Halo 4 (Xbox 360)

Halo 4 cover

Halo 4 cover. It’s very Halo.

Day 1. Campaign.

This localisation thing is beyond stupid. Forcing Finnish players to use the Finnish text? Really? Fixed by changing your console’s locale to, say, the UK, but come on. It would be a single menu option to change the language used.

Seeing Cortana’s more human features – weird, it feels out of place to see her concerned and sad. Not a fan of all the added detail, especially the face.

From the overblown flares you can tell it’s a new game. Also, looks really good!

Immediately when you start moving you can tell it’s Halo. So comfortable, like well-worn jeans.

Compared to most FPS experiences, Halo feels very human, just thanks to Cortana’s and the Chief’s dialogue. Cortana sounds too emotional, though.

First-person climbing and what amounts to a simple QTE before I get to shoot an alien? What have you done to my Halo? It’s inoffensive, in any case.

Same great Halo combat: no leaning or stopping to aim down the sights. Perfect movement, placement, situational control. Great enemy design. The start is pretty much a retelling of the first game’s opening.

The spaces are obviously created for co-op and bigger amounts of enemies, but that doesn’t bother the single-player exprience. And what arenas they are! Compared to the on-rails shooters of the day, these are nothing short of a revelation. It’s all about finding your lines of movement and adapting to what the enemy is doing – which tends to be not “pop my head out behind cover so you can shoot it”.

Love love love the return to single guns and the proper goddamn Halo bag of guns – magnum, assault rifle, plasma pistol, needler. No weird rifles or scopes to mess around with.

Hard combat! Playing on Heroic, every Elite requires attention.

Halo uses color so much better than other shooters. It conveys a lot of information.

Same great, chunky, cool blues spaceship interior design. But it does look a bit empty these days, you can tell these designs originated in the beginnings of the last generation.

Fighting Covenant on a deteriorating spaceship and then being rewarded with a free-fall into an alien planet without a ship? That’s Halo!

Cortana, weirdly emotional. The plot wouldn't work without it. You get used to it pretty fast. Aren't stories about people changing?

Halo 4 Cortana face

Oh I guess Cortana’s emotional state was part of the plot after all. I’m still struggling with her face. Also boobs. Why does the AI have big boobs? “Don’t make a girl a promise you can’t keep.” I love that. Points for the writer. Also way cool to be fighting for someone for a change, and not “the human race” or whatever.

Christ this crash site looks nice.

Halo AR’s display is the single most comforting piece of UI design in existence. I’m really happy they’ve kept the digital, 8-step compass instead of making it smooth.

Well hello space city fortress thing. Looks like Forerunners, with the levitating skyscrapers. Against nice, Earth blue skies, I like that. Cool way to keep it grounded. And the contrast with the ruins I’m running through currently, nice.

Is that a ruined Warthog? That is a ruined Warthog. Oh man. And INTACT WARTHOGS. OH MAN! Driving the Warthog feels curiously like driving an RC car. Could be the high engine noise.

Goddamn it’s a beautiful Halo, though. I may need to check out that HD remaster after all.

Love it how the aliens have made space roads for me to ride in my cool new Warthog on. Warthogs are still the only driving experience in a shooter that I actually like.

It would be much nicer if someone was operating my Warthog’s gun. Much nicer. Feeling like I’m playing this wrong, solo.

This place we’re fighting in – with the lighting and the colors, it looks like I’m in a piece of concept art.

I thought I was done with shooters, but I could (and will) shoot up the Covenant all day. Part of it is just that it’s great design, both audio-visually and gameplay wise, but the bigger part is I think Halo’s attitude and pacing. It feels considerate, thoughtful, even at its most hectic. I move, you move, that kind of thing. The shooting doesn’t feel violent, in a sense. It’s more like a game you might play as a kid, and a videogame challenge to you, the player. Maybe that’s it – Halo talks to me as a player of its challenges, taking care to present me with new and interesting scenarios all the time.

I never change guns so frequently as in Halo. They’re very good with rationing out the ammunition. Also lots of favorites! I don’t dislike any of them.

It feels more Halo than Halo 2 or 3. Probably because they’ve stuck to the pure design – single guns, no weird armor abilities – well I’ve run into an active camouflage ability since, but I can live with that.

The shield depleted sound is so Halo. Also the slow shield regen rate forces the fighting to take breathers after every intense moment.

Being able to jump high really makes the experience of being Master Chief stand out among other shooters. I can’t help but think that would never make it in, if the original game was conceived now.

What is it with Halo and campaign progress? I never could figure out how to continue Reach except mission by mission – not as a continuous campaign – and this time I walk away from the game in the middle of mission three, almost all the way through, the Xbox powers down at some point, and I lose all progress in the mission. What’s the deal with the “checkpoint saves” if it doesn’t actually let you continue from there? We struggled with this even way back in the original Halo, never able to figure out when it actually saved our progress in the campaign. A stupid thing to get wrong. — Oh, looks like it only saves your progress if you quit to the main menu. How is that logical? Who even “quits” games these days?

“A Star To Steer By”… Finally some classic Halo level names! The original’s names rocked all the way through, really adding to the overall atmosphere and sense of grand space adventure. Those and the ship names, which are Banksian awesome, with obviously “The Pillar Of Autumn” the best.

Day 1. MP.

Taking a break to check out “Infinity” in the main menu, looking for multiplayer. Oh I guess it’s a ship, Infinity. Pretty cool, the Halo ships always ruled. Is this some sort of practice mode? I customize my guy – well, just the colors as everything else is still locked – man it took forever to unlock anything in Reach, I hope this is not quite that slow. Looks like they’ve integrated the MP into the game fiction, so it’s supposedly war games played by the Spartans onboard the UNSC Infinity. A 1.91 GB install that isn’t progressing at exactly lightning speed.

I have played Team Slayer (Deathmatch). It’s fun! I do like it a lot more than something like COD or Battlefield, which are so chaotic. Halo has such clear visuals it’s easy to read. And the action just flows. It’s smooth. Let’s try again.

Okay, that is goddamn distracting. You can be another color (red or blue) in the next match. My brain is totally confused. But the friendlies still read as blue on the HUD! That is so stupid.

You get the hang of that after one match. Still stupid. One victory, one defeat. I did okay in the first game and really sucked in the second one. I do like Halo vehicles in combat.

The framerate can’t always keep up with the fast vehicles in MP.

God I love the catapult teleports, slingshotting you into the fray.

Defeat, but I did good. I leveled, unlocked something. Actually looks like I’m level four already, didn’t notice that before.

Alright, top three, headshots galore. I’m surprisingly handy with a medium-range scoped rifle, generally I’m just lost trying to orient myself through a scope in combat. Also six guys in a row!

This Big Team Infinity Slayer I can get behind.

Okay, the next match’s worst player. I’m done for now, let’s see what I unlocked. Also took this long until some fucking brat started talking nonsense. Oh wait is it Chinese? Now wait what is this, we’re back in the game? And it stopped after one or two kills. Weird.

Alright, level six in one sitting. 21 new items. “Spartan Points”, what is this crap? I can’t see how many points I have. Looks like they open equipment options and guns fast and skimp on the armor visuals, which I have unlocked none of. 14 new armor items, 12 new “Spartan ID” items, which is basically just emblems. I’m a rooster now. I can’t figure out which new armor items I have, since they’re all locked still. Oh, there it is, the number of Spartan Points I got. Two left. That would mean you get around one per level?

Then there’s something called “Spartan Ops” in the Infinity menu. Guess I’ll look at that after the campaign. “Waypoint”, what’s that? This is a serious case of not being able to understand most of what’s going on in the freaking main menu of the game. At least there’s the “resume campaign” option now – it is now that I knew to quit the game and not just turn it off as you do with every other game.

As it’s downloading the Waypoint – whatever it is, it weighs in at 402.40 MB – I think I’m done with Halo for this session. Can’t take a shooter all day long anymore. Got a headache coming on.

Day 2. Campaign.

Oh, new armor ability. A “hardlight” shield. Maybe that’s of more definite use than the active camouflage, which I’m not at all sure actually did anything.

Okay how many TIMES CAN I DIE ON THIS FUCKING BRIDGE ON THIS SAME FUCKING SPOT IT’S JUST A GODDAMN ELITE

Alright, might’ve been a total of eight times. Good ol’ plasma pistol overcharge to deplete shields, assault rifle rush finally did it.

This whole bridge assault feels like something designed for co-op. Really hard to approach the fortified bastards, hardlight or no. Seriously, flying assholes on top of the army on the bridge? Out of ammo on everything but needlers? Jesus.

Neat how your tactical problems are completely flipped when you’re out of ammo, or have a needler against shielded Jackals, or have no rockets against vehicles.

Well that was a “heroic” fight alright. Sheesh, I’m out of breath, and just crossed one bridge.

Yep, definitely huge, symmetrical arenas for fighting in a big team.

A rushing Elite with an energy sword really blows. Can’t take him out fast enough.

No, seriously. There’s no way I can drop that asshole fast enough!

Ooo, Hunters! Two at a time is a bit of a rough reunion, though. With Sentinels shooting them up, keeping them distracted, shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, though.

I remember a time when I could’ve circled once around these bastards – in a fight, with other enemies around – and one-shotted them in the back. Now I can barely see their backs! Ooh, a fuel rod cannon… And that’s right, run at them, leap over, turn around, shoot in the back… both down. Like a dance I used to know!

The Halo alien interiors always bring to mind futuristic churches. Cathedrals of light and metal. Hey, first gigantic elevator!

Oh, right, the place is actually called a “Cathedral”. Figures.

Master Chief sure looks hot in these cutscenes. Hey new aliens! In a cutscene. Kinda like Sentinels meet Elites. Or robots and monkeys. But that’s an Achievement and a wrap for the night.

I kinda like how they reset your gear for a new level without any sort of in-game explanation. It’s old-school and a little comforting – as long as you can make it to the end, trust in the cutscene and the Achievement to see you through to a new beginning.

Day 2. MP.

The Infinity’s announcer dude is ridiculous. Can’t take it at face value that’s he’s some proper military guy.

We won again, but I still can’t figure out why it takes like a short break, then resumes, and says that the team to get to five kills is actually the winner, when we already won by points. Weird, confusing.

Shooting guys in Halo MP feels really good. The way their jumps hang in the air a moment, the way it’s easy to line up long-distance shots and rack those headshots, it makes you feel like a hotshot supersoldier. Special. Is this why it’s so popular? It certainly makes you feel great.

Two nights of Halo MP in a row and I haven’t heard any jackasses online. Is the reputation for trash talking 12-year olds unwarranted after all?

Day 3. Campaign.

Looks like I need to take out two things to contact that Infinity ship. Familiar ground, then. Already losing that personal drive to fight, they should do a better job of holding on to it.

Disappointed at taking a teleport to the pylon I’m going to destroy… The original game did a great job of grounding the halo construct like a real place, this feels more haphazard, elusive, lazy. The marines running around with you added a ton to that game.

In a purple canyon, encountering the new aliens for the first time. Otherwise fine – climbing the walls is new for Halo foes – but did they have to have another of those QTE like close encounters? Couldn’t I just find a dead alien instead and analyze that? Anyway, kind of a cool way to ensure they’re kind of familiar, with the bit about their “mimetic” nature and showing a glowing human skull in the guy that gets up to my face.

Dropping the small, dog-like dudes is fun enough – they make a nice splash and being bombarded by their bright red laser beams is neat. But with the single bigger guy around, so far this feels exactly like Elites plus Grunts, except without the funny chatter. I die.

Oh, it’s actually the Elite stand-in with the laser beams, the dogs shoot yellow blasters, reminds me of being in a firefight in Star Wars. The dogs’ behavior isn’t very convincing. I would’ve expected them to converge on me, and instead they… kind of… run around, taking potshots. Dropping them with the magnum is easy and fun.

There’s more big dudes looking in on the fight. The dead big guy – this one, too, is weirdly laid back and not confrontational like you would expect from a Halo alien – drops a “light rifle”. I start making with the big laser gun, then.

So the new Elites are called “Promethean Knights”. Okay. The big laser gun blocks my view uncomfortably, but it’s got a nice zoom. Not a fan of the lame low-power laser shots.

Giving a pass on the other alien guns for now – a “boltshot” and a “suppressor” – even though they’re offered in familiar enough gun cabinets. One new toy is enough to get me in trouble!

Oh come on, they’re packing freaking energy swords, why are they not aggressive? I’m able to just pot-shot them, one at a time.

Alien grenades (they pack a weirdly static light show, it feels entirely non-threatening) and the suppressor, then, as I’m out of ammo with the light rifle. By looks the suppressor is basically a re-skinned human assault rifle.

Oh I do like the yellow, liquidy splash the small guys make when they die.

The big dudes warp all over the place. That’s nice, but I hope they warped to more sensible places, say behind me or on top of something where I can’t reach them in hand to hand.

The alien (and by alien I mean “Promethean”) guns assemble themselves on command. It looks cool, but feels a little out of place in Halo’s tactile world. Okay, the alien shotgun is loaded… just like a human shotgun. That’s just weird! I would have an easier time accepting it’s a wide-beam, alternating frequency beamgun. Instead of a glowing shotgun.

Hey that was pretty neat! And horrible! Chief tried to limp away, dying, before, well, dying.

The glowy dogs are hard when they gang up on you.

But those small flying vertical drones that basically look like two discs glued together? Those are just stupid. Who likes trying to hit small flying targets? But hmmmm… looks like they’re doing something to the knights… maybe healing them? Also cool: the knight uses the same sort of “light shield” I’ve got.

Oh no checkpoint for destroying the second power core? But yes for the first one? Ah. Third try, I just lingered around for long enough after destroying – and, hey, checkpoint! Seems a bit bugged then.

I have no idea where I’m supposed to go. “Top”? What? Running around on my third attempt, looks like there is an objective, after all, the game is just not crazy about showing it until you see it.

For fuck’s sake, that’s a lot of goddamn aliens to get through. One-shotting the dogs with the rifle feels great.

These flying fuckers are really goddamn aggravating. As long as you have rifle, fine, but when you don’t, fuck those guys! They take way too much damage for what they look like. Also this fight is fucking hard. Again I kind of feel like I shouldn’t play solo.

The alien AR doesn’t do shit against these guys.

I ended up running past quite a few of them to get to the light elevator. Not very satisfying.

The delay in “hold X to activate” is too long, feels sticky and unresponsive.

Well, that’s cool. The hollow interior of the Requiem planet is so big that Covenant ships are jumping into the planet. Rock’n’roll! To be honest, I’m looking forward to fighting them, these Promethean motherfuckers have left me winded and aggravated.

Day 4. Campaign.

Mushrooms and volcanic rock, what’s not to like? It’s a new type of environment for the series. Also lightning in the distance. The Promethean bastards work immediately better when there’s Covenant to back them up, in terms of gameplay.

This arena is (again) confusing… it feels like 343 is not nearly as good in directing the player as Bungie was. I’ve been lost far too many times. Fighting when you have no idea where you’re supposed to go is just frustrating.

Oh okay, now I actually finally saw what those flying things actually do – they re-animate Promethean Knights I’ve taken down. Fuck that. Need to concentrate on them first from now on, aggravating little fucks they are.

Feels like a fucking skeet shoot when you’re supposed to be fighting all the guys around you… I really hate their design, in every aspect. Who the fuck thought this was a good idea?

I’ve killed every moving thing in this volcano bowl and circled it twice. WOULD IT KILL THEM TO SHOW ME WHERE TO GO?

Whoops, wasn’t every moving thing, after all…

I have emptied a “suppressor” twice and three clips of Covenant carbine into three of the flying fuckers and NONE OF THEM HAVE DIED. Jesus Christ I hate these guys. A fucking frisbee shouldn’t be this goddamn hard to kill, techno colors or not.

OH. The “boltshot” has a charged firing mode, too, like the Covenant plasma pistol. Sure took care of that Elite in a flash.

Interesting. Is it actually the flying bastards that are doing the most talking among the Prometheans?

Seriously, for fuck’s sake, would it be heresy to give a checkpoint at some point during this massive fight? I’ve killed two of three troops and the last one is giving me trouble. Then again, I’m getting much more adept at killing these other guys.

Okay, with those sorted out, now there’s the beacon/searchlight/turret thing on the wall with scant cover between me and it. Hmm.

Right, sprinted past it… finally, checkpoint!

Ooh, I get to ride a Covenant Ghost hover-motorbike thing. I never really liked them as much as the other vehicles, but I take what I can get.

For once, they let you ride in a vehicle up a tower instead of legging it. As it should be.

It’s the exact same “detroy the power cores in this arena” game as before, but with the Ghosts it’s a completely different scenario. Good, economic design, there.

Oh wow, having nabbed a Banshee flying Covenant thing, coming in down and low, an Elite jumped my craft and pulled me out! That was neat. But again – it’s the original Halo palette I’m having the most fun with.

VERDICT

FOUR out of FIVE Halos
Plus: I love Halo again
Not: I still love Bungie more

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