Review

My thoughts on Halo 4's Campaign

The latest, major flagship title for the Xbox 360 has arrived, and it's courtesy of a brand new studio called 343 Industries. Halo 4 will surely be a blockbuster no matter which way you look at it, but you came here for my opinion of the game and that is what I shall give!

First of all, this is only covering the singleplayer portion of the game as that's the only part I have had a chance to look at before the embargo ended. I'm aware many people will be purchasing this game for the multiplayer only, so hopefully I will have my opinions on that aspect sometime in the future. Maybe once I've had some mates over for an Xbox 360 System Link party.

Secondly, and more importantly, I am not a fan of the Halo series. I played Halo 3 and thought it was average, slogged my way through Halo: ODST, and actually never completed the story of Halo: Reach before playing the multiplayer for a short time. Something about this series has never quite grabbed me, but as Microsoft were kind enough to send me a copy of Halo 4 I thought I would give the series another chance.

So keep that in mind, as I start with what I liked about Halo 4's singleplayer campaign.

What I Liked

The Epicness: Right from the word go, Halo 4 feels like it's going to be an epic game. The first cutscene sets a mood of greatness, seeing Master Chief once again, and once you actually get into the gameplay it certainly delivers. You seriously feel as if there is a war going on as soon as you enter the game world, as battles have stepped up a notch from what I remember in past games. 

There's a lot of action, a lot of vast expanses to cross, and some seriously fast paced vehicle scenes. I don't want to spoil the epic story for those reading this article, because you really need to experience it - preferably with a large TV and surround sound

The Cool New Guns: There's new worlds to explore in Halo 4, and that means a variety of new weapons. Sure, some of the old favorites are back such as the Fuel Rod, Needler, DMR and classic Assault Rifle, but there's a whole bunch of awesome new weapons as well. I particularly liked the Promethean weapons such as the Lightrifle, Scattershot and Suppressor, as not only to the guns equip in a cool way, the way they fire and destroy enemies is a visual spectacle.

The Enemies: Along with the new guns have to come some new enemies. Of course you still get the classic Covenant from previous games, but there are also some new Promethean enemies that are the source of the cool guns. I found killing these Prometheans to be more satisfying than the Covenant for some reason; perhaps it's because I've seen so much of the old type of enemies that a break from the usual is definitely welcome.

The Covenant and Promethean forces are mixed throughout the game, so there is certainly a wider scope of enemies that you'll be facing as you progress. Naturally there are the tough ones as well as the easy ones, so make sure you choose your weaponry properly before entering an area. There were a few times where I accidentally entered a checkpoint with the worst possible weapons, and this made it hard for me in the next section. You've been warned.

The Sound: Beautiful soundtrack. Beautiful environmental sounds. Fantastic voice acting. Superb gun noises. Perfect use of surround sound. Halo 4 is a real aural masterpiece.

The Level Design: Halo 4 is a linear game for the most part, but often it chucks you in to a large environment with a few ways to tackle the various objectives. By forcing you to traverse through complex structures, there are sometimes some cool weapon caches to discover among obstacles you can use to your advantage. Not only do the environments feel futuristic, but they also make it fun enough to engage in battles.

The Visuals: I play the majority of my games on a PC, so firing up my Xbox 360 was definitely a visual change (for the worse). That said, it does look visually impressive for a console game, and although I don't think it quite reaches the standards set by Battlefield 3 and Crysis 2, it's a clear improvement over past Halo games.

The most impressive visual element I found was the sprawling environments filled with detail and stunning textures, which surely must take its toll on the Xbox 360's limited graphical power. Also the JJ Abrams-style lighting, featuring a number of crazy lens flares, adds to the epicness of the game and really makes it feel like you're in a science fiction environment.

Face Capture: Another aspect of the visuals that really deserves its own little section is for the face capture technology 343 Industries has used to animate the facial expressions on people within the game. It looks really, really good - I would say even better than the fantastic implementation used in Rockstar and Team Bondi's LA Noire. Faces have never been particularly lifelike in games, but if this technology becomes widespread we are really in for a treat.

All The Options: I played the campaign through by myself, but don't forget there's a number of other ways to enjoy the experience. You can increase the difficulty up to a brutal Legendary mode, and then you can bring in some friends to help you so you don't die so often. And, the usual skulls make a comeback to make your playthough even harder. This is all without touching the multiplayer modes, so you're guaranteed a lot of gameplay from Halo 4.

What I Didn't Like

The Confusion: For someone "new" to the Halo series like me (in that I half-finished a lot of the previous games), I found the first half of the game somewhat confusing as to exactly what was happening, and why I was doing certain things. There is a short recap that you can find within the first level, but for me this was inadequate at actually explaining what the story of Halo was.

By the second half of the story I was piecing together fragments of the Halo story, but this confusion detracted from actually enjoying the game as it should be intended. If you're a fan of Halo, don't worry too much about this, as you'll have the necessary background knowledge.

The Gunplay: My biggest beef with Halo 4 has to be the gunplay - I have never really enjoyed the way Halo makes you use guns, and it isn't my ideal first-person shooter style. I really like the ability to look down your guns sights in a game as I feel like that is the way you would use the guns in a real war scenario, but yet again with Halo 4 you can't do this and it really annoys me. I just don't like being stuck to psuedo-inaccurate hip-firing regardless of how awesome the guns are.

Also, again it feels like there is some sort of gameplay element that is holding Halo back from being really fun. It possibly has something to do with the way Halo locks you in to a specific method of combat, fighting the same waves of enemies with little variation. Sure, the environments may change, but the creatures you are fighting and the objectives you are doing seem re-used between each level when they probably don't have to be.

It seems really hard to explain exactly why I felt the gameplay and gunplay of Halo 4 lacked, and it's certainly not as bad as it was with previous Halo games, but I feel with such strong lore and epic storytelling that I could be enjoying it a little bit more.

The Visuals: Yes, this category appears in what I like about Halo 4 as well as what I don't like. The Xbox 360 is really showing its age, and even though I played it on a 1080p system I felt as if the game wasn't actually being rendered at 1080p. Not a huge deal as it may not be technically possible, but it was a little bit disappointing from the flagship Microsoft Studios game.

Verdict

As I mentioned at the start, I'm not a fan of the Halo series and that's why it's probably inappropriate for me to give a proper review to this game, complete with a score and all that jazz. Compared to previous games in the series, I easily liked Halo 4 the best as there have been a lot of great improvements to the game's storytelling and environments.

That said, the issues I had with previous Halo games still somewhat remain in Halo 4, and the enjoyment of the campaign seems to be hindered by a re-use of the same battle scenarios. Don't get me wrong - I did enjoy playing through Halo 4 - but there are elements about the way the game is constructed that don't make it as fun as it could be.

If you have liked previous Halo games there is absolutely no reason why you would not like Halo 4, and I imagine the multiplayer part of the game is quite a bit of fun. In fact, I might just go play some of it right now.

Note: Screenshots used in this article are media assets, and are not directly captured from an Xbox 360. As such they images look sharper than what is actually seen playing the game on the console.

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41 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

Microsoft has too much riding on this franchise to let anyone butcher their series. Halo was and is their "Halo" game.

So basically your saying that in your opinion 343 Industries has produced the best Halo yet. Good to know! Most of the Halo fans I know were worried that 343 would butcher the franchise after bungie pulled out.

Lol...he actually complained about not being able to use iron sights??!!!

That's just a plain ridiculous criticism when reviewing a Halo game.

xiphi said,
The same reason why I don't care for Halo games much and makes them feel dated.

or you just can't handle the difficulty.
with iron sights, you just hold the left trigger and spray = kill. no wonder so many kids and "pros" play call of duty.

So the author has played 3 Halo games and is not a fan. yea right.

"I am not a fan of the Halo series. I played Halo 3 and thought it was average, slogged my way through Halo: ODST, and actually never completed the story of Halo: Reach "

Well maybe he liked the multiplayer but was not a fan of the single player. This was a single player review.

I actually love the multiplayer of the halo serie. But i was never able to finish the story line of Halo 2, 3 and Reach because of boredom (i actually finished the story line of the first game).

I love how Tim starts off this review by saying that he doesn't like the Halo series, and then states that he only played 3, ODST, and SOME of Reach...

ODST is the worst of all of the Halo games. 3 is arguably the worst of the original trilogy. And Reach, in my opinion, is the best of the series. And he didn't even play it all the way through.

Then, he goes on to use his lack of familiarity with the story as a negative against Halo 4, because it's "confusing". /boggle

spacer said,
Then, he goes on to use his lack of familiarity with the story as a negative against Halo 4, because it's "confusing". /boggle

Games aren't just for those used to the story. A good game can be picked up by anyone and enjoyed, regardless of whether they've actually played previous ones.

And for the record I've actually played every Halo game, and liked none of them (except Halo 4 which is alright)

I would disagree with your first statement, but I guess that's a matter of opinion. To your second though, if you have played all of the games, then how is Halo 4's story confusing?

If the story is confusing because you're unfamiliar with the story, that's one thing. But if it's confusing because it's being told poorly, that's another.

spacer said,
I would disagree with your first statement, but I guess that's a matter of opinion. To your second though, if you have played all of the games, then how is Halo 4's story confusing?

I never said I finished the other games Also I eventually figured out what was going on, and actually the story gets really good towards the end

I guess you did say that. My bad. I just wanted to know whether the story was confusing because it's confusing, or because you were ignorant (not in a derogatory way).

MickeForsberg said,
How could it feel like it is rendering in 1080p when it's upscaled from 720p?

No Xbox 360 game is rendered in 1080p.

A lot of times they are often rendered at higher than 1080p and then set to display at 720p, and then up-scaled to 1080p.

That's why I mentioned Full Scene Anti-Aliasing earlier. You render at a higher res, and then scale it down to the target res.

Shane Nokes said,

A lot of times they are often rendered at higher than 1080p and then set to display at 720p, and then up-scaled to 1080p.

That's why I mentioned Full Scene Anti-Aliasing earlier. You render at a higher res, and then scale it down to the target res.


So technically you could just use the 1080p rendering instead of downscaling it and upscaling it again? What would the difference in performance be?

MickeForsberg said,


So technically you could just use the 1080p rendering instead of downscaling it and upscaling it again? What would the difference in performance be?

Performance would gain a little, but quality would suffer.

Real 1080p is 1080p. You can't say because it is using 4x AA sudenly 720p or even worse 540p looks like 1080p with light 2x AA. There's a limit to what AA can do specially at a resolution like 540p.

When you chose 1920x1200 or 1920x1080 with 4x AA on a PC what you geat is not 2560x1600. You get a slightly blurry less jagged 1920x1080. Anone who has seen 2560 (with or without AA) in action perfectly knows that.

I liked my 360 before it breaks twice and plan to buy a new one for Halo 4 which looks like the bext Halo so far (ans i'm a big fan of Halo multiplayer).

But the 360 games don't look anything close to real 1920x1080 on a PC. The first time i fired Gears of War i knew the game was running at a lower resolution. It was really obvious.

Edited by LaP, Nov 1 2012, 3:06pm :

LaP said,
Real 1080p is 1080p. You can't say because it is using 4x AA sudenly 720p or even worse 540p looks like 1080p with light 2x AA. There's a limit to what AA can do specially at a resolution like 540p.

When you chose 1920x1200 or 1920x1080 with 4x AA on a PC what you geat is not 2560x1600. You get a slightly blurry less jagged 1920x1080. Anone who has seen 2560 (with or without AA) in action perfectly knows that.

I liked my 360 before it breaks twice and plan to buy a new one for Halo 4 which looks like the bext Halo so far (ans i'm a big fan of Halo multiplayer).

But the 360 games don't look anything close to real 1920x1080 on a PC. The first time i fired Gears of War i knew the game was running at a lower resolution. It was really obvious.

You are confusing MSAA and FSAA.
MSAA is where a scene is rendered at a specific native resolution. Then samples of pixels aee taken that surround specific areas and used to create a softer image. It makes appear leas jagged. It is what most users on PC's end up using.

FSAA (what I am referring to) is where an image is actually rendered at a higher resolution, then made smaller to fit the target resolution. The result is a sharper image with less jagged edges, but is more computationally expensive than MSAA since you do end up rendering a larger higher quality image to start with.

Shane Nokes said,

Performance would gain a little, but quality would suffer.

Not sure how the 1080p without AA could look worse, it wouldn't in my opinion.

MickeForsberg said,

Not sure how the 1080p without AA could look worse, it wouldn't in my opinion.

So what looks better. A picture taken at 1920x1080, or the exact same picture taken at 2560x1440 and then scaled down to fit the target resolution?

It's the latter, which is why FSAA exists in the first place.

Shane Nokes said,

So what looks better. A picture taken at 1920x1080, or the exact same picture taken at 2560x1440 and then scaled down to fit the target resolution?

It's the latter, which is why FSAA exists in the first place.

Not if the target resolution is 720p and then upscaled to 1080p, I wouldn't think... But I could take a look and compare Halo 4 when I get it, to a similiar computer game connected to the same screen at 1080p without AA... and see if Halo 4 looks better, resolution-wise.

Anyone that plays games often is qualified to write a review. Nice job. I have often struggled with following the "story" in Halo as I came in at Halo 3 having only intermittently gamed since Doom 3. Halo 3 blew me away maybe mostly because I had not gamed in so long that I had been way out of the loop altogether. With the onslaught of Microsoft products hitting the shelves this year, I was truly sad to see the XBOX console would not be refreshed until next year. But this sounds like a great "send off" for this generation and I'm betting they will be pulling out all the strings for next years console and the next Halo game. I'm still stuck fighting that goddamn dragon at the top of the mountain in Skyrim and I have no idea when I will even get to this one, but I'll give it a go thanks to this review. JF

I've always had a bit of a problem with the shooting gameplay of Halo as well, it just doesn't have enough of a punch. I wonder if Halo 4 has improved in that area though...

While those are indeed media assets you state that the shots aren't from a 360. Where do you think they get the assets from Tim?

Shane Nokes said,
While those are indeed media assets you state that the shots aren't from a 360. Where do you think they get the assets from Tim?

There's no way a 5120 x 2880 image is a direct capture from the Xbox 360

Scorpus said,

There's no way a 5120 x 2880 image is a direct capture from the Xbox 360

5120x2880?

Last I checked the art assets were provided at 2560x1440. The reason I correct you on that info is actually important.

The Xbox 360 supports FSAA at 4x. This means the title is rendered to a size 4 times larger than what is displayed, and then of course displayed at the originally intended resolution. This allows for a sharper image.

So that image size could most definitely be a direct capture for a 360.

Shane Nokes said,

5120x2880?

Last I checked the art assets were provided at 2560x1440. The reason I correct you on that info is actually important.

The Xbox 360 supports FSAA at 4x. This means the title is rendered to a size 4 times larger than what is displayed, and then of course displayed at the originally intended resolution. This allows for a sharper image.

So that image size could most definitely be a direct capture for a 360.

I guarantee Halo 4 does not support FSAA 4x because the press images, downscaled to 1080p, look nowhere near the same as what I see on the console.

And yes, some images are 2560 x 1440 while others are 5120 x 2880

Scorpus said,

I guarantee Halo 4 does not support FSAA 4x because the press images, downscaled to 1080p, look nowhere near the same as what I see on the console.

And yes, some images are 2560 x 1440 while others are 5120 x 2880

Weird I am seeing some unusual resolutions in the art assets as you've mentioned. I do note (and I didn't check everything) that the 2880 shots were handled via Photoshop while the shots I was looking at look like they were processed through ACDSee.

I would be fairly surprised if the 1440 images weren't directly from the game itself. Anything is possible though...but it would still surprise me.

Just to point out in order to see what you'd see on the console you would need to take the images, properly scale them down to 720p & save them at that res, then magnify them up to 1080p. Doing that I have a feeling you would see something fairly similar to what you see on the console. The console uses an internal scalar to bring things up to 1080p, but of course it can result in less than optimal quality as all methods of up-scaling tend to do.

You guys obviously never used the screenshot function from prior games, it renders them at way higher resolution.

PmRd said,
You guys obviously never used the screenshot function from prior games, it renders them at way higher resolution.

Beat me to it and besides, it is perfectly possible to extract "screen shots" at these higher resolutions if you have a dev console or a modded xbox

PmRd said,
You guys obviously never used the screenshot function from prior games, it renders them at way higher resolution.

I obviously have never used these features?

I spent the last 4 years working on things at Microsoft Studios and on various teams related to Xbox LIVE. That's why I brought up the point about the internal rendering resolution and FSAA.

Shane Nokes said,

Just to point out in order to see what you'd see on the console you would need to take the images, properly scale them down to 720p & save them at that res, then magnify them up to 1080p. .

A lot of the big titles on 360 are running at 540p and not 720p

LaP said,

A lot of the big titles on 360 are running at 540p and not 720p

Those titles are generally doing two passes that are combined in the framebuffer. Usually due to HDR.

Shane Nokes said,

5120x2880?

Last I checked the art assets were provided at 2560x1440. The reason I correct you on that info is actually important.

The Xbox 360 supports FSAA at 4x. This means the title is rendered to a size 4 times larger than what is displayed, and then of course displayed at the originally intended resolution. This allows for a sharper image.

So that image size could most definitely be a direct capture for a 360.

Just to let you know, you're mistaken when it comes to AA. You're thinking of FXAA which is just a blur filter applied over the screen to smooth edges. It damages the IQ in order to decrease jaggies.

You are mistaking it with SSAA which renders the game at a resolution much larger than your monitors native resolution, then downscales the image to your screen. SSAA is the best and most expensive form of AA and the 360 would catch fire.

The Halo 4 demos that were shown at insane resolutions were running on a PC.

Declarius said,

The Halo 4 demos that were shown at insane resolutions were running on a PC.

No no and no! First of all there is no Halo 4 running on a pc. The screenshot function from Halo actually renders them at ultra high resolutions.

Declarius said,

Just to let you know, you're mistaken when it comes to AA. You're thinking of FXAA which is just a blur filter applied over the screen to smooth edges. It damages the IQ in order to decrease jaggies.

You are mistaking it with SSAA which renders the game at a resolution much larger than your monitors native resolution, then downscales the image to your screen. SSAA is the best and most expensive form of AA and the 360 would catch fire.

The Halo 4 demos that were shown at insane resolutions were running on a PC.

You are joking right? I mean please tell me you are just yanking my chain...

FXAA is Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing, which does indeed do what you are saying.

I was talking about FSAA, Full-Scene Anti-Aliasing. It's literally just another name for SSAA. Check, you'll find I'm right.

You can also refer to the documentation from Microsoft regarding the console itself and Anti-Aliasing:

Both PC and Xbox 360 platforms support Full Screen Antialiasing (FSAA) modes, where extra pixels are rendered to a render target and used as samples to create an antialiased final image. 4x FSAA uses four samples per pixel by rendering the scene to a render target with twice the height and width of the backbuffer. It uses the extra samples in the render target to create an antialiased final image. 2x FSAA is also common on PCs and supported by the Xbox 360.

Pardon their use of Screen instead of Scene.

The point being I know more than a little bit about this due to my work history. You can argue all you want, but it won't make you right.

Edited by Shane Nokes, Nov 3 2012, 7:51pm :

LOL, I misread things then. My twitter has been flooded with Halo 4 reviews. So I just thought it was released. LOL.

I hoped to see some footage of the Face Capture feature though...

theweirdn8 said,

I wonder does my room-mate have this game already. He's a huge fan.

Comes out on November 6 so probably not

theweirdn8 said,

I wonder does my room-mate have this game already. He's a huge fan. Good read too btw.

It got leaked, so maybe