I've been playing Halo since the original demo at E3 many many years ago now. Like so many of you, I've had the privilege of watching this IP evolve, go from being the Flagship title of the original XBox console to a product vast enough to change the way we think about entertainment (but that's for another post).
My first thought on Halo 4 for Xbox 360, out of the box, was (and you can find this on Twitter) "Holy sh*t, 343 brought their A Game..." And I stand by that statement. If this title were to stand alone, even without the decades of experimentation and innovation behind it, it would be worthy of the AAA rating and the umpty-billion dollars it's going to make. I have my complaints, everyone does with a new game in a well loved IP, but one thing sticks out to me.
There used to be this Big Three in the level design for Halo games. Within the space of a single level there would be 1. a place where you wanted to use grenades, 2. a place where melee combat might be best and 3. a place where you wanted a weapon. Might be in different places in different levels, but it was consistent enough that you had to *think* as you played through the game, because these changeups would happen inside the level.
You had to be able to assess where you were, what you had to hand and how best to use that. You had to be quick on your toes, but it made you FEEL like the best of the best if you didn't get your *ss handed to you. If you started slogging too much, then you'd screwed something up, missed a cue, gone in for melee when what you'd really needed was the Battle Rifle or the Needler.
Halo 4, in contrast, almost feels like a "One Level, One Perfect Weapon" game. When you come around the corner you can look at the layout, the architecture and you know, "okay, it's all sniper shots from here on out". The combat change up *within* the encounter spaces seems to be gone. Once I've sorted out the best weapon to use, it's easy to get a bit complacent and *still* survive the level.
And I guess this is what happens when you have a new set of minds working with an old and familiar franchise. But I can't help but wonder if this was a conscious design decision, if 343 decided to do away with that Big Three aspect of the original in favor of this One Level One Perfect Weapon approach, or if this simply reflects a difference in how they think a FPS ought to play.
OR, conversely (since I don’t know anyone over at Bungie or 343 to ask this of) was that Big Three a mistake? Was it a random convergence of level design and gameplay and never intended to be the way things were supposed to be played.
I like to think, especially after hearing reports of the oodles of gameplay and focus testing that went on for the Halo franchise, to keep the “fun” factor vibrant, that there has been a conscious change here (hopefully something with an awesome payout as I near the end of the single-player game) and that there is a higher-concept at work that I’m just missing.
But I miss being able to make those assessments on the fly, being able to play smarter, not just with a bigger gun.