When you are a new studio taking over one of the most critically acclaimed series of all time, what is the one thing you do not, under any circumstances, want to do? Alienate the series’ core audiences. And down to a man, Halo 4 alienated as no Halo had alienated before. Casual players who enjoy the campaign without being massively invested were left behind by complex world-building, and the dedicated fans of multiplayer who play for its competitive edge struggled against new dynamics and asymmetrical map design. To most people, this would be considered a failure, but I ended up enjoying it more than any other Halo game, and I love the other Halo games. Why, then, was Halo 4 so damn good?
Games have a certain feeling to them, a rhythm you get into where you suspend your disbelief and become the protagonist. Every time the game feels clunky or glitchy it breaks that immersion and takes you back out of that moment. Halo 4 lives or dies on its immersion and succeeds in every possible way. The gameplay is buttery smooth and the new Forerunners perfectly integrated. The hovering Watchers with their hardlight shields protecting towering Knights with the ability to teleport and close the distance faster than any other enemy. The Crawlers and their ability to climb walls truly make Halo 4 combat evolved, utilising that 3rd-dimension like never before. These fights just never get old to me. And since I was talking about ordinance – just how perfectly executed were the new forerunner weapons! You pick it up and it disassembles and then reassembles around your arm. It really feels distinct and alien, but not in the same way as the covenant. There is no parity, no equivalent in each arsenal. It was truly beyond anything either side has. This alien feeling marks the entire campaign with a mysterious wonder, if you have read the books, it is the best Halo campaign, and its not even close.
The clear artistic delineation between what is Human, Covenant, Forerunner and Flood was executed exquisitely
And what of multiplayer? The expertly crafted gameplay carries over, and as a solo-player I appreciate the focus on individuality. With such a large sandbox, every gun is fun to use, but none were sterilised in the name of balance, with the exception of the egregious boltshot shotgun pistol. When so many games stress about balance in multiplayer, it caves into the worse impulses in the gaming community, I do not care if guns are overpowered, that is part of the fun. Having to modify your playstyle to mitigate unbalance is far more interesting than simply knowing all the guns and strategies are equal, so disincentivising finding interesting ways to play. Additionally maps lent themselves to developing unique playstyles. Longbow and Haven would be on any top 10 Halo list for me, with Abandon, Complex and Exile close behind. Every aspect of the design was outstanding, from the flow of the maps to the art style – and this applies to the campaign too – the clear artistic delineation between what is Human, Covenant, Forerunner and Flood was executed exquisitely.
Ultimately, Halo 4 was niche. I do not think that is what 343 Industries were going for, and I certainly do not think that is what Microsoft wanted, but in the end it came together into a Halo which ticked every box. It should not have worked, but while their choices annoyed many, I think 343 Industries struck pure gold. There were no maps or game modes you sighed when they were chosen. If you loaded into any game of Halo 4, you knew it was going to be fun, and no other games have ever come with that guarantee for me. It was the Halo I always wanted and the Halo I have been chasing ever since. Many will disagree on an objective level but personally, Halo 4 has to be my game of the decade.