Halo 4 PC Review
Halo 4 is the first instalment in the legendary FPS series to be developed by 343 Industries and completes the now six-game-strong Master Chief Collection. Is it really the red-headed franchise stepchild some claim, or simply a misunderstood gem? Time to squeeze into that snug power armour and find out.
Marooned in the depths of space following the climactic events of Halo 3, the Master Chief is unthawed from his cryo-sleep hiatus by AI companion Cortana. They’re on a collision course with an artificial Forerunner planet called Requiem, and the fanatical remnants of the Covenant have come along for the ride. After a quick refresher course in alien murder, Chief makes it to Requiem’s surface, where he unwittingly unleashes a powerful evil bearing an ancient grudge against humanity.
It’s clear 343 wanted this to be the most character-focused Halo yet. Emphasis is placed on the relationship between Chief and Cortana, who can only depend on each other now the supporting cast of series creator Bungie’s original trilogy are all MIA or dead. For the most part it works, with voice actors Steve Downes and Jen Taylor effortlessly selling the material, though there’s something undeniably weird about hearing Downes deliver emotional dialogue in the Master Chief voice (which to me has always sounded like Christian Slater doing a pretty good Clint Eastwood impression).
343’s touch can be felt elsewhere, like the reduction in vehicular mayhem and epic set-piece battles. Even the new score by Neil Davidge and Kazuma Jinnouchi takes more of an atmospheric, backseat approach. It helps give Requiem and its many ominous views of towering Forerunner structures a sense of mystery that hasn’t been felt since Chief first stepped onto that alien ringworld in 2001.
Of course, it’s not all new. The Covenant – those genocidal rascals – are back for another round of humiliation. They’ve been slightly redesigned to better fit their new ragtag status and no longer speak English, while behaving the same as ever. Grunts will panic, Jackals will snipe and Elites will wort (wort, wort). Sometimes their collective AI doesn’t seem quite as sharp as it should, but gunning them down or sticking them with a plasma grenade still amuses even after almost 20 years.
The New Guys
When Chief eradicated the parasitic Flood in Halo 3, an opportunity was presented for 343 to introduce a new enemy that could shake up the otherwise familiar Halo sandbox. Enter the Prometheans – synthetic warriors built from reconstituted DNA. They come in three flavours: Crawlers, Watchers and Knights. They are not 343’s finest hour.
Crawlers are scurrying, robotic dog-like things that die quickly but attack in seemingly endless numbers. Watchers are Jeff Bezos delivery drones from Hell that act as a support class able to shield, summon and even resurrect enemies if you don’t prioritise them. Knights function much like Covenant Elites, complete with energy shields that must be depleted before a killing blow can be struck. Difference is, they can teleport out of sight whenever it suits them, and they do so more often than Jason Voorhees, killing the flow of combat stone dead.
The Prometheans might have been more tolerable if they at least had any kind of personality. Instead, they’re a bunch of sterile bullet sponges that force you to repeatedly exploit the same boring but efficient tactics. The Flood were always very contentious, but their grotesque mindlessness worked in stark contrast against battles with the Covenant, and they were at least relatively easy to dispatch. The Prometheans just feel designed to waste your time.
With a new faction comes “new” weapon types that are functionally identical to several existing tools in Chief’s armoury. A semi-automatic rifle is still a semi-automatic rifle, even when it looks like something you’d hang on a Christmas tree. But the shotgun turns everything into radioactive cornflakes, so that’s neat.
A Full Package
Supplementing the campaign is Spartan Ops, an episodic series of short missions that pit you and three friends against frequently overwhelming odds. “Overwhelming” is the key word here, because it’s frustratingly obvious that this was never balanced for a single-player experience. Only attempt these Ops alone if you’ve ever wanted to be locked in never-ending cycle of death and rebirth.
Then there’s the multiplayer. Depending on who you ask, it’s a heretical perversion of a once cherished online pastime… or just kind of OK! I dipped my toes in for a hot minute, and it felt like Halo: Reach. But now there are equipment loadouts and killstreak rewards no doubt inspired by Call of Duty. Apparently that makes some people very angry.
Halo 4 arrives on PC with support for high resolutions and frame rates. As you’d hope, it runs like a dream. Perhaps that’s not surprising for an eight-year-old game first designed to run on hardware that launched in 2005, and the occasional muddy texture does betray its age, but 343’s art direction has never looked better. The only noticeable problem is how the audio mixing can bury dialogue deep beneath a combination of booming sound effects and sweeping orchestral themes.
It’s as good a reminder as any that just because the Master Chief Collection is technically complete doesn’t mean it’s finished. Persistent issues include similarly unbalanced audio throughout the entire collection, flickering shadows in both Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST, and poor old Halo: Combat Evolved still suffers from the same missing effects and broken textures that have lingered since its first PC conversion in 2003.
Back to Bed
Halo 4 remains a flawed but promising start to 343’s tenure. Not every change works (dear lord, those Prometheans), but when everything clicks it’s unmistakably Halo and this PC port is a great way to experience it. While we cross our fingers and wait for Halo: Infinite next year, perhaps someone can address the Halo 5-shaped elephant in the room.
Just saying, a PC release would be nice.