The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Halo

Halo Infinite: A Reflection on the Open Beta

“This is my last fight; a true test of legends! Our story…will outlive us both. Set a fire in your heart, Spartan! Bare your fangs! Fight hard! Die well!” –War Chief Escharum

Originally set for launch in November 2020, 343 Industries ended up making the decision to delay Halo Infinite‘s release to December 2021 to ensure that their latest instalment of Halo was functioning as expected. While at launch, Forge and co-op will not be available, 343 Industries decisions demonstrates the level of commitment to quality that is expected of developers; in recent memory, games like Cyberpunk 2077 and No Man’s Sky had illustrated the price of launching games on schedule even in the knowledge the game was incomplete, with inevitable results. For me, since I’m in no particular rush, these delays are acceptable: in fact, as far as gamers go, I’m quite unconventional in my habits, and news of Halo Infinite‘s launch date, as well as the presence of a technical test, drew my attention primarily because I am running a machine that is now eight-and-a-half years old. As such, the concern for me was a matter of whether or not Halo Infinite would even run on this machine: the game requires an Intel i5-4400 and GTX 1050 Ti at minimum, along with 8 GB of RAM. On paper, my machine’s GTX 1060 and 16 GB of RAM should be sufficient. Moreover, the i5-3570k is supposed to be around eight to fifteen percent faster than the i5-4400k under real-world conditions despite being older. However, it isn’t until one actually attempts to run a game that performance can be tangibly ascertained: this was my primary goal with Halo Infinite‘s technical test, and after around four hours of gameplay spent in the open beta, playing against both AI bots and other players have given me a much clearer picture of what the way forwards looks like. On my aging setup, Halo Infinite is generally very playable at 1080p, maintaining a consistent 60 FPS with the visual settings set to the “high” preset. There were frame drops on occasion, although I did not find that they occurred as a result of activity on the screen (e.g. entering a crowded area with many players, or the result of visual effects resulting from weapon fire and explosives usage). The client testers were provided with was generally stable, although I did experience a two separate instances where the build did freeze or crash to the desktop as a result of bad memory access. Outside of these issues, I have satisfied myself with the fact Halo Infinite appears to run with reasonable smoothness on my machine.

Looking beyond the fundamental matters of performance and stability, Halo Infinite‘s technical test gave me a chance to try out the gameplay mechanics for myself. Trailers had shown that Halo Infinite would feature the return of equipment that had previously been employed in entertaining ways during combat, including a grappling hook and shield wall. However, the most critical element in any Halo game (or shooter, for that matter) is the movement and weapon system. Halo Infinite delivers on both. Player movement has been refreshed to be in line with more modern games; besides the return of a sprint system, players have slightly faster movement than the Spartans did in the original Halo titles, and there is now a vaulting system that allows players to grab ledges, making navigation through maps easier than before. Altogether, modernising movement in Halo Infinite means maps can similarly be updated to utilise creative elements that weren’t previously possible. The gun-play in Halo Infinite is similarly excellent. Weapons feel powerful, and the time-to-kill is reasonable. Players being shot at have enough time to react and get out of a situation. Keeping cool under pressure will allow one to win a firefight even if one did not start shooting first, but players who start a combat engagement with a sure aim and utilisation of the right timing and equipment will come consistently out triumphant. The weapons themselves are fun to use: the basic assault rifle has come a very long way from the Halo: Combat Evolved incarnation and is now reliable, while the Halo 2 battle rifle returns as the BR-75. Players are given feedback in response to landing shots on an enemy, and scoring kills. While quality-of-life adjustments in Halo Infinite makes every successful kill more visceral than in earlier Halo titles, the core gameplay largely remains untouched: everything still feels like it did with Halo 2. Overall, the gameplay mechanics of Halo Infinite are satisfying and consistent, retaining all of the elements that made the original Halo games great, while simultaneously bringing some of the best features in contemporary shooters into Halo.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While I’ve had two weekends to try the Halo Infinite beta out, these days, I’m don’t spend the whole of that time in game: the weather of late’s been gorgeous, and I’ve been greatly enjoying all that the autumn weather has to offer. I ended up spending the afternoon yesterday walking out to a grove of trees that turned golden-yellow, and then swung by an overlook at the park’s southern end. Shortly after spawning into my first-ever match on Live Fire, the original map that August’s Halo Infinite technical test featured, I immediately snapped up the S7 Sniper Rifle and got a double kill with it against the bots. My intention in this open beta was not to see how much gameplay I could experience, but rather, to see if my machine could even run Halo Infinite, and so, having the option of playing against AI bots was most refreshing.

  • One of the drawbacks about open betas are that some players deliberately use their vacation time to experience the beta, and consequently, have put in upwards of eight hours before I even finished downloading the client. Playing against these individuals means being annihilated in the blink of an eye, which would’ve degraded my ability to run the game for longer periods of time. Conversely, with AI bots, I was able to stay alive for extended periods and properly stress-test my machine, as well as see what happened whenever many grenades were thrown and equipment deployed.

  • On the whole, Halo Infinite runs very well, and there were no player actions that seemed to cause any performance issues. However, during one match, my client began stuttering and then outright froze, forcing me to quit (and incur the early quit penalty). After I finished and quit another session, my machine suffered from a blue screen of death, with the error code indicating my GPU had been overtaxed. DOOM Eternal has done this to my machine on occasion, where the computer would display a blue screen and force a restart after I’d quit the game.

  • These sorts of things happen infrequently, but I imagine that it is a driver problem more than anything; even people running more recent GPUs, like the RTX 2080 Ti, have reported this issue on some occasion. However, as noted previously, these events are infrequent enough so that they’re not super-disruptive. Here, I’ve switched on over to the Recharge map, which is located inside a hydroelectric plant. I’m armed with the basic MA40 Assault Rifle, a capable all-around weapon for close to medium range combat, and the MK50 Sidekick as my sidearm.

  • The MK50 is more similar to the M6C line of pistols, being a compact and lightweight weapon compared to the hard-hitting magnum pistols of earlier Halo games. In most matches, I discard this weapon straight away for a different secondary weapon: here, I’ve got the VK78 Commando, an automatic tactical rifle with a twenty-round box magazine. Accurate and reliable at range, the VK78 replaces the DMR, reaching further out than the battle rifle, but firing more rapidly than the sniper rifle. This weapon very quickly became a favourite for me; while I used to be a big CQC person in Halo, my experiences in Battlefield has meant that medium range engagements are something I’m more comfortable with.

  • This strange-looking weapon is the Ravager, a Banished weapon that fires arcing plasma rounds that can deal damage to vehicles and infantry alike. The weapon is not reloadable and utilises a battery, but built-up heat is not automatically dissipated, so players must use the reload button to vent the weapon. During the open beta, I found that the UNSC and classic Covenant weapons proved to be the most reliable and consistent in firefights; the new Covenant Pulse Carbine, for instance, is a burst-fire plasma rifle with the Carbine’s form factor, although its behaviour was a little difficult to get used to, so I ended up ditching it. Conversely, the Plasma Pistol and Needler still work just as I remember, making them excellent secondary weapons.

  • Bazaar is a map set in Old Mombasa and therefore, is reminiscent of Halo 2‘s “Outskirts” mission in terms of aesthetic. This arena-like map is laid out in a manner most similar to Counterstrike‘s classic Dust and Dust II maps, featuring a central open area and two “bases” that make the map suited for two-team battles, like CTF. These sorts of maps bring back the memories I have of playing Halo 2 on Windows Vista: back then, I had considerably more time than I did today, and I remember (with a twinge of regret) that I spent the most of my summer, prior to starting university, playing custom games in Halo 2‘s multiplayer.

  • In retrospect, I would’ve been better served spending that time with a summer job, specifically, at one of the local bookstores: while the work experience here wouldn’t be relevant to the undergraduate research experience I did end up picking up, and the pay isn’t anything to write home about, it would’ve been nice to get out and do something constructive with my time. Once I did enter university, I spent my summers doing research instead: this was both relevant and engaging. On the flipside, I also remember that most days, I also went for long bike rides on the best of days.

  • The new CQS48 Bulldog is a combat shotgun fed from a rotary magazine. Compared to the old pump action shotguns, the Bulldog has a much faster reload and can fire faster, but does considerably less damage than its predecessors. Here, I used it to decimate an AI bot at close quarters, earning myself a Running Riot spree in the process. The bots in Halo Infinite‘s training mode can have their difficulties adjusted, but during the online matches where I teamed up with other players against the AI bots, said bots appeared to have had their difficulties set to the easiest level: every match I played was a blowout (or, in Halo terms, “Steaktacular”).

  • Here,  I stick a bot with the plasma grenades. The keen-eyed reader will have spotted that the evergreen trees in the background look a little blocky and low-resolution; I originally wondered if this had to do with the fact that I was running Halo Infinite on the default low settings, but even after turning the settings up, the trees remained of a low quality. It is probably the case that not all assets or visual effects have been finished at this point in time: 343 Industries sent out a stable build to test their server capacities and see how things handle under load for this test flight.

  • After switching over to higher visual quality, I did not notice any appreciable improvement in the visuals. Fortunately, there was also no degradation in performance: 343 Industries intended this test more for their servers rather than for us players, and I imagine that the build we were given, while ready for play-testing, is not optimised yet. Assuming this to be the case, it could mean that I’ll have no trouble running the launch version with reasonable settings.

  • While some elements of Halo Infinite are still works-in-progress, others are remarkably polished and look production ready. Here, after scoring a double kill on some AI bots, I made to reload my weapon and happened to capture a screenshot of the reload, which highlights the level of details that went into the weapon models. Reloads have come a very long way since the GoldenEye 64 days, where the animation simply involved ducking the weapon off screen and raising them once the reload finished.

  • The HUD in Halo Infinite has been modernised so that its layout is identical to that used in contemporary shooters. Previous Halo games put the ammunition display counter on the upper right of the screen, and the grenade inventory on the upper left. However, more popular shooters like Half-Life and Counterstrike had their ammunition counters on the lower right. Call of Duty and Battlefield follow the same layout, as do other well-known shooters, so it made sense to migrate the ammunition counters over to the lower right.

  • The shield indicator firmly remains at the top of the screen, and players will have noticed a small health bar underneath that also recharges. This bar was originally hidden in Halo 2 through Halo 4, only returning in Halo 5 to provide a visual indicator of how much health a player has once their shields are drained. Health can be depleted very quickly if the shields are dropped, and players traditionally can fall to a single headshot if their shields are down, so as soon as the upper screen flashes red in response to shields being low, one’s first move is to get to cover as soon as possible (or finish off a foe and then get away when safe to do so).

  • During the beta, I had a plethora of double kills, but owing to the map and team sizes, I never got around to getting any triple kills despite coming close on a few occasions (teammates would finish off the enemies before I could). It has struck me that 4 on 4 matches mean that the coveted Killtacular would be exceptionally rare. Back when I was a secondary school students, some of my friends were absolutely determined to get a killtacular and so, hosted LAN parties every other week. Since graduating from university, everyone’s gone their separate ways, although right up until the global health crisis started, we were still able to gather on some occasions for LAN parties.

  • A big part of the fun about LAN parties was that, since we didn’t do them often, they always took forever to setup, as we fumbled with wiring all of the Xboxes together using Ethernet cables. This was one constant that remained with us no matter how many times we did the LAN parties, but we never minded; while waiting for setup, conversations would turn towards all manner of topics. Of course, during LAN parties, the folks with Xboxes back home would tend to do the best, and the remainder of us would be lucky to get a few kills here and there. This never mattered, though, since LAN parties were always fun.

  • Here, I’ve finally come upon the BR-75 Battle Rifle: a burst-fire weapon that was introduced in Halo 2 and subsequently became the most recognised MLG weapon in the games. With its three-round burst, the battle rifle was a reliable four shot kill at medium ranges (three bursts to strip the shield, and then a headshot), making it a highly consistent and dependable. On consoles, I’ve never been able to make use of the weapon properly, but with the mouse and keyboard, the battle rifle has very much become my favourite starting weapon in Halo.

  • I’d like nothing more than to have fun and relive the glory days of the old LAN parties in a comfortable chair at home. However, when I returned to The Master Chief Collection‘s multiplayer last year, I found that the design paradigm behind Halo‘s multiplayer today is completely incompatible with what I am looking for. I expect to be able to drop in and out of matches without penalty and play in a relaxed fashion, but 343 Industries have a quit penalty, and players in the so-called “social” tier are still aggressively competitive.

  • In conjunction with the fact that players will universally plug in a controller to capitalise on the fact that controller have full aim assist and increased bullet magnetism, playing with the mouse and keyboard set up leaves me at an immense disadvantage, so I ended up calling it quits by the time Halo 3 joined The Master Chief Collection. Here, I managed to swipe the SPNKR rocket launcher and blew up an enemy. Playing Battlefield and Call of Duty has changed my usage of explosive weapons somewhat: in modern military shooters, anti-armour weapons don’t have enough splash damage to be effective in an anti-infantry role, but in Halo, the rocket launcher is meant to be a power weapon, possessing limitations but otherwise, remains highly effective against personnel and vehicles alike.

  • For Team Slayer matches, the AI bots are more than fine, but it turns out that the bots are also present in smaller games of CTF and Territory Control: the very fact that the bots do work suggests to me that it would be possible to include a mode with bots only so players can get used to the maps and weapons without affecting their stats. For players like myself, bot-only matches would also represent a nice way to simply go mess around for ten minutes and play at my own pace: the days where I could dedicate a few hours towards ranking up my character and items are long past, and I prefer games where I can pop in and drop off whenever I wish.

  • Towards the end of the open beta, my old skills began returning to me, and I managed to get a double kill off the bots with the battle rifle. The bots, while far easier than human players, still have the same shields and health as players do, making them a great way to get a feel for the TTK against human players. I elected against playing real players for as often as I could for the open beta, since the aim of this exercise had been to test the game. I won’t have this luxury during the Battlefield 2042 beta; DICE had announced their beta to start on October 8 and will run through the ninth.

  • However, players who preordered or have EA Access will be able to start their test on October 6. Preloading begins on the fifth, and here, I will note that while I am a Battlefield fan, I’m not so dedicated as to preorder the game yet. Instead, I will sit down for a few sessions on Friday night and throughout Saturday where I am able. Similarly to Halo Infinite, my goal will be simply to see how well my machine can handle Battlefield 2042. Unlike Halo Infinite, however, Battlefield 2042 won’t have a campaign, and what determines whether or not I end up buying it will be how extensive Battlefield Portal‘s AI bots are.

  • Back in Halo Infinite, I start a match on Behemoth, a larger map more suited for Big Team Battles rather than infantry-only matches. Vehicles are available, and this makes the match particularly suited for the larger matches of CTF or territories. I’m actually not too fond of these larger maps, since the vehicles disappear almost the moment the match starts, leaving me to hoof it across the map. Conversely, the smaller, arena-like maps are my favourite, since their focus is on infantry combat. In Battlefield, maps are designed so players can spawn onto points allies have already captured, on squad-mates who are out of combat, or on special beacons, so larger maps aren’t a problem.

  • The Volt Piercer (informally, the Shock Rifle) is one of the most exotic weapons I’ve seen in a Halo game and would not look out of place in something like Planetside 2 or Tribes Ascend. Firing an electrolaser bolt with a range of up to 300 metres, the weapon functions similarly like a sniper rifle and can kill with one headshot. However, it can also arc off nearby enemies, and two shots can temporarily disable a vehicle. I’ve not had the chance to try the plasma pistol’s overcharge against a vehicle, but in Halo 4, the overcharge could disable a vehicle and render it vulnerable to boarding.

  • Overall, the modes against AI bots were fairly compelling, and I had a great deal of fun here: the weapons of Halo Infinite definitely retain the handling and feel of the classic weapons. Of course, the most fun for me will be seeing where all of these weapons come into play during Halo Infinite‘s campaign. Towards the end of my time in the open beta, I hopped on over to Fragmentation for a Big Team Battle match up, marking the first time I’d fought human players during this open beta. I admit that I was a little reluctant to join such a match: back when 343 Industries was flighting Halo 3, I ended up with a miserable experience owing to the fact that the game openly favoured controller players.

  • However, when I joined my Big Team Battle match, I was fortunate in that the size of the map meant that players were spread out enough so that I did end up with a chance to explore the map and get a few kills here and there, as well as work out where all of the weapons were. I’m not sure if Halo Infinite will bring back the old loadouts from Halo 4, which allowed players to spawn with a primary and secondary (non-power) weapon of their choice. If given the choice, I’d almost always pick the battle rifle and magnum in Halo 4. However, since the battle rifle and Commando tactical rifle are found on the weapon racks as pickups, I imagine that Halo Infinite could be going back to the basics.

  • For some reason, Halo Infinite describes the Commando as a light machine gun: while the Commando is automatic, its smaller ammunition capacity and description as a precision weapon means it doesn’t satisfy the definition of what makes a light machine gun: LMGs don’t necessarily fire full-sized cartridges, but their function is to fulfil an infantry support role (e.g. providing covering fire). The small magazine on the Commando is too small for the weapon to be used in this role, so I am wondering if 343 Industries are going to continue referring to the Commando as an LMG once the game launches.

  • I managed to pick up another Shock Rifle and began firing on distant enemies, but because the weapon’s handling is unlike the UNSC weapons, I wasn’t able to place the best shots on my opponents, who were trying to steal our flag. However, I did land two hits on two different foes, and my teammates astutely picked them off. This match ended up being a game of attrition: players were very much focused on defense and felt reluctant to go on offense, which makes sense, since everyone is still new to the map: I did make one attempt to take the enemy flag, but died instantly, since half their team was hanging back.

  • As the match drew to an end, I ended up picking up the Heatwave, a Forerunner hard light weapon designed for close-quarters combat. The weapon is most similar to a shotgun, and in its default mode, fires a horizontal pattern of projectiles. However, it can be altered to fire in a vertical pattern. The former sounds good for crowd control, and the latter has proven to be excellent against individual targets. The weapon resembles the UNSC Rail Gun (Halo 4), and indeed, when I picked it up, I was expecting the weapon to handle like the Rail Gun.

  • During this final map on Fragmentation, I ended up going 13-16 and helped my team to win the game with a score of 1-0, and to cap things off, I’ll show that it is possible to get kills with the Sidekick even though it is a sidearm meant for use if one’s starting primary weapon is out. All things considered, this wasn’t a bad first time playing against real players, and I did have fun just running around on the map and engaging lone players before ducking away. With this, Halo Infinite‘s open beta comes to a close, and I imagine that the next time I play Halo Infinite will be once the campaign launches.

Having now had the chance to experience Halo Infinite for myself, it is clear that my aging machine will run Halo Infinite in a passable manner, and the gameplay itself retains everything that made the original Halo games so enjoyable. As such, my final verdict on whether or not I will pick this game up is simple enough: I have seen enough to know that I will have a good time with the game once it launches in December. The multiplayer aspect to Halo Infinite is actually free-to-play, and revenue is to be generated by a seasonal battle pass: 343 Industries will have seasons, and players can purchase the passes for seasons they wish to unlock cosmetics for. Unlike other developers, who have time restrictions, Halo Infinite‘s battle pass system will be such that one could buy the first season pass a year later and still be guaranteed a fair chance at completing everything. While my main interest in Halo has always been with the campaigns, a free-to-play multiplayer gives another more opportunity to see how my desktop handles Halo Infinite before I step into the campaign should the need arise (otherwise, if the footage of gameplay looks promising, and the benchmarks look good, picking up Halo Infinite will be an easy decision). The sum of my experiences here in Halo Infinite‘s technical test have been positive. If the final product can iron out the more serious of the issues I experienced, as well as optimise the game to further improve performance, 343 Industries will have made a very compelling case for me to pick up the single player campaign at launch price. With this being said, the multiplayer alone is not something I see myself playing extensively; in this day and age, I no longer have the time to play through multiplayer games with a lengthy progression system. The appeal of having a single player campaign is precisely that I can experience something at my own pace. However, if Halo Infinite were to include the ability to play AI bots in all of the same game modes and maps that are available to in PvP modes (complete with match score and time limits), I would be ecstatic; the AI bots seen Halo Infinite are actually pretty convincing when set to the higher difficulties, and while they understandably should not contribute to one’s completion of progression items, being able to go into a private server and mess around with the AI bots would be immensely enjoyable, perfect for folks who are interested in having a more laid-back opportunity to have fun in their own manner of choosing.

Yui Needs A Weapon: Revisiting the K-On! Mod for Left 4 Dead 2 with Halo Weapons

“I need a weapon.” –Spartan John-117, Halo 2

Having now finished the original two Left 4 Dead campaigns, the only thing that was Cold Stream and The Last Stand, two community missions that rounded out the game. Cold Stream sees the Left 4 Dead 2 survivors fighting through a forest in the mountains to reach a helicopter to evacuate them before a forest fire catches up with them, while The Last Stand represents an alternate interpretation of what had happened in Death Toll had the survivors gone a different route. After abandoning their truck at a roadblock, the survivors make their way into a junkyard and eventually reach a lighthouse. Here, the survivors signal for rescue from a boat, fending off hordes of Infected while awaiting the boat. These community missions are quite unrelated to the stories portrayed in the regular campaigns, providing players with a remote forest setting to explore. At this point in time, the mechanics and objectives were simple enough: having beaten the last two campaigns (and fighting with the community workshop directory, which had been giving me some trouble with the character name plates), getting back into Left 4 Dead 2 to finish off the single player experience was not particularly tricky, and I ended up wrapping up both of the community campaigns with time to spare. As noted in my previous posts, the K-On! mod for Left 4 Dead 2 had been remarkably entertaining, completely altering the aesthetic and mood in Left 4 Dead 2. However, this time around, I’ve decided to further increase the mods introduced into the game: as amusing as it had been to run Left 4 Dead 2 with Houkago Tea Time characters, even new models and sound files can get old to write about. As such, I decided to introduce an additional set of mods into the game which would modify the experience somewhat without conflicting with the K-On! mods.

This mod takes the form of Halo weapon skins to replace the original weapons. While the weapons still function identically to their original forms, the weapons look and sound different. The end result is simple: I am now running with the automatics, pistols, shotguns and long-range rifles from Halo, rather than more familiar weapons. In addition to a new, highly-detailed skin, the Halo weapons also have new firing sounds. Altogether, these new weapons feel considerably more powerful and reliable than any of the classic weapons. Every shot fired feels powerful. The base pistols and Tier 1 weapons, which had felt diminished in power compared to the Tier 2 weapons in their original form, suddenly gave the impression of being viable, lethal tools that could hold their own against the hordes of Infected. The suppressed MAC-10 felt inadequate against special infected, but when replaced with the M7/C submachine gun, players suddenly appear to have a better fighting chance. The hunting rifle is replaced by the DMR, firing rounds with a slow but reliable outcome. The Tier 2 weapons themselves feel even more effective, and when the mods are properly applied, even the introductory pistol becomes a more entertaining weapon to use. I’d first heard about the Halo weapon mods from a friend who’d been interested in asking about why the modders had removed a particularly unique skin from the marketplace. I’d speculated it might’ve simply been because the mod needed more work and suggested said friend get in touch with the modders to inquire about it. After checking out the modders’ workshop, I became intrigued, and subsequently resolved to try the weapons out for myself. The end result was highly entertaining, and after ensuring that the new mods did not conflict with or modify the way my previous mods worked, I set about finishing off Left 4 Dead 2‘s remaining missions.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I figure it would be appropriate to open with the dual M6H pistols: the original pistols felt quite weak despite being useful weapons in practise, but upgrading them to the pistols seen in Halo completely changes the impact they have. In this post, not only do I have Halo weapons, but I have Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Tsumugi wielding Halo weapons. I imagine that with this mod, once Google properly indexes my content, I’ll have the first result whenever one does a search for “K-On! Halo” or similar. All of the Halo weapon mods in this post are supplied by Adorabirb!, whose done a phenomenal job of rendering the weapons and ensuring they sound identical to their Halo counterparts.

  • The suppressed MAC-10 is replaced by the M7S suppressed submachine gun seen in Halo 3: ODST. While one cannot use the reflex sights, and the weapon handles otherwise identically to the MAC-10 in Left 4 Dead 2, there’s something incredibly reassuring about using the M7S against hordes of Infected. The Uzi is similarly replaced by the M7/C with the right mods, and with the Halo submachine guns, I suddenly feel a lot more optimistic about fighting Infected. There’s a psychological boost that results from using cool-looking and cool-sounding weapons.

  • Cold Stream was a particularly fun campaign mission – despite being non-canon, its setting makes it the next best thing to being out in the mountains for myself. It’s now been over a year since I’ve taken a hike in the mountains and had any poutine from the best poutine shop this side of the country, and I do miss it greatly. While games like Left 4 Dead 2 and Skyrim do allow me to visit the mountains and their beautiful forested trails, there is no substitution for a full day spent hiking the mountains for real, followed by a hearty Montreal Smoked Meat poutine and spruce soda afterwards.

  • My yearning to return to the mountains means that I have recently returned to Skyrim with the aim of finishing the main story off: a year ago, while writing about KonoSuba, I mentioned an interest in playing Skyrim again, and it is only now that I’ve managed to do so. Returning to Skyrim, I am impressed with how immersive and detailed the game is. I will be sharing a full post on my experiences once I am finished: at the time of writing, I am pursuing Alduin through Sovngarde, and expect that in a few weeks or so, I should be done with things.

  • Before then, however, I determined it would be best if I wrapped up my thoughts on Left 4 Dead 2 with K-On! and Halo mods first. Here, I’ve picked up the DMR: it replaces the Hunting Rifle, a weapon that I typically did not play with much on my old play-throughs on account of its poor firing rate and small magazine size. Again, the psychological changes brought on by a Halo skin were profound – the DMR’s firing rate feels faster than that of the Hunting Rifle even though the weapon stats remained unchanged, and I had a blast using it to pick off distant foes.

  • The fact a simple re-skin completely changed up the way Left 4 Dead 2 feels, despite having no actual impact on gameplay, speaks volumes to how something as simple as changing up a weapon’s appearance and sound could completely refresh an experience to the extent where Left 4 Dead 2 could feel like an entirely new game. Prior to switching out the Hunting Rifle for the DMR, I’d never used the weapon simply because its low rate of fire and limited situations where a long-range weapon made it less useful to have. However, in Halo: Reach and Halo 4, the DMR is intended more of a precision weapon filling the range between the sniper rifles and Battle rifle.

  • I ended up swapping out the FN SCAR-L for the Battle Rifle: the Combat Rifle in Left 4 Dead 2 fires in three round bursts, and while dealing less damage per shot than the other assault rifles, it compensates for this with a good accuracy. With this in mind, given how often engagements were close quarters, I generally preferred the AK-47 or M-16 where available. The Battle Rifle I ran with is the Halo 2 variant, which is my favourite iteration of the Battle Rifle in any Halo game. The mod lacks the original’s heavy-hitting sound: besides performance, the Halo 2 Battle Rifle feels solid and sounds lethal.

  • The one weapon I was most impressed with in the mod was the SRS99-AM sniper rifle, which is seen in Halo 3. This weapon excels at long range combat, and equips an advanced optic for sighting distant foes. I chose the weapon to replace the semi-automatic sniper rifle in Left 4 Dead 2, with the end result that what was originally an anti-materiel rifle with a four-round box magazine now could hold thirty rounds. The weapon sounds powerful and looks even better: the optics will depict the same view, just as the sniper rifle in Halo 3 did.

  • One of the things I needed to get used to was the fact that I’m technically still using the semi-automatic sniper rifle in Left 4 Dead 2, which behaves more similarly to the DMR than the Halo sniper rifle. If I were to go purely for accuracy, the Hunting Rifle would be better represented by the Halo sniper rifle, and the semi-automatic rifle would be replaced by the DMR skin. This would allow the mods to be more faithful to their original weapon’s roles.

  • While crossing the bridge, I ended up picking up a grenade launcher: the M319 grenade launcher is a single-shot break-action grenade launcher that functions identically to its real-world equivalent, the M79. In fact, aside from a superior construction and digital display, the weapon is more or less a M79: the M79 is the original weapon in Left 4 Dead 2, and this Vietnam-era grenade launcher was intended to give platoons additional firepower. The M79 proved effective and reliable, but being a single-shot weapon left operators at a disadvantage, limiting how much firepower they could put out downrange.

  • Moreover, carrying a dedicated launcher meant grenadiers were limited to their sidearms as a ranged weapon. In Left 4 Dead 2, this is definitely to one’s detriment, unless they were carrying dual pistols, as well. While fantastic for clearing out hordes of Infected and even making short work of the Special Infected, the grenade launcher’s utility is quite limited, and the weapon itself is also quite rare: I only encountered the grenade launcher a handful of times while playing through the original campaign.

  • Conversely, the M60 (replaced by Halo 4‘s M739 SAW) is an excellent special weapon, and when outfitted with a laser sight, becomes the ultimate weapon for taking on common and special Infected alike. Halo 4‘s SAW features a 72-round drum magazine and, while firing the same calibre rounds as the assault rifle, had a higher rate of fire and accuracy, on top of a larger ammunition capacity, making it a straight upgrade to the assault rifle. Spartan Ops missions went more smoothly the instant I picked one up. In Left 4 Dead 2, the M60 is similarly powerful, limited only by the fact that its belt cannot be replenished.

  • At the time of writing, the mod did not replace the weapon icons for the M16 or AK-47. The M16 is replaced by the MA5C assault rifle, which was featured in Halo 3 and for the first time, felt like a proper assault rifle. While the MA5C’s skin does not accurately reflect on the actual amount of ammunition remaining, the modders have taken the effort of ensuring that the digital display uses an emissive texture: in dark environments, the display will glow in the dark, which is a nice touch.

  • Towards the end of the final chapter, I picked up an M90 shotgun with a reflex sight, which replaces the SPAS-12. However, since the final part of the mission entailed pushing through a horde, the shotgun proved inadequate and I ended up dropping it for any faster-firing weapon. Shotguns have always had a limited utility in Left 4 Dead 2, and in Halo, I found them more useful against the Flood rather than the Covenant. With this being said, shotguns have always been fun to wield against the Elites, and my strategy in Halo games has always been to use the battle rifles, assault rifles and marksman rifles against weaker foes, saving shotguns or other powerful weapons for swiftly putting away groups of tougher enemies.

  • The last segments of Cold Stream requires that players reach a tall tower for extraction, and unfortunately, during my run, I ended up losing Tsumugi to the Infected. In spite of this, I still finished the mission in a reasonably efficient manner, earning myself a nifty achievement for my troubles. My best friend has indicated that there is an elegant and simple way to get the toughest achievements in Left 4 Dead 2 without breaking a sweat. I’m not sure if this is something I’ll seek to be doing in the foreseeable future just yet.

  • The last of the community missions, The Last Stand, returns perspective to Azusa, Ui, Jun and Nadoka’s perspective, as well as the grim and foreboding dark of a coastal forest. This mission starts players off with the Uzi, which the mod switches out for a M7/C Submachine gun. Insofar, I’ve referred to the Halo weapons mod in singular, but it’s actually a collection of mods one can download. Like the M7S, the M7/C feels distinctly better than the Uzi, even though the damage model remains completely unaffected.

  • It’s reassuring to know that the modder behind the K-On! mod made certain that the smaller details were properly rendered – I half expected the character models to clip or be hollow underneath, but thankfully, this is not the case. When I first played the K-On! mods, I’d heard that the modders even took into account the special attributes surrounding Mio, and while I’d never had the characters walk up onto a higher surface in campaigns with Yui and the others, I have played as Mio before. Being ensnared by a smoker demonstrated that those rumours surrounding Mio were true, and this level of attention to detail is commendable.

  • The darkness of The Last Stand meant that unlike Cold Stream, the weapons I pick up won’t be in sharp relief for everyone to check out. With this being said, having seen the M7S’ model, it shouldn’t be too difficult to convince readers that the M7/C is equally as well-designed as the M7S. Besides the same report when fired, the modder had also ensured that the submachine guns’ reloading sounds are identical to their Halo counterparts.

  • Somewhere along the way, I decided to swap out my dual pistols for the Tactical Magnum. In any real cooperative matches, such an action would be unthinkable: dual pistols offer firepower and accuracy nearly equivalent to that of an assault rifle, and so, players will hang onto dual pistols for the duration of a match if they can find them. However, since this isn’t a match with other players, I am able to switch things up for the sake of discussion.

  • I replaced the basic pump action shotgun with the M45D Tactical Shotgun. This weapon, I’ve never actually seen in a Halo game for myself before, but it’s supposed to be a straight upgrade to the shotguns seen in earlier Halo titles. I’ve heard that it is unlikely that Halo 5 will ever come to PC: of the Halo games, Halo 5 had suffered greatly from a series of decisions that dramatically altered the campaign, and this in turn led the game to receive poor reception. 343 Industries’ decision to leave Halo 5 without a PC port was likely a consequence of knowing that Halo 5 wouldn’t sell very well if brought to the PC, and instead, it appears 343 chose to focus their efforts into Halo: Infinite.

  • Because shotguns aren’t really my jam, I ended up switching it out for the MA5D with the reflex sight. Informally referred to as the recon assault rifle, this weapon differs only from the M16’s replacement in that it has a reflex sight. I’ve always wondered how Halo weapons would look with contemporary weapon attachments: in Halo, the presence of smart-link scopes means that soldiers don’t really need dedicated attachments to aim with, as a computerised system would do the work for them. Of course, with Halo 5, when the Battle Rifle was given a reflex sight, people took to complaining about it loudly online.

  • In Left 4 Dead 2, since there’s no aiming down sights for weapons without a magnifying optic, the presence of a reflex sight is purely cosmetic, and I chose this rifle purely to differentiate it from the MA5C replacing the M-16. Like the MA5C, the digital ammunition counter doesn’t actually reflect the amount of rounds one has left to them, but in the dark of The Last Stand, the glowing display is rather more visible: here, I make my way through a burning forest with Ui, Azu-nyan and Jun after fighting my way out of a junkyard to reach the safehouse.

  • The Last Stand was so-named because the original mode was about the survivors fending off wave after wave of Infected, at least until ammunition and supplies ran out entirely, leaving them to be overwhelmed. Conversely, in the campaign, players actually can escape successfully after reaching the lighthouse. Here, after exiting the safehouse, I came across a warden’s outpost.

  • Curiosity soon led me to ascend the watchtower, and I picked up another machine gun for my trouble. Whenever holding a special weapon, I’ve always found that having the dual pistols is most effective, giving me enough firepower to deal with the horde. This leaves me free to save the special weapon for the situations that demand it the most. Of the special weapons, the M60 (SAW in my case) is my favourite: possessing the same accuracy as the AK-47 and dealing the same damage as the magnum pistol per shot, the M60’s 150 round capacity eliminates the need to reload.

  • I wasn’t able to do so in The Last Stand, but locating a laser sight and equipping special ammunition dramatically increases the M60’s accuracy and damage further, to the point where it can destroy tanks and witches in the blink of an eye. On my play-through, I wound up saving the SAW for the final confrontation, anticipating that I would need its firepower.

  • This turned out to be a good decision, since a few tanks did crash my party, and with the damage the SAW deals, they were quickly eliminated. Looking around, I’ve noticed that there are also weapon mods for the melee weapons, but because I’d been interested in keeping Yui’s Les Paul Gibson, I chose not to install anything that could conflict with them. The challenge about running a large number of mods at once is that conflicts could be introduced, and it’s up to the players to choose which mod they’d prefer.

  • The mod prioritisation function in Left 4 Dead 2 is actually pretty well-written in this area: if a conflict is detected, the game will automatically load the one that’s higher up on the list, but if this doesn’t produce the desired result, one can always go into the mods menu and deactivate the ones that one isn’t interested in running. There is one more nuance about running the K-On! mod: by default, the game won’t always show the modded names correctly. Online, people suggest moving the mod .vpk files out of the workshop directory into the addons directory, which prevents Steam from automatically fetching newer versions, but also allowing all of the data to be read.

  • I’ve actually found that this doesn’t work: if one is subscribed to a mod, the game will automatically query the server for updates every time it loads. This means that every time I started up Left 4 Dead 2, a fresh copy of the mod .vpk would be downloaded into the workshop directory. Instead, to preserve my settings, one only needs to subscribe to the mod to download it, then move the .vpk out, and unsubscribe. This method is a bit cumbersome, but it does allow me to keep my settings as I like them.

  • Of course, having now completed every campaign and bonus set of levels in Left 4 Dead 2, I’m not too sure if I’ll be returning in the near future: while it could be fun to get those special achievements my friend mentioned and also re-run the game with Halo weapons, there’s quite a bit on my plate, and I’m just glad to have finally gotten the game done. Towards the end of my run, after depleting the SAW’s ammunition, I returned to the trusty BR-55 rifle to round things out.

  • Unlike my Cold Stream run, this time around, I managed to escape with everyone. Having brought back K-On! into my life in a big way, I am inclined to write one more K-On! related post before the month’s out. Once that post is done, I’ll enter May with a clean slate, ready to go through Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered and Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War: while perhaps a bit pricier with respect to how much time I get out of them, I’ve always had a blast going through them.

While Left 4 Dead 2 is very much a squad-based game that is best played with friends, mods like K-On! and Halo weapons transform the way the game feels, while simultaneously leaving the central mechanics intact. This seemingly minor set of changes alters enough of the look and feel such that Left 4 Dead 2 appears as a completely different game. Admittedly, the base Left 4 Dead 2 never really appealed to me in terms of its aesthetic, and I’d only picked it up because the sale price was excellent: my friend is very big on Valve games for their ease-of-modding, and I imagined that we’d spend more time messing around as a two-person team once I’d picked the game up. While we did spend a few fun-filled hours blasting zombies, the base game never really excited me to the same extent as I imagined. However, with things like the K-On! mod, Left 4 Dead 2 became considerably more entertaining, to the point where I can say with confidence that it would be worth buying Left 4 Dead 2 solely for the K-On! mod alone. At that point, the variety of mods available in the Workshop means that, were one so inclined, they could completely transform the way Left 4 Dead 2 handles: particularly well-done and extensive mods allow players to replace the existing Infected with Halo‘s Flood, and similarly, the very same techniques for using K-On! characters as character models allow for one to run with Spartans. Such mods even provide a means of changing up the HUD to closely resemble the Mjolnir armour system, customised for Left 4 Dead 2‘s inventory system. There is no ceiling on what is possible with the mods in Left 4 Dead 2, and while Valve currently has no plans for a continuation, the ability to change the experience via mods has meant that Left 4 Dead 2 has proven unexpectedly fun: what had initially been little more than a curiosity became a full-fledged, meaningful experience that was well worth the price of admissions. Thanks to mods, I’ve now finally completed Left 4 Dead 2‘s single-player experience in full, and while my friend and I are unlikely to co-op in Left 4 Dead 2 with any frequency owing to our schedule, knowing that I’ll be able to retain a highly customised setup should we take this up means that I’d be happy to co-op if the opportunity presents itself in the future.

Halo 4: Spartan Ops, A Reflection On Part Two

“Spartans, looks like there’s one more quick job before you get to come home.” –Sarah Palmer

After being captured by Jul’Mdama’s forces, Fireteam Crimson manages to escape and seize a Phantom, using it to infiltrate Covenant operations and search for another Spartan team, encountering a Harvester machine. Crimson quickly discovers that the Covenant managed to acquire UNSC HAVOK missiles and begin launching an assault on the UNSC Infinity. After clearing the lower decks of Covenant, the AI Roland reboots the Infinity’s systems and secure the engine room, deactivating the nuclear warheads in the process. Dr. Halsey is captured, and Crimson is first sent to close the portal system. Crimson learn that Jul’Mdama’s forces managed to salvage a Pelican and had been using it to listen in on UNSC communications. After the Pelican is destroyed, the UNSC test their ability to read a Forerunner map with an operation, and prepare an operation to recover Halsey before the Covenant can learn anything of value. However, despite being unable to locate Halsey, Crimson determine that the Covenant have been using another Forerunner artifact to anchor the Infinity to Requiem; Jul’Mdama orders Requiem’s self-destruct to activate, but once the UNSC determine that the artifact is controlled by several anchors, they destroy this, allowing the Infinity to leave Requiem moments before Requiem’s collision with its star causes a supernova. Halsey, meanwhile, agrees to help Jul’Mdama’s Covenant. This is where Spartan Ops‘ second part ends, and the story is continued in Halo: Escalation, which covers the events between Halo 4 and Halo 5. Spartan Ops ultimately ends up being a loosely-written campaign that bridges the gap between the two Halo games, expanding the lore of Halo while simultaneously providing more for players to do outside of the campaign and multiplayer. On the whole, Spartan Ops is a reasonably enjoyable, if time-consuming experience.

More so than the first half, Spartan Ops‘ second half strikes a wonderful balance between gameplay and humour: firefights are punctuated by the hilarious exchanges between Spartan Miller and the UNSC’s internal AI, Roland. Halo had remained very serious and focused throughout its campaign, and humour has never really been what I’ve known Halo for. However, with Roland’s wit and enjoyment to show off his capabilities, his dialogue with Spartan Miller adds a considerable amount of light-hearted banter into otherwise serious communications chatter. This gives the Halo universe a new dimensionality; marking the first time that players can openly laugh about something while fighting off Covenant and Promethean forces, the humour in the second partof Spartan Ops was meant to show that humanity has now reached a point where there are things to laugh at again. While the Covenant and Forerunner forces remain a threat, that humour is present suggests that humanity is capable of holding their own, and that dealing with superior forces has become enough of a routine such that we can laugh at unrelated things during combat with said forces. The end result is that the second half of Spartan Ops, while ending with a much grimmer outcome, comes across as being very similar to Portal 2 in style, striking that balance between light-hearted comedy and events that have a much larger implication on events in future games, creating intrigue for what was to come. Of course, Halo 5 proved to be a disappointment in its story, but having what was essentially a second campaign in Halo 4 to set the stage did represent a bold new idea at the time.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • For the second half of Spartan Ops, I largely ran with dexterity and shielding, plus the jet pack: suicide plasma grunts are always a challenge to deal with, but the bonus shielding conferred by this setup meant that I was able to often survive such suicide attacks with still ten percent of my shields remaining, allowing me to remain in the fight longer. Of course, being stuck by a plasma grenade is still instant death, but I found that overall, improved survivability made a great deal of difference in many solo firefights. The jet pack simply makes it easier to get places more quickly, and I find it an indispensable armour ability that made missions much easier.

  • In the absence of a Spartan Laser, rocket launcher, Incineration Cannon or Fuel Rod Gun, Hunters can be a nightmare to take out. Spartan Ops does not provide dedicated heavy weapons when Hunters are encountered in pairs, and my usual strategy is to get close and attack its unarmoured back until it goes down. I’ve found that the energy sword can actually work well against Hunters; a single lunge will bring one down very quickly. Similarly, using the Scattershot on a Hunter is also quite effective if one can hit the exposed orange areas.

  • The episode to clear Covenant off the UNSC Infinity was easily my absolute favourite of the Spartan Ops assignments, feeling like a mix between Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2‘s first missions. Fighting through the hangars and corridors of the Infinity, backed by UNSC marines and soldiers was great, and UNSC weapons were always plentiful. For Spartan Ops, I run what’s called the “n00b combo”: the battle rifle is my primary weapon, and I equip the plasma pistol as my secondary. Most enemies can be felled by a three-round burst, while Elites and Knights die after hitting them with the plasma pistol’s overcharge and then following up with a headshot.

  • The plasma pistol is probably the most valuable of the sidearms in Halo 4: while the weapon is the weakest weapon in the game on a per-shot basis, the fact that its overcharge can completely strip away shields and even stop vehicles briefly makes it incredibly valuable. In a pinch, the battle rifle-plasma pistol is enough to get one through almost any situation in Halo. In a standout episode, the most exceptional chapter comes when Fireteam Crimson must sweep the engine room for nukes: while the Covenant are using cloaking devices to conceal them, once Roland figures things out, they’re conveniently marked on one’s HUD for deactivation.

  • The cavernous space is very conducive towards sniping, and there’s a rack of sniper rifles close to the Infinity’s central reactor. In practise, while the sniper rifles are excellent weapons, there’s hardly any chance to snipe in Spartan Ops, so having the space and positioning to do so here was a welcome experience. The UNSC sniper rifle remains my favourite of the sniper rifles: it has the greatest capacity of the long range weapons and allows for making follow-up shots. The Binary Rifle, the Promethean equivalent, hits the hardest per shot and vapourises enemies on a kill, but is balanced by a low capacity and rate of fire.

  • Ever since Halo 3 brought back the single Needler, being able to pump enemies full of needles for that super-combine explosion is once again a reality. The Needler has limited homing capability and is surprisingly effective against Elites: the needles seem to ignore shielding. To offset its power, Needlers wielded by enemy forces can also super-combine: rushing carelessly into a firefight and being hit with seven needles will be enough to instantly kill players. While quite unrelated, here, I note that today marks the one year anniversary to the day that Toukairin was banned from AnimeSuki – his political commentary ventured into the realm of extremism and drowned out more moderate perspectives. I took no joy in orchestrating his ban; it was an unfortunate but necessary action, and if given a choice, I wouldn’t do it again.

  • The consolation was that after Toukairin was banned, political discussions became more civil and less frequent, less likely to agree with radical standpoints; the AnimeSuki community has become better for this, which is a win in my books. Back in Spartan Ops, after bringing the Infinity’s guns back online, players can watch as a Covenant cruiser explodes from sustained fire: it’s great to see that the UNSC can now fight Covenant ships head-on, and this was something about Halo 4 I’ve long been fond of – when Halo began its journey, humanity had been on the back-foot. Lore told a one-sided story where humanity often needed to fall upon exotic strategies or employ an entire fleet’s resources to beat back a single Covenant cruiser, and even then, at a heavy cost to themselves. By the events of Halo 4, however, considerable advances have allowed humanity to put up a considerable fight in fleet combat.

  • I continued pushing the fight against the Covenant: having run dry on my battle rifle, I’ve swapped over to the Covenant Carbine, which, while lacking the same damage per shot as the DMR, makes up for it by being exceptionally accurate. I generally prefer the battle rifle for ranges where the Carbine is effective, though: despite being quite accurate, I’ve found that the three-round burst on the BR is generally more consistent. Of course, these are merely my preferences, and different players find success with different setups.

  • Here, I managed to board a Wraith: Wraiths are occasionally seen in Spartan Ops, and while it appears that they can only be destroyed (boarding to kill the pilot causes the entire thing to explode and be rendered unusable), it turns out that the best way to commandeer one is to immoblise it using a plasma pistol, and then kill the gunner. This causes the driver to get out, leaving the Wraith free for players. In possession of a Wraith and its plasma mortar, everything up to and including other Wraiths can be easily destroyed. During co-op, things get even better, as one player can operate the plasma turret while the other drives: when my friend and I figured this out, we likened it to stealing a Gundam, turning the Wraith’s firepower against the Covenant to great effect.

  • While I’ve devised a strategy against Watchers since starting Spartan Ops, this doesn’t make them any less bothersome to deal with. Spartan Ops spawns entire flocks of them, and while individually weak, Watchers are able to move in erratic ways that allow them to dodge gunfire. They’re surprisingly durable and take a few bursts from the battle rifle to silence, as well: coupled with the fact they can fly off to regenerate, and even a group of five Watchers becomes a serious threat. I found that getting up close and personal with automatic weapons tended to work best.

  • On my own, having a Scorpion Tank meant being able to use the 90 mm cannon to devastate enemy forces. With a friend playing alongside me, it means either being able to have a gunner in an anti-personnel role or fulfill this role myself. However, when Spartan Ops gives us two tanks to work with, it means being able to absolutely demolish whatever challenges stood in our path: sustained fire from Scorpions is enough to bring down the Phantoms, and speaking to how long I’ve been around Halo for, I remember a time when Phantoms were simply vehicles that showed up during scripted events.

  • If it were not apparent, the co-op aspect of Spartan Ops was one I enjoyed greatly. My friend and I are rocking older computers without microphones, but even without voice communications, we were perfectly in sync: his DMR and assault rifle loadout complemented my battle rifle and plasma pistol loadout, and we generally had no trouble clearing out areas that had individually taken us longer. Having said this, that Spartan Ops can be completed solo attests to the fact that Halo 4 allows players to play in the manner of their choosing.

  • This, coupled with the loadouts and armour customisation options available in Halo 4, makes the game a textbook example of what video games in general should be like. Many games today place an undue emphasis on lootboxes at the expense of gameplay, hoping to make a quick buck, but back in the Halo days, Bungie placed a particular emphasis on world-building and immersion. I’ve always held the belief that if a game developer needed microtransactions to sustain themselves, then their games were never worth playing to begin with: a good game will compel players to successfully recommend that their friends pick the game up for themselves, and this is what Halo did.

  • Having spent most of my youth playing Halo with friends at LAN party, it speaks volumes to the series’ staying power that I picked up The Master Chief Collection as soon as it became available. To be honest, The Master Chief is easily worth 160 CAD, and the fact we got all six Halo titles for a mere 50 CAD is nothing short of excellent value. Beyond having some of the most consistent and balanced gameplay mechanics, The Master Chief Collection also properly demonstrates how to handle cosmetics in a video game.

  • For instance, here, I’m rocking a golden assault rifle, and for good measure, I’ve also got the gold skins for my magnum, battle rifle, DMR, plasma pistol, the Storm Rifle, Covenant Carbine, Light Rifle, Boltshot and Suppressor. These skins are unlocked simply by playing the game and completing weekly assignments, which yield experience points and season points that are used to unlock various cosmetics, from weapon skins to armour variations. All of this stuff is earned without any trouble, and never impacts gameplay: players rocking the basic recruit armour and weapon skins are just as effective as the blinged-out players with a Mjolnir helmet that resembles the RX-0 Unicorn’s head.

  • I’ve been running a golden gun in my games simply for the cool factor, and here, fight my way to the top of Lockout in order to unlock a map for analysis. A combination of Covenant Elites and Promethean Knights were my enemy, but since there was a stockpile of Scattershots here, I capitalised on their presence to great effect, vapourising Elites and Knights alike while waiting for the map to fully activate. The lighting in Halo 4 is interesting, and there have been cases where the bloom has been overwhelming, especially with the golden gun skins.

  • Liches make a return in Spartan Ops, but unlike their fearsome reputation in lore, can easily be destroyed by boarding and destroying or removing their power supply. The final set of missions in Spartan Ops involves calling out a Lich and stealing its power supply for the derelict Harvester, which had been disabled a few episodes earlier. The verdant vegetation and azure skies of Apex made it one of my favourite of the maps in Spartan Ops‘ second half.

  • Having a Mantis against the Prometheans turned an annoying enemy into something that was completely fun to play: as soon as one boards the Mantis, hordes of Watchers and Prowlers swarm the player, but armed with the Mantis and its high RPM cannon, Watchers are swatted out of the sky without effort. It was an excellent choice on 343 Industries’ part, to give players a chance to finally take it out on the Watchers. The goal here is to destroy several power supplies, which force the doors to the next area to open, and one of the things I did notice in Spartan Ops‘ second half was that sometimes, the waypoints for these generators did not line up exactly, making them hard to find. Fortunately, they’re visually distinct, so for scenarios where following waypoints didn’t work, it was a matter of finding these floating spheres.

  • The last mission in Spartan Ops involves reactivating the Covenant Harvester to punch a hole into a cavern where a Forerunner artifact is held. Countless Prometheans are here, but now, experience allowed me to make short work of them, and in the process, I found that the Promethean Scattershot is actually a superbly enjoyable weapon to use in very specific scenarios (at extreme close range, when all of the beams connect): if one can get behind a Hunter and hit the vulnerable areas with all of the beams, the Hunter will be vapourised. After deactivating the Forerunner artifact, it’s time to beat a hasty exit, fight through a group of elites, and wrap up this last mission. With this done, I’ve totally finished Spartan Ops: I’ll also be looking to write about my experiences as a Blood Elf warlock in World of Warcraft and a solid mod for Left 4 Dead 2 that made things even more amusing than I’d thought possible.

  • Beyond this, I am looking to venture back into Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in the very near future to pick up a journey I’d put on hold since 2013. I’m also considering picking up Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered. My decision to do so will be determined largely by how much progress I make through Skyrim Finally, with most of my winter anime done, the only series I have left to write about is World Witches Take Off!. I’m still finalising the list of anime I’ll be watching over the spring season. Yakunara Mug Cup Mo and Super Cub are high on my list, and Hige wo Soru. Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru Churutto! and Soshite Joshikousei wo Hirou are also of note, so I’ll be checking those out to see where they go. This list is subject to changing, but three series and one short seems pretty reasonable for my current schedule.

With full-fledged cut-scenes and visuals, plus unique voice acting, Spartan Ops ultimately proved to be a tricky thing for 343 Industries to continue implementing: Spartan Ops had been a full-fledged campaign in its own right, and 343 Industries only ever released one full season, choosing to instead focus development on Halo 5 rather than expanding these side-stories further. However, even though only one season was produced, it added nearly ten extra hours of content to Halo 4‘s single player and co-op experience, and this was furthered by the fact that I did go through the Spartan Ops missions twice: once on my own, and once with a friend. In the latter, missions that had given me some trouble became much easier to handle. Between the two of us, we could carry different weapons for handling combat at different ranges, and we could cover one another. Having an extra player meant being able to fill the gunner seat of a vehicle, allowing vehicles to provide anti-personnel functions more effectively. Altogether, while Spartan Ops has its limitations (most notably, overwhelming enemy numbers and segments that require waiting, both of which pad out game time), the overall gameplay never grew stale, and there was always a fun opportunity to fight both Covenant and Promethean enemies across a wide range of locales. While Requiem’s rocky deserts were recycled, other locations (Lockup, Apex and Warrens) proved immensely fun to fight through: some maps may have been adapted from multiplayer maps, but many were purpose-made for Spartan Ops, possessing vivid details and rich skyboxes that make them distinct, unique locations. This experience was greatly augmented by the fact that I was able to co-op with a friend, and some of the biggest highlights include using a pair of Mantises to crush Covenant forces, rolling on enemy positions with twice the firepower thanks to having two Scorpions, saving one another from certain doom during firefights, and my personal favourite, hijacking Wraiths from the Covenant to grant ourselves additional firepower on missions that called for it.

Halo 4: Spartan Ops, A Reflection On Part One

“Spartan Sarah Palmer, Infinity Commander to all Navy, Army, and Marine forces, you can relax. The Spartans are here.” –Sarah Palmer

After Master Chief defeats the Didact, the UNSC Infinity is deployed to Requiem again to mop up remaining Covenant and Promethean forces. This sets in motion the events that would become known as the Second Battle of Requiem. The Infinity smashes through a Covenant armada and lands on the surface to begin a land invasion. Fireteam Crimson secures a landing zone and heads off to disable Requiem’s teleportation grid, allowing the UNSC to begin deploying power stations and laboratories for science teams. Covenant forces begin hassling the science teams, and once the UNSC learn that the Sangheili Parg Vol was responsible, send Fireteam Crimson to assassinate him. By this point in time, the Covenant manage to access Requiem’s teleportation grid, and Covenant Fleet Master Jul’Mdama arrives to oversee operations. While unable to kill Jul’Mdama, the UNCS manage to acquire a Forerunner artefact known as the Didact’s Gift, which revealed that Prometheans were synthesised from human memories. Fireteam Crimson manages to shut down the teleportation grid and defends the extraction team who’ve come to retrieve the remaining scientists. After reaching a cache of UNSC equipment, Fireteam Crimson fends off the Covenant and secures the gear before being deployed for another location, but are shot down. Spartan Ops‘ first season draws to a close here, depicting the events following Halo 4‘s campaign and providing an expanded insight into the lore of Halo while simultaneously allowing players justification to continue blowing up Covenant and Prometheans alike outside of the campaign and multiplayer modes.

Because Spartan Ops is a different game mode, it handles like a cross between Halo 4‘s campaign and multiplayer: there are objectives to complete, but players are given a lot more freedom in how they can go about completing them thanks to the availability of loadouts. Being relatively new to loadouts, I found that being able to create weapon and equipment configurations for a range of scenarios added a considerable amount of depth to Halo 4, allowing me to choose weapons, perks and armour abilities to best fit a given scenario. Different loadouts are therefore valuable: I might need something for dealing with swarms of prowlers one mission, and then return to fighting Covenant forces in the next, so being able to swiftly adapt made this a fun experience. My experiences in going through missions was largely pleasant, and while perhaps facing more enemies than I’d seen in the campaign, I was still able to complete the first season solo: despite being intended for groups, seeing that Spartan Ops could be done without a squad shows that the challenge within the mode is still fair. It helps that one has unlimited lives, and that the mode features persistence (if one neutralised five enemies in a group of ten and then died, upon respawn, there’d only be five enemies left in that group). The only real strike I have against Spartan Ops is the repetitive maps, which use a combination of recycled campaign and multiplayer levels, but this is a very minor gripe, and I am finding the mode to hold my interest in Halo, for the days where I’m inclined to shoot stuff without being in a campaign mission.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • To my surprise, Spartan Ops required that halo 4‘s multiplayer be installed. In retrospect, this makes sense, since Spartan Ops makes use of multiplayer maps and assets. The first few missions were straightforward, being set on the desert maps that the Reclaimer mission took place on, and while not conducive for the best screenshots, gave me a chance to familiarise myself with the setup. Unlike campaign missions, there’s a bit more freedom in Spartan Ops and players occasionally have access to vehicles, which changes the way the game is played.

  • The biggest importance of setting up a good collection of loadouts becomes obvious. Halo 4 does not allow players to spawn with any of the power weapons, and while some missions will provide weapon drops to help players out, having options is always important: I typically find that against Covenant, starting with the Battle Rifle and pistol is a good choice: Covenant forces also drop the Storm Rifle, which is a solid automatic weapon for cutting up Elites. Conversely, against Prometheans, the assault rifle is how I prefer to play: the Watchers are perhaps the single most irritating enemy in the whole of Halo, and a good automatic weapon is needed to fend them off.

  • Of course, when the moment calls for it, Spartan Ops is very generous with weapon drops: during one of the earlier missions, I was given an endless supply of Spartan Lasers to clear the skies of Phantoms. Having now used the Spartan Laser, I find it to be my preferred anti-vehicular weapon owing to its power and lack of travel time: the Spartan Laser will instantly destroy any Ghost or Banshee in one shot, can take down a Wraith in one shot to the rear, and a few shots will be enough to bring down even Phantoms, although it’s usually not a good idea to expend the Spartan Laser on these aerial vehicles.

  • Conversely, the M41 SPNKR rocket launcher is rendered obsolete in an anti-vehicular role – its 102 mm rockets, while powerful and capable of dealing an impressive amount of splash damage, have a slower travel time and cannot reliably track vehicles as its Halo 2 incarnation could. I prefer using it against large groups of infantry and Hunters. With this being said, at close ranges, the rocket launcher is more forgiving than the Spartan Laser, since one can quickly follow up with a second shot if needed.

  • For my preferred loadout against the Covenant, I originally took a battle rifle and pistol with cloak, faster shield recharge and dexterity. Eventually, I transitioned over to the jetpack for the ability to reach places more quickly. Having a battle rifle as my starting weapon generally gave me a decent all-around survivability on maps with Covenant forces: Grunts and Jackals both fall quickly to well-placed headshots from the battle rifle, and the weapon can deal with Elites in a reasonably effective manner, as well.

  • However, on maps with Promethean enemies, the battle rifle did feel considerably less effective: against Crawlers and Knights, the battle rifle fares well enough. However, the Watchers were a constant source of frustration – before I could land the finishing blow with the battle rifle, they’d hover away into cover, regenerate and come out good as new. Against Prometheans, I typically run with an assault rifle or suppressor simply because their high rate of fire makes it much easier to deal with these airborne threats more readily, while at once remaining useful against both Crawlers and Knights.

  • While I found some of the maps a tad repetitive in Spartan Ops, Two Giants was always a source of enjoyment: this canyon is home to two spires that act as communication beacons, and is supposed to be a remake of Halo 3‘s Valhalla, itself an update to Halo 2‘s Coagulation maps. With its blue skies, evergreen trees and green grass, Two Giants was easily my favourite of the Spartan Ops maps,

  • Initially, I ran with the M6H pistol – Halo 4‘s pistol retains the stopping power of its Halo Reach counterpart, but allows players to melee, switch weapons and throw grenades faster than if another weapon were equipped. As a secondary weapon, it is a decent all-around weapon, acting like a pocket-sized DMR in practise in that it is great for picking off Grunts, Jackals and Crawlers with ease.

  • Spartan Ops‘ story was meant to be a continuation of the story in Halo 4 and introduces the AI Roland, who has a central role in Halo 5. While the lore covered by Spartan Ops was enjoyable, the main draw behind Spartan Ops for me was the Firefight-like gameplay where I’d be pitted against a large number of enemies to fight. Firefight is a very enjoyable mode for me all around, providing a sandbox-like space for me to square off against foes. I’ve come to greatly enjoy sandbox-style modes in games of late, since they allow me to play at my own pace. This stands in stark contrast with PvP multiplayer games, which are comparatively stressful.

  • Ever since support for Battlefield V ended last June, I’ve not done competitive PvP multiplayer: as much fun as it was, there was also a frustration component brought on by the fact that my reflexes are not what they were back in my Halo 2, or even Battlefield 3 days: revisiting older articles here and on my old website, I’ve done things that certainly feel unfeasible now in multiplayer games, whether it’s getting a Killimanjaro on Lockout or going on Combat Efficiency streaks in Battlefield 3. My favourite recent achievements in Battlefield include abusing the Ilya-Muromets to score Killionaire in Battlefield 1, and going on a 34-streak with the Ka-Mi in Battlefield V.

  • Cheating continues to be a problem in multiplayer games: I’ve heard that Call of Duty: Warzone is rife with cheaters, and Battlefield V certainly had a cheating problem. This is the primary reason why I’ve pulled back from PvP multiplayer games of late; while they can be very enjoyable and give rise to emergent moments that can only happen in the chaos of online gaming, the prevalence of cheating means that this experience is greatly degraded. Halo‘s multiplayer has a different problem: controllers are given aim assist and bullet magnetism to offset their reduced precision, but bad choices on 343 Industries’ part means that the aim assist and bullet magnetism handles more like an aimbot.

  • Consequently, while having a great deal of fun in Halo 2: Anniversary‘s multiplayer, I’ve not really gone back into the Halo multiplayer experience as I imagined that I would: there is a gap between playing players who are legitimately skilled, and playing those who are using hardware the game mechanics favour. I’ve always been a firm believer in a fair, honourable fight in games: given a set of constraints and rules, those who have the skill and knowledge should generally hold out alright. As such, when this skill piece goes out the window, a game is no longer properly fun.

  • This is why the single-player experience is so important for me: in an environment where it’s just me and the game mechanics, my skills are properly tested. Spartan Ops, despite being more challenging to solo, remains fun precisely because even if the deck is stacked against the player (especially through armadas of Watchers and Knights capable of teleporting at will), the game doesn’t actively punish players for dying. As a result, while I’ve had very rough matches in Spartan Ops, none of them were ever rage-inducing because I knew I’d be able to come back and whittle away at my foes.

  • One of my best friends had the tenacity to solo Spartan Ops on legendary, and for this effort, was met with a special achievement. The most challenging traits of Halo are brought out on this difficulty, and I remember sharing several lengthy conversations about the idea of balance in Spartan Ops: my friend is even more of a Halo fan than I am, having gone through all of the campaign missions on legendary solo. With this level of experience, I have no trouble taking their word that Spartan Ops does have mechanics that are, compared to Halo 4‘s campaigns, make things more difficult (e.g. Elites and Knights seem tougher to kill in Spartan Ops than in the campaign).

  • Having said this, the foes in Spartan Ops are AI enemies with a finite set of behaviours, and that means over time, it’s possible to learn them well enough to have a suitable response. In my case, I found the Watchers to be the most problematic, so equipping an automatic weapon and fighting them up close gave me a fighting chance. This sort of thing is why PvE will never be as frustrating as PvP: in the former, I can response to any mission giving me trouble by taking a break and re-attempting later.

  • There had been such a mission in Spartan Ops that required me to defend a pair of relays from a Promethean onslaught, and while it was challenging, I managed to succeed with some perseverance. Patience and knowledge are key in PvE modes, making them suited for folks such as myself. While as a student, I possessed the time and reflexes to improve in multiplayer games, a combination of shifting priorities and slowing reflexes means that I have a decreasing inclination to play such games. Conversely, games that allow me to explore and progress at my own pace remain highly engaging for me.

  • Having now completed the first season of Spartan Ops, the aforementioned friend has expressed interest in running through all of the missions co-op: I immediately see the enjoyment in doing this, since it would mean we now have four different weapons between the two of us, allowing for a greater versatility in different combat scenarios. During February, the two of us had revisited Halo 4‘s campaign together and blasted through areas of the game that took me longer to individually complete: it was immensely valuable to have a gunner while I was driving, and my CQC style complimented their sniping perfectly.

  • I would expect that in a co-op scenario, we’d probably equip a setup that allows us to be a bit more specialised for our preferred ranges, and this could prove remarkably entertaining. At some point in the near future, I would also like to recount our Halo 4 co-op experience: while the two of us had been familiar enough with the other Halo games so that teaming up made things somewhat easier, in Halo 4, playing co-op was dramatically different to the point where we’d actually completed missions in under the par time.

  • For Spartan Ops, I ended up using the power weapons like the sniper rifles and rail guns for handling Elite and Knights. While I originally was quite conservative with ammunition, it turns out that so as long as one doesn’t drop their weapon, they can continuously top off at resupply stations, and as such, I was able to deal with threats a lot more quickly. Having vehicles around on a mission also helps, although one should be mindful that if they should ever die, their dropped weapons will de-spawn very quickly, leaving one at a disadvantage. It is for this reason that I tend to save the power weapons for moments that really call for it, lest I lose them at critical moment.

  • My favourite moment in Spartan Ops‘ first season was the final mission to the fifth chapter, during which an entire armada of Hunters are deployed against Fireteam Crimson. While this sounds daunting, the UNCS also calls in a supply drop that provides a nearly endless supply of Spartan Lasers. On standard difficulty, one shot from the Spartan Laser will kill a Hunter, and even the Wraiths that the Covenant deploy become reduced to smoking piles of rubble on short order. Spartan Lasers had been comparatively rare in Halo 3 and even Halo: Reach, so I relish the chance to use them. With the first season now in the books, I get to turn my attention towards Spartan Ops‘ second season, and also look towards finishing off the last of the Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns.

Spartan Ops, when it was first announced, represented an exciting new direction for Halo 4: it would add cooperative missions in which Fireteam Crimson, a squad of Spartan IVs, are sent to Requiem to handle the aftermath of Halo 4‘s events. Here, players get to participate in a Firefight-style battle, except each chapter is driven by a story and has objectives to complete. The missions were evidently designed for the co-op experience, and while only adding tangentially to the lore in Halo, allows players a chance to blast Covenant and Prometheans alike in the manner of their choosing: players do have access to their loadouts for Spartan Ops. Altogether, while perhaps not technically impressive, Spartan Ops ends up being a fun excuse to shoot things in environments beyond what was seen in the Halo 4 campaign with a bunch of friends. Levels are objective based, but in practise, things end up more like Firefight in that one has to contend with waves of enemies. I found that missions were geared towards full squads and do not scale for solo players: the sheer number of enemies one must deal with were far greater than anything I had seen in the campaign, and besting missions required a combination of patience, reflexes and map knowledge. Altogether, Spartan Ops represents a fun addition to Halo 4 that provides players with another option (in addition to the enjoyable campaign and expansive multiplayer), one which is especially nice to have for days where one just feels like fighting Covenant and Prometheans.

Review and Reflections on The Master Chief Collection: Halo 4

“For too many years, humanity was on the back-foot, reacting to threats rather than preventing them. The rest of the galaxy was bigger than us, stronger than us. We were mice hiding in the shadows, hoping the giants would not see us. No more: humanity is no longer on the defense. We are the giants now.” –Captain Thomas Lasky

Cortana awakens Master Chief from cryogenic sleep as the remnants of the Forward Unto Dawn are drift towards the Forerunner installation, Requiem. Master Chief manages to reactivate one of the Dawn’s remaining missiles and uses it to disable a Covenant frigate before Requiem draws in the Dawn into its gravity well. After crash-landing on Requiem’s surface, Master Chief learns that Cortana is nearing the end of her operational lifespan, and promises to get her home so Dr. Halsey can examine her. After encountering the Prometheans, Master Chief and Cortana pick up signals from the UNSC Infinity, which received the Dawn’s distress calls. Master Chief attempts to clear up the signal to warn the Infinity not to venture too close to Requiem, but instead, releases the Didact, an ancient Forerunner warrior. The Didact seizes control of the Promethean and Covenant remnants to launch an attack on the Infinity, but once Master Chief links up with the UNSC forces, they repel the Didact and set off towards destroying an array of particle cannons defending the gravity well. Master Chief meets the Librarian, a Forerunner who explains that the Didact had been imprisoned for creating a constructor known as the Composer, which converted organic beings into digital constructs in an attempt to fight the Flood. To help him in stopping the Didact, the Librarian accelerates Master Chief’s evolution, rendering him immune to being affected by the Composer. After aiding the UNSC forces in destroying the gravity well, Master Chief elects to stay behind, against orders, while the Infinity returns to Earth. Cortana determines that it may be possible to sabotage the Didact’s ship, but they fail and are forced to follow the Didact into slip-space. When they arrive at their destination, Cortana and Master Chief find a UNSC research station orbiting above a Halo ring. Despite their efforts, Master Chief and Cortana are unable to stop the Didact from taking control of the Composer. The Didact fires the Composer, killing everyone on board the research station except for Master Chief. The pair grab a Broadsword fighter and pursue the Didact to Earth with a nuclear warhead in tow. With assistance from the home fleet and Infinity, Master Chief boards the station and reaches the Didact. Following a brief struggle, Cortana manifests herself to restrain the Didact, and Master Chief uses a grenade to blast the Didact off a bridge into the slipspace void below. He then detonates the warhead, destroying the Composer. Cortana is lost, and Master Chief is brought on board the Infinity, where he mourns Cortana. Halo 4 is the sixth game in the Halo franchise, and the first to have been developed by 343 Industries. Upon its release in November 2012, Halo 4 was met with very positive reviews across the board, with praise directed at its story, impressive optimisation and 343 Industries’ successful handling of their first Halo game.

The most stand-out aspect of Halo 4 lies in its story: up until now, Master Chief had always been portrayed as a stoic super-soldier with a dry sense of humour and an ironclad determination to get things done. This had been a deliberate decision, so that players could imagine themselves as being Master Chief. However, by Halo 4, 343 Industries chooses to explore the deepening relationship between Master Chief and Cortana, which Halo 3 had briefly begun exploring after Master Chief left Cortana behind in High Charity, where she remained to attempt a detonation of In Amber Clad’s fusion reactors to destroy the city and stop the Gravemind. When it became clear she’d survived, Master Chief placed his trust in her, allowing for Gravemind to be defeated. However, after being stranded in space for four years, Cortana was nearing the end of her lifespan, and for Master Chief, Cortana represented more than being just an AI supporting his missions. She was a constant source of companionship, providing emotional support on their numerous missions together. Cortana saw Master Chief as being irreplaceable, doing everything in her power to support him. Halo 4‘s story thus becomes a love story in all but name, with Master Chief moving heaven and earth to keep his promises to Cortana. This was a first in Halo: while previous stories had explored the vastness of the universe and the extent of the Forerunners’ legacies amidst the Human-Covenant War, Master Chief remained merely a soldier whose sole duty was to help drive back the Covenant and Flood. The story in Halo 4 thus humanises Master Chief, creating a much more intricate, detailed character with human emotions. This is most evident during gameplay, where Master Chief calmly reassures Cortana whenever her rampancy affects her functions, and when Cortana is still functioning normally, the two exchange light-hearted banter. In particular, the Master Chief’s personality is expanded upon through the dialogue he has with other UNSC soldiers and scientists. Although composed, Master Chief is also firm, adamant in doing what is right; through conversations, 343 Industries succeed in painting a much more detailed picture of Master Chief’s character, and while this reaffirms that Master Chief is utterly devoted to his duties, he also has a sense of humour, especially when conversing with Cortana, and he is also fiercely loyal to her, demonstrating a more sensitive side, as well. Master Chief’s characterisation was well-received because it struck a balance: it fleshes out his personality to a hitherto unmatched level, but never interferes with the gameplay at all: Halo 4 is, at its core, still a Halo game, and so, Halo 4 can be thought of as retaining classic Halo elements, improving on other elements and all the while, creating a more compelling, personal story.

Besides a compelling narrative between Master Chief and Cortana, 343 Industries also applied their own aesthetic to the Halo universe. Things were modified, added or removed to fit with these aesthetics, and amongst the changes in Halo 4, was the fact that humanity had evidently advanced in the four years since the events of Halo 3. Using Forerunner and captured Covenant technology alike, humanity made considerable strides in technology. Shielding and slipspace travel improved beyond recognition, and by the time Halo 4 happens, humanity is far stronger, more capable than it had been during the Human-Covenant War. The Infinity is the symbol of this power: it tears a Covenant RCS-class cruiser in half just by hitting it, and its Series 8 Super MACs were able to put a hole in the Mantle’s Approach’s hull, something that even the Super MACs could not accomplish. Humanity is characterised by a newfound confidence, and this is a major secondary theme in Halo 4: everything in Halo 4 was designed to convey this confidence. From Master Chief’s final run on the Didact and faith in his ability to deliver Cortana back home, to the UNSC’s confidence to square off against any foe, Halo 4‘s story is brimming with a newfound conviction. 343 Industries seizes the initiative, and beyond the story, everything from the bold new visuals in the game, to the sound engineering, screams confidence. This is a game that knows precisely what it aims to deliver, and in a curious turn of events, Halo 4‘s release coincided with my undergraduate defense year. I had just come out of a summer where I’d conquered the MCAT (scoring today’s 517) and had just submitted a paper to my journal. In my undergraduate defense, I was enrolled in a special topics course that occupied two slots, and I had numerous options left over, allowing me to take an intermediate English course on science fiction, genomics and iOS development. For my defense project, I was set to use my lab’s in-house game engine, coincidentally named the Composer, to build a model of renal flow, expanding on research I’d started the previous summer. This was a system I knew the ins and outs of, and so, after delivering my proposal to classmates and professors alike early in September, I’d felt like I was in control of my university experience for the first time. That semester, it felt as though nothing could go wrong: I steam-rolled every course I took, the same way Master Chief steam-rolled the Prometheans and Covenant alike in an effort to save Cortana. My intention had been to ride on this success and to attempt a kokuhaku once I’d finished my defense, thinking I’d be able to finally nail it. There are parallels in my undergraduate defense story, and Master Chief’s story. Halo 4‘s final mission describes how the journey to my undergraduate defense felt; for me, playing through Halo 4 in full now was a trip down memory lane, reminding me of a time when I felt like I was at the absolute top of my game and everything felt possible.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It was a cold November evening that Halo 4 released to in 2012. Back then, I had been almost two-third of the way though my fall semester, and had been most curious to see what Halo 4 had been about: at that point, it had been about three years since Halo: Reach released, and this marked a return to Master Chief’s story. On a comparatively warmer November evening this year, I stepped out of the cryogenic chamber and onto the Dawn with assault rifle in hand, ready to start Master Chief’s journey. Despite having never played Halo 4 before, I associate the game with my undergraduate thesis year, and to accommodate this bit of reminiscence, this post on Halo 4 will be larger than usual.

  • Initially, Master Chief starts out with the MA5D Assault rifle and M6H Pistol. The assault rifle of Halo 4 is a reliable close to mid range weapon that feels powerful and reliable, being able to shred Elites at close range and can reach out to ranges the SMGs and assault rifles of earlier games could not. The M6H is a sidearm that brings back memories of the Halo: Combat Evolved pistol, while at the same time, being more balanced. On board the Forward Unto Dawn, it is apparent that Master Chief and Cortana are no longer alone: Covenant remnants have boarded, and represent the first enemy players will fight in Halo 4.

  • There is one detail in Halo 4‘s HUD that I found to be a downgrade compared to its predecessors: while more detailed (being modelled in 3D), the HUD lacks an indicator for the player’s holstered weapon. Earlier Halo games had a HUD that indicated what secondary weapon the player was carrying. Ultimately, this was a more minor detail: in a firefight, the only thing that matters is the current weapon, how much ammunition one has for it in the magazine, and how many extra rounds are available. The Covenant seen during this first mission do not resemble those of earlier Halo games, suggesting that they’re from a more radical faction. Indeed, the Grunts certainly are crazier, breaking out the dual-plasma grenades for suicide runs more often.

  • Once Master Chief reaches the weapons deck, Cortana spots an unshielded Covenant cruiser and supposes that it might be possible to destroy it with a missile. Since the Dawn was blown in half from the events of Halo 3, the missile must be manually fired, so Master Chief heads out onto the Dawn’s deck, clearing away hordes of Covenant while the Forerunner planet looms in the background. Halo 4‘s skyboxes were far more sophisticated than anything seen in earlier Halo titles, and the game’s scale thus feels much bigger than those of its predecessors.

  • Halo 4 somehow has the Forward unto Dawn stocked with the BR-85 heavy barrel service rifle (battle rifle for brevity), whereas in Halo 3, Master Chief only had access to the BR-55 heavy-barrel service rifle (itself an upgrade to Halo 2‘s BR-55 battle rifle). Firing a new 9.5 mm round, the new battle rifle reaches out further than an assault rifle and is suited for mid-range combat. The three-round bursts can quickly bring down an Elite’s shields, and compared to earlier iterations, appears to have increased spread, lower rate of fire and a longer reload time. This hasn’t stopped the battle rifle from being my weapon of choice when I could find ammunition for it.

  • As it turns out, the missile Master Chief primes and launches is a M4093 Hyperion missile, which carries a nuclear warhead. I was wondering why it was able to destroy a Covenant cruiser, even though it had been unshielded: previous lore had suggested that the Charon-class only had Archer missiles, which were needed in great numbers to damage unshielded Covenant vessels. While the Covenant are temporarily repelled, Master Chief and Cortana find themselves caught in the Forerunner planets gravity well and are pulled in to the surface.

  • After making their way away from the crash site, Master Chief and Cortana reach a cliff overlooking a verdant valley in Requiem. This moment is equivalent to the first sunrise from Crysis – the narrow corridors and metallic hull of the Forward Unto Dawn were well-rendered, but it is here that the updated visuals of Halo 4 really shine through. The mystique and majesty of the Forerunner world are apparent, and while it’s no Halo, still conveys the Forerunner aesthetic. I thus stopped here to admire the landscape in all of its glory, before proceeding with the mission.

  • After finding a functional Warthog, I drove on over to a valley crawling with Covenant. There are several ways to approach this area: one could drive in and create the most amount of chaos possible, disembark and use the Warthog’s gun to clear foes out, or else grab a long range weapon and pick off enemies from afar. Halo levels are generally linear, but later Halo games offer players different approaches to progress past an area, and it appears that besides stealth, the game allows for multiple options. I usually grab a vehicle, since they have unlimited ammunition, allowing me to conserve on my small arms for later areas.

  • Halo 4 dispenses with the submachine gun in favour of the M739 SAW (squad automatic weapon), which is a light machine gun with a 72-round drum magazine. It is excellent for laying down suppressive fire, and at close range, it can melt even Elites with ease. The downside is that ammunition is quick to burn through – the SAW fires at a blistering 937.5 RPM, and reloading does take a while. Overall, I found the SAW to be a great addition to Halo 4: I’d never actually had any incentive to use the SMGs in Halo 3 or Halo 2 unless there were no other weapons around, but the SAW is useful in a range of situations.

  • After climbing up a ramp, I was met with an energy sword-wielding Elite and relieved it of its weapon. One of the most iconic weapons of Halo, and coveted in the multiplayer as a devastating weapon capable of securing multi-kills to turn the tide of battle, the Energy Sword allows players to lunge at enemies and take them out in one stroke. The sword is limited by its battery: every kill requires ten percent of the battery, and the sword becomes a glorified blunt force weapon once the battery is depleted. It is useful at close quarters, acting as a counterpart to the human shotgun; unlike earlier Halo games, where I tended to conserve on Sword energy, in Halo 4, I primarily used the Energy Sword to kill Elites quickly.

  • By the time I entered the interior of the Forerunner structure, I had run out of ammunition for my UNSC weapons, and so, switched over to the Covenant weapons. Some Covenant weapons are plasma-based and overheat rather than run out of ammunition. These are slightly more effective against shields than flesh, and so, one of the classic Halo tactics is to carry a plasma weapon weapon to drop shields, and then follow up with a projectile weapon to finish. Other Covenant weapons, such as the Covenant Carbine, which fires projectiles. I generally will take the Carbine because it is a common weapon that acts as the intermediate between the Battle Rifle and DMR, making it a solid all-purpose weapon.

  • One thing about Halo 4 I enjoyed was the lighting: during the second mission, after reactivating a map and exiting the Forerunner structure, Master Chief exists to a bridge bathed in a warm light from artificial sunlight. The colours remind me of the low winter sun: during November, December and January, the midday sun gives off a golden hue more similar to what is seen during a summer evening. The weather this year has been surprisingly pleasant so far, and I’ve been capitalising on this to go for short walks during twilight.

  • Here, I’ve picked up a Concussion Rifle from an Elite. The Concussion Rifle first appeared in Halo: Reach and acts as a grenade launcher, firing explosive plasma rounds that can knock enemies and vehicles alike back. I’ve found the Concussion Rifle to be impractical for most situations, since it has a limited carrying capacity and doesn’t deal too much damage against enemies. I only really use Covenant weapons if there are no other options available, with the exceptions being the Covenant Carbine and Beam Rifle, both of which are excellent weapons.

  • Hunters in Halo 4 are about as tricky to defeat as their predecessors in Halo 3: gone are the days of being able to flank one and defeating it with a single, well-placed pistol round to their exposed, orange backs. For Halo 4, every time I’ve encountered Hunters, I’ve been fortunate to be able to locate a Fuel Rod gun, which fires devastating explosive projectiles similar to the ones the Hunters possess. Ammunition is plentiful enough so that I can defeat the pair of Hunters, and then discard the Fuel Rod gun for more versatile weapons. On my first attempt, I tried to engage the first pair of Hunters here with a Beam Rifle, which proved ineffectual.

  • In the third mission, Master Chief will encounter the Prometheans for the first time. These digitalised constructs replace the Flood as the secondary enemy in Halo 4 and come in three varieties: the crawlers are quadrupedal enemies resembling Gundam SEED‘s BuCUE (which I personally call “Panthers”), the Watchers are flying drones that are difficult to hit, and the Knights are the all-purpose, digitised Forerunner Warriors, capable of wielding a wide range of weapons. Most Knights carry the Light Rifle, the Forerunner equivalent of the Battle Rifle. The Light Rifle is probably the most reliable of the Forerunner weapons, capable of firing three-round bursts from the hip, and single, hard-hitting shots when aiming down sights.

  • The interior of Requiem is a sprawling Forerunner construct, and in this mission, Master Chief and Cortana attempt to improve the strength of their communications signals by disabling what they think are jammers. The first set of jammers are guarded entirely by Prometheans, and in general, I found these Forerunner enemies to feel a little more durable than their Covenant equivalents: the Knights are particularly tough, and it often took half a magazine from the Light Rifle to destroy one. The Crawlers, on the other hand, can be felled in one shot/burst, and they drop the Suppressor, a fast-firing weapon that functions similarly to the assault rifle and storm rifle.

  • While I wasn’t too fond of the gloomy caverns at the heart of Requiem, the Forerunner constructs, on the other hand, look amazing. With their clean lines and elegant angles, there is a charm about Forerunner architecture, and 343 Industries really nailed the aesthetics that Bungie had established. Requiem was probably my least favourite of the missions from Halo 4 from a design perspective, but that’s not saying much, since all of the levels in Halo 4 look amazing.

  • The hard light bridges in Halo 4 look only slightly nicer than those of Portal 2: this is a compliment to Portal 2, which came out a year and a half earlier. While Portal 2 hard light bridges are used for solving puzzles, Forerunner hard light bridges act more as points of transportation: they can be enabled and disabled as easily as an ordinary light, and in some parts of Halo, simply create a particularly cool-looking bridge for players to cross.

  • The second set of jammers are defended by the Covenant. To help things along, I grabbed a Ghost and used its twin plasma cannons to make short work of the jammers and Covenant alike. The Covenant have access to Banshees here, and they’re now able to use the Banshee’s fuel rod gun, so it is imperative to keep moving. With its high speed and decent firepower, the Ghost is probably the best vehicle in all of Halo, allowing individual players to blaze right through areas on their own. Even in co-op, I tend to take the Ghosts where possible.

  • The Scattershot is the Forerunner equivalent of the Shotgun, having a slightly longer effective range and higher rate of fire compared to the shotgun at the expense of a slightly slower reload speed and reduced damage. Unlike the Shotgun, the Scattershot also vapourises enemies on kill: I found the Scattershot to be a solid choice against the Promethean Knights: against them, even the versatile Light Rifle felt ineffectual, especially if there were Watchers around to repair or even revive the Knights. Conversely, with the Scattershot, getting up close and blasting a Knight to bits is great fun.

  • Here, I picked up the Binary Rifle, the Forerunner sniper rifle that uses twin particle accelerators to accelerate projectiles to prodigious velocities. In practise, it destroys the Knights in a single shot, making it one of the most powerful weapons in Halo 4 on a per-shot basis. The weapon’s main downside is that it is limited to only two shots, and ammunition is extremely limited. With the Binary Rifle and Scattershot, I found my preferred mode of swiftly dealing with Knights. They seem much more durable than Elites, so having powerful weapons to handle them made fighting the Prometheans more tolerable.

  • After Cortana and Master Chief realise they were deceived, Requiem’s core begins to crumble, and the pair escape on a Ghost, just barely making it back to the surface in time to see the Didact pursue the Infinity. Master Chief and Cortana follow, making their way through dense jungle to reach the Infinity. At the start of this fourth mission, the Didact’s Cryptum can be seen in the distance beside the crashed Infinity. The UNSC Infinity was supposed to be humanity’s ace-in-the-hole and is capable of squaring off against Covenant forces, but its first appearance in Halo 4 is less-than-befitting.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed the firefights through the jungles of Requiem, and with fellow UNSC soldiers around, it means that I finally have access to a decent supply of human weapons. Looking back, Halo 4 was the one Halo title I’d never tried; while all of my friends had the Xbox 360 console, they seemed quite disinterested in Halo 4, and during LAN parties, all of the focus was on either Halo 3 or Halo 2, depending on who was hosting. From a multiplayer perspective, 343 Industries appeared to be aware that Halo 2‘s multiplayer had been the best-received of any Halo game, and so, they revamped Halo 2‘s multiplayer in Halo 4‘s engine. Having tried it out back in May, I was reasonably impressed with how it turned out.

  • The DMR (designated marksman rifle) from Halo: Reach returns in Halo 4, this time, it’s the M395 variant (whereas in Halo: Reach, the M392 was used), which has one fewer round in the magazine compared to its predecessor, a slightly faster firing rate and decreased bloom. Between the battle rifle and DMR, I’ll generally pick the weapon based on the range I am engaging opponents at, as well as what weapon I have in reserve. If I’m carrying a high RPM or strong CQC weapon, then the DMR is the better choice, whereas if I’m holding onto a power weapon, then I’d prefer the battle rifle. The weapons are not objectively better than one another, with both the battle rifle and DMR excelling in different situations.

  • Here, I narrowly dodge a pulse grenade shortly after picking up the rail gun. Pulse grenades are the most common grenade in Halo 4, as all Knights drop them, but I found them to be very difficult to use. Conversely, the rail gun is an immensely fun weapon, being able to take out Knights in a single shot. For now, I’ve yet to see how the rail gun fits in with the multiplayer, but in the campaign, it represents yet another tool for swiftly dealing with Knights, as well as the occasional light vehicle.

  • Running out of ammunition for the effective weapons is almost always a problem in Halo games: here, as I enter a cave formation, I began running out of ammunition for the battle rifle, and so, was forced to switch over to my shotgun, but this left me ineffectual at longer ranges. The limitation of carrying two weapons at a time was originally a highly innovative idea, and really forced players to consider what choices to make with respect to their loadouts. In general, my choice is almost always governed by ammunition availability, and I will have no qualms trading off a Spartan Laser with one shot left, for a topped-off assault rifle.

  • Once Master Chief reaches the Infinity and boards a Mantis, it’s time to clear out Covenant jammer devices, allowing the Infinity to bring its weapons systems online. The Mantis is a bipedal exoskeleton that evolved from various weapons programmes, and, armed with a heavy machine gun and missile pods, can deal massive damage to infantry and enemy vehicles alike. On top of this, the Mantis’ shields are powerful enough to deflect a shot from the Spartan Laser. The Mantis also comes with the ability to crush enemies with a powerful stomp, as well. However, it is a slow-moving vehicle and susceptible to being flanked by enemies. In the campaign, it is a fantastic weapon against the Covenant.

  • Once the Infinity’s weapons are back online, it uses deck guns to hammer the Didact’s Cryptum, forcing the Didact to retreat. The Infinity begins repairs and prepares to head back to Earth, but Master Chief and Cortana suspect that the Didact is up to something. A great Forerunner warrior, the Didact had been opposed to the idea of humanity taking on the Mantle, and intended to finish his work by securing a device known as the Composer such that he could digitise the whole of humanity for his personal Promethean army. The Didact therefore became a threat, but Captain Del Rio of the Infinity was not concerned with this threat, instead, preferring on focusing his efforts towards returning to Earth.

  • Thus, the fifth mission involves accompanying the UNSC’s latest ground vehicle, the Mammoth, on a task to destroy particle guns defending the gravity well projector. The Mammoth is an upgrade to the Elephant and carries a mini-MAC cannon capable of outright eliminating most Covenant vehicles. The Mammoth is another sign of the UNSC’s improvements: for the first time, it feels like the Covenant are just an afterthought to be smashed through. I remember spent a fair bit of free time during my undergraduate thesis year watching Halo 4 gameplay videos on YouTube, and having skipped the earlier missions, I started watching from this mission onwards.

  • While the Mammoth smashes the first two particle cannons with ease, the Covenant deploy a Lich, their heaviest aerial insertion vehicle. Outfitted with a plasma cannon similar to that of a Scarab, the Lich disables the Mammoth’s mini-MAC, but is in turn destroyed when Master Chief boards it and overloads its reactor. It speaks to the Mammoth’s durability that it remains operation after this encounter – lore suggests that the Lich is so powerful, engagements with it usually result in total annihilation, hence the lack of information on these vessels, and the fact now is that the UNSC is powerful enough to not only survive, but win these encounters. This is what motivates the page quote: I’ve chosen it because Halo 4 is all about the confidence to not only survive, but excel.

  • One of the reasons why I had decided to watch Halo 4 gameplay videos after the game’s release was because a part of me knew that the odds of Halo 4 coming to PC would be slim to none, and so, with no opportunity to play the game on the horizon, watching folks like TheRadBrad play it was the next best choice. In between my coursework and research project, I burned through footage of the later missions in Halo 4, and was especially impressed with the game’s latter half.

  • While their appearances have changed over the years, the sniper rifle remains the premiere choice of firearm for engaging distant foes. Unlike the Beam Rifle, the sniper rifle uses a four round magazine and overall, has a higher carrying capacity, capable of firing up to twenty four shots in a consistent manner. Similarly, the sniper rifle is less damaging than the Binary Rifle, but offsets this with its higher firing rate. Reliable and consistent, Halo players prefer the sniper rifle for getting the job done.

  • Master Chief eventually ends up inside the Forerunner construct and finds the power supply for the particle cannons. As a nice touch, the two destroyed cannons are marked as such on the hologram, and once the switch is thrown, the remainder of the particle cannons are safely shut down, allowing the Infinity to get close and make the final shot. The power source for the particle cannons are vividly rendered, glowing from an unspecified power supply. Here, Master Chief meets the Librarian, who modifies his genetic makeup, rendering him immune to being Composed. Like the UNSC as a whole, Master Chief feels more powerful in Halo 4, even though he is not overpowered. This balance means players must still play respectfully and pick their fights, but have the confidence to finish the fights they start.

  • The Scorpion tank actually makes an appearance in the fourth mission, but for my play-through, I’ve only chosen to feature it during the fifth mission. Like Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST, the Scorpion of Halo 4 has a separate seat for the machine gun. Even then, the M512 Smoothbore High Velocity 90 mm cannon remains a highly powerful tool for clearing out infantry and vehicles alike. While the lore states the M512 on the Scorpion can fire a variety of rounds, ranging from kinetic penetrators to canister shots, but in the games, Scorpions use the Armor -Piercing Ballistic-Capped Round, which increases the round’s explosive payload for more splash damage in exchange for reduced armour penetration. Against Covenant vehicles, the Scorpion will absolutely shred.

  • After tagging the gravity well with the laser designator, the Infinity opens fire on the gravity well with a missile, and the structure disintegrates. Master Chief boards the Infinity and warns Del Rio of the threat the Didact poses, but is ignored and ordered to surrender Cortana. This results in one of the most iconic Halo cutscenes ever: I believe this is the first time Master Chief has ever disobeyed an order in the games, and it felt great to watch it at 1080p for myself. Once this is over, Lasky will inform Master Chief that he’d taken the liberty of preparing a Pelican for combat pursuit, implicitly suggesting that Master Chief should head off before the Infinity returns to Earth.

  • When the Insider flighting for Halo 4 became available, I immediately hopped to the campaign and reached this mission on a late October evening. I still remember sitting down to a dinner of southern fried chicken before proceeding with this mission. I subsequently completed the mission and finished the campaign missions available in the flight, before giving the multiplayer a go. I ultimately found the multiplayer quite unplayable – input-based matchmaking was not working then, and being matched with controller players proved a frustrating experience. I do not see the value of playing against players with a built-in advantage over me, so I’ve not downloaded the multiplayer for Halo 4 at this time.

  • Until now, the only way to fly a Pelican in Halo was to mod the game. Halo 4 changes this and puts Master Chief in the cockpit of a G79H-TC/MA Pelican, the gunship variant of the standard Pelican seen throughout Halo 4. Armed with a 70mm main cannon and an on-board laser that brings to mind the tactical laser in the Ace Combat series, the Pelican is capable of annihilating a Covenant Phantom in as few as two shots. I used it to pick off the Covenant forces defending the pillars here: of all the missions in Halo 4, the sixth had the most Halo like feel to it, and while Requiem isn’t Halo, the vast scale of this mission was truly impressive.

  • Once inside the pillars, Cortana sets Master Chief with the task of disabling the shielding surrounding the Didact’s cryptum. The nearest pillar has the simplest objective: Master Chief only needs to fight off the Covenant and Promethean forces, re-enable the gondola whenever it is stopped, and then hit the switch at the far end of the chamber. While I traditionally save the most powerful weapons in Halo for tough enemies and never wind up using them, for Halo 4, I decided to let loose a little and use things like the Binary Rifle to make short work of the Knights.

  • Here, I picked up the Incineration Cannon, one of the most lethal weapons in the whole of Halo 4 – like the Binary Rifle, the Incineration Cannon trades versatility for brute force. Every pull of the trigger fires five ionised particles that torches whatever they touch and then explode a second time on detonation. In exchange for a lengthy reload time and being limited to one round in the chamber, the Incineration Cannon can destroy a Mantis, Scorpion or Wraith in a single shot if all five particles connect. The Knights that carry this weapon are a threat and should be dealt with first: this is where the Binary Rifle shines: because of the projectile’s movement, the Incineration Cannon is weaker at long ranges, allowing one to blast the Knight from afar without fear of admonishment taking the form of vapourisation.

  • Once the first tower is cleared, it’s onto the second one. There’s a strange sense of tranquility up here in the skies above Requiem, where the golden glow of the artificial sun and the clouds give the area a very Christmas-like aesthetic. While the Pelican flight segment of Halo 4 is short, it is still quite thrilling. Of all the games I’ve gone through, Halo offers the best transition between on-foot and vehicular gameplay: few other games allow players to seamlessly transition between vehicles and hoofing it. The second tower proceeds similarly enough to the first in terms of objectives.

  • The enemies of the final towers are primarily Covenant. I decided to go with the railgun and DMR for this run, nailing headshots on weaker enemies with the latter and blowing away Elites with the latter. The railgun is a surprisingly fun weapon to use, although it cannot take out Halo 4‘s toughest enemies with a single round. High-ranking Elites and Knights, as well as Hunters, do not fall in one round; after encountering Hunters in the second tower, I immediately backpedalled, picked a fuel rod cannon off an Elite and then hammered them with it.

  • Once the shields are down, Cortana attempts to manipulate the towers into blocking the Didact’s cryptum, but a rampancy outburst causes her to lose control. The Didact is able to bring his ship online and prepares to depart Requiem. In a last bid, Master Chief jumps off the platform and manages to board a Lich, latching himself to its hull moments before it enters slipspace. While I did mention that this post was going to be a bit of a trip down memory lane, but the first three quarters of Halo 4 offer quite the opportunity to discuss weapons, mechanics and story. It is really the last two missions that evoke the strongest memories of my undergraduate thesis year.

  • This is technically my second time at Ivanoff Station – the first time was with the flight. I’ve picked up a sticky detonator here, which proved immensely useful against the Hunters (sticking and detonating will swiftly deal with them). TheRadBrad had posted his gameplay at Ivanoff Station in early November, but only got around to watching it come late November. At this point I had been a ways into my undergraduate thesis project, but, having successfully submitted a journal publication, I also attended the undergraduate research symposium. In retrospect, this was helpful for me to recall my original project’s limitations, and allowed me to improve on the model to build a multi-scale renal simulation in my lab’s in-house game engine.

  • I still remember listening to TheRadBrad talk about the life choices that led him to become a YouTuber over a more conventional career, and I wondered how my career then would turn out. To be honest, I had no idea I’d go down the route of “iOS developer”, but looking back now, it makes sense: I’d always been happiest developing software on MacOS, and Visual Studio always felt cumbersome compared to Xcode.  By the time December rolled around, I had started implementing the multi-scale renal model, using agent-based modelling to represent fluid flow in individual nephrons. In my proposal, the goal was to build a system that adaptively changed the visuals as the user zoomed in or out. Depending on the user’s movement, the agents were replaced by a particle system, whose flow rate and density were computed by a system of equations.

  • The plus side about that semester was that, because I only really had options left, I was free to take courses with a much lighter workload. I ended up going with intermediate English literature in science fiction, genomics and iOS development. The combination of a research project to focus on, having rocked the MCAT and getting a paper published made the courses feel like child’s play by comparison, and I managed to perform very well that term. My confidence finally returned to me, and I imagine it was quite noticeable; while reviewing a paper in the student centre one day, one of my friends noticed I was being checked out, pointing out that as soon as I packed up and prepared to head for class, she’d done the same as well.

  • After a fantastic winter break (which I largely spent on campus, save for the actual holidays), I was ready to hit the ground running for the winter semester, and was off to a very strong start with my mid-term progress report. By January, I had finished the agent-based modelling side and had begun implementing the equation-based models for illustrating the renal system at a macroscopic level. Vividred Operation began airing at this time, and I began following it weekly. I do remember it being a fun series, albeit one where I did not participate in the community discussions. I’ve not properly revisited the anime since, but I think that this could be a worthwhile endeavour in the near future.

  • Back in Halo 4, I’ve pushed a considerable ways through Ivanoff Station: the aim is to attempt to repel the Covenant boarders and reach the lead researcher, Dr. Tillson, in order to secure the Composer. Upon realising the size of the Composer, Master Chief decides destroying it would probably be more straightforwards and asks Tillson to help arm the nuclear warheads for remote detonation. The scientists begin to evacuate, and Master Chief helps to cover their escape. Off Requiem, there are no Prometheans in this level, which was welcomed – Ivanoff Station consists primarily of narrow quarters, and fighting the Knights would be a nightmare here.

  • Halo 4‘s shotgun is more similar to Halo 3‘s shotgun in terms of balance: later Halo games reduced the efficacy of the shotgun, but in Halo 4, the shotgun has a solid one-hit kill range compared to the Scattershot and holds one more round. In the narrow corridors of Ivanoff Station, the shotgun is a powerful tool for neutralising the Elites. I prefer keeping a DMR around as my other weapon here: the slow-firing, but hard-hitting DMR excels at dealing with Grunts and Jackals. This combination is highly efficient with respect to conserving ammunition: Grunts and Jackals fall in two shots from the DMR, but it’s not worth expending shotgun shells on them, while the Elites similarly die in a few shots from the shotgun, but otherwise require a few DMR rounds to eliminate.

  • While Tillson attempts to prepare the nuclear devices for detonation, Master Chief boards a Mantis and single-handedly holds back wave after wave of Covenant forces. The Mantis is immensely powerful here, tearing through the Covenant with ease. I found that against Phantoms, the Mantis is not particularly effective, and so, I opted to focus on the ground enemies, as well as any Banshees the Covenant had. Proving immensely enjoyable to operate, I exclusively used the Mantis for this segment to clear out the Covenant attempting to land, only learning later that there had been, in fact, a handful of Spartan Lasers around the cavern.

  • In spite of Master Chief and Cortana’s efforts, the Didact is able to retrieve the Composer, and uses it to decimate Ivanoff Station’s scientists in a gruesome fashion. The Librarian’s modifications to Master Chief’s genetic makeup allow him to survive being composed, and in the aftermath, he boards a Broadsword fighter with a single HAVOC nuclear device, intent on finishing the fight and stopping the Didact. Before the Mantle’s Approach can enter slipspace, Master Chief and Cortana manage to fly underneath its shields and follow the Didact back to Earth.

  • Halo 4‘s soundtrack was composed by Neil Davidge, with a few contributions from Kazuma Jinnōchi. In fact, the best track in the soundtrack is Jinnōchi’s 117, a heroic, melancholy piece that captures Master Chief’s confidence, determination and sacrifice. This song is played as Master Chief and Cortana streak along the Mantle’s Approach surface: there’s a sort of finality in this effort. As soon as Mantle’s Approach exits slipspace, the UNSC navy fire on it, and Lasky manages to contact Master Chief, explaining that he’s now in charge and ready to do what he can to help stop the Didact.

  • It was Halo 4‘s soundtrack that I worked on my undergraduate thesis defense to, and tracks like 117, Green and Blue, and To Galaxy were some of the songs that bring back memories of plugging away at my thesis project, which I finished by February, as well as the paper itself (I finished this one in late March, two weeks ahead of the defense) and presentation. In the end, with the same confidence and conviction seen in Halo 4, I defended this successfully, earning an A in the course overall and finishing the key component of my health science Honours Degree. Coming off this triumph, I genuinely felt anything was possible and steeled myself for a kokuhaku: if there had been any time to give things a whirl, it seemed like that was it.

  • However, by the summer, the devastating Great Flood of 2013 annihilated that chance: with transit offline and much of the downtown core underwater, our chance to meet up and do an in-person kokuhaku evaporated. In the end, I attempted a quasi-kokuhaku via electronic communications, was met with a promise to ask again after their Japanese homestay ended a year from that point, and the rest is history. It felt like losing Cortana at the end of Halo 4, and indeed, by Halo 5, Master Chief is shown to carry Cortana’s AI chip around, as well as pushing himself on missions, likely to dull the pain. Similarly for Master Chief, things for me haven’t quite been the same since then, and I’ve focused on doing what I can for myself.

  • As Mantle’s Approach nears Earth, Lasky suggests that he can use the Infinity’s main guns to try and open a hole in the hull, but Master Chief would first need to get the particle cannons cleared away first. The Broadsword fighter took me a bit of effort to learn, and for the first five minutes of the mission, I was crashing into everything and anything. In the end, after changing the flight controls to inverted, I fared a lot better and got through the trench run in a single shot. The Broadsword is equipped with both a pair of 35 mm cannons and missiles: these multi-role fighters are likely the successor to the highly successful, but secretive Sabres seen in Halo: Reach.

  • After the Infinity’s Series 8 MACs punch a hole in the Mantle’s Approach, Master Chief flies into the opening but crashes as the ship begins repairing itself. He switches to “plan B”: manually delivering the nuclear warhead to the Composer. From this moment on, it’s all Promethean enemies that stand between Master Chief and the Composer. Forerunner weapons are plentiful, and the most versatile load-out for the final mission in Halo 4 consists of the Light Rifle with any one of the Suppressor, Scattershot or Binary Rifle.

  • There are some genuinely cool sights inside the Mantle’s Approach, speaking to the scale of this ship: the Mantle’s Approach is one of the largest vessels in Halo, being 371.4 kilometres high, 142.7 kilometres long and 138.6 kilometres across. It absolutely dwarves anything in the universe: the Infinity, by comparison, is a paltry 5 kilometres long, and even the Covenant Super-carriers, like the Long Night of the Solace, are only 28.96 kilometres in length.

  • Halo 4‘s final mission is appropriately titled “Midnight”, a clever callout to the first mission, which is titled “Dawn”. Cortana devises a clever way to stop the Didact and asks Master Chief to defend a terminal while she uploads copies of her rampant self into the Didact’s systems. Crossing the bridge here proved to be surprisingly challenging, although Cortana’s access into the system means that several sentries will provide covering fire. I’ve noticed that I’ve not made mention of the armour abilities until now: they’re an improvement over Halo: Reach‘s armour abilities, and sprint is now always available. I found the armour abilities to be amusing, providing me with options in a firefight, and my favourite would be the jetpack in the fifth mission.

  • I ultimately ran low of ammunition for the Light Rifle and switched over to the Suppressor during the final segments of the game, quickly learning that contrary to my expectations, it was surprisingly effective against the Knights. Here, I close in on the final terminal before heading off to face the Didact: after inserting Cortana here, the mission objective, “It’s alright, but you must hurry”, filled me with melancholy, reminding me of that last time I shared a conversation with the individual I’d intended my kokuhaku for. I shook off the melancholy and pushed forwards: thinking back to that botched kokuhaku still is a bit painful, but here, I was on the verge of finishing something memorable. Unlike Halo 3: ODST and even Halo 3, I knew of the spoilers for Halo 4, having watched footage of the game back in 2012, but it remained a completely different experience when I was playing for myself.

  • I deliberately chose today as the day to write about Halo 4 because, eight years ago, it had been the start of exams for the fall term, and I only had one final for English, which I remember scoring an A on. With the exam finished, I had the remainder of December to wrap up my iOS course’s project, work on my undergraduate thesis project and relax a little. At the time, I recall spending far more time in Team Fortress 2 than I’m proud to admit: a friend and I had been very into the hats at the time, and we’d done a small gift exchange with keys. Our prize were “festive” variants of the primary weapons, which looked amazing, appropriate for the holiday season. I’ve since stopped playing Team Fortress 2, but since said friend ended up casually giving me an Unusual, I might just have to reinstall the game and go a few rounds this Christmas.

  • Once I reached this light bridge, it was time to face the Didact in a rather anti-climactic final fight: the Didact’s constraint field renders him untouchable, and so, the final fight is more of a long quick-time event. While this was a little unsatisfying, on the whole, Halo 4 is excellent. Once I blasted the Didact and set off the nuclear warhead, it brought an end to a year-long journey that saw me revisit a greater bit of my childhood and university career. As of December 3, 2020, I’ve now played through every single Halo game up to and including Halo 4. This brings my final campaign post for Halo to an end. I may return in the future to write about Firefight and Spartan Ops, but for now, I am content to bask in the achievement of having played through the games I’ve always wished to try, in full.

From a gameplay perspective, Halo 4 is rock-solid: it inherits everything that made the original Halo games successful and refined them. The gunplay is highly responsive, movement feels crisp, and everything comes together in an immensely satisfying package. Environments are rich in detail and vividly coloured: whether it be the fields and canyons of Requiem, or the corridors of a UNSC research facility, every setting is convincingly built and it. Halo 4 looks like a game that released last year, not a game that released eight years ago. Speaking to the incredible engineering that went into Halo 4, it hardly seems possible that Halo 4 had actually been designed to run on an Xbox 360: the lighting is sophisticated, and environments are of a very high quality. 343 Industries raised the bar twice with their optimisations for Halo 4, and in bringing Halo 4 to PC, they demonstrated that the game had actually been a decade ahead of its time. While the game represents a considerable departure from previous Halo titles (for one, it marks the first time where Master Chief never actually sets foot on a Halo, in a Halo game), the changes 343 Industries made in storytelling and world-building demonstrated that they were ready to take on the mantle of being the studio to make Halo games. At its core, Halo 4 is still very much a Halo game, and having now finished the campaign, I can finally say that I’ve now played through every Halo game that constituted my days as a student. From my first match on Coagulation following working on a science fair project with a friend, to countless Sundays spent at said friend’s place playing MLG BR Team Slayer and Friday nights spent terrorising SmG Clan servers, Halo has made up a very large portion of my life. Thanks to 343 Industries’ ambitious project, I was able to walk the remastered Installation 04, defeat the Gravemind, make a war-changing delivery to the Pillar of Autumn and wander the streets of New Mombassa for the first time. 343 Industries has done a phenomenal job in bringing all of the most iconic games to the PC, and now, with the entire Master Chief Collection complete, 343 Industries is free to focus on the upcoming Halo: Infinite title. This is still a ways away, and while Infinite looks to be an exciting game, I am more elated that the games that made up my halcyon days are now all available for PC. The Master Chief Collection represents a massive step forwards for gaming, and in a time where loot-boxes and battle royale titles continue to dominate the market, the excellence in each of the Halo games that 343 Industries have brought to PC act as a reminder of a time when games were expertly designed for the player’s enjoyment and immersion.