This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Halo 4.
I feel sorry for 343 Industries, the company Microsoft brought in to do Halo because the company's champagne fountain needed refilling and Bungie escaped from the basement. It's always awkward replacing someone everyone's gotten used to, isn't it? This must be what it's like for new popes. "Oh sorry, the old pope always prefered golden syrup in his porridge." "No, it's alright. The old pope and me had this little understanding. I'd fuck altar boys and he'd hush it up." Still, you can't say 343 aren't grateful for the opportunity.
Funny how Halo 4 was released on election day as part of some sinister Republican conspiracy to make people who write game FAQs stay at home, 'cos at the start and end of the game, there's a little personal message from the new developers that has much of the acceptance speech about it. "Ooh, thank you so much for accepting us, o handsome and wonderful consumer. We promise not to completely diddle Halo over a doghouse, slurp slurp, fawn fawn." It's just a fucking aging shooter franchise, 343 Industries. You're not the fucking UN Secretary General, stop trying to altar-boy me.
Anyway, we return to the life of Master Chief, a faceless socially awkward bellend with a post-graduate degree in being in charge of shit. After successfully concluding whatever the fuck was going on in Halo 3, he was left to drift in space with no company but his naked hologram lady. So after four solid years of masturbating, he wakes up to find himself smack in the middle of a hostile enemy fleet and being pulled onto a mysterious planet and Covenant Forerunner Arbiter Promethean I know what all these individual words mean, but together they make no sense.
By Halo 3, I was feeling like a Cub Scout at an S&M club, lacking the capacity to comprehend the things around me and wondering if I was supposed to call the police. So I was grateful that Halo 4 seemed to be kicking it off with a fresh new story but by halfway through I was lost again. Nobody ever adequately explains anything to Mister Chief. His entire role in life is to get to the next USB port so he can plug in his wank hologram and she can run sort_this_shit_out.exe. It's something to do with some asshole who wants to kill all humans and Mister Chief is the only one who can stop him because he downloaded only_one_who_can_stop_him.dll from a ghost.
So the broad plot sniffs its own farts a wee bit, but video game story is like a carpark: it has multiple levels and is more expensive near the exit. The dialogue and characterization level show some improvements and people are finally capable of exhibiting emotions besides inspiring military courage. The big thing is that Cortana is going sexy senile and alternates between whinging about it and doing what's technically known to artificial intelligence experts as "going off on one", which is obviously going to become a problem because Mister Chief doesn't know how to run sort_this_shit_out.exe; he can't even change his ringtone.
And there's an asshole military captain who's perhaps quite reasonably iffy about working with someone whose pet AI keeps going off on one and a more sympathetic Kevin Spacey type with sad eyes and a twatty haircut. They're all quite nicely rounded. It's kind of a shame that they all have to orbit around Mister Chief though, who is about as engaging as a fucking totem pole with an upturned bucket on the top can be. He always struck me as the result of two developers arguing over whether or not to have a silent protagonist meeting each other halfway and now they have to figure out how to make him look sad without resorting to drawing little tears on his visor with Tipp-Ex.
I suppose the thing about Halo is that it's a bit...what's the word, sexless?? You can never accuse it of being spunkgargleweewee, because it is quite organic with big open levels that are all like "Just gonna leave this vehicle here. Maybe using it to drive around the level would be freaking sweet, but if that's not your bag then you know what they say about rocks: they're nature's bouncy castle," while something like Battlefield 3 forces you into vehicles like it's stuffing dough into a toilet roll tube. "Get in! You must experience the next ten to fifteen setpieces exactly as was intended from a vehicle being pulled along the rail like you're on the fucking Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland."
But while Halo doesn't frustrate me that way, it's just kind of boring! It reminds me of playing Space Hulk or one of those other tabletop games where you have a box full of generic prefab rooms and have to clip a bunch of them together to make a level. Enemy structures are like franchised burger chains stamped onto the landscape every now and again and it's all too fucking clean! All polished shimmering cuboids glued together with magic glowing space glue. It's unreal, it's plasticky, it's like fighting inside a giant Masters of the Universe playset!
And there are several things about Halo combat I've never liked, even while it eschews chest-high walls. Most of the guns look and handle like they taped glowsticks to something manufactured by Super Soaker or Nerf and literally make the sound "pew-pew-pew". And you fight the same handfuls of enemies from USB port to USB port and even on normal difficulty, one has a rather mean-spirited tendency to be killed very very suddenly and without warning, mainly because of the many brightly coloured glowing projectiles one must avoid, about half of them plink off your armour like a sparrow in a glittery dress, and the other half blast your buttock plates off like a night on bad Mexican. If this is Combat Evolved, then it's an evolutionary dead-end; it's a fucking gay African Mammoth!
And the best you could say about 343 Industries at this point is that they're certainly not making waves. No Michael Bay they, taking intellectual properties with one hand and dipping a paintbrush in sick with the other. The new weapons are more shiny Fisher-Price toys and the new baddies are the innummerable twin siblings of the same two glowing bullet-sponge dangletwats and nary so much as a boss fight to liven things up. So rejoice, Halo fans! Your stale pretentious franchise for twelve-year-olds has had just enough embalming fluid injected to keep it riding high on the level of stagnant as opposed to dead!
Single-player campaign's bloody short and all. We track down the final USB port of the gods--well, the two final USB ports of the gods because if it's worth doing once, it's worth prefabbing to pad the runtime out, finish off the baddie with one quick-time event, enjoy the spectacle of Mister Chief looking sad and off we tot! "But don't worry," says the game. "We took all those shiny environments you just disinterestedly buzzed through and prefabbed the balls off them so you can frolic forever in the Elysian Fields of multiplayer."
I think I see how this works. The story campaign is basically the Ikea showroom and the multiplayer is all the Ikea funiture in your house now that you actually have to live with it, but it never looks quite as good as it did in the shop, does it? When it was under the carefully arranged showroom lighting and it didn't wobble when you leant on it and you'd just eaten some lovely meatballs.
More like Fail-o Snore: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Would Cortana have used less processing power over the years if they'd maybe put less polygons in her big fat perfectly sculpted arse
I dread to think what Master Chief's buttock plates must smell like by now