I adored Halo: Combat Evolved. Subsequent Halo games, less so. It's not that I ever questioned the quality of the Halo series; it was more that I felt less and less surprised with each iteration. Of course, this is the natural progression of sequels: familiarity breeds contempt, as they say. But I longed for something new--something that felt like Halo, but had the scrappiness of the original game. I wanted that elation you feel when discovering something unexpected.
I want a lot, as you can tell. It happens when you drown in sequels, prequels, and same-quels.
Why, then, am I so excited about Halo 4? Firstly, it's the atmosphere. In Microsoft's press conference, you see Master Chief make his way through an ominous, overcast jungle more evocative of Metroid Prime than previous Halo games. (Expect lots of high-contrast deep greens and vivid oranges.) Your first encounter is with a few grunts, and an Elite comes rushing at you--but upon defeat, your familiar foe dissipates into ribbons. Is he actual flesh, this Elite, or created from cloth and light alone? Or is he even there at all, a hologram with the sense to carry a very real weapon? [Editor's Note: Actually, it's a real Elite, disintegrated by the new enemies' weaponry. Look closely, and you can see the laser fire coming from the right of the screen. Sorry for the error. - KV]
My excitement is over new enemies, too. The local fauna attacks, the vaguely Flood-ish creatures lobbing yellow globs at you before you meet their bossman, a freaky, snarling, teleporting insectoid that spawns an attack drone from its innards, and aims at you with Forerunner tech. Even better: that attack drone can grab a thrown grenade with its dangle-tentacle and whip it back at you. Not to mention new (presumably) Forerunner weapons that assemble themselves in your very hand--weapons like the scattershot, a shotgun-like firearm that blasts exoskeletal creeps into golden dust, and the lightrifle, which, well, is a rifle that shoots light.
I haven't been following Halo 4 all that closely, so we may know more about this story and these enemies than I interpreted from the stage demo. In any case, I appreciated what Halo 3: ODST did, but it never captured me. Halo: Reach is well regarded, and in theory, it has all the on- and offline gameplay you should need in a sci-fi shooter. Yet it felt by-the-numbers and left me ultimately, well, not cold, but lukewarm. Now, I'm excited. What danger might come from that massive orb that scans the landscape and then speeds toward the horizon? What has caused Cortana to enter the extreme rage we see near the end of the demo--her advancing age, or something even more insidious?
In any case, I had shivers watching the demo, and that's rare for me: I have seen it all, and even this particular demo was hardly bursting with innovative ideas. What's exciting is seeing a new developer take a chance. Of course, chances don't guarantee success, and Halo stalwarts might be more cautious. Me? This is the first time since the announcement of Halo 2 that I was thrilled about the prospect of a new Halo.
At the very least, Halo 4 is a reminder that a bit of creative energy can freshen up the familiar. I can't wait to see what's next.'