The third and final part of a series of first impressions of Halo4. These are my thoughts about the game from my first play through of the single-player campaign on normal difficulty.

You can read the other two parts here: Part Two, Part One.

Todays play session took me from the end of Mission Five to the completion of Mission Eight, which is the end of the game.

WARNING: Minor spoilers within.

Mission Five (Reclaimer)

Last time I was almost at the end of Mission Five. Picking up from there heads into a Forerunner structure and we get a dump of exposition. Having not read any of the Halo novels I don’t know how much of a surprise any of it was to anyone else. After this we are thrown back into another combat sequence like the earlier part of this mission, which was good.

The cut scene that bridges missions five and six escalates the tension nicely.

Mission Six (Shutdown)

Mission Six starts with you in control of a Pelican equipped for air-to-air combat. Unfortunately you only get to take this baby against two groups of Phantoms which you can easily dispatch. Once a group is dispatched you land and have to reach an objective in a tower. Then you return to the Pelican, fly to the next tower, deal with the phantoms and then do another tower. Then you fly to a third tower and do a similar thing. The various encounters inside the Forerunner towers are decent (mix of Promethean and Covenant enemies) but I would still have liked to have gotten more combat time with the Pelican.

Mission Seven (Composer)

Mission Seven takes place on a human research station on an asteroid near one of the other Halos (Installation 03). The combat is interesting and only against Covenant opponents. There is also a fight where you operate a Mantis … but I found this fight to be a little unsatisfying. Not sure why.

Mission Eight (Midnight)

Mission Eight opens with you flying a Broadsword fighter down the superstructure of a giant Forerunner ship. This was fun and very “Death Star Trench Run”-like. Once you get inside of the ship, there are a series of fights against Promethean enemies. At this stage of the game you know what the Prometheans are … but I still find them bland and uninteresting. This leads up to the final showdown with the villain of the piece. I was expecting a multi-stage boss battle here but it wouldn’t have been appropriate given the characters. I think the way they dealt with it (a series of “quicktime event” sequences) was acceptable.

If I had to score the single-player game out of 10, I would say 7.

  • Visually the game is amazing. The outdoor environments especially were gorgeous. However the indoor environments were often a little uninteresting I think. Not sure if that is the result of the level design or the artwork itself … probably a little of both. Also I think they went a little overboard with the lens flare & light bloom effects at times. I think the move to highly realistic and detailed enemy artwork (vs distinct at medium and long range) is a mistake.
  • Some of the weapon audio felt off, but I got used to it so it was probably just that it was different.
  • The enemy “hit” animations were often too subtle. This makes it more difficult than it should be to tell if you are actually hitting or doing damage at range. This made it had to get a feel for the new enemies and weapons.
  • The combat was generally good taking into account I was playing it on normal. My experience in the past is that it is only on Heroic or Legendary that the real depth of gameplay comes out.
  • The vehicle sections provided good variety of gameplay. I would have enjoyed more of them, particularlly the Scorpion, Mantis and Pelican sections.
  • I just didn’t really like the Prometheans very much. I never felt like they are fighting you for a reason, they were just things to shoot at.
  • Your allies in this game are relatively quiet, almost no witty banter at all. The enemy dialog was also completely incomprehensible. Halo 3 (I think) had the Covenant dialog in english, which while perhaps not in character did allow them to have their own combat banter. Being able to hear and understand your enemies dialog goes a long way to making them feel like real opponents. Maybe they wanted this game to have a serious sombre tone?
  • Voice acting was well done I feel.
  • I think it is the story in Halo4 that lets it down the most. It is interesting, and the characters are compelling, but it seems to have a lot of unexplained gaps. And the ending was just weird.

The exact nature of what happens at the end of the game is not clear. There are clues … but I was left thinking, “I’m sorry, exactly what just happened then?”. I’ve got nothing against ambiguous endings, nor do I need everything explained perfectly … but this seemed to head off into “because space magic” territory.

And they never actually explain why Cortana refers to the Didact by name when he first appears. And given that it is necessary for an exposition scene later, I find it very strange that noone stops Cortana and say “wait a minute, what did you call that guy? Who is he exactly?” Or that Cortana doesn’t have even have a voice-over to provide some context of the character. [Insert some googling here] Apparantly the Didact is a character in some of the Halo novels and is referenced in some hidden content in Halo3. It’s not that they are using a villian from the novels in the game, it’s that they do it in such a clumsy way. They don’t assume that you know who the Didact is … they have an exposition scene for that. However they introduce him and Cortana seems to know who he is already, and since she doesn’t offer an explanation and noone asks for one, then obviously they all know too. Then a significant amount of gameplay (and cut scenes) pass where they seem to act on that knowledge. And then there is an exposition cutscene where it is explained who he is. It just feels like a mess.

You also never find out who these Covenant were or what they were doing. There are “domain terminals” hidden in each mission, which when activated will unlock a video in Halo Waypoint. These seem to contain more backstory … but this feels kind of cheap. It’s one thing to reward hardcore players with hidden extra content, it’s another thing when that content is required to explain what the hell was going on.

At the end, this game felt to me like the closing of the “old guard” Halo. Setting old characters out to pasture so they can continue to expand the universe with new ones. The “Spartan Ops” missions might provide some insight into where they are going, very interested in looking at that next.

Do I think this is the best Halo game? No. Was it enjoyable? Yes.

If you enjoyed the previous Halo games you will probably enjoy this one too.