8 Fresh Impressions of “Halo 4″

1. MASSIVE FEET

For the first time in any Halo game, I, as Master Chief, can see my feet. I look down, and these monstrous green boots are there, connected to my legs. I don’t know why it should have taken this billion-dollar franchise three games and three spin-offs to finally render how the big green guy gets around, but I’m glad for it. It lends him a feeling of solidity, and when I run, then crouch, and skid, I really feel like a linebacker in spartan armour.

2. WHAT’S MY MOTIVATION

In the very first minute, there’s a different tenor in the beginning of this trilogy. We saw it in the setup movie, “Forward Unto Dawn.” “Halo” has always been an unapologetic space opera, bombastic and faintly cartoonish, its enemies drawn in bright colours, almost anime. But I think there’s a determination here to finally try to really ground the drama in something that feels real — or as real as you can get jumping a super soldier around alien environments. In the first minutes, the game feels more like television.

“Halo 4″ Trailer

3. SAVE THE GIRL

Over the years, the Halo franchise has gotten complicated. There’s some kind of mythology there that’s been expanded with the comics and the novels and now the movies. There have been Libraries and Sparks and alien races with religious motivations and of course The Flood, and it’s hard to explain to someone new to the franchise just what the hell is going on except that Master Chief is a super soldier and his sidekick is a blue, semi-naked artificial intelligence who looks straight out of Tron named Cortana, who lives in a chip he keeps in his helmet. What are they trying to do? I don’t know — kill aliens. But for the first time I have a direct motivation. Cortana needs to get back to Earth. AIs begin to deteriorate after seven years, and she’s been online for eight.

Finally something I can understand.

4. SO FAMILIAR

The first hour or so of this game is so familiar, and by now, so nostalgic. Stepping back into Master Chief’s armour is like immersing yourself in a warm bath. The same weapons, from the UNSC assault rifle to the Needler are back, and 343 Industries doesn’t mess with what wasn’t broken to begin with.

5. EPIC SCALE

One of the more notable changes, however, is that things are a little more epic this time around. Whereas ships in the past would be these tight narrow corridors, leading you from checkpoint to checkpoint, a greater sense of scale is presented in “Halo 4.” Ships are gigantic, and afford much larger playgrounds to engage enemies in. And sunlight shines everywhere. So well executed in Halo: Reach, that feeling that each combat arena is yours to use is reiterated in lovely fidelity. And finally, when you get a Warthog, the game gives you a satisfyingly long area to traverse.

“Halo 4″ — Plasma Feet

6. LETTERBOX

While most of the game is seen through Master Chief’s visor, occasionally the camera will pan back, especially when he’s going something, the screen will letterbox, and you’ll get to see him interact with the world. Similar to “Max Payne 3″‘s seamless transition between story and gameplay, I am liking this new cinematic “Halo.”

7. LITTLE THINGS

One change that was made is that you no longer pull the left trigger to bring up ironsights. Now, you click the right thumbstick and it zooms you in, and you can make minute adjustments from there. Left trigger will now throw the grenade. I wasted a couple of grenades before I got used to this, but I think it’s a smart change. In the past, sometimes you’d bring up your iron sight, but you fixed just on where you were looking. Even if you were staring at the ground.

8. THINKING FAST AND SLOW

One of the best things about the Halo franchise is its pacing. It always excelled at giving you a quick burst of action, followed up by a nice gentle sedate bit. It’d dole out a section of vehicular combat, followed up by a sniping mission. You can tell that 343 Industries really wanted the transition between Bungie’s tenure and this new reign to be as seamless as possible. They’ve done their homework.

FINAL WORD
It’s a terrific balance they’ve managed to strike, between giving fans what’s familiar, and improving incrementally on what could be polished. Further adventures with favourite characters with new motivations is never a bad thing.

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Sherwin Sullivan Tjia is the author of five books: Gentle FictionsPedigree Girls (Insomniac Press), The World is a Heartbreaker (Coach House Books), The Hipless Boy (Conundrum Press). His latest is a choose-your-own-adventure story told from the perspective of a cat. It’s called You Are a Cat! (Conundrum Press). His most recent invention, the E-Z-Purr, is a CD with over an hour of cats purring! and is available for purchase from CD Baby.

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