Halo 4 is the Halo game I've been waiting for since Halo 2.
Halo 4 impresses. When I first played Halo 3 I remember being slightly underwhelmed. It looked good but not great. By contrast Halo 4 is a beautiful looking game. I've gotten killed in multiplayer matches because I was distracted by gorgeous light filtering through clouds or reflecting off water. In terms of lighting, the only game that compares with Halo 4 on the Xbox 360 is Gears of War 3. The art style is fantastic as it flawlessly combines Human, Covenant, and Forerunner architecture and weaponry with organic environments. Halo 4 is what happens when great art direction meets beautiful graphics. But lets not forget Halo is a shooter and a brutal one at that. Headshots are greated with an appropriate gruesome spray of blood, bodies flop helplessly when slain, and up and close personal assassinations are fast, brutal, and fluid. Halo 4 is a beautiful symphony of carnage.
The sounds of Halo 4 deserve specific mention. They are quite simply the best audio in a game this side of Battlefield 3. If you don't own a headset, Halo 4 certainly makes the argument for one. Whether you play the game with a headset or surround sound system, you will be blown away. From subtle sounds such as the Master Chief's footsteps through various terrains, to the hum of a vehicle engine, to the well orchestrated background music, to the relentless pounding of guns and explosions, everything shines and has appropriate weight here. Halo 4 is absolutely an audio delight and all sounds serve to enhance an already stellar experience.
The addition of sprint and the ability to immediately respawn in multiplayer have made this the fastest paced Halo to date. Jumps are still floaty but when combined with sprint and armor abilities such as jet packs or thrusters, you can really cover some ground here. Add these features with energy lifts placed throughout maps and you are virtually flying across levels. While some purists may scoff at the addition of armor abilities such as Promethean Vision (which allow the user to see enemies through walls for a short duration) and Hardlight Shield (which protects the user from frontal damage), these abilities are implemented in a way that does not upset the balance that Halo is known and respected for. The guns are fantastice and there is a weapon of destruction for every playstyle. Both the DMR and BR return and both are great depending on playstyle, with the DMR offering insane range and accuracy while the 3 round burst of the BR shines more in mid range combat. The introduction of Call of Duty inspired carepackage drops allow players to access boons such as overshield, needlers, gravity hammers, shotguns, etc. during a match. These certainly impact gameplay but don't seem to unbalance the game as they are infrequent enough as to not be overbearing. Performance wise the game is locked at 30 frames per second and screen tearing and texture pop in are essentially non-existent. Halo 4 is one very smooth ride.
Halo 4 offers a far more well told story than previous titles in the series. Facial animations in cut scenes, dialogue, and voice acting are all stellar. Vehicle sequences keep the action fresh with the most notable coming at the halfway point in the campaign where you get to utilize a vehicle similar to s Star Wars Imperial Walker. This sequence does what great shooters are supposed to do, make you feel like an absolute badass. Waves of Grunts, Elites, and other assorted aliens fall before you. Pacing is excellent throughout the 6 or so hours the campaign should take you to complete on lower difficulties. The only times the story falters is when a shortage of ammunition will often have you backtracking to scrounge for weapons far too often and some poorly spaced checkpoints may have you replaying a 5 or 10 minute battle. This searching and retreading detracts from the story as it slows the narrative to a crawl at times. However the connection between the Artificial Intelligence Cortana and Master Chief will keep you hooked right off the bat. Halo 4 is a far more personal tale than previous entries in the series and is a drastic improvement. The ability to play the campaign in two player splitscreen or online with up to 4 other players is also a nice touch and encourages multiple playthroughs with friends at the higher difficulty settings. The ability to modify the experience through skulls which impact gameplay in a variety of ways likewise adds to the replayability of the single player offering.
From the campaign which spans several hours, to the co-operative story based Spartan Ops missions, to the multiplayer; Halo 4 is a complete package. The multiplayer in particular will keep players coming back for more as the maps are beautiful and offer excellent multiplayer action. Halo multiplayer now features a Call of Duty inspired ranking system complete with character unlocks, class creation with the ability to select primary and secondary weapons, as well as armor abilities, grenades, perks, and armor customization. Higher level players will have an advantage over newer players until they reach level 15 when both perk slots are accessible. 343 Studios will also be releasing a ranking system which ranks players based on skill in addition to the rank system simply based on experience points/playtime. This system will hopefully allow for more tense matches with similarly skilled players. With the Spartan Ops co-op missions set to continue releasing well after launch, they also offer longevity and enjoyment with friends without the frustration that can often accompany adversarial modes.
Halo 4 is the Halo I've been waiting for since playing Halo 2. While I loved Halo 3, I always felt the desire to sprint, or launch into the air, or customize my spartan in some way. Reach likewise was a step in the right direction but still fell short graphically and lacked strong narrative and customization. Halo 4 is quite frankly the most refined Halo to date and bodes well for the future of the series with 343 at the helm.