Sunday, November 11, 2012

Were it so easy...

On Tuesday, November 6th, the world saw a revolutionary event. Millions came together for a common goal and banished evil at humanity's last stand.

Halo 4 was released. Huh? What did you think I was talking about?

Halo 4's release marks the passing of the torch from Bungie to Microsoft's 343 Studios. I've played through it and have somewhat wrapped my head around the whole event, but only about as much as bacon wraps around a filet. I know right? Actually, I just threw that in there because it sounded yummy. I could go way in depth about this game but I think that would put everyone (all three and a half readers) to sleep. So I decided to pull out the tasty marshmallow bits from the cereal and leave the rest to get soggy in the milk of boredom.

From Bungie, we saw five Halo titles. Each successive game was different from the others, but the core of Halo was still there. It just always felt like Halo. Sure, it looked and smelled like Halo but, with each title, there was usually some added ingredient. Nutmeg? Cinnamon? Dual-wielded SMGs?

With Halo 4, the recipe appears to be the same but, upon closer scrutiny, we notice its tasty differences. I'm not speaking of new enemies, weapons, abilities or mechanics. More importantly, I am referring to the game--the makeup of the game--the base. While it is still a Halo title, it has a distinctly different feel, atmosphere, and overall attitude.

First of all, the music. Not counting Halo Wars, Halo 4 is the first game to not have a soundtrack composed by Martin O'Donnell who, I happen to think, is a musical genius. Neil Davidge is at the helm for this soundtrack. To be honest, I've never heard of him and I am unfamiliar with his work (even after looking him up on Wikipedia). The music is distinctly different. I quite enjoy O'Donnell's Halo compositions and listen to them quite often (ODST possibly is my favorite video game soundtrack ever).

Davidge's take on Halo feels more like a movie soundtrack. It has a more epic feel to it. The Halo universe all of a sudden feels larger and the situation is more dire. I've only played through it once but, unfortunately, none of the music actually stood out for me as it has in the past.

While Halo 4 ties into the previous games it also ties into the Forerunner Saga books. The third book has not been released but I assume that it will be consistent as well. If you've read the books you will get a little bit more out of the game. If you haven't, you might actually be a little confused at times. There were many times I found myself grinning at an allusion to the books.

The question I have is whether Halo 4 follows Bungie's original Halo Bible. I am very curious about this. Part of me is of the mind that it doesn't matter--the story is strong. But there is a huge part of me that likes to think my movies, TV series, and video games are planned out from beginning to end beforehand. I know this is almost never true, however. I would at least like to think that it goes the direction that Bungie wanted it to.

As with all Halo titles, I played Halo 4 from beginning to end on Legendary difficulty. I gotta say...343 didn't really make this game that difficult. Usually it takes me a while to play through on Legendary but Halo 4 never felt very difficult. No, I'm not tooting my own horn--I'm not exceptional at Halo games--but 343's idea of "Legendary" is definitely not as sadistically difficult as Bungie's. Is this bad? Not necessarily. Obviously I can turn on difficulty skulls and make the game damn near impossible but, without those, nothing can stop me from being a great green god of destruction, which isn't very challenging. Sure, I died while playing through the game. The pile of bodies in a couple of places would rival The Plague. But this happened more often in Bungie's past Halo games, and I always felt very accomplished when I finally got past these areas. If the story in Halo 4 wasn't as good as it actually is I might have gotten a little bored.

343 has done an excellent job of carrying on the Halo franchise. Sure, I can nitpick on music or difficulty but, when it comes down to it, the game is excellent. In some ways it is better than its predecessors and, in some other ways, not so much. Is it a good game? Absolutely. Is it a great game? I think so. It was good to be back with the Chief and Cortana again, tearing it up.