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My current thoughts on Halo 4

Posted 11-10-2012 at 10:21 PM by Spacebear

Like a lot of people, I've played a lot of Halo in my time. I missed the Halo 1 LAN scene, being a few years shy of learning about FPS games. Halo 2 was my second game I got when I bought my Xbox 360, and I played it a lot since my buddies played it a shit ton. The multiplayer was always pretty fun, and as I found out last summer, still beats most other console games for LAN parties. I wasn't a big fan of the campaign; it felt uneventful and tedious to me, so I only played it a few times.

I was just as excited for Halo 3 as anyone at the time, but looking back, it was sort of a disappointment for me. The multiplayer didn't really hook me like Halo 2 did, and it wasn't the only game in town anymore. Gears of War was still active, and Call of Duty 4 had hooked me during its beta about a month before it launched. So when that came out, I largely stopped playing Halo 3, stopping in only a few times to play with friends or my brother.

ODST wasn't my cup of tea.

Halo Reach turned out to be my favorite in the series. I was so happy Bungie wasn't afraid of challenging what made Halo, well, Halo. Almost everything was different in at least some way: jumping was tuned a lot differently, the guns fired way different, and for the first time in a Halo game, players could spawn with asymmetrical traits via the loadout system. Armor Abilities added a lot of variety to encounters, and non gameplay aspects were also improved. Forge was almost perfect, the net code felt way better, and the menus were amazing (I fucking love Reach's menus).

It also turned out to be by far the most controversial Halo title by a wide margin. Turns out, a lot of people weren't of the same opinion as I was. I couldn't find anyone online that would admit they liked Reach for a long time. Bungie's forums were always pretty terrible and negative, but they took a massive step up when Reach launched. It didn't help that nobody ever presented a compelling argument on why it was bad.

So then I saw Halo 4 on the E3 livestream. I had seen screenshots of the new Promethean enemies, and had ideas on how they would behave, but that gameplay demo that kicked off Microsoft's presentation made me giddy with excitement. For the next 6 months I started staying up to date with Halo a lot more than I normally did, as that community isn't always the most interesting outside of Forge stuff.

Fast forward to the game launching, because I don't feel like writing about the various things that various people on the internet talked about; various controversial topics (sprint, loadouts, OMG ITS CALL OF DUTY, etc).

For the first time in a Halo campaign, I actually got chills from the story. 343 somehow managed to inject a ton of emotion into a series that was more known for being unable to conjure at sort of emotion. The pacing and setup felt a lot more like Halo Reach, which I liked. Halo 1-3 had the sprawling landscapes to explore, and usually involved revisiting places (or at least feeling like you've been there before), and it generally felt pretty dull. Halo 4 is much more concise, and the campaign was done in a little under 5 hours for me. I can't fault it for being short though, as all 5 hours were very enjoyable, and I will be going back to it from time to time.

I did have some gripes with the campaign though. I agree with a lot of reviews online that the story is probably a little dense on Halo lore that older games either never set up or didn't do a good job of presenting. As such, there are some times where something is supposed to be a big plot point, but for a significant number of players, they won't understand the significance as much. I think if Halo 4 had an encyclodpedia in the pause menu (like Mass Effect did) full of information, that could help.

I also didn't get the same vibe from the music like I didn't in the older games. I listened to the soundtrack a few times through prior to release, and really enjoyed what I heard. Neil Davidge did a really good job of nailing the general feel of Halo music, while doing something genuinely new and interesting with it. Overall, its probably weaker than Marty's efforts, but its still better than the vast majority.

As I played through Halo 4's story, I found that the soundtrack, as good as it is, didn't seem to be very good in small, 30 second bits of a song. When it was supposed to be very dramatic, it didn't feel like it at all. I feel this is a strange problem to have, but it bothered me a lot. Great soundtrack, but they didn't make the best use of it.

Graphics are pretty good I guess. Everything that is supposed to look good does, but if you look for places where they cut corners, its not hard. The 360 is pretty old at this point, after all. The sound design as a whole will (and should) win every award when those start getting handed out.

Spartan Ops is a fine extension of the single player stuff, but for the love of god don't play it alone. I did that today, and I hope I never have to again, at least on Legendary. I also learned that the Wraith is kinda shitty in this game. I couldn't hit a Grunt from mid range with a mortar to save my life; it would just dive a short distance to the side and not die. I don't see why they would make it so much worse than in previous games.

As far as multiplayer goes, I would say this is my second favorite multiplayer game this year (1st is Tribes Ascend by a good margin). For the first time in a Halo game, I actually feel like a super soldier. The combination of the big jump and sprint makes it a lot more enjoyable to move through a map. The game controls better than any of the other ones. The guns are all damn fun to use, and the Armor Abilities aren't so much a weapon in and of themselves like in Reach. Now they are more of a natural extension of someone's playstyle, and they have a lot more nuance to them. I found out today that Thruster Packs get really silly when you crank up the Player Movement to 300%. And Hologram isn't total garbage anymore!

All in all, I was expecting a lot out of Halo 4, and it actually exceeded my expectations in a lot of ways. It feels good to be playing Halo with friends again. I can only hope it outsells Black Ops 2, because it totally deserves to be at the top of Xbox Live's activity charts. I can't wait for Forgers to start playing with all the new stuff.

Ok, I'm sick of writing. Time to shoot some digital face.
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