Just so you know I know, I’m the guy that doesn’t know how to have fun. So, over the long weekend, while the rest of the world was rapturously engaged in high-tech ops with military dudes and chrome-plated E.T.’s, I was busy making an exhaustive list of things I find incredibly stupid about Halo 4. It wasn’t hard to get the cogs turning, considering that four thousand Dew-guzzling fans started a petition to have a statue of the original bald space marine John Master Chief placed on the front lawn of the White House. I call this the Halo Mentality, which also shows up in the game’s opening cinematic, where Spartans, a.k.a. the good guys, are described as fifteen-year-old sociopaths. I’d say Microsoft has done a fine job at identifying its core audience.
If you are one of the above-mentioned, or have ever even remotely considered reading a Halo book, I’d say just quit reading now, because you won’t like what you are about to hear. I despise the Halo games, absolutely can’t stand them, and have been actively avoiding the franchise since my days in college, getting relentlessly popped by unseen snipers in the Xbox original. My opinion is by no means the consensus. I know of a few Bit Creaturers who would gladly paint their rides glowing Halo green, including the guy who cuts my check. My complaints are in no way intended to be fair, well-informed criticism, but are merely the sniveling gripes of someone who was out of the loop and genuinely curious about the cultural touchstone that is Halo. After all, the series could have vastly improved in ten years. (Hasn’t, but could’ve.) So, I did what any self-respecting games critic would do: I Redboxed it.
It turned out Redbox only carries Disc 1 of Halo 4, so while the campaign was playable, multiplayer was not. This must suck for others, but it’s fine by me. To hear the term Capture The Flag brings back a deluge of bad memories of being trapped in a loft with seven hooting undergrads, all who needed baths and were way too into Halo. I was the guy insisting to play Smash Bros. instead. For me, these were frustrating hours spent staring blankly at a small corner of the television set, fumbling with a crappy third-party controller, and occasionally being targeted by loud, passive-aggressive sighs. The feeling was mutual, and I viewed my roomies as complete jackasses whenever they’d yell out “STICKY BOMB!” and “OH SHIT ALIENS” and “NOOOO AHH!!!”
My contempt only ballooned, finding the source of my friends’ endless rapture to be frustratingly dumb, but I think we’ve all been there before. As gamers, we are accustomed to stomaching a high level of narrative stupidity in games (see: Resident Evil, Final Fantasy), having even developed an ironic taste for it (Saints Row, Bayonetta, every other indie game ever made), and, yes, sometimes it’s good fun (Deadly Premonition), but Halo 4, with its grunting space barbarians and generic war heroes and unfollowable plot, is where I draw the line. Coming back to Halo after so long, the biggest mystery, which perhaps a learned Halo buff could explain, is why Master Chief walks around with a blue-skinned hottie made of optical fiber in his pocket. The whole thing strikes me as a fantasy I’d have when I was ten, about a curvaceous action-figure that talked to me and only me because everyone else were aliens.
The cryptic babble exchanged by John and his cybernetic sidekick is spectacularly awful, reeking of free association and dreams of electric sheep. The Big Dumb Object, at least for the early going, is Infinity, whatever the fuck that is, and obviously our rambling petty officer has no clue. “Where’s Infinity?” he inquires. She says, “This is Requiem’s core alright, but this is definitely not Infinity.” The oblivious duo go back and forth and back with this brain-dead banter, sounding like frat boys on shrooms, as they hop down a portal to Tim Leary’s ideal cyberspace, a purple haze of symmetrical patterns and laser lights descending from the moon, while synths woo and wah. Someone pass the doobie!
I can’t help but be baffled by Halo 4’s preposterous lexicon, since the writers were content to take over random words that have nothing to do with what they are talking about. Yeah, Spartans were a warmongering bunch, but they lived 2500 years ago, the most advanced weapon they had was the spear, and they weren’t anything close to genetically engineered militant astronauts. Then, there is the Covenant, which is not a pact with Jehovah, as a protestant upbringing would lead you to expect, but a faction of gruff aliens who are fighting the Promethean, a race whose name means “related to Prometheus,” that, as far as I can tell, have nothing to do with the ancient Greek god. Don’t ask me which alien faction is which, but I’m pretty sure the difference is one group looks like the band Gwar and the other growls a lot, which, by the way, is something Gwar does.
Even a Halo hater like myself can’t deny the visuals are impressive. However, the art direction in Halo 4 is so over the top with industrial heft that the results border on ridiculous. The mountainous terrain, ATVs, guns, guns, and more guns, and John himself seem composed of carbon steel, and I have my doubts there is enough metal polish in the universe to keep them from rusting. Perhaps that’s what they are fighting over? The aliens are armored with so much scrap that it’s impossible to tell whether the objects through my scope are supposed to be living organisms or the crumpled skeletons of used Mazdas. By the time I’m done shooting them, their bodies are strangely mangled to the point that they could pass for works of Modernist sculpture, which would be cool, I guess, if the general mood here wasn’t “It’s bro-time!”
I have a hard time figuring out how any Halo fan with a shred of decency doesn’t hate themselves a tiny bit for liking Halo 4. I guess the Deathmatch really is that fantastic, that someone could turn a blind eye to the absurdity and the nonsense that bulges out like obscene love handles, which only those who’ve been playing since college fail to notice, so gradual and insidious the acclimation. I’ll leave the debates on the merits of the gameplay to the pros. My only other comment is, while the shooting and driving are solid, the game felt predictable and just wasn’t my thing. After a few nights, I was more than glad to return this monstrosity to the gas station from which it came.
Maybe I’ll give Halo another shot in another ten years.
About the Author:
Jason Johnson is a freelance writer. His work has appeared in Kill Screen, Gamasutra, Unwinnable, GameSetWatch, FingerGaming, WSJ Speakeasy, and The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures. He owns 27 Sun Ra albums.
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