How Halo 4 rewarded my faith in the franchise

Photo of science fiction writer Greg Bear take...
Greg Bear being shiny and god-like (photo by Geoffrey A. Landis, August 2005) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I think to myself about what I enjoyed so much about Halo 4, I’m brought back to the Harry Potter books. These books were written in such a way as to grow with the children who started reading them with book one. I’m reminded of this by the way Halo 4 was handled by 343 Industries.

When Bungie announced that they would no longer be making anymore Halo games after Halo:Reach was launched I was devastated. A company that I had loved since I began playing Halo 2 in the early years of Xbox and Xbox Live was no longer going to have a say in how Halo was made and I feared for the future of the franchise that I recognize as making me the gamer I am today.

I was cautiously optimistic about the future however as the man leading the charge was Frank O’Connor who had been involved with early Halo and it was being worked on as well by a company that had helped create some amazing map packs for the earlier iterations of the game.

Then Halo Anniversary came out and felt better about the fate of  Halo as the game worked as intended and brought us back some of the best Halo Maps in history. Not only that, but 343 was making great strides in fleshing out the world in new and exciting ways with new books from Karen Traviss and Greg Bear (Science Fiction royalty). I found myself getting more and more excited for the game as the days progressed steadily on and then I saw the first trailer for Halo 4 and my skin tingled in that special way that only a long time love can elicit.

Fast forward to the month of October, my reservations about the game had dwindled to almost none. The launch of the Forward Unto Dawn web series had me clamoring each and every friday to continue the story of the cadets at Corbulo Academy and the details coming about the game itself had me salivating. Bear in mind that I had the special edition of the game pre-ordered since the moment it was available so I was betting a decent amount of cash this game would be amazing. I was not wrong.

Halo 4 has the same feel as every Halo game before it, while telling one of the most intense stories that has ever been told in the game franchise. Normally you played a Halo and enjoyed the over the top spectacle that it provided but the story didn’t seem to have any real weight to it. Halo 3 came close by (SPOILERS) seeing the end of Sgt. Johnson and Miranda Keyes while seeing the Chief racing to save his AI Cortana from the clutches of the Gravemind but because the development of these characters had been superficial at best these events didn’t have the same weight that I would have liked.

Sergeant Avery Johnson, Master Chief and Miran...
Sergeant Avery Johnson, Master Chief and Miranda Keyes (left to right), as they appear in Halo 3. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a huge fan of Mass Effect based solely on the fact that you genuinely care about your crew and I never had that same feeling about the characters in the Halo series. Chief was awesome, Cortana was both gorgeous and smart (my kryptonite) Sgt Johnson was the stereotypical, quip slinging badass marine that has been in every single film or book about space marines, but I didn’t care about them as I wanted to because they never really were developed. Those characters only gained some depth after they were explored in the novels that came out and only then did I find myself really feeling something for them.

The story in Halo 4 set an amazing tone that has never been seen in any other Halo game, the only one that comes close to it is the gravity of the story in Halo: Reach. You’re still fighting a threat to humanity (just another Tuesday for the Chief) but at the same time there is a very real story going on between the various characters in the game. The design of the game itself also created an impressive feeling.

All of the sounds in the game have been re-worked and they are chunky as hell. In game where you don’t really have recoil, the best way to give your weapons weight is the sound design. While sounds have always been good in Halo games, these are by far the best. Another interesting choice is having  the alien races not speak english anymore as they did in past games, so their guttural curses and occasional chittering feel very alien and imposing.

The graphics are beautiful, the new character models feel the most real they’ve ever been by having a touch of science fiction aesthetic applied to them. The environments are expansive and well lit, and all in all the game just blows me away graphically.

Now the icing on the cake of every Halo game has to be the multiplayer and the changes 343 made stay true to what makes a Halo “feel” like a Halo while bringing in some interesting new twists. Everyone is no longer stuck with a standard starting weapon and grenade count. Players can create loadouts and pick a variety of basic starting weapons, grenade times, armor abilities and some passive ability that suit a particular playstyle. These starting weapons aren’t over powered, but bring a touch of tactical into the Halo universe. These weapons enable you to go hunting from the instant the game begins rather than racing other players to particular weapon spawns just so you can get your hands on a weapon that will deal death at an appropriate rate. The balance of vehicles, weapons, armor abilities and the well designed maps all create a perfect mix to make the games fun and challenging at the same time.

Getting back to my comparison to the Harry Potter books, this Halo feels like it grew up with me. As a gamer I’m getting older and my tastes are changing. I find myself wanting more from games and Halo 4 seems to have noticed this and become more while staying true to what made me fall in love with the game in the first place. I could go on ad nauseam about various features and modes, but the most important thing about this game is that it IS Halo, just a bit more mature which is never a bad thing.

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