Halo 4 – the long-awaited reboot of Bungie’s beloved Xbox-exclusive series by internal Microsoft studio 343 Industries – is coming out on November 6th. The review embargo broke this morning at 12:01 am PT. A lot of people were impressed. Shocking. “Game of the year!” “Thrilling!” “A worthy successor to the Halo legacy!” Back-of-box quotes abound. Did you know that 343 was created just to make Halo games? And that’s it! Hope the series doesn’t flop or everyone will be out of jobs.
But! Which website had the best Halo 4 review? Which online publication is most worthy to get free games weeks before they’re released to the common folk, in order to better serve the public by telling them how much they should buy the latest AAA blockbuster? I read a lot – a LOT – of Halo 4 reviews, and I’ve learned that… first of all, don’t do that. They all kind of say the same thing (“Buy Halo 4“). Second of all, there are lots of different flavors of sites – some are basically tabloid trash, and others are snooty snoot-fests like Edge where everyone discusses games while smoking fine Cuban cigars and sitting around a fireplace in their silk bathrobes, drinking aged brandy out of hollowed-out orphan skulls. You’re sure to find one somewhere that speaks to your level of maturity. And if not, go make your own site. Whiner.
Anyway, to the reviews! Let’s start at the bottom of the barrel and work our way up, shall we?
It starts with a bit of backstory on the franchise and the new developers. They’ve got a lot to live up to, ya know? Then it wanders around a bit, talking about the emotions the author felt, and how they finally connected with Master Chief in a meaningful way. Adjectives like “lovely” and “delightful” are used to describe the setting and music.
There is then a whole paragraph about how confusing the storyline is, how too much is thrown at you before being promptly forgotten. How even experts will have a hard time sifting through all the new names, places, and enemies. Interesting.
Next up, the author talks about the basic facts of the game, and loses me. In the beginning of the review, it was about how the game felt, and there were emotionally connected words everywhere. Once Kotaku delved into the basic Halo mechanics, I got bored fast.
… Ah. Then there’s this, regarding how great their multiplayer experience was:
Granted, my experience may have been the most optimal, as I was in a room with roughly nine others, all of us calling out playfully to one another in the competitive environment.
It wraps up with a few loose ends about how great the guns feel and how annoying the enemies are before saying, “YES, you should buy Halo 4.”
Interesting fact: Kotaku’s review was the only review with the author’s name hidden at the end, instead of right in the beginning by the title. This is due to the fact that their server was trashed by Hurricane Sandy and they have to update their site on Tumblr, but it’s something to note, nonetheless.
Best quote: It’s cinematic, and features lovely music.
When you open this page, the first thing you see is two giant Mountain Dew/Halo 4 advertisements. This oughta be good.
IGN actually did a combination video/text review. The video is eight minutes long though so ehhhhh let’s just talk about the text. I don’t have the attention span for video content, especially after the 60-second Tarantino trailer got me all pumped up to go outside and practice karate kicks on the tree in front of my apartment building.
IGN argues for a moment that Halo 4 is actually about Cortana’s mind breaking, and less about the new space war you’re embroiled in. Then IGN guy jumps right into evaluating the gunplay. This is a big contrast to Kotaku, where the guns seemed almost like an afterthought, a few closing sentences before putting the review kid to bed for the night. And then it keeps going. There’s a light, conversational tone here that keeps you whisking through the review at a crazy pace, like reading a Harry Potter book as an adult. Not… simple, really, but definitely an easy stroll though reading land. Well suited to IGN’s iconic 13-year-old fanboy demographic.
And that is why IGN makes all the money. Readability. To the point. Not cluttered (well, except with ALL. THESE. ADS.). brb getting Doritos and Mountain Dew.
Best Quote: Cortana once asked Master Chief what would happen if he missed his target, and in the single greatest line of dialogue in Halo history, Chief replied with the coolest, calmest confidence, “I won’t.”
G4 puts their review scores right at the top. Handy in case I don’t want to read anything and just need to skip to the bottom to complain. Also, there’s a convenient Pros vs. Cons table right below the title, letting us see how contradictory this review is going to be instantly.
Two cons: “Exceedingly ‘safe’ sequel from this new Halo developer” and “No more Firefight!” Alright, G4 Staff person. You want this to be different from previous Halo games, but you don’t want to lose the mode you liked most from the last one. Yeah, no, that makes sense.
Here is the first sentence from the review:
When gamers and games media alike turn to look back over the releases of 2012, there’s one word that you’ll see frequently associated with 343 Industries’ Halo 4: “safe.”
This is the first review that has used that word to describe Halo 4. I’ve seen “lovely” and “bar-raising,” but never “safe.” It’s interesting, too, that the writer is so careful to avoid any spoilers whatsoever, but seems to revel in the fact that he knows what they are. I was half-expecting him to end his review with a ;-P face.
One thing to glean from this review: multiplayer has a lot of CoD-like perks, apparently. That isn’t something I got from the other reviews so far, and it’s interesting. Expected. But interesting.
Best quote: It’s still a pretender though, an overly safe effort that leans too heavily on the Bungie crutch.
Something feels a little… off about this whole review. It opens by declaring Halo 4 leaps and bounds better than any game in the series before. But then it’s not that awesome. Then it is! Then it isn’t. Every paragraph seems to open by singing the glories of 343 and what they’ve done with this, the newest and prettiest Halo, and every paragraph seems to end with a note of disappointment tainting Hamza’s words.
And then it gets a 10/10. Of course it does. But look, you can even see it in individual sentences:
The story does stand on its own, but I do feel like there was a lot of information and assumptions that players are forced to accept about the overall plot going on in the universe.
The levels are humongous in scope, but the paths you take are still linear in design.
Gameplay wise, it’s largely what you would come to expect out of a Halo.
There are a few segments that break up the run-and-gun/vehicle combat elements too… These moments are very few and far between, however.
This whole review is like a tug-of-war in Hamza’s psyche, like he knows – like he feels – that this is the best Halo game of all time, and one of the greatest games of the year, but that if he doesn’t criticize it… people will call him a fanboy? They’ll take one look at the number at the bottom and cry “paid off game journalist!”? What? I don’t know, but I do know that a 10/10 shouldn’t sound so sad about the game in nearly every single paragraph. At least he gives us some deeper insight into the new multiplayer ordnance drop system, something that you’d have no idea even existed if you read only one of the other reviews. See, this is why you do your research!
Best quote: There was something wrong when the books presented a better story for the Master Chief than any of the games did.
The first paragraph ends with a penis joke. Maybe I should have put Joystiq lower in the barrel. Still, who doesn’t love wieners?
Oh, and then the word “inserted” is used in the second paragraph. What a pro.
Dong jokes aside, this review pulls you into the action like none of the others. You feel like you’re in this alien world right alongside Master Chief. Good for a preview; not sure how it helps the review, however. And Joystiq writer Ludwig adds jokes like, “And yes, we should start calling her Jennifer Halo” (as opposed to Hale). In classic Joystiq style, they’re not really that funny, but they do add some levity to all the melodramatic space marines jumping around with their boots and their… helmets.
I’m all about personality in writing, and this review, more than any of the others, has it. If it’s good or bad, well… that’s kind of up to the individual readers, isn’t it?
Best quote: Halo 5 is going to suck!
Video review only? And an age gate?? AND a mandatory pre-video ad??? Shut the front door. Next.
Edit: a written Halo 4 review actually does exist at GameSpot, as pointed out to me by one of their reviewers. It seems only fair that I make fun of it too. Read it here.
Maybe I’m nit-picking, but the first thing I noticed here was word choice. Bungie didn’t “pass the reins” to 343 Industries. They left (presumably to prove that they can do something that isn’t a space marine shooter), and Microsoft kept the Halo license. On the other hand, this is one of the few reviews that mentions the multiplayer – one of Halo‘s most important aspects – within the first few paragraphs. So that’s refreshing.
Reading on, it actually feels like one of the most “complete” Halo 4 reviews. There’s a good breadth of description, a lot of lovely adjectives, and plenty of box-ready quotes. He even notes how much space you’ll need on your hard drive to install multiplayer – a fun fact that I was not aware of before (but I guess I should have assumed?). And it’s not even boring. Not too shabby, GameSpot.
Best quote: Everyone’s favorite artificial intelligence is nearing her expiration date, forcing these two all-but-invincible characters to face the prospect of death in a way they never have.
Well well well. Isn’t this a pretty site. It’s like, a magazine, but on the computer! It’s amazing what millions of dollars in venture capital can do, innit? At least there’s still dandruff shampoo ads to break up all the video game coverage.
As for the review, Arthur Gies does what many others have tried and failed to do: he lays out the Halo 4 backstory in an explanatory yet interesting way, highlighting the emotional connection between Master Chief and Cortana, as well as describing the sense of urgency that 343 impresses on you without actually forcing you to accept.
Actually, the whole review is like that. Simple, elegant wordplay. Enough description to make us understand what’s mostly unchanged while extra words are injected into telling us what has. This is a very good review, marred only by the fact that – like probably everyone else, but at least Polygon is transparent about it – it was at a special review event sponsored by Microsoft.
I mean, I bet those events are a blast, even though you’re there to work. But I and most readers still, just… can’t trust them. But if that’s the only way you’ll be allowed to put out a review right on the embargo date, what are you gonna do: decline?! Don’t be silly. Gotta make that dolla dolla bill y’all.
Best quote: Dominion mode… stands out, and is easily the best thing to happen to Halo multiplayer since Xbox Live.
A few months ago, Simon Parkin published this investigative story where he delved deep into the recent deaths in Taiwanese internet cafes. It is a heart-wrenching tale, and it’s also one of the finest pieces of real, honest-to-goodness games journalism I have ever read in my life. This Halo 4 review, also by Parkin, doesn’t even begin to compare.
It is nine paragraphs of florid words with little substance, and then he talks about how much Call of Duty has influenced 343′s Halo debut. Judging by the other reviews, the CoD comparisons are more than apt, but the rest… someone needs an editor. It’s very pretty, the picture Parkin paints, but it doesn’t tell me why I should spend 60 hard-earned dollars on what he’s selling.
There is one paragraph spent on multiplayer. Now, I’d like to believe that length doesn’t matter (see what I did there? Joystiq: call me), but that’s just simply not enough words devoted to a game mode that people will be playing for literally years. This review is beautifully written, but it does Halo 4 – and the Eurogamer readers hoping to use this review to help influence their purchasing decision – a disservice.
Best quote: Modern Warfare’s influence has somehow seeped into Halo’s feel and aesthetic.
OH! Here’s that word “safe” again! Maybe G4 guy was right after all.
Gerstmann seems to have had a very different experience than many of the other reviewers. While others were praising Halo 4 for having a whole heap of new enemies (and, consequently, a whole bunch of new strategies necessary to deal with them), Jeff says that the old bad guys were basically running the show, and that completely new experiences were a lot fewer and farther between than those “corporate guys” at the other sites would have you believe. Interesting.
I enjoy how excited he is about finally being able to sprint. Thanks, Modern Warfare, for speeding up our Halo games! There’s actually a whole paragraph here about the ideas that 343 obviously took from CoD. Sadly, the whole review carries this huge air of disappointment. Jeff can’t stop talking about Halo 4‘s potential to finally do something new, and how he keeps wishing it would. But then, like G4 guy, he too is a bit bereft over the exclusion of Firefight. Alas. That’s probably why he has the lowest score on MetaCritic as of this writing, as well: 80/100.
Best Quote: The Grunts are total chumps, the Elites are fun to bash in the face, the Jackals are never left-handed, and the Hunters are large and slow.
“How can I put this without sounding sexist?” is a question with no right answer. Two of these reviews – this one from OXM as well as the Kotaku review – were written by women. Women who have been doing the game journo beat for a long, long time. Both of these focus on the story, the emotions, the feel of Halo 4 much more than any of the reviews written by men. This one from OXM – it doesn’t even mention the guns. Some of the male-written reviews spent half a paragraph talking about how one of the new weapons transforms the first time you pick it up.
This is one of the greatest things about video games, books, movies… any art, really, and one of the biggest reasons that we need a diverse range of voices both writing about games and criticizing others that write about games. Without females like Hepler writing Mass Effect, we wouldn’t have the depth or breadth of characters in that universe that we do now. Without a lady like Francesca Reyes running OXM, we wouldn’t have a Halo 4 review that doesn’t even mention the guns. Is that bad? Yes, that would be very, very bad. Every other Halo 4 review talks about the guns. We don’t need them all to sound any more similar than they already do.
Best quote: Beneath its sometimes bombastic layer of blockbuster-level polish, Halo 4 hides a complicated heart filled with intelligent sci-fi and a surprising amount of humanity.
Game Informer puts a positive spin on “playing it safe” by saying instead “343 Industries Balances Old And New.” That sounds nicer, doesn’t it? However, whereas some reviews like Eurogamer’s are too florid, and Joystiq’s are almost too casual, I found Game Informer’s review to be far too matter-of-fact. Almost like reading a Wikipedia description of the game written by a guy that went thesaurus crazy. The problem is that I can’t quite put my finger on what makes the writing feel so lifeless to me. Hmmm…
For example, here’s a random sentence from the review text:
Along with the returning option to play through the campaign cooperatively with friends, 343 Industries introduces an episodic cooperative experience with enormous potential to change the way post-release content is delivered in games.
Maybe it’s just word choice like “experience,” “potential,” and “post-release content” that sound more like PR speak than what should be seen in a game review? Not positive, but I do know that, of all the reviews I’ve read today, this one speaks to me the least. And from the normally highly engaging pages of Game Informer, this is quite a sobering shock.
Best quote: Halo 4 returns to the resonant drive of the series – Master Chief and his unrelenting defense of humanity. (Seriously, it’s all just PR fluff words.)
Thank you for coming with me on this grand adventure. My final Halo 4 Review Review will be on Edge’s article, which was written by the enigmatic “Edge Staff.” Mysterious! Sounds a bit like a Diablo weapon, though.
It’s also the first review to use the tagline, “Finish the Fight.” And who said PR and game journos can’t all be friends and speak the same language?
Edge’s review starts with a much more thorough description of the Promethean enemies, which is nice, because even after reading 20+ Halo 4 reviews, I still hadn’t developed an image in my head of what they actually look like.
And then, well… the review is about over. It’s short, and it doesn’t really tell us if the game is actually any good or not. There’s just a lot of stuff about how it’s a little bit – but not too much – different from the first game Halo: Combat Evolved. Hm. Maybe the printed magazine version has a little more substance?
Best quote: In their similarity to the Covenant, 343 has played it safe, and there’s something less than engaging about disposing of enemies made of energy rather than recoiling, crumpling flesh.
Sorry this has to end on such a down note, but, well… that’s the Halo series for ya.