Welcome Back Chief!
The Halo franchise isn't one that I've been a fan of as long as some people have been. Growing up, I didn't have an original Xbox until the release of Halo 2, so my exposure to Halo: Combat Evolved was very limited. I do remember renting an Xbox console from Family Video when I was a freshman in high school, and I remember playing quite a bit of Blood Gulch in multiplayer. However, other then playing through the original campaign once, I don't share the memories that it seems many others share with this franchise. My full exposure to the Halo phenomenon came full circle in 2007, with the release of Halo 3, which I have always called the definitive Xbox live multiplayer experience. But after the success of Halo 3, Bungie decided to step away from the tales of Master Chief, something that I feel was a mistake for the company, while I know that others enjoyed the two titles that departed from the standard Halo game. Halo 3: ODST focused on a smaller scale story, and Halo: Reach was more or less the definitive prequel to the original game. But while Bungie was focused on creating those two games, 343 Industries has been working on the true proper sequel, Halo 4.
Let's get one thing out of the way, for the probably over 40 or 50 hours I've put into Halo 4 this launch week, I've enjoyed the hell out of everything it offers. Despite a few minor grips with story elements, the single player campaign is fantastic, and one of the best campaigns this generation. Spartan Ops replaces Bungie's "Firefight" mode, and for the most part I like this new mode, which center's around an Episode a week for the first five weeks of this title's launch window, and then who knows what will be up for Season 2. But that's also my biggest complaint. I don't want to have to wait the five weeks for content that I know is already on the disc, but I guess it's a way for 343 to combat kids from playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II? Who knows. However I really do kind of miss firefight, which was a bit more random, and had an overall better feeling of replayability then Spartan Ops does. But I like the idea of a continuing story after the events of the main campaign. The first episode of Spartan Ops will take you about an hour on legendary, with friends of course.
Then we have the main campaign. For me, the main campaign I played on legendary with three other friends. The difficulty seems more ramped up then the difficulty of previous Halo titles, especially when facing some of the new Promethean enemies. The campaign's length will vary depending on how you are playing, but it took my group about eight hours, which is about the average expected length for this kind of game. I have to give 343 props for creating some of the most gorgeous cutscenes this generation, and Halo 4 looks fantastic all the time. This is probably the best we are going to get graphically this generation. But putting that aside, I can't help but point out that the framerate suffers because of this. Especially during big firefights, the framerate can get down to low double digits, which is inexcusable at this point. Then we have some story beats that are personally a little questionable, especially how the game ends. While I am not going to spoil the ending here, you will question exactly why does 343 choose to do what they do at the end of Halo 4? I'm holding back my questions until this entire trilogy is complete, but for now I couldn't help but be a bit disappointed in how it ended. Even the special cutscene unlocked on legendary after the credits roll doesn't help ease my disappointment for how the game ended. Then there's the issue of simply "what the hell is going on here"? At times, the story gets extremely convoluted, almost expecting players to have read some of those novels just to understand the fiction behind the new Promethean race. No joke, I actually went and bought the first Forerunner saga novel on amazon after finishing the game, just in a hopes to better grasp the fiction here. There are three new enemy types introduced, and they are Promethean Knight, Promethean Watcher, and the Promethean Crawler. The watcher has the ability to revive fallen promethean knights and crawlers, and flies above, also throwing back your thrown grenades. There an interesting enemy type, changing up the rules of Halo just a bit. With that being said, the knight has to be the hardest of these three enemies. It's hard to determine when a knight's shield as fully depleted, making firefights with them extremely hard at times. They also have the ability to teleport around the map when their health gets low. The crawler are the grunt of these enemies; they are dog like creatures that can be put down with a simple headshot. Besides these new enemy types, everyone's favorite Covenant enemies are back. You'll face grunts, jackels, and elites. These enemies are typically the same, and hell you even will face a hunter or two before the credits roll. All of these enemies have been jacked up on legendary though. Grunts now have impeccable aim with their pistols now, being able to shoot their green blast from absurd distances to disable any vehicle you are piloting. Jackels also show impressive aiming abilities, and hunters no longer go down with a simple assassination in the back anymore. These changes do make the game harder, that's for sure, but they are also questionable to longtime Halo fans.
Then we have multiplayer, here known as War Games. While things have really changed with multiplayer, there are good and bad changes. It's no secret that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare changed the way FPS shooter's multiplayer modes work, and here I feel Halo borrows almost a bit too much at times from that series. Everyone has loadouts now, and that's fine, but it's horribly balanced. Instead of having weapon pick ups on the map, they've been replaced with calling in an ordnance after getting four kills. Now I don't have a problem with having an ordnance system, but it also is unbalanced in the way of giving everyone power weapons way too quickly. I should never see four spartan lasers at the same time on one map. Starting with two grenades is standard practice, but then not really having a pick up for grenades anywhere makes no sense. The biggest disappointment with multiplayer though revolves around the vehicles, which have all been completely nerfed from what they were in previous games. For example, the Banshee can be put down with just a few bullets, making it almost a joke to even bother with. However, the Ghost and Warthog are almost indestructible at times, making situations in multiplayer extremely frustrating at times. However, putting that aside, multiplayer is still the same fantastic addiction it was in three, and it feels light years ahead of the changes they made in Halo Reach. New modes like Regicide and Flood are also welcome additions to the War Games formula. I can only hope my above multiplayer gripes can be patched down the road, or at least balanced.
Overall, despite a few gripes I have, Halo 4 stands among the best of triple A titles of 2012. Even though I have my issues with some things, I can't think of many games that I enjoyed as much as I've enjoyed Halo 4 this year. Easy contender for game of the year.