Finally playing through Halo 4’s campaign reminded me why I was so unsure about yet another entry on the Xbox 360 in the first place. The thing that’s gotten to me about the Halo games is the uncertainty of whether the franchise is actually improving.
Playing through all the games consecutively in 2010, one thing became apparent: Combat Evolved still has the best campaign of any Halo game (if you ask me). Or at the very least, no Halo game has indisputably surpassed the 11-year-old original.
Looking back, Combat Evolved is such a great game because of the sense of scale in its battlefields. Other console first person shooters don’t let you engage with dozens of fighting NPCs on the ground, and then hop into a vehicle with which to fly to the top of a tower several hundred feet above them and continue the fight inside seamlessly. The game feels a little bit more like an actual battlefield compared to its competition.
After this, Halo 2 was a little bit of a letdown because of its more linear nature and abrupt ending. I’ve felt that the franchise has been trying to reclaim the glory of Combat Evolved ever since then, inching closer and closer.
I don’t actually remember enough about Halo 3, ODST, and Reach to really say whether they did that because it’s been a while since I played them. I do remember enjoying taking down Scarabs in 3 and finding Reach good enough to replay more than once. All that uncertainty is the main reason why right now the only Halo games I saw fit to own are Reach and Combat Evolved Anniversary.
They are all very good shooter campaigns, some of the best of this console generation, and Halo 4 is definitely worthy of them. The UNSC Mammoth level in particular had me agape at its display of scale. Something like that, with graphics that impressive, on seven-year-old hardware, proved to me that 343 did indeed have new tricks up their sleeve for the franchise. The Pelican level had a similar effect.
As of now, I might say that Halo 4 has the best campaign in the series since Combat Evolved. Maybe the difficulty in ranking the games is justification for continuing to own and play them all instead of just the latest one. Maybe that just shows how timeless Bungie’s game design has been.
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