise, I pay attention. I do this because getting fresh eyes on something that already exists can often produce welcome and unexpected results. It genuinely excites me, so I have always given Halo 4 the benefit of the doubt.

But once I started to play Halo 4′s campaign, it was clear from the start that my attraction to the game wasn’t because 343 had changed the formula to meet the demands of sceptics such as myself. Far from it. In fact, this is a pure Halo experience, right down to the last line of code.

So if you were ever worried that 343 had been handed the keys to Bungie’s baby, and then destroyed any trace of its legacy, then don’t be. From its opening moments to its highly suggestive ending, you will be right at home with Halo 4, just as if the series never left you.

Instead, it’s appealing to me because the story is as bleak as hell. It’s like if George Lucas were to re-order the original Star Wars trilogy and slap Empire Strikes Back at the start. That’s a bold move from 343, and the plot presents the player with a dark new conundrum to overcome.

In terms of story-telling, this is a fine effort. Master Chief is awoken from stasis four years after the events of Halo 3. Cortana is well past her life expectancy and is dying, the Covenant are back, and the Forerunner menace is on the fringe of erupting once more. There’s a lot going on.

Everything is against you, and it’s one of those ‘success against impossible odds’ scenarios that gets you fully invested in the hero’s struggle. It all kicks off when the UNSC ship Forward Unto Dawn is sucked into the Forerunner planet Requiem, along with Master Chief and the remnants of the Covenant.

It’s not long before you face-off against new enemy force, the Prometheans. They’re an automaton race that act differently to the Covenant ranks you’re used to. Crawlers swarm you in sheer numbers while Knights hold the back lines with unrelenting gunfire.

Overseeing the battle are Watchers, flying sentries that heal injured Knights, raise ad hoc cover and flit about at high speed. You need to take these guys out first, or you’ll just be wasting ammo.

”It’s mental manipulation at its finest, and this is why I became engrossed in the plot. Plus the whole ‘Spartans as living weapons’ angle is going to be a big theme in this new trilogy.”

This may not sound like a seismic combat shift, but it’s challenging, and forces you to act differently. Then – less than a third of the way through the campaign – you’ll have to fight both Prometheans and Covenant simultaneously. It’s madness.

Before long Halo 4′s villain The Didact starts wreaking havoc on Requiem. He’s a nasty bastard who enslaves the entire Covenant force and turns it against you. 343 already has the makings of a memorable bad guy, and it’ll be interesting to see how he progresses from here.

It’s important to say very little about The Didact for fear of spoiling the story, but know this: Halo 4 is by far the most personal story in the series to date. It focuses on John-117′s role as a near-emotionless military tool, a weapon of mass destruction in his own right.

Then there’s Cortana, whose descent into rampancy threatens your mission at several junctures. The race is constantly on to return to Earth in order to save her, and the futility of the task has been handled well by 343.

Will they make it back in time? That’s a question 343 constantly tricks you into asking. It’s mental manipulation at its finest, and this is why it’s easy to become engrossed in the plot. The whole ‘Spartans as living weapons’ angle is going to be a big theme in this new trilogy it seems, and posing many questions about the UNSCs morality.

Here’s the big ‘but’: While the opening missions on Requiem deliver a real sense of menace, you do eventually start fighting mostly Covenant again later on. Even though Promethean foes are doled out across the whole campaign, this is one area where Halo 4 falls back into all-too familiar territory.

By this point the story will have kicked into high-gear so it’s not too much a problem, but there is a prevalent sense that 343 was holding back something, and that ‘something’ is was innovation.

Visually this is stunning, and the facial animation demands merit, but there isn’t anything here that feels incredibly new, and it does often feel like 343 has held back the big changes for if and when Halo 5 emerges on Microsoft’s next-gen console.

“343′s environment design is another high point, as it still encourages an open approach to tackling objectives. However, while the freedom to act is welcome, the sandboxes on offer have shrunk a great deal from previous Halo titles.”

That’s a prospect that should get fans excited, and you’ll better understand how 343′s scope might widen after you’ve seen Halo 4′s ending. Needless to say it ends with several big questions left unanswered.

Rather than shake up the Halo universe too much in this instalment, 343 has been wise to reel in its focus and deliver a solid outing first, before running riot in Halo 5 – and hopefully with the potential of next-gen tech at hand. Again, it’s exciting.

Promethean weaponry is a sizeable change however, as the arsenal also gets you thinking differently about combat. Every firearm in the Promethean range comes with bullet delay, adding a new layer of skill into the mix. You do have to change your approach a little to master them.

But again, the Covenant weapons remain and the two sets of firearms complement each other well. The Light Rifle – the Promethean’s resident scoped weapon – is a beast, as is the insanely fast Suppressor assault rifle that churns out bullets at an insane rate.

343′s environment design is another high point, as it still encourages an open approach to tackling objectives. However, while the freedom to act as you see fit is welcome, the sandboxes on offer have shrunk a great deal from previous Halo titles.

There’s the odd Warthog section here, a spin in the new Mantis mech there, but these moments feel fleeting when compared to Halo 3′s wide expanses. The locales are still big and impressive to look at, they just feel curbed by comparison, which isn’t helped by an abundance of indoor stages.

”This is a shooter that highlights a franchise at the top of its game. It’s a big toe dipped into the drying pool of the current generation. The well has almost emptied and the next cycle of hardware beckons.”

In the end, Halo 4′s campaign is a superb experience, and it’s one that may convert many series naysayers and pull them into the fold. Hell, it worked for me, and I’ve been trying to tap into the franchise for a few years now.

This isn’t purely an attempt to create self-referential fan candy, although long standing followers of the saga will appreciate fleeting nods here and there. Even if you’re a Halo virgin you will still understand what’s going on here, and as such, it’s a neat entry point.

It’s a relatively blank canvas, an unspun piece of wet clay that is only just starting to take form. Is it compelling? Yes. Is it revolutionary? No, but that’s not to its detriment. If anything, Halo 4 proves that 343 is capable of handling such a coveted brand – which is no small feat I hope you’ll agree.

But let’s be clear on this: this is a shooter that highlights a franchise at the top of its game. It’s a big toe dipped into the drying pool of the current generation. The well has almost emptied and the next cycle of hardware beckons.

This is when wonderful things should start to happen to the Halo franchise. But for now, take comfort that the series is in safe hands.

Halo 4′s reviews are now live. Get all the scores here. Dave has also been playing a ton of Halo 4 multiplayer, but there’s so much to talk about that it’s getting a separate article. Stay tuned for his impressions soon.

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2 Comments

  1. G1GAHURTZ

    Cool! I’ve also never really ‘got’ Halo, even though I’ve bought and played so many of them. (Although Halo Wars is still one of my top 20 all time games).

    All the videos that I’ve seen of this look hype, so maybe I will finally feel like I’m getting the experience I was expecting this time.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. polygem

    good read! i am a huge halo fan and to me it is the best shooter available on consoles…ah fuck it-anywhere. the gameplay is unique enough to say it really is a different kind of fps, online and sp.it is good that we have halo. i think, like you, it was clever that 343 played it a bit safe not to change that much with this one. it seems like they made a very solid halo game without too many changes but just enough new elements and some major technical improvements. if they would have changed too much it would have pissed of long time fans for sure. i personally feel like i have been treated with respect and i think many long time halo fans will feel the same. looks like they nailed the halo feeling, optimised things that needed that and created the desire for even more halo in the future. i cannot wait to play this game alone and online.
    i am in a rush right now unfortunateley. could talk about halo for hours…thx again for the article.

    #2 2 years ago

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    PlayStation 4 exclusive Bloodborne has sold over 155,000 digital units since it was released on March 24, according to SuperData’s latest report. The figure produced by SuperData is worldwide and comes on the heels of the one million units sold announcement earlier this week. “After the release of the beautiful but terribly short game The […]

  • Nintendo US eShop update: Mega May returns, Super Smash Bros. update, Mii Fighter costumes

    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with a Super Smash Bros. update and the StreetPass Mii Plaza games Battleground Z and Ultimate Angler. The update is rather detailed, and a bit larger than normal, and you may wish to pay special attention to the activities listed. Here’s the full update: StreetPass […]

  • Here’s your first look at Sony boss Shuhei Yoshida in Super Time Force Ultra

    Sony Worldwide boss Shuhei Yoshida is a playable character in Super Time Force Ultra, and today, Capy Games has provided a couple images of the man himself in the game. Yoshida was announced as a playable character in the game during Sony’s PlayStation Experience event back in December 2014. The PS4 and Vita version will […]

  • The wait is almost over – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has gone gold

    CD Projekt RED has announced the news we’ve all been waiting to hear: The Witcher 3 has gone gold. This means Geralt’s latest, and possibly last, adventure has been sent to the factory to be pressed into lovely gaming discs. “We worked so damn hard over the past three years to bring you this game,” […]

  • Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a “couple weeks out from beta,” new trailer

    Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is just a “couple of weeks out from beta,” according to development studio The Chinese Room, and a release date will be announced “shortly.” To give you an idea of how development has been coming along since it was announced at gamescom 2013, the team has released a new trailer […]

  • GTA 5 on PC looks incredible, but I can’t recommend it to console players

    As much as Matt Martin loves GTA 5, he can’t recommend upgrading from console to PC just for a slick editing suite and even prettier graphics. “This is the third time in as many years that I’ve bought GTA 5.” I have a Grand Theft Auto 5 obsession, as I’m sure you know if you’ve […]

  • The Forest engine updated to Unity 5, major graphical and gameplay improvements made

    The Forest’s latest patch added substantial improvements to the game. The Forest version 0.16 is now live on Steam with plenty of new additions. The game has been ported over to Unity engine version 5. The plant and skin shaders have been replaced or rewritten. Many other visual tweaks have been made, such as model […]

  • Star Wars: Battlefront banner leaks from Star Wars Convention

    EA has been setting up the Battlefront booth at Star Wars Celebration, and one leaked picture shows what could be the game’s main art. Someone on Reddit posted a picture of the game banner at EA’s booth. Here it is: Lots of things happening here. There’s a Star Destroyer in the distance, TIE Fighters and […]

  • Get GTA 5 working with Oculus Rift using this tool

    There’s a way you can play GTA 5 in VR if you own an Oculus Rift Dev Kit and have a bit of cash to spare. VorpX, the go-to program for adding VR support to games has received an update recently to support GTA 5. This is far from perfect, as it only translates the […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team: week of April 15 team revealed

    This week’s Team of the Week is now available for anyone to challenge in FIFA Ultimate Team. The team members get selected each week based on their performance during the weekend matches. You can fire up FIFA Ultimate Team on any platform and challenge this squad. You’ll also find some Team of the Week items […]

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will let you stealth all encounters, including bosses

    Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will bring back one of the original game’s major features. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is considered by many to be a great game and worthy of bearing the franchise name. One of its grating issues though was its boss fights. You only had one way to fight them: be confrontational. The […]

  • Project Cars PC specs and supported wheels announced

    The release date of Project Cars is inching ever closer and more details have been revealed to answer all your burning questions. Project Cars developer Slightly Mad Studios has revealed the full list of supported steering wheels on all platforms, as well as the minimum and recommended PC specs. Minimum specs CPU – 2.66 GHz […]

  • GTA 5 gets custom FOV mod on PC

    Those not satisfied with GTA 5′s built-in field of view slider can use a new mod to push the number even further. The PC versions of GTA 5 – just like its PS4 and Xbox One counterparts – lets you switch between third and first-person view in shooting and driving. The game has an FOV […]

  • Win! GTA 5 on PC!

    Want to win a Steam key for Grand Theft Auto 5 on PC? Just enter here. GTA 5 released on PC this week and is going down a storm. We like it a lot, which is why we’re giving away a Steam code for Rockstar’s latest. All you need to do is enter your email […]

  • GTA 5 topples Skyrim’s record for highest concurrent players on Steam

    Not factoring in Valve games, GTA 5 is the new king of concurrent player numbers on Steam. GTA 5 is very popular on PC, even more popular than games like Skyrim in its heyday. The number of concurrent players for GTA 5 has peaked today at 301,246. This makes it the only non-Valve game to […]

  • Mortal Kombat X: what does a modern fighting game look like?

    Mortal Kombat continues to evolve as NetherRealm adds RPG systems and daily challenges to a solid fighting game, says Sherif Saed. “Mortal Kombat X takes many cues from games like Destiny, Call of Duty, and GTA Online with hourly, daily and weekly events.” For as many of its familiar facets, Mortal Kombat X has enough […]

  • J-Stars Victory VS+ coming west in June – new trailer

    J-Stars Victory VS+ will make the jump (see what I did there) to the west after all. J-Stars Victory VS+ is the western title for the fighting game which stars characters from a variety of Shonen Jump-published manga. Bandai Namco has announced the fighter will release in Europe on June 26 and in the Americas […]

  • Codemasters F1 license good through 2016

    Codemasters has at least one more F1 game in it. F1 2015 isn’t out yet, so Codemasters is naturally not talking about what it might get up to in the future. We do know what it can get up to, though; Codemasters’ Steven Embling told Videogamer has the option to continue the series. “We have […]

  • Project Cars has pretty deep graphics options on consoles

    Project Cars offers players a wide variety of ways to customise their graphic settings on PS4 and Xbox One. Project Cars is a graphics showcase and all early indications suggest it’s going to be one of the best-looking games out there. Slightly Mad’s commitment to graphics seems to go deeper than making things pretty, though: […]

  • Super Smash Bros. patch nerfs Diddy Kong – report

    Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U is great but Diddy Kong is a beast and must be stopped. The latest Super Smash Bros. 3Ds and Wii U patch seems to have nerfed Diddy Kong, a character so over-powered that serious tournament players generate controversy by choosing to use him. Nintendo doesn’t publish patch notes, […]

  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer shuttered

    Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer 2K Australia has been closed down. Kotaku broke the news, and also had word from an anonymous source, who said that all staff have been let go. 2K responded to our request for comment with the following statement: We can confirm we have taken steps to begin the studio closure process […]

  • Samorost 3 trailer shows Amanita still in fine form

    Samorost 3 looks as delicately beautiful as its siblings. Samarost 3 developer Amanita Design has a reputation for gorgeous, slightly surreal world building. This new trailer for its latest adventure looks just as if not more lovely than the previous Samarost games and Botanicula. Samarost 3 is coming to Mac and PC later this year, […]

  • Amnesia dev’s new project SOMA now in beta

    SOMA is nearly here and I am torn between excitement and horrified dread. SOMA is the latest horror project from Frictional, the team behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent. We’re pretty excited to see what Frictional comes up with next, and we won’t have too long to wait, apparently; the developer has announced that SOMA is […]

  • Steam Guard mobile authenticator now in beta testing

    Steam is now testing its latest security measure. Steam helps you protect your account by offering two-factor authentication, a solution so beautifully elegant and effective that it’s astounding every gaming network doesn’t do the same (looking at you, Sony). Valve’s version is called Steam Guard, and it works via email. This isn’t always super convenient, […]

  • Godzilla battles Mothra in new trailer

    Godzilla lets you stomp around cities and battle classic kaiju. I’m in. Godzilla is coming to PlayStation 3 and PS4 in early July, but we haven’t seen a great deal of it since its December reveal. The new trailer below gives you an idea of just what Natsume has done with one of the biggest […]

  • Tales of Zestiria to launch this year – new trailer

    Tales of Zestiria continues Bandai Namco’s delightful new habit of bringing the popular JRPG series to the west before the shine wears off. Tales of Zestiria is coming west in northern autumn, the publisher has announced. That’s not a bad turnaround, given it first hit Japan in January, and localisation of text-heavy titles is expensive […]

  • Project Cars release date locked down, new trailer released

    Project Cars finally has a release date. Project Cars will release on May 8, Bandai Namco UK has announced. We haven’t yet had an update from Namco Bandai’s other regional offices, but its probably safe to bet the racer will release around the same time in the Americas, Europe and ANZ region. We can now […]

  • Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains trailer shows combat, online multiplayer

    Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains has plenty to offer fans of the anime. Previously known as Attack on Titan: The Last Wings of Mankind, the Spike Chunsoft action game is coming west thanks to Atlus. Gematsu reports it’s due in both Europe and North America in May, via the 3DS eShop. The trailer below […]

  • Bloodborne stamina recovery rate affected by equip weight

    Bloodborne players have unearthed an important gameplay detail not mentioned in the game’s menus or manual. In Bloodborne, players need to manage their stamina carefully for best results. A far more aggressively-tuned affair than past Souls games, Bloodborne does away with equip weight limits, and items have no listed weight details. As far as players […]

  • Street Fighter’s Ryu, Fire Emblem’s Roy spotted in Super Smash Bros. patch – rumour

    Street Fighter’s Ryu is rumoured for future Super Smash bros DLC following datamining of the latest patch. Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U were updated recently, and hacker shinyquagsire23 claims to have found some interesting files while poking around in the 3DS patch data. As detailed on Reddit, the audio files included a new […]

  • Suikoden 3 PEGI rating suggests PS2 Classic re-release

    Suikoden. Suikoden 2. And now: Suikoden 3. Suikoden 3 has been rated by PEGI for PlayStation 3, presumably ahead of an upcoming re-release. Gematsu turned up the rating, and although we have no further information at this time, it’s not much a leap to assume the RPG will turn up as a PS2 Classic on […]