This article originally appeared in Volume XIX, Issue VI of The University Observer’s Otwo supplement.
A shiny coat can’t make up for misguided attempts at change
It’s been five years since the last numbered entry in the Halo franchise. With Bungie having moved onto a new project shrouded in secrecy, the burden falls upon 343 Industries, comprised of veterans and new blood alike, to live up to expectations which ultimately prove to be a little too lofty.
Master Chief is back and ready save the galaxy again. Sadly, this journey ends up being rather unmemorable, lacking in the inspiration the development switch up promised. While there are some great moments, it’s apparent that 343 simply went through the motions and were afraid to genuinely shake things up. The end result is a campaign which, despite appearances, offers nothing new. A frustratingly inconsistent checkpoint system drags the single player experience down even further. Spartan Ops, a brand new sub-campaign designed to be played cooperatively and released in weekly episodic chunks is conceptually exciting and off to a solid, if rather understated, start. Time will tell whether or not it reaches its full potential.
Gone are Marty O’Donnell’s iconic themes, with Neil Davidge taking the reins on musical composition. His score, a combination of electronic and orchestral, never reaches such memorable highs but is great in its own right. Visually, Halo 4 is regularly mesmerizing, so much so that it’s difficult to comprehend how the Xbox 360’s dated hardware is able to produce such a spectacle.
Multiplayer is where players will spend most of their time and so is arguably the most significant component of the game as a whole. It also happens to be where the most radical changes have occurred. Taking some extremely obvious cues from its biggest rival of the generation, a slew of first time franchise additions, from minor to major, find their way into Halo 4; grenade indicators, instant respawns, killstreak rewards, and the most controversial of the lot, a custom loadout system, perks and all.
Halo has, for its eleven year existence, managed to maintain its own unique singularity in what has become an increasingly derivative and normalised genre. There’s no doubt that with Halo 4, the time had come for the combat to evolve once more but how undeniably disappointing it is, that this evolution has resulted in bowing to the norm rather than continuing on its own defiant path.
The precise and delicate balance the series’ competitive modes have always maintained is very much lost beneath what is now a sloppier affair, the methodical rhythm interrupted and upset by what is too frantic a chaos. The purity of play has been diluted.
Halo 4 is a strange paradox. The campaign lacks innovation and verges on stale. The multiplayer, while admirably attempting to change for the better, ends up misguided and detached from what had once distinguished it from its peers. Despite these significant issues, there is still much to enjoy here; it’s just impossible to shake the feeling that it could have been so much more and that a fundamental part of the series’ own identity has been lost.