Halo 4 review

  • Playing through the thrilling campaign
  • Keeping up with Spartan Ops
  • Losing a few hundred hours in multiplayer
  • How quickly it’s over
  • That Spartan Ops isn’t hard enough
  • That some gameplay elements haven’t evolved

Halo isn’t allowed to die just because Bungie and Microsoft parted ways. It’s too big, too popular, and too vital to the Xbox brand to simply fade into obscurity. And so 343 Industries was assembled, and handed the keys to one of the most popular gaming franchises of all time. Its task was significant, and expectations were massive. With Halo 4, 343 has proven itself not only proficient in building a Halo game, but capable of building a better Halo franchise in a post-Bungie world.

Halo 4 paints a portrait of a much calmer universe in the years following Halo 3, letting John-117--better known to the world he saved as the Master Chief--spend his years of stasis in a half-destroyed spaceship undisturbed. Outside the Chief’s chamber, his AI companion Cortana acts as a watchdog, though not without a price: She is slowly slipping into a state called Rampancy, a fate akin to dementia that eventually befalls all AI. After four years of silence, she is forced to hesitantly wake John when the ship he’s on is scanned by a mysterious force. Before long, the Chief is involved in another galactic conflict, attempting to prevent an ancient Forerunner from unleashing his Promethean soldiers on an unsuspecting, peaceful Earth.

Watch our Halo 4 review to find out why it's the best Halo in years (yes, it's better than Reach)

Halo 4’s narrative is enthralling, and much better in structure than the series’ predecessors. The characters feel multidimensional and have strong personalities, running in stark contrast to past clichéd heroes and villains. More important is Master Chief, who has had a personality overhaul of sorts to make him more than a generic intergalactic hero. Cortana’s slow deterioration has forced a personality out of him, creating the Chief everyone imagined, but wasn’t really there--the interesting, complex, and (more importantly) broken man he was always said to be. The Spartan program tore him apart and put him back together, and though he didn’t let it show in the original games, this mental scarring is deep, and has grown into fruition in Halo 4, explaining the stoic character completely.

This story is held up on the shoulders of wonderful gameplay, and a campaign that keeps things varied by traveling between interesting locations to make for varied battles. Halo’s combat has always had a certain physicality to it that makes it feel more substantial and tangible. This is something which not only exists in Halo 4, but thrives. Seeing a vehicle in the distance means you can destroy or pilot it, and firefights often take place across sprawling mountain tops or in fields. Personal, intimate encounters with foes exist, but they’re spread between massive battlegrounds where the Chief is tasked with taking on dozens of enemies in vehicles.

These encounters are the bread and butter of Halo, and though other action-packed cinematic elements have been weaved throughout the story, there’s still plenty of classic action, and it’s as good as it has ever been.

Sadly, it’s also a bit shorter than it’s ever been, clocking in at around six hours on Normal and a good deal more as the difficulty is ramped up. Length wouldn’t be an issue if the pacing didn’t also feel a little rushed, as if the campaign was attempting to get the story with as quickly as possible. Chief will often step through glowing portals and land exactly where he needs to be, which, while partially explained and given context, still feels like a cop-out to expedite getting from point A to point B. When you step into a portal and land in the middle of a raging battle without anyone addressing the convenience of it all, you’ll start to feel like Halo 4 has some place to be, and it isn’t with you.

The basic gameplay of Halo didn’t need much work, but 343 upgraded features where it made sense. The addition of sprinting is helpful, but you’ll likely wish it was joined by iron sights, at least for some of the awesome new guns you’ll pick up. It's not that it's necessary--far from it--but with so many other elements shifting forward it feels out of place when zooming in on a pistol changes the entire screen. Other elements where it tried to evolve, such as canned assassination animations when you melee enemies from behind, fall flat, as it puts visual flare over gameplay, since you’re still vulnerable to gunfire while Chief throws an enemy down and stabs him.

The aforementioned changes definitely makes things feel more advanced, and help the multiplayer side of Halo--which has always been among the best when it comes to online shooters--catch up with the competition. Sprinting is joined by Ordinance Drops (similar to kill streak rewards), weapon and item loadouts, and deeper customization to allow you to create the Spartan that’s right for you. These definitely help modernize the Halo experience, even if they only have it falling in line with the modern era of shooters, instead of actually speeding past them. Multiplayer has also been given context, tying into the lore that the United Nations Space Command has partially revived the Spartan project in Master Chief’s absence. All multiplayer now falls after the “Infinity” moniker, a part of the game where squads of soldiers compete in wargames to up their skill, fighting in typical Halo multiplayer battles.

The area where Halo 4 truly revolutionizes is with Spartan Ops, a new cooperative story mode that’ll be rolled out weekly following release. Spartan Ops follows a squad of Spartans as they take on different operations around the galaxy. Built for co-op play, these free mini-missions are absolutely thrilling, providing classic Halo campaign battles in an episodic, easy-to-digest nature. The idea that five new missions will be available each week for ten weeks--adding around four or five hours of gameplay a month--nearly makes up for the abridged campaign, and we’re excited to see how it changes in the months following release, providing a glimpse into what may truly be the future of gaming. Or at least the future of post-release support for a game.

While 343 builds on the world, expands on characters, and adds to the lore of the Halo universe, its greatest focus in Halo 4 was investing in Master Chief--and a wise investment it was. By doing this, 343 Industries’ Halo 4 establishes itself not as “the next” Halo game, or “another sequel,” but instead opts to be a new beginning for the franchise--one with more commitment to its characters. It’s refreshing to see the series admit its shortcomings and catch up with its contemporaries without sacrificing what makes it unique, and that’s just what Halo 4 does, creating a name for itself without relying on its popularity, and getting us excited to start, continue, and one day finish the fight all over again.

This game was reviewed for the Xbox 360 at a review event.

More Info

Release date: Nov 06 2012 - Xbox 360 (US)
Nov 06 2012 - Xbox 360 (UK)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360
Genre: Shooter
Published by: Microsoft
Developed by: 343 Industries
Franchise: Halo
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Violence
PEGI Rating:
16+: Violence

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  • Satchurated - November 9, 2012 7:03 p.m.

    (SPOILER ALERT) Just finished playing through the campaign and it is officially the worst halo campaign ever made. I hate to say it, but 343 industries has helped completely ruin what made halo, halo, period. Even before the game came out, there were a few signs such as the dubstep commercials and the "double xp" program with Mountain Dew and Doritos. It makes Halo seem like it has been completely swallowed by a corporation. In this case, Microsoft is that particular corporation. The game itself has been completely changed from being a sci-fi themed shooter to a sci-fi dominated shooter. In the past games, sci-fi was just a basis for the game, but with the latest installment, the game is completely sci-fi fantasy with many things that make no sense at all with very very little explanation. At least in the previous games, modern human elements were employed to make the game somewhat logical. Now, that is completely removed. Take for example the Prometheans and their weapons like the incineration cannon. The disintegration is probaly the worst thing that could have happened to death animations. If completely takes away the amount of realism that was previously integrated into halo games. Without it, Halo just seems sci-fi. Nothing else. The campaign also annoyed me with how irrelevant your allies are in the game. I cannot remember a shooter relying on one person to make miracles more than Halo 4. It's as if allies are non-existant and it is just Master Chief versus the world. This once again plays into the realism element of the gmae. Although previous halo's had the Master Chief pulling out miracles, at least it did not feel like it was a constant theme. I swear, the only time that you even have an ai ally was so minimal that it didn't feel like anyone else was even there. And after that throw i the fact that 343 decided to ditch Cortana. She was shown sooo much in Halo 4that you'd almost expect her to remain in the game. They pretty much overkilled Cortana with the amount of interaction she had in the game. I mean c'mon, after you guys get found out, you gotta have at least a reasonable amount of communication with the others. Pretty low I gotta say. The campaign also did a terrible job at introducing the weapons. I'm not sure if that's only because I was playing normal mode rather than easy, but you were pretty much introduced to the heaviest of weapons, that were usually rare to find (and much more of a joy), almost instantly in the game. The only reason why I felt good about the weapons was that I'd learned about them before the game came out, which I feel gave me a very basic understanding. The promethean weapons, in my opinion, are a disliked addition to the game. They just throw out the nice balance already held between human and Covenant weapons already. It would have been nice to just add a few new human/Covenant weapons, but now with the addition of a new class, everything seems out of order. Man overall, I gotta disagree with gamesradar's rating. This game should get a 7/10 at very very best because f the multiplayer. Everything about the campaign just leaves me with a sick feeling in my mouth. Hopfully Spartan Ops and the multiplayer, wich heavily rely on Call of Duty's style, don't suck as bad.
  • kyleander95 - November 17, 2012 6:48 p.m.

    I do not mean to argue to heavily against this as I would not say that this is the best halo but it certainly deserves what it has been given, although the story was short and maybe did not explain as much about certain story elements as it should have they still covered those elements of the story and you only had to listen to get a good understanding of the events that led up to or occurred within the story. I also think that the balancing of the weapons is fine within the game and that the games more sci-fi heavy experience makes sense with the story, you are facing against a race of beings that have technology far beyond anything even the covenant can produce and with such advanced weaponry it's not hard to believe that a person could be disintegrated by them, the forerunners have been talked about since the very first game you have seen the technology they could produce through the entire first trilogy a massive ring that could destroy every sentient being in the galaxy you can handle but someone being turned to ash is suddenly too far, and as for the weapon balancing its just a matter of choice and how you use each weapon as each races weapons have similar variants in another weapon set e.g. assault rifle/storm rifle/suppressor and binary rifle/sniper rifle/beam rifle so its just a matter of choice as the weapons within each set do not differ greatly from their counterparts in another set. Finally on the subject of the chief being alone or chief versus the world as you said and how they overkilled cortana I believe that everything they did was very well done, this story took a much more personal route then the original trilogy where the original trilogy did not show as much of the chiefs personality and focused much more on the overall effect on the galaxy and the dangers of the flood and the halo rings this story forces out some more emotion and character from the chief and really highlights the bond between him and cortana it was not overkill in this respect as much as it was a heavy focal point for the story and as for the chiefs lack of allies or the importance of them a majority of the game is pretty much the chief on his own anyway the first few missions where he crashes on requiem alone, deciding to stay behind to fight the didact instead of following orders to return to earth on the infinity and then on the science station where the forces are pretty much overwhelmed and most of the people there are scientists not soldiers the story explains the lack of allies and when you get them they are not useless its just the game does not dwell on these moments for very long and chief has pulled off miracles before and survived through a lot worse at least this time he was helped by the librarian with the changes to his body and by cortana in the final fight which makes quite a bit more sense then the chief just getting lucky overall I agree with the review and out of 10 I would give it a nine.
  • FOZ - November 22, 2012 5:07 p.m.

    The Forerunners can teleport, some of them are telepathic, they can convert organic beings into data, they created weapons that can destroy all sentient life in an entire galaxy without causing any harm to the planets, they can build entire worlds... but a weapon that causes its targets to disintegrate? WHOA THERE. TOO SCI-FI, THIS IS BULLSHIT.
  • Cwf2008 - December 2, 2012 12:28 a.m.

    Nice to see your wall of text is the first comment. First of all, the multiplayer is broken and not as fun as Halo 3. But while there are problems with the storyline...really? You think that ships that can travel faster than light and humanity lasting more than 10 minutes against a vastly alien foe is realistic? Or the fact that humanity is still using gas powered firearms 500 years in the future? Jeez if you're gonna whine at least make some valid points
  • Viron - November 7, 2012 7:18 a.m.

    Too bad Microsoft doesn't sell it on Xbox live because apparently there are no copies left in my half of the frigging State. Just goes to show I pay them money to disappoint me on a monthly basis when I turn on my Xbox.
  • masterjoe123 - November 5, 2012 4:08 p.m.

    I seriously only read this to see if you reviewed it better than Reach. And because you did, here is the obligatory... So you're saying this game is better than Halo Reach?
  • Divine Paladin - November 5, 2012 12:49 a.m.

    So wait, it's the best Halo yet, and yet it has a lower score than Halo 3? C'mon, don't make bold statements when this very site contradicts your claim. (Also, because I'm sure somebody will, don't try to justify the lower score by saying that reviews have gotten harder, because scores as a whole have been higher than ever in the past few years.)
  • Burdmayn - November 5, 2012 6:47 a.m.

    The difference is in the reviewer, not the site. If Cooper had written the review for Halo 3 AND Halo 4 you might have a valid argument, but you're trying to compare apples to oranges here.
  • Divine Paladin - November 6, 2012 4:16 p.m.

    When they both fall from the same tree, are they really different fruit?
  • GR HollanderCooper - November 5, 2012 2:51 p.m.

    Different reviewer (me!), different time. Reviews haven't gotten harder, standards have.
  • Divine Paladin - November 6, 2012 4:19 p.m.

    I'd argue the second sentence, but aside from my above joke to Burdmayn, I can't disagree with the first.
  • FVHound - November 4, 2012 8:20 p.m.

    Wait, Lack of Iron Sights? Dude did you not Hear everyones Reaction to EGM saying he felt the game hasn't evolved, basically because it wasn't like Cod? I would've agreed with you about feeling some gameplay elements feel the same, or should've moved up, but in ways of using like tablets as a second screen, or other cool ways to interact with the game, Not because you can't aim down the iron sights...
  • BHawk5993 - November 4, 2012 6:42 p.m.

    Reach wasn't too bad, but this looks soo much better. I am disappointed at the hearing that the campaign is shorter, though. In my opinion, I think the more Halo campaign levels there are the better, but I guess that's what Spartan Ops will be for.
  • iGrimezY - November 4, 2012 8:44 a.m.

    I'm looking forward to this Halo. Although I do want to see hwo 343 changed the multiplayer.. Halo Reach's multiplayer was alright, but now that their bringing back the Battle Rifle the DMR is gonna stand no chance...or is it? But with the release of Black Ops 2 at nearly the same time.. will this affect the sales of Halo 4?
  • Pwnz0r3d - November 4, 2012 10:10 a.m.

    That's a fair question, but let's look back; Did Black Ops stop Reach? BO sold 13.7 million copies in America, and a combined total of 5.6 million copies in the UK and US in the first 24 hours. Reach sold 3.3 million units in a span of 2 months, and by September of last year, it sold 4.7 million copies. But it also made a lot of money off of merchandising, $350 million. So yeah, the Call of Duty brand itself is more than capable of stealing the Halo customers, but this is a different case. This is the first actual sequel to the Halo series since 3 five years ago, and Reach was released in September, farrrr before the holiday market. So we'll see how it goes.
  • iGrimezY - November 4, 2012 10:31 a.m.

    That is very true. after a couple months of BO people started to leave it for Reach. I actualyl got Black Ops the first day it came out and play that game non-stop. But now the game is freakin stupid to me... and then I picked up Reach and I've been playing it ever since. Im honestly looking forward to Halo 4 and beleieve that its sales are gonna triple that of the sales of BLack Ops. But yet again I wanna see how Black Ops 2 is, and I'll probally only buy it for its zombies.
  • Divine Paladin - November 5, 2012 12:53 a.m.

    No Halo game will ever outsell any CoD game from CoDs 4-14. After 14 it's a toss-up, depending on whether the series has plateaued and fallen after BO2 like I expect it to. Hell, I'd doubt Halo 4 outsells 3 by more than 1 million.