Ah, Halo...I didn't get into the series until Halo 3, but afterwards I went back to play the 2 previous titles. I read the books, bought all the subsequent releases...I was so engulfed in the lore surrounding the Halo world as well as the addictive multiplayer madness (and I wasn't even playing on Xbox Live until Reach was about to come out!). and then came the tragic news that Bungie was quitting Halo...and that Microsoft wanted it to live on. Halo fans' hearts skipped a beat - Halo without Bungie? Could such a thing possibly exist and still be Halo? Fans were a bit relieved when they found it was 343 who would be taking the helm, but skepticism was still rampant. And then one day a couple of weeks ago, it was finally released - Halo 4. Some fans are crying foul for all manner or reasons, and still others are triumphantly proclaiming "Halo is back!" at the same time. I can't confirm or deny one or the other. I can't tell you rather one side is wrong, or one side is right. but what I can do is offer you my uncensored and honest opinion on Halo 4.
Halo 4 is gorgeous. I don't usually jump straight into graphics, but the first thing I noticed was how amazing this game looked. Before this, I thought Metal Gear Solid 4 was possibly the only game that could look so realistic. I was continually impressed by the environments throughout the entire campaign, from the falling apart Forward Unto Dawn ship you start on, to the sprawling dessert through which you traverse on a gigantic mobile base called the Mammoth. If there has ever been a game that pushed the Xbox to its limits, and then kept going, that game is Halo 4. What makes that even more shocking is how bad the graphics have been in past Halo games. I'm not sure why, bu the graphics in Halo up until this point always felt like they were a year behind what everyone else was doing. Even the normally hideous NPC models are highly detailed.
The voice actors in Halo 4 don't disappoint either - returning characters such as Chief and Cortana retain their old voice actors, of course, but even the more minor characters are well spoken and believable. The guns we're all familiar with sound the same as far as I can tell, and the new weapons have sound effects that are quite befitting them.The only sound issue I can really come up with is that for some reason, they decided to change the Warthog, which now sounds like a go-kart on steroids, and I hate it. When sneaking up on a group of covenant, you can hear them banter back and forth (though you cannot understand their language) and it is quite amusing. One of the first scenes in the game has you sneaking up to assassinate a Jackal class Hig-Yar. He is attempting to make some sort of distress call, fumbling with the machine and chattering about. The little things really get me in games, and Halo 4 is full of them.
The story picks up 4 years after the end of Halo 3, with Chief waking up from his cryogenic sleep aboard the Forward Unto Dawn. Cortana informs him that she has woken him because of disturbances on the ship. While exploring the crumbling vessel, and taking out a few covenant who are apparently attempting to take it over for some reason, he questions why the covenant are attacking in the first place, as a peace treaty was signed at the end of Halo 3. As it turns out, this is a rogue group of Covenant who still worship the Forerunners, and do not acknowledge the treaty. On top of all this, Cortana starts to behave erratically, and glitch Chief's HUD display. She explains that she has been in service for over 7 years - the average life span of an AI. She is going through what is known as "Rampancy", in which an AI literally thinks themselves to death. Chief battles not only with the Covenant, but with his own mission to try and save Cortana, who has served with him for almost his whole career. It is soon revealed that a Forerunner known as Didact is also siding with this group of covenant. He rejects the Forerunners embrace of mankind's dominance, and sees them as inferior beings, wishing to wipe them from existence. The story, while engaging, is still actually quite shallow. While this is without a doubt the most cinematic Halo experience so far, and in a good way, the story could jsut use a bit more depth than "Covies are back, Cortana is dying, and this guy wants to kill people". It would have been nice to see the Arbiter show up and help out somehow as well, but hey, this is the start of a new trilogy so he's still got a couple more chances. I really hope the next 2 sequels really flesh out the story more.
Describing the gameplay of Halo 4 is a bit hard for me to do if you aren't already familiar with Halo. It feels like a fusion of Halo 3 and Halo Reach, with some new elements mixed in. The game's pace is more similar to that of Halo 3, as well as just the way it feels in general. The health and shield system from Reach is now gone, replaced again with Halo 3's health system. The controls are somewhat customizable, but you cannot map buttons yourself, which is a shame and I am not sure why they couldn't take the time to implement this. Armor abilities from Reach are back as well as a couple of new additions, however sprinting is no longer an armor ability and instead is tied to pressing the left stick. Also returning from Reach are assassinations, which are just as satisfying as they have ever been.
So, know that you know my feelings on the campaign, you are probably wondering about the multiplayer - after all, that is the essence of what is Halo. While the campaign is as Halo as can be, the multiplayer does make quite a few changes to the formula - not all of them are great, but all in all it is still one of the best multiplayer games available. One of the biggest and most unwelcome changes the game makes is loadouts. Yes, loadout, like Call of Duty. You know have access to customizable loadout in which you can spend credits as you level up on armor abilities, perks, weapons and more. While it is somewhat nice to have control over what your starting weapons are, it takes away from a bit of what Halo is, as if it is trying to be more like its competitor. From a marketing standpoint, Call of Duty is a top selling franchise, and to copy them seems like a good course of action, but is it worth upsetting the long time fans? all in all the loadout system does not break the game, especially since the more powerful weapons aren't available through it, but I am not a fan of it.
Another big change is "ordinance drops", which many players are comparing to kill streaks from the Call of duty franchise, They are generally much more fair than kill streaks, though, and it works a bit differently. Each kill you get, as well as commendations such as double kills, assassinations and killing sprees add to a small, circular gauge on your HUD. Once full, the announcer will chime "ordinance ready!" and via the D-pad you may select from 1 of random options. You may have options such as receiving a powerful weapon like the SAW, or a boost like Overshields, or maybe a melee weapons such as the energy sword or gravity hammer. One you select, it will be dropped on the battlefield nearby, where you must claim it (or allow a team mate to have it). Otherwise, the enemy can take your ordinance. I do not hate ordinance drops, but neither am I a fan. Halo has always been a turf war over weapons like the gravity hammer, but now such weapons are rarely found just lying around. There are still weapons which can be found on the field, but only about 3 at any given time and it just isn't quite the same.
One change that I am in favor of is classes. Upon reach level 50, you can select from one of several classes, or "specializations" that have special abilities and begin leveling those up as well. For example, Engineers have advanced radars and can pick up ordinance drops more quickly and easily, while Rogues have autotracking even when aiming through a cope, making them more efficient snipers. It's a very neat class system with 8 unique options to fit your individual play style.
All in all Halo 4 is still Halo despite the changes made. I am in favor of some, and against others but I can only complain so much because I have been having so much fun. I don't have any authority to say that this is the best Halo game ever made, and such a statement would be false in my opinion. What I can say is that this is the best Halo game in a while, and as a fan I wholeheartedly recommend it to you.