As you may or may not know, I am a teacher and father of a two-year-old boy. This means that I spend the whole day essentially as other people’s property – either teaching the structure of a language contorted by the Normans, Celts, Vikings and Shakespeare, or running around saying things like “DON’T eat the jigsaw” or the classic “PLEASE STOP HITTING THE DOG WITH THE KIWI” (true story). As a result, my decades old gaming habit (addiction?) has taken a real battering. I realised that when I fell asleep, exhausted, in the middle of an intense virtual firefight, thumb still pushing my avatar into a wall as dreams took hold, my traditional gaming window had ceased to be viable.
This has lead to my backlog of unfinished titles growing to huge proportions, even necessitating the creation of an Evernote list just to keep on top of it. However, sometimes the Universe synchronises and I get the rarest of rare opportunities – a day off, in my apartment, with my son elsewhere and no work to be done. These cannot be squandered. So, today, I’m treating myself. The reading chair has been moved and has temporarily become the gaming chair, and in front of me I have Halo 4 installing on my Xbox 360. I’m going to play the whole damn thing, from beginning to end, and update this article as I go.
I think this might be the last hurrah for the old 360. I started transitioning over to the PS3 early last year when my Live account ran out and I’ve barely used it in the last six months. I think later this week it’ll go on Craigslist while it’s got any kind of value before its successor emerges in April. How fitting, then, that Halo 4 will be its swansong. I bought my first Xbox to play Halo and my first 360 for Halo 3, so this would be a fine send-off. I hope. The Halo fanboy in me is a little apprehensive, but there’s only one way to find out.
Here. We. Go!
9:43am – After the frustration of Heroic at Matt’s house, this is the first game I’m choosing to play on Normal. Hope it’s not too easy.
9:48am – Certainly is very shiny.
9:52am – Chief OF Duty. FFS. QTEs have no place in Halo.
10:10am – Nice prologue, but I hope Cortana doesn’t spend the next five hours telling me exactly what I need to do at all times. Tearing through Covenant with the BR and Magnum never gets old, though.
10:21am – “The whole ship was destroyed in the crash, but these Warthogs…they’re fine”.
10.35am – Either the Magnum is (still) ridiculously overpowered or the Covenant weapons feel incredibly weak. Either way, being forced to use a Storm Rifle is draining my fun and motivation already, which probably doesn’t bode well…
10:42am – The Forerunner architecture is beautiful, though. All tall and Tron-shiny. Becoming much more attracted to games with nice architecture, makes a big difference.
10:50am – To be fair, if I were to design an AI avatar, I’d probably make it a shapely brunette in a sparkly spandex suit, too.
10:54am – Feels like an attempt at a Best Of up to now. Crashing onto alien land, hunting Elites through lush green hills, Warthog sliding, bridge cross…check, check, check.
11:02am – And then there was the time where an Elite hijacked my Banshee then flew it straight into a wall and didn’t move. Then another one followed suit. Definitely finding some differences with the enemy AI compared to the flawless previous games’ performance.
11:08am – I’ve always been a lover of the solid AA games, and quite miss how they’re not really made any more, but it’s always nice to see the result of when an AAA game has all the money thrown at it. Some great artists at 343 Industries, that’s for sure. I just hope the story matches the artistic beauty. As someone who’s deeply involved in writing and language, a well-told story is what elevates anything to greatness.
11:13am – So when an Elite bursts out and charges you, and he’s got an energy sword so it’s a guaranteed one-hit kill, and the weapon you’ve got is too weak to damage him, and there’s no way you could have survived so next time you just spam grenades where you know he’ll emerge – I’m not sure that qualifies as good game design. Hmm.
11:22am – It’s so pretty. Amazing that they were able to squeeze graphics like this out of such old hardware. Oh good, Cortana’s pressed some buttons and now all hell’s broken loose.
11:32am – As much as I love the dismantling reload animation of the Promethian weapons, they feel as punchy as a handful of wet spaghetti. Magnum back, please. Also, Matt, you’re totally right – all the species’ weapons are basically reskins of each other’s. Most disappointing fact, so far. Love the feel of imaginative weapons in something like, say, the criminally underrated Bulletstorm.
11:35am – Croissants and hazlenut Nutella time. Also plan on drinking so much tea that I start sweating caffeine. Brb.
11:46am – I would like to thank (blame?) my Swiss students for getting me on to Nutella. They eat it with butter, just to make sure that it’s not healthy in the slightest. So, sugared up, tea made, time for more!
11:55am – How to infuriate me in two easy stages: STEP 1) Design enemy AI that make targets run away and attack from long range; STEP 2) Force me to use the only weapon in any abundance, the Supressor, even though it’s completely useless at long range with near zero accuracy.
12:01pm – Oh good, and the Scattershot’s useless too. How wonderful.
12:16pm – Hey Matt, remember when we first played this on co-op and we got stuck on the bit where we had to destroy the power to the pylon and put the draining of fun down to the difficulty level? Nope.
12:25pm – Oh, good. Instead of changing difficulty level – because there is no fun in cheap death and weak weapons – I restarted the whole. Damn. Pylon. Mission. Remember that time I was going to play the latest instalment of one of my all-time favourite gaming franchises in one go?
It remembers our previous co-op progress, so I can jump in to the next level! I’ll miss the unveiling of the Big Bad, but apparently I’ve seen that already. Obviously left a big impression.
12:31pm – O! D! S! T!
12:34pm – It’s uncanny how much the Mammoth rolling along the cliff edge echos the exact same tank sequence in the one of the Gears Of War games.
12:44pm – OK, finally. Gorgeous engine, fighting Covenant with a squad of Spartans and ODSTs, original weapons. Bungie’s Halo at its very best. Really underlines how weak an enemy the Promethians are, though. And I never want to have to use their weapons ever again, thanks.
12:50pm – Oh good, three more power sources I have to shut down. How very original.
12:51pm – Aaaand a Warthog just killed me by driving straight over me as I was lining up a shot. Obviously Master Chief isn’t that vital to the war effort. This is the exact same spot where I gave up on the campaign in co-op – let’s see if I make it through this time.
1:03pm – Now I’m fighting my way to the grav lift into a Covenant ship in the exact manner it happens in Halo 3…
1:12pm – “We literally think ourselves to death”. Literally, Cortana? Literally?
“I promise…I WILL NEVER DIE”
1:22pm – Always been a fan of sniping, but nothing breaks the immersion more than being given ten seconds to “RETURN TO THE BATTLEFIELD” if I dare to strafe an inch out of range. Still, this section is the first to feel like classic Halo, even if I did have to drop the difficulty down to Easy just to squeeze any fun out. I really think 343 messed up the difficulty levels, they don’t match the other games in the series at all.
1:34pm – I’m working on the theory that pizza makes everything better, if when it’s burnt to a crisp. Speed Bake indeed.
1:36pm – Brilliant game design #44: After going up a ramp, enemies rush you, and directly behind you is an insta-kill drop. GOOD WORK EVERYONE.
1:42pm – Aah, the Promethians are back. Pizza, why must you fail me now?
1:52pm – Just not a patch on the Covenant. Nowhere close. Inside somewhere now that looks a lot like Halo‘s Library, and we all know how that turned out. (Spoiler: Not well)
1:58pm – Took ages for the light bridge to come out so I could try and find Cortana, was wondering up and down that walkway for ages. Bug? Maybe.
2:05pm – So the (albiet extremely impressive) CG exposition sequence has left me more confused than ever about the story. Master Chief is the result of the genetic seeds placed in humanity by an librarian who hid a weapon – The Composer duh duh DUUUHH – away from the Big Bad after humanity tried to kill everyone and everything. Right. What? Now Chief’s evolution has ben “accelerated” so I guess I’ve got laser eyes or something now.
2:14pm – Well, picked up Cortana, still no idea what’s going on, found a portal (very convenient, these portals) and now I’m suddenly back here. So I guess I’ll keep shooting things until something changes.
2:19pm – You know, Halo 4, the more you put me back in a UNSC squad, taking out Covenant in a Scorpion tank, the more I just want you to be ODST 2.
2:24pm – Yeah, good luck arresting Master Chief. Go for it.
2:26pm – True love.
2:32pm – And now I want a whole game flying a Pelican. Shivers!
2:36pm – BOOM
2:39pm – My ride. Seriously, 343, make this happen. An X-Wing/Tie Fighter style game set in the Halo universe? Day one.
2:48pm – And another callback to Halo 3 with the defence of a slow-moving space gondola.
2:59pm – The perfect mid-weapon-change Pelican money shot.
3:04pm – Haha, as soon as Cortana said that we had to destroy some power attenuators, I knew there’d be three. Bingo!
3:05pm – Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the very worst of Halo 4 – trapped in a metallic Forerunner structure, surrounded by the Annoying Dog Promethians, The Insect Bastard Promethians and the Flying Arsehole Promethians, having to destroy three of something before I can proceed. Sigh.
3:15pm – So I did the three things by jetpacking all over the place like a crazy person, just scraped through, heart pounding, then died on way to door objective and it put me back before the three things. FFS.
3:31pm. Yeah, take that three arbitrary things that need to be destroyed. Back to the Pelican.
3:34pm – Um…my Pelican keeps randomly blowing up on the way to the next waypoint. Maybe it’s a comment on the fragility and reality of the universe. Or maybe it’s a bug.
3:36pm – Uh, OK, it was an invisible ceiling. My mistake for thinking that I was piloting a spaceship that could fly upwards.
3:43pm – Wading through Covenant again, trying to get to the control terminal for the defence spires. Must be close to the end by now.
3:45pm – Big, wide open space and a Banshee. Recipe for Halo success!
3:53pm – Or not, as it seems. Last push to grab an artifact, which is actually The Composer, from the space base above…THE THIRD HALO RING DUH DUH DUUUUH! (Totally did not see that coming at all)
4:02pm – Oh man. Fighting Covenant in a space base alongside UNSC infantry and human scientists. If only the whole game had been like this.
4:13pm – The dog needs a wee, and my son will be here in 30 mins. Looks like this will need to be continued. Hope you enjoyed this with me, a few of the later levels were bordering on classic Halo. Hopefully will polish this off later, so keep your eyes peeled!
8:32pm – Halo 4 playthrough part 2 is GO GO GO!
8:37pm – There’s no question about it, 343 are definitely referencing highlights in the series so far. Just making my way through a dark service tunnel, just like in the first Halo. Is this a good thing? It’s certainly very nice to see it so very shiny, and it does help to reignite those old Halo feelings.
8:49pm – Lots and lots and lots of dead Covs. Honestly, they could have made a ten hour game out of this and I would have been ecstatic.
8:59pm – Whoa! Halo Mech! Wait. Halo Mech???
9:05pm – To be fair, the Mech is exceedingly good at making Banshee rain. Impressive number of enemies in the fight without even a hint of slowdown, kind of what fans have been wanting in a Halo game for a long time.
9:09pm – Another stuck Banshee up against a wall. Maybe it’s a new trend.
9:14pm – Some nice Raiders Of The Lost Ark face-melting there! Didn’t quite manage to rescue those scientists. Sorry, scientists.
9:16pm – Aww. The interaction between Cotana and the Chief is actually quite touching. Her facial expressions are very subtle. Genuinely impressive. Now, back into space, after the Diadact!
9:18pm – So now it’s the run into the second Death Star from Jedi that’s the inspiration. Heading headlong into the Diadact’s ship in a Broadsword, the same space ship that was playable in Halo Reach. Still looking absolutely lovely, and I get the feeling this might be Halo 4‘s version of the final Warthog chase.
9:24pm – I’m a sucker for a great spaceship-flying-into-something-big sequence (you can blame Star Wars for that), so this is doing all the right things for me at the moment.
9:39pm – Back inside, on foot, fighting the Promethians again. Would have quite liked the spaceship part as the finale, I think.
9:47pm – Gravity. Hammer. I’ve missed you, old friend.
9:53pm – The big weapon being powered up by the Big Bad, a closed door, and a selection of weapons. Last part, then.
10:19pm – Really really really the end now. The Call Of Duty crawl rears its ugly head again, unfortunately. At least the QTEs turned out to be just bookends.
10:27pm – Game over.
So, thirteen hours, three dog walks, one trip to playgym, two meals and four trips to the bathroom later, Halo 4 is finished. Thanks for sticking with me and I hope you found my trip back into the Halo universe as much fun as wading through a crowd of Covenant in a Banshee. Tomorrow I’ll post my review and final collected thoughts on the whole thing, after a trip to Wikipedia to work out what was actually going on. Good night!