Nov 18, 2012

Halo 4: 343's Halo

I am a Halo fanboy. 

It's not the story that drags me in or the gameplay, it is the community that Bungie created from a universe they loved and supported. I bought a Xbox for Halo CE and a Xbox 360 for Halo 3. Halo was all that I played. I didn't have any other games because I didn't need any other. Halo was the game where you would sit in your living room with your best friends and play split-screen for hours on end, just to do the same thing the next weekend. It was a game where you would hear a rumor from your neighbor about how you could grenade jump to a secret spot on the map where a skull or an easter egg had been hidden by one of the developers. They were the perfect games and as Xbox Live became increasingly popular things only got better.

Halo's community of players could now suddenly connect to each other from around the world. They could interact and share their experiences with each other, and now the secrets and rumors from just around the neighborhood could be spread from country to country. Some people loved the game so much they started creating their own stories from within the Halo universe. Rooster Teeth's Red vs. Blue was born and the medium of machinima became that much more popular. Seeing this creativity, Bungie then added a huge amount of extra creative content for just the users with the release of Halo 3. Theater mode, Forge mode, and File Sharing were introduced into the series, and until the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 years later, no other console game could compete with this type of creative content for users. These were the reasons why I loved Halo. The game was made from the ground up for its fans and it brought people together to form the best gaming community I have been a part of.

When Bungie released Halo Reach, that all changed. The community was split several different ways - some said the new armor abilities were a gimmick while others complained the addition of loadouts was the first step in turning Halo into a Call of Duty clone. I had mixed opinions on Reach and I prefer to not even include Halo Reach or Halo ODST in my equation of what makes a Halo game. It isn't that the games were necessarily bad in my opinion, but it was that Bungie had finished their trilogy with Halo 3 and were now being forced to make more Halo games because of their contract with Microsoft. I don't know if that is exactly the case with what happened to Bungie, but the possibility of it being true lets me sleep at night.

This now brings us to the introduction of 343 Industries. Bungie's contract with Microsoft was up so they ended up leaving Microsoft and joined Activision. Since Microsoft still owned the rights to Halo however they passed it on to a little company by the name of 343 Industries.

In my opinion, Halo had died with Halo 3 and the release of Halo 4 was nowhere on my radar. When Microsoft eventually launched the first Halo 4 trailer I immediately became concerned with the fate of one of my favorite game series. The franchise's last three games (if you count Halo Wars) were not even close to the success of the first three games so the thought of another Halo game coming out didn't look too promising.

Now that the game is out and I have beaten it for myself, my opinions have changed and I see a possible future for the Halo franchise. Although 343 Industries was and still is a relatively small company, they were the only ones who could have handled Bungie's baby. They knew the universe and they shared the same memories I had of the original three Halos. Although they did bring back some of these missed feelings for me, some of what Bungie had built up over the years was tossed to the wayside to make room for a more modern game. Don't get me wrong, I still have a lot of mixed feelings about the game, especially the way 343 handled the campaign.

At first the campaign really felt like what I remembered when I had first played Halo 1-3. The epic sci-fi sights and sound, playing as Master Chief, and the visuals were astonishing. Eventually as I played more and more however, it started to feel like a watered down version of the moments and feeling I had remembered. This could be the fact that the ability to sprint has been added to the game and is no longer an armor ability. The ability to sprint allows you to completely ignore the epic fire fights and the entire fell of the game. For example, in the first mission one of your objectives is to launch a rocket from a silo. You sprint to the launch button and only have to clear out enemies near the button. Once you press the launch button, the silo opens but the rocket is stuck. Your new objective is to manually unjam the silo and send the rocket on its way. As the game is giving you this new objective you can sprint to the silo before enemies have a chance to land from a hovering ship. Then once you are given the prompt to unbudge the rocket, all of the enemies disappear and you are brought to a cut scene completely ignoring what would have been a long battle to free the rocket. These moments in the campaign are more frequent then I would like them to be but there isn't an easy way to fix the problem of people rushing past the actual meat of the game. There are other various parts of the campaign that defiantly left a bad taste in mouth, or even worse, were so dry that I don't even remember experiencing them. That was one thing that made it clear this was no longer Bungie's game. From each of the previous Halos, even Halo Reach, there were always memorable parts of the campaigns that were worth revisiting and playing over again. For me there were very few memorable parts to the Halo 4 campaign. All I can really remember was how short it was and how mad I felt at the climactic ending "boss battle" that just turned out to be a quick time event.

Even though I rant about 343's job with the campaign, they did a great job with what gamers are going to be spending the most time with. Forge mode has been improved and so has some of the Theater features. 343 also added a brand new cooperative mode called Spartan Ops. The biggest and most appreciated improvement however is the actual multiplayer of Halo 4. 343 took Bungie's ideas in Reach and ran with them. The loadout system has been made more customizable and allows players to actually pick the starting gun best suited to their play style rather than having the gamemode restrict their choices. Since sprint is now a feature for every spartan and not just an armor ability, players also have the ability to actually  test out the armor abilities to their full extent rather than always feeling obligated to choose sprint. 343 also added ordnance drops (killstreaks) to the game without making them completely overpowered like in Call of Duty games. These ordnance drops will give you various power weapons like the remote detonator, temporary boosts in speed, shields, etc. or a refill on grenades if that is more your style. The level progression as well as the armor unlocks are very reminiscent of Halo Reach but instead of earned credits, you are given a spartan point every time you level up. You can then use these points to unlock guns, armor, specializations and armor abilities.

Although these changes make for a really fun and solid multiplayer experience it really gives a sense of where 343 is going to take Halo. With the younger generations of gamers knowing nothing about Halo's past, 343 has to make the Halo series competitive with Call of Duty and other big first-person shooters out there. If this means adding killstreaks and loadouts, so be it. Halo 4 is a great game even if it is not the way I would like it to be. 343 did a great job with what they accomplished and managed to outdo Bungie on a few fronts. Since this was also 343's first go at the series, I am actually excited what they decide to do with it next.

Final Say: Halo 4 has a less memorable campaign than what the series has been known for but with the new additions on the multiplayer front and some of, if not the best, visuals on console, it is a game that should be on every gamer's must-buy list. And though I might not be able to experience what I had once felt with the first three Halos, the new generations of gamers will find something special in Halo 4 and keep the love of the series going.

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