A Bit Two Faced: Great Improvements and Some Let Downs
Halo 4 is finally here and overall I think 343 Studios did a wonderful job of taking over the reigns from Bungie. The game has all of the feel of Halo (for the most part) while still having the identity of a new developer working on the game.
Without getting into spoilers let me just say that this campaign was overall pretty satisfying. The game is gorgeous and I was completely impressed with the juice 343 was able to eek out of the 360. For the campaign there really seems to be two stories happening here. The first one is the overarching story involving the forerunners and our new protagonist. This part of the story I felt to be pretty boring and generic. Another enemy wants to destroy the human race because of our potential. Great. The more important story here was the one with Master Chief and Cortana. It was really well told and ended with a very touching conclusion. It wrapped up most of the emotional tension between the two characters over their past adventures, but I did feel the Chief was a bit cold at the end. I wanted him to be human there for just a minute.
Now for gameplay, everything was pretty sharp. My only major complaint comes from the new additions. The Covenant are back again, unfortunately more than I would have liked and we have new enemies in the Forerunners. The game never explains why exactly the Covenant are working with the Forerunners and you are running into the same baddies you have for the past four games about 60% of the time.
There are some new enemies with the Forerunners though and while they do change up the formula a little bit, I felt 343 stuck too closely to the paradigm they established with the Covenant. You have your equivalent grunts, elites and heavies and while they act different, you eventually get your methods for approaching them down. My biggest disappointment though was the new Forerunner weapons. They are almost entirely orange versions of the Covenant weapons and overall very boring. The best new additions for weapons in the game were actually UNSC weapons with the rail gun and the SAW. Most of the weapons though do feature new sound design, which for me I was mostly indifferent about.
So multi-player has a lot of changes in it if you are coming from Reach. For me, I don't think I care for all of them. Overall the tone has shifted. The game has sped up and 343 has added the ability for sprinting for everyone. You can now have load outs of your weapons, and even a sort of kill-streak with deployable gear from Infinity. There is a definitely downplay on the armor abilities and vehicles this time around. For me it feels like a bit of a COD-ification of the game. I love COD, don't get me wrong, but the world has copied it to death at this point. I always appreciated Halo for how different it was from that sort of FPS and how it felt more deliberate in its approach. The game was slower and felt more focused on head shots and patience. Everything was more deliberate.
While a few of the armor abilities like the hologram are back, most of the ones from Reach are gone. I have yet to find one of the new ones that I really have been satisfied with and there doesn't appear to be an armor ability designed to handle the large scale maps or the capture the flag maps like the bubble shield and armor lock used to do. Time will tell though how it all evens out as people discover how to use the new gear. At this point I hardly see people utilzing the armor abilities in the multi-player matches and I think that is telling. I do have to say though that the location indicators for the weapons on the map are a cool idea, and the concept of the deployable ordinance from Infinity is interesting and fun.
As I mentioned before there is also a lack of vehicle levels in the game for most things beyond the use of ghosts. From my play so far the only map that has any use of the mantis or Banshee at all is Ragnorak. Is it any wonder that this is constantly voted to be played in matchmaking? It is always the preferred option in Big Game or Capture the Flag, and for good reason. The current maps definitely appear to be focused on smaller, faster slayer matches.
Other glaring omissions are the lack of Firefight mode. It appears that the Spartan Ops is supposed to be its replacement, but the beauty of firefight is that you could jump in with three friends or random people for some mindless action against the AI. It was a great way to bring along a friend who is not good at these games for some fun. The new Spartan Ops however, operates more like a campaign co-op mode and the missions require a bit more communication and coordination. You have to set your difficulty level and for people not into these games, they may be left behind.
Forge also appears to be put on the back burner this time around. The tools overall appear to be refined, but many of the other features appear to be lacking.
Overall the single player campaign was what it needed to be. It sets up the world for the next chapter in the story and I am excited to play it. The game was gorgeous and while the bigger story felt bland, the personal story of the Chief and Cortana left me a bit heart struck. Multi-Player has me on the fence at this point. Overall I loved the direction Reach went with the multi-player, but it seems that 343 has pulled back from that direction. The game seems simpler, almost like Halo 3 and has taken cues from other FPS games, namely COD for certain in game progression encouragement. I can't say I am a huge fan of those at this point, but the core Halo mechanic is still there and still fun.