The Chief is back, this time ushered in by a new team at 343 Industries. While this fact may have given pause to longtime fans initially, I think after the very impressive E3 demo, doubts were put to rest. With the game finally in our hands, I can also confirm that 343 knows what their doing and has shown respect to what fans expect while also being able to push new ideas. While I have in no way beat the campaign quite yet, I have put enough time into both the Campaign and multiplayer to give you some general thoughts and opinions on my experience so far.
Full details are below the jump…
The first thing that really struck me is just how incredible the game looks, especially when compared to previous games in the franchise. No disrespect to Bungie or anything, but Halo 4 is the new standard. The visual effects, graphics engine, and sound design are all leaps and bounds above previous offerings. In fact, the cutscene at the very beginning had me doing double takes as there were a few times where I almost convinced myself that it was real actors. I can confirm now that it was indeed CG and not live action. The engine being used here is very impressive and vaults Halo into the modern age. Who knew that there was this much power left in the Xbox 360 near the end of it’s life cycle.
On the audio side of things, I was equally impressed. I’ve always associated Halo with Marty O’Donnell so I’m surprised to be saying this but Neal Davidge has not only created a unique and fantastic soundtrack, but he’s managed to make it his own instead of staying the course. We’ve gotten away from the chanting monks in favor of a more uptempo electronic with a mix of orchestral music in support. It’s a nice blend and I have to say, a nice change of pace to match the cinematic nature of the game.
The other thing that really impressed me was the audio design for the weapons as well. Picking up the Assault Rifle or DMR, you kind of come in expecting to already know what they sound like from previous games. 343 wasn’t content to reuse audio clips however and redid them completely giving them a grittier and more realistic sound. The weapons now sound like they have more punch to them. Same goes for the Covenant voices. They’ve been tweaked to be familiar yet more aggressive and foreign. Grunts no longer sound like cartoon idiots (even though that was part of their charm). This kind of breathes life into the Covenant and also makes them a bit more threatening than we remember.
Moving on to multiplayer, many ideas from Reach have moved over and expanded upon. You can now create loadouts complete with “perk”-like abilities and more fleshed out and tweaked armor abilities. To some, this may seem like betrayal but honestly, I didn’t find it to be a huge deal. It does seem to add a new layer of strategy based on the game type you’re going to be playing. Another new change is being able to call in weapon drops in modes like Slayer. Kills and other ways to score points will fill a meter that once filled will allow you to pick from 3 different options either weapons or a short boost like a speed boost, invisibility, or an overshield. Weapons still populate the map highlighted by on-screen indicators. It works well within the context of the game.
On top of familiar modes returning from past games, 343 is also adding new modes like Flood and Dominion. Flood is pretty much exactly like Infection only this time one side starts as Spartan/Flood hybrids and aim to kill the other Spartans at which point they would join your squad. While not really my favorite mode, it’s nice 343 has tried to put a spin on a familiar game mode especially mixing in Halo lore to do so. Dominion, on the other hand, is very much like Conquest from Battlefield with a twist. There are three zones to capture and once you do, another countdown takes place at which point the captured base becomes fortified allowing the controlling team to create vehicles and turrets. It’s chaotic, unpredictable, and fun.
Other than that, it plays very much like Halo. You still have regenerating shields, vehicles control just as you remember, the core game modes like Slayer and Capture the Flag make a return and you’ll probably be seeing a lot of teabagging going on.
One thing that hasn’t stuck with me yet are the maps. I just don’t find them as memorable as the other games. Sure there are some good ones in there, but ultimately, I just haven’t really been drawn to any in particular. With more time, that may change so we’ll see.
The main thing to really ask is “Am I Having Fun”? My answer to that is yes. Sure, it’s more Halo as the core gameplay hasn’t deviated too much from past entries but I don’t find that to be a bad thing. If you’re a Halo fan, I’m sure you already have this game spinning in your Xbox but if you’re a fan of First Person Shooters in general, I do think there’s enough here to appeal as well especially if you like competitive multiplayer. So far, I’m really enjoying my time with Halo 4. Yes, some of the new mechanics take a few rounds to get used to, but ultimately, they fit right in line. 343 has done a great job with their first real game and I’m looking forward to what’s next from them (Halo 5).