I like games... and tattoos. Yes, those.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Halo 4/XCOM: Enemy Unknown Double Feature Review

Yes, I know these games came out last year. But in the mad rush that was the end of 2012, and the beginning of 2013, I never posted the reviews to my blog. Those of you who listen to Pippa's Picks on UJFM might have heard the reviews, but for those who don't you probably thought I forgot all about it.

Most. Definitely. Not. The. Case.


So I decided that now, this weekend, will be a weekend of game review round ups.

Some of you might have played these games already, and so will have already formulated your own opinions. Others might be waiting till they drop a little in price to get them. Either way, I figured it's always worthwhile to post these things up.


And so I begin with Halo 4. Perhaps it's fortuitous that I attended a Halo 4 tournament today, but either way, it reminded me of why this franchise is so successful.

Let's do a quick rundown of the basic story and premise, if for some bizarre reason you've never played any of the other Halo games. A first person shooter, you finally revisit the role of Master Chief, the ultimate epic cybernetically enhanced supersoldier to end all supersoldiers. Halo 4 is set four years after Halo 3, in the year 2557, on the Forerunner planet where Master Chief encounters the Covenant, and a race of ancient warriors known as Prometheans.

Most of Halo 4's campaign is set on the Forerunner planet of Requiem. When Master Chief's ship crashlands on Requiem, his AI Cortana directs him to deactivate what are believed to be communication jammers. Instead Master Chief releases the ancient Forerunner warrior, Didact from imprisonment, who then takes control of the Prometheans and the Covenant.

What follows is a battle, typically of epic proportions, as Master Chief and his allies must stop Didact from destroying the universe.

I'm not going to reveal the entire story obviously, but suffice it to say that if you're a fan of the Halo franchise you won't be disappointed, and you'll be pleased to know that actor Steve Downes returns to voice Master Chief.

Now on to gameplay. I've never been one of those people who is obsessed with Master Chief and the gang. I enjoy the games, but more from a social perspective than anything else. And so it is this aspect of the game that really holds more fascination for me than the narrative although the story certainly is well done and completely engrossing. Interestingly this is unusual for me. I'm normally far more focussed on story than anything else, but Halo seems to be one of those games where gameplay is key to the success of the franchise. After so many successful years under Bungie, we could have been sorely disappointed, but luckily 343 Industries has done a stellar job.

If you've played Halo before you'll see that 343 has kept this stable system largely the same, building on it and refining it rather than changing it in any significant way. The biggest change is really the sprinting ability, which is no longer tied to the Armor Ability, which makes a return in Halo 4.

Staples like the hologram, jet pack and camouflage abilities are still around as well a pretty awesome addition in the form of Promethean vision, which allows you to get an infrared overview of the environment. A couple of other additions are a good supplement to the existing abilities, and only serve to make the gameplay better than before.

The AI is definitely improved, which makes a huge difference to the enjoyment levels of Halo 4. Enemies are abundant, and although named appropriately, basically emulate the enemies you're used to in this game. Promethean Knights are the toughest to overcome, and can dual wield a melee and projectile weapon. They're made even more dangerous by their ability to teleport throughout the map and produce Watchers.

Watchers attack from the air and act primarily in a supporting role for other Prometheans as they can shield their allies as well as resurrect them.

Lastly, the Crawlers. They can climb walls, and although easy enough to kill they often attack in packs and so can easily overwhelm you if you're not quick off the mark.

Some new weapons, as well as a host of familiar ones make their appearance, and experimenting with the weaponry really is an enjoyable part of this game.

The new Spartan Ops mode effectively replaces Firefight (this is sad), however it's a more story-driven experience overall where new episodes were released periodically, providing new content in a dynamic way.

Once the approximately 8 hour campaign is finished (this was not unexpected but somehow disappointing at the same time) you can really get to grips with what Halo 4 is known for - the multiplayer.

Now referred to as War Games, the loadout system has undergone so big changes, and you can choose your primary and secondary weapons in 5 custom loadouts. After you've ranked up that is.

There are 10 dedicated multiplayer maps as well as some returning and some new multiplayer modes.

Halo 4 is still a Halo game, despite the change in developer. Visually it's definitely the best in the series so far,  and the changes in gameplay enhance the mechanic rather than detract from it.

I might not be a hardened Halo fan, but I thoroughly enjoyed this experience overall, and the multiplayer will continue to bring me back for a while yet.

Now, on to the second part of this Double Feature Review...

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Now even though it's only vaguely related in the fact that it also involves shooting things, I figured that a short review of XCOM: Enemy Unknown would be a nice complement to Halo 4.

I'll be honest, it's very difficult to find something bad to say about XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It's a modern remake of the 1994 game UFO: Enemy Unknown, and is a turn-based tactical RPG strategy game. Yes that might be a mouthful, but unlike so many remakes it most definitely doesn't disappoint.

Set in the near future, you command a group of elite soldiers specifically trained as an Extraterrestrial Combat Unity, at the beginning of a global alien invasion.

The game uses an isometric 3D view and you control between 4-6 soldiers or robotic units at a time. You must hunt down aliens, complete additional objectives, and as is typical in games of this nature, save the world.

The game's learning curve can be quite steep, as it often leaves you in the dark with regards to things like objectives but rather than being frustrating it's somehow enjoyable instead. You must think strategically to not just win battles but to get your soldiers out alive, and death is not something to be taken lightly in this game. The turn based nature of the combat is rather well executed, and considering this might have gone horribly wrong, you have to hand it to the developers for doing such a good job in that regard.

Your ability to not just defeat your enemies, but command your troops develops along with the game, and so the further you get into the game the more enjoyable it becomes.

The environments destructible nature adds immense enjoyment to this game overall, although the walls cover system can be a bit dodgy at times. You need to be far more conscious of tactics when playing Enemy Unknown, as the slightest misstep is not easy to recover from and can be detrimental to your campaign.

Whilst this game might not feature the hard and fast good vs evil dynamic that is so popular in games of this era, there is a constant tension in the decision making process. No matter what choice you make, someone will suffer, and it's up to you to decide whether or not you can deal with the emotional baggage that comes along with that.

The campaign is satisfying overall and whilst I've heard the visual quality is slightly better on the PC than on XBox (I played the console version), there certainly isn't much cause for complaint.

Fans of the original series will most definitely enjoy this remake, and newcomers will find something to love about it as well. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is an excellent and worthy remake of this classic, and it's a reminder that turn-based strategy such as this still has a place in the gaming arena of today.

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