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Gaming review: Halo 4 DISAPPOINTS

Last updated on: November 25, 2012 14:51 IST

Gaming review: Halo 4 DISAPPOINTS

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Murali Venukumar, a full-time marketing exec, part-time writer and a life-long gamer reviews Halo 4.

Platforms: Xbox 360
Price: Xbox 360: Rs 3299
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Distributor: Redington
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Rating: 7/10

Halo games have always been an acquired taste. With its candy coloured enemies, a mute, faceless protagonist, and a convoluted storyline that almost seemed as if it were overcompensating for the simplicity elsewhere, it was a hard game to like if you were looking for something beyond the carnal gratification of fragging AI or human opponents. However, none of this should take away from just how well it plays, or from the fact that it is pretty much the progenitor of the modern console FPS.

With 2010's Halo: Reach, things looked to be changing for the better. Being Bungie's last game in the series, there was clearly an increased impetus to part ways on good terms.

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Photographs: 343 Industries/Microsoft Studios

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Gaming review: Halo 4 DISAPPOINTS

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And indeed, Reach pretty much addressed all of Halo's flaws and then some. It had characters you could care about (with Master Chief being relegated to a cameo), a spanking new engine that delivered more realistic worlds and some of the best skyboxes in gaming, and a story you actually wanted to see through to the end.

It was the Halo the rest of us always wanted, and it seemed like an excellent place to leave the series for the next developer in line.

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Photographs: 343 Industries/Microsoft Studios
Tags: Halo

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Gaming review: Halo 4 DISAPPOINTS

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343 Industries, a studio created by Microsoft to take Bungie's place, had its work cut out from the start. They've built on the beautiful aesthetic of Reach and squeezed unbelievable levels of performance out of the Xbox 360. Discounting the odd low-res texture, Halo 4 looks absolutely gorgeous.

The environments are varied and interesting, and the game is polished to a fault. Especially impressive is the attention to detail, right from the expressive faces of characters in cut scenes to the wear and tear on Master Chief's armour.

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Photographs: 343 Industries/Microsoft Studios

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Gaming review: Halo 4 DISAPPOINTS

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Where Halo 4 trips up is in the story. Picking up a few months from Halo 3's conclusion, the plot follows the Chief and Cortana's adventures on a Forerunner planet called Requiem, their pursuit of a new mega-antagonist, and their battles with a new Promethean race of enemies.

The covenant are in the mix as well which adds a bit to the variety, but the Prometheans have way too few enemy types, and their weapons are all variations of the standard human and covenant weaponry.

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Photographs: 343 Industries/Microsoft Studios

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There's also a lot of interplay between Cortana and the Chief, with a subplot regarding Cortana's degrading mental (?) state. What could have been a subtly well-played story thread comes apart thanks to some questionable writing and overblown voice acting. Also a minor let down is the gameplay.

This is still a Halo game, and for all intents and purposes still plays like one. You'll trudge through corridors as well as shoot and drive your way through slightly more open levels filled with NPCs (both friend and foe), the same as you've done in every Halo thus far.

The armour abilities from Reach make a return and bring a mild tactical wrinkle to an otherwise straightforward combat experience. Even with the new Mantis mech and a rehash of Reach's flight sections.

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Photographs: 343 Industries/Microsoft Studios
Tags: Cortana , Mantis

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The levels stick to standard Halo archetypes and offer no surprises, and a lot of the minute-to-minute gameplay consists of the same busy-work we've done countless times before, except without the narrative or character motivation (like you had in Reach) to drive your journey forward. Even the 4-player campaign co-op struggles to liven up the experience.

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Photographs: 343 Industries/Microsoft Studios
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Also disappointing is the new Spartan Ops mode in the Infinity multiplayer suite, which boils down to a series of pre-fab story episodes featuring soldiers from the UNSC Infinity that can be played in co-op. It's a poor replacement for the superior Firefight mode from Reach thanks to its heavy reliance on identikit levels and mindless shooting.

The drip-feeding of Spartan Ops levels over 10 weeks post-launch is also clearly a strategy designed to prevent trade-ins. That said, the CG cut scenes that start each episode off is just stunning.

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Photographs: 343 Industries/Microsoft Studios
Tags: UNSC

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The other half of Infinity comprises the War Games competitive multiplayer modes. You can customise your Spartans' weapons and armour abilities using Spartan Points that you earn playing multiplayer matches. There's a level cap of 50 after which you can specialise and rank up a specific class of your choice.

Other changes include a consistent ability to sprint, thereby making games faster, and ordinance drops that have clearly been borrowed from the Call of Duty franchise. The new Dominion and Flood modes are good fun, and the inclusion of the Forge level creator will ensure longevity for those aching for their daily multiplayer fix.

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Photographs: 343 Industries/Microsoft Studios
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You mileage and affinity with Halo 4 will greatly depend on what you expect from the franchise. If all you're looking for is more of the same, Halo 4 will scratch that itch quite nicely. If on the other hand you're looking for not just a franchise evolution, but also an evolution of the basic tenant of first person shooter design from a franchise that defined innovation a decade ago, you're in for a disappointment.

This is the same Halo, for better or worse. 343 industries have proved they can make a good Halo game, but the franchise (and gaming) deserves so much more. Here's to the inevitable Halo 5 and a more confident turn, then.

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Photographs: 343 Industries/Microsoft Studios
Tags: Halo

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