Before you move on to this holiday’s other big first-person shooter (that’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II), here’s one last look at Halo 4 from our team of reviewers. GamesBeat’s own Rus McLaughlin already offered his thoughts on Microsoft and 343 Industries’ grand sci-fi adventure. But what does an analyst think about the game’s business potential? And what does a Ph.D. who studies games think of the design? One of these guys liked the game a lot less than the others… .
Halo 4: The critic’s review
- By Rus McLaughlin, GamesBeat staff writer
Halo 4 constantly ups the ante in smart, satisfying ways. Everything might’ve changed under the hood, but 343 did what it set out to do: make a Halo that can stand tall with original developer Bungie’s revered classics. That’s no mean feat. If you want numbers, you get two 8-10 hour campaigns plus a deeply involving multiplayer. That’s a hell of a lot of game for your dollar. Not an Xbox Live Gold member? Wait until mid-January, shell out $10 for a month’s access, and nab all the extra Spartan Ops episodes in one go. Consider that my sound economic advice.
It’s unfortunate that 343 didn’t stretch past the standard Halo playbook instead of falling back to so many recognizable gameplay beats (and I do wonder if that was a conscious decision meant to counter the “Will it be Halo?” doubters), but the gameplay itself offsets those issues. The level design is a precision instrument. Above and beyond that, Halo 4 expertly folds an intimate story into an epic scope, taking risks with iconic characters and sticking the landing every time. The Master Chief was heroic before. Now he’s a hero.
Next time, I’m expecting legendary.
Final critic’s score: 90/100
With Bungie fully exiting the Halo franchise, publisher Microsoft was faced with a fork in the road: Continue the Bungie-fashioned story, which could potentially upset loyal fans of the studio and the Halo franchise, or plow forward as if nothing behind the scenes ever happened. Choosing the latter, it is clear — after the fact — that Microsoft and 343 Industries made the right decision as consumer reception has been universally positive for Halo 4. Add a splash of a few bar-raising single-player and multiplayer features, throw in a $25-million marketing campaign, and a pinch of software and hardware special editions, and you have a brilliantly executed triple-A product.
It’s rare for any entertainment brand to reach its fifth iteration and still maintain — and in this case grow — its loyal install base. Especially a brand that faced a significant behind-the-scene game changer. In other entertainment verticals, changing of the director or primary cast members is often a death cry and a clear sign that some executive suit is obviously milking any remaining fan equity that a brand may have (I’m looking at you, Saved by the Bell: The New Class). With Halo 4, this isn’t the case, and against all odds, 343 Industries has successfully met the unprecedented high expectations of the 15+ million loyal Halo fans around the world.
Halo 4 is a masterpiece, and while we’ll miss Bungie behind the wheel of the Halo franchise bus, Microsoft and 343 Industries have successfully hurdled an obstacle that few in entertainment have ever accomplished.
Microsoft and 343 Industries are a shining example of how to keep an entertainment brand going, even when the original creators have decided to hang their hats to focus on other projects.
Final analyst’s score: 95/100
- By David Thomas, Ph.D., researcher at the University of Colorado Denver
- Blog: Buzzcut
With space junk drifting silently past the Halo 4 start screen, the game promises a story of rebirth. Instead, this scene provides an unwitting metaphor for what comes next: a junkyard of recycled ideas, a patchwork universe that fails to provide the kind of epic stage necessary to support gaming’s most iconic space marine.
While there is plenty to like about Halo 4, and much to quibble with around its increasingly baroque plotlines and worn game mechanics, it is the lack of inspiration in the game’s settings and levels most indicative of its failure to live up to the greatest moments the Halo universe.
Great games all share a common feature — they take place in evocative locations and fantastical worlds. From Mario’s many lands to Grand Theft Auto’s Liberty City, the best play always takes place in an appropriate playground. And this version of Halo, when it’s not simply recycling familiar sets from previous versions, simply slaps on a new coat of paint on the same old thing. When you crash-land on the planet of Requiem, for instance, you feel less a sense of awe than a creeping sensation of the familiar. The world is kind of orange, and the Prometheans look predictably devilish. And then it occurs you have seen this before. This new Halo world is nothing more than Doom’s haunted house design and aesthetics borrowed and dropped down as something new. Tossing aside Halo’s tangible worlds and places, Halo 4 throws up a cheap amusement park ride.
It wasn’t always this way.
The original Halo: Combat Evolved rang true on so many registers that it’s easy to forget how impressive the Halo world was itself. Looking up and staring at the ring arching across the sky provided a breathless moment of being someplace else, someplace special. At its best, Halo was a place that felt like it was there before you, and Master Chief showed up with an arsenal of weapons. Clever level design would tease with views of places you hadn’t reached and would send you sensibly backtracking through levels you had completed. Halo avoided what many shooter games in the past had never managed. It put the player in the role of explorer rather than a rat running through a maze.
Halo 4 fails on this account early on.
Notice when orderly and rectilinear corridors of the first level’s spaceship suddenly turn windy. Why? In the logic of the haunted house, it doesn’t matter. It’s just all a part of the drama. But to the person playing the game, this is a clear indication that you are being pushed through an attraction. And at each stop on the ride, moving forward means only gunning, or possibly flanking, yet another garrison of enemies sitting, waiting, and blocking the way to the next bit.
Even as Halo attempts to extend its legacy, it leaves behind one of the series most successful features: the shape of its places.
Final academic’s score: 75/100