As you sit there with your fists clenched, palms beginning to perspire. Angrily thinking up the most devious and insulting comments to type out in defense of this precious game, I only ask that you hear me out. I have never played a Halo game before. I know, as shocking as it may seem in a modern gaming world, it’s pure truth. It’s certainly not for lack of knowledge of the series, or a lack of interest in the genre, or even a lack of a science fiction intrigue. The games have simply looked boring. Sure, maybe I didn’t give them their fair chance but I only called it as I seen it and I absolutely hate the feeling of having spent money on a game that was nothing but dull and forgettable. Maybe I should have continued to listen to my gut’s instinct after all these years, but as the new Halo game dropped onto shelves, getting rave reviews from critics and players alike, I couldn’t help but be dragged into an internal dilemma about trying or not trying the product. All the marketing finally got to me and made me consider giving the Halo franchise a shot. “What’s the worst that could happen?” I thought. It turns out I should have saved the rental fee but I couldn’t resist, I had to see what all the hype was about, and it’s just that…hype.
I have to admit, booting up the game I was excited about what I was about to experience. Never thought I’d see the day that I’d actually break down and play a Halo game but sure enough that day had come. First off, I was genuinely excited by the opening cinematic. The presentation had me hoping this game would be about the moral and political issues of taking children and harvesting them into super soldiers. Instead, it was just a lead up from the past games about the Chief being in a cryostasis state. Needless to say my excitement for the game was very short lived. As the game went on the thrill of playing a Halo for the first time took a sharp drop off of a steep cliff. This is the game that people have been raving about? This is the game that is the so called “most anticipated game of 2012”? Have gamers been surrounding themselves with mediocrity for so long that it’s actually effecting their ability to differentiate between amazing games that deserve high scores and games that continue to thrive because they’re a known property?
Let’s get one thing straight. As far as the game itself, the game is smooth. The controls were responsive and tight. None of it felt sluggish whatsoever and when you get right down to it’s core, it’s just a fun and easy to get into game. But allow me to be completely honest, in today’s market where first person shooters dominate the popularity chart of genres, having smooth game play isn’t nearly enough to make the game exceptional amongst the other games in the market. Halo 4, when you break it down, is absolutely nothing out of the ordinary as much as it’s fans will disagree. What Halo 4 excels at is being popular…. that’s it. Let’s even break it down and dissect it. If you look at this game purely from how it’s played, it’s a simple Point A to Point B linear mission based shooter. For a game that has such a rabid fan base and is highly successful I would have hoped that it had a little bit of substance to back it up. The presentation is nice if nothing else, but graphics mean absolutely nothing if the game lacks substance. I enjoyed the fact that the game had some actual color to it, something you don’t see often enough in the shooter genre, but to be honest, I had more fun playing Deadly Premonition and that game looks bad for Playstation 2 standards. It’s not that the game was unplayable, I mean sure overall the experience was boring but I still had at least a miniscule amount of fun mindlessly blasting enemies away with the variety of weapons I had at my disposal. I recall being treated to a jet pack once which is a nice game play mechanic not seen in games very often, but when you really start comparing it to other games in the same genre that have come out on the very same console, it’s certainly nothing groundbreaking and not deserving of all the praise it’s receiving. No matter what anyone says I stand firmly in the belief that developers need to start moving games forward, in a way that gives players more choice and freedom in how they play.
A linear shooter in the year 2012 is not going to impress me in any shape or form, not when games like Deus Ex, Borderlands and Far Cry exist. As I played through the game I couldn’t help but feel that it was just another one of those games where the player is nothing more than a hamster on a wheel. Sure you’re moving forward to advance the story but it certainly isn’t without handcuffs. While some levels are larger than others to give players the illusion of a game with tactical choice, not once are you really able to run out and explore the levels you are running through. There were no side missions that I could find so it really boiled down to running from point A, killing the waves of enemies as they appeared, make it to point B, rinse and repeat. Maybe I’ve been too spoiled by other games that do allow freedom and I set my standard too high. Or just maybe 343 decided that they wanted to take the safe route and not innovate their shooter whatsoever in fear of losing sales. I’m sure fans were already skeptical of a new studio taking over the reigns of their precious franchise, let alone if they changed the formula. Seems to me it would have been much easier for 343 to just make a movie rather than code in dictator-like linearity for the players to follow. I mean god forbid if the player wanted to play at a pace of his or her own choosing, without the developers game design pulling them along with a string to insultingly say “you have to play the way we designated!”. The worst part of the game’s pacing is that it builds up to nothing. After playing through the entire campaign, when you finally get to the Didact at the end of the game you don’t get to participate in an elaborate battle. You don’t get to test the abilities you used and perfected all the way up until that point. You get treated to a freaking quick time event. Yes that’s right. The absolute bane of modern day gaming. The go to design choice for any lazy game developer. Instead of giving players a greatly thought out battle that they can remember for ages, they instead beat the game by the push of one single button. Bravo 343 bravo, your design choices make you a flawless gaming company.
But the game’s pacing is completely fine because it’s all about the strong narrative right? If by strong narrative you mean the one that bored me to tears because of it’s completely uninteresting nature. It’s not that I don’t like a good sci-fi story either, I think the Mass Effect series is a great example of a game with a good science fiction lore that I became interested in. The Halo game however really dropped the ball as far as the story goes. I still couldn’t tell you exactly why the Didact wanted to wipe out humanity, or even who these forerunners are supposed to be. Granted maybe this is all information known to fans who have played the series since the first game but I would like to think plot points like these would be elaborated on more in this title alone. In all honesty I really felt no connection to the story other than the fact that I kept going forward because I wanted to shoot more aliens and I wasn’t going to justify renting the game and not playing it through to the end. It didn’t help that the characters were so uninteresting that the game’s attempts at seriousness were laughable at best. This is the first time I come into contact with the Master Chief himself after hearing his name for the past decade and all I can do is laugh at his terrible character design. Joking that he’s the absolute definition of personality doesn’t even begin to describe just how sad it is that a game character of his high popular status is such a bland and boring attempt to be another “tough guy” soldier stereotype. The way he spouts his monotonous one liners is comical at best and it gets even worse when they try to have a guy wearing a full headed helmet convey emotion. I get it, he’s supposed to be a bio-engineered super soldier who’s only use in the world is to shoot things but if we’re comparing Master Chief against another power armor wearing macho soldier like Marcus Fenix…well let’s just say that the comparison makes Marcus seem like he oozes charisma. You mean to tell me that Cortana, a virtual/artificial intelligence has more personality than the lead protagonist himself? Master Chief is a robot, he has to be. If they wanted to portray him as a human being with more depth to him than just being a guy who is good at killing aliens, then 343 should have found someone who could actually sound inspired to do the voice acting.
But what about the multiplayer? Yes, it’s true that this is one of those titles where the multiplayer is a big focus to the gamers. Well I can’t give an honest opinion on the multiplayer because I didn’t play it. A.) Because I only had disc 1. And B.) Because even if I could play it, I once heard someone say that a game should be able to stand alone on it’s single player content and I completely agree with that statement. I have yet to find a multiplayer game that keeps me more entertained than a great fleshed out single player story. Though I can’t argue that the multiplayer isn’t fun when I haven’t even tried it, judging from what I’ve seen it’s not an impressive feature either. Multiplayer usually just consists of people running around and shooting each other in a typical rinse and repeat fashion and Halo looks like it does little to separate from that pattern. To be completely fair though, having the Forge mode puts Halo’s multiplayer head and shoulders above 90% of the other multiplayer shooters alone. Any game that offers advanced customization tools is a plus in my book and I would have no qualms about directing someone to purchase Halo 4 over it’s competition on that merit alone.
Is Halo 4 a bad game? No, but it certainly isn’t anything groundbreaking either. While I was able to have a moderate amount of fun during my experience, I certainly am not anticipating the next game from the edge of my seat. It’s an average shooter at best and I can only sit here baffled by all of the praise and high reviews it’s getting. Maybe it relies on players having played the series since it’s infancy on the original Xbox, or maybe fans just need to stop over hyping games that offer nothing out of the ordinary. I understand that Halo was one of the games that made the first person shooter genre extremely popular on consoles, but the newest installment does nothing to impress a first time player. This game may have been impressive 10 years ago but in a modern world, it needed to do more to stand out in the crowd. To me it feels like another game idling by on it’s name and popularity alone rather than reinventing it’s image to successfully stay afloat in an ever evolving market. I went into this game in an unbiased stated of mind, hoping to enjoy what it had to offer, instead I was let down by over hyped mediocrity. Halo 4 was the first Halo title I’ve played, and it will more than likely be my last.
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This article was first posted on November 14, 2012