Verhille: Is Halo back?


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Like many of my generation, I was a Halo child. And no, I don’t mean I was canonized, I mean that the first game I played on a big-boy console was Halo on the original Xbox.

I’ll always have a soft spot for the Halo titles because they get me all nostalgic about playing split-screen slayer and cooperative campaign mode with my brothers on Christmas morning. Yes, killing aliens is a strange way to celebrate a pseudo-religious holiday; welcome to my mother’s personal hell of having four boys.

These biases acknowledged, it’s probably impossible for me to completely hate Halo 4, but I’m an old player with old expectations.

Halo 4 is the first game in what’s been called a “Reclaimer Saga” by 343 Industries, the new developer that’s taken the reins after Bungie successfully rode its cash cow until it keeled over and died. The last title made by Bungie, Halo Reach, was — to put it softly — poorly received by the gaming community.

This has led everyone to ask the question, “Is Halo really back?” Sadly, there’s not a clear answer; it depends which Halo titles you wanted to come back.

I’ve only sampled the multiplayer, and to be honest, I had mixed feelings about it. For starters, I’m befuddled trying to come up with a reason the maps are still large and roughly circular.

Circle maps always tend to result in the same infuriating debacle: I shoot someone else in the back while he shoots another person in the back; it’s not fun. I want small, angular maps with choke points to hold.

I know this makes the maps more contrived, but given that online multiplayer is called “War Games,” I think it’s time 343 drop pretenses of having the fighting environments look natural and just give fans small levels like Guardian, the original lockout, Ascension, Midship, and Snowbound.

Another thing that I found myself whining about was the “build your player as you play” style of Infinity Slayer, the most popular game type of the new release. Earning points to upgrade your character and customize your load out makes sense for Call of Duty games, but like Windows 8 incorporating apps, I can’t help but feel that adopting your biggest competitors design is failure anyway you spin it.

To me, Halo slayer was always about equality; everyone started with the same guns and abilities, the only thing different was player skill. I always hated losing to a 14-year-old kid because he can afford to play 40 hours a week and get all the best abilities.

While there are online game modes that start players on equal footing, they are unimaginative Slayer Pro versions that remove large chunks of playable weapons, leaving me to ask, what happened to the middle ground?

I’m also not sure I’m attached to the abilities/power concepts that 343 decided to return. Sure, Promethean Vision is pretty nifty, but it just feels like too many bells and whistles to be “old” Halo to me.

Another piece of Halo-feel that was strikingly absent was a team doubles mode, my favorite from the past titles. Also, why in the world would hiding our 1 through 50 ranking seem like a good idea?

I’m likely part of an aging customer base that is becoming more and more irrelevant as we trade controllers for cubicles and reminisce on the glory days of trying to get a Level 50 in team slayer, but while I love parts of the play of Halo 4, I can’t help but feel I’ve outgrown the series. I’ll wait to make a complete decision on it until I sample the campaign modes, but at the moment, I’d have to say that Halo is not back.

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