Halo 4 thoughts
Posted February 21st 2013
- Weapons and grenades
- Running the gauntlet
- Story and climax
- Spartan Ops
After the extensive shortcomings of Anniversary, a game which I concluded gave neither a satisfactory updating of the original nor, in its classic mode, a satisfactory emulation of it, I didn't take much interest in the development phase of 343 Industries' Halo 4, and had no great confidence they'd produce something which would hit the spot. Of course, I know Anniversary was farmed out to another development studio, but 343 are the ones with their name on the box, and have to take responsibility for the end product. A product which, even if not telling me much about their technical ability, at the very least told me something about their value judgement, being the folk in charge. But on the other hand Halo 4 was clearly going to be a whole new ball game, so maybe they'd come up with something good, who knows? So I just got on with other concerns and waited for the release… and then I waited a whole lot more because I didn't plan on paying full whack this time.
But eventually I decided it was time to check it out (partly so I could finally say something to people asking what I thought of it), so I picked up a used copy on eBay and started Campaign. In this article I'll give my thoughts on Campaign and - more briefly - Spartan Ops, the two areas which interest me. It's addressed primarily to folk who've already played the game, but there are no significant spoilers aside from where I talk about the campaign's climax.
Anyone got a spanner?
Unfortunately though, I'll be doing this with the handicap of a broken 360. Some while after I'd been through the campaign twice on Heroic and played most of the available Spartan Ops episodes, the picture degraded into a messy posterized appearance, and when I restarted the machine I got no picture at all, which rather cramped my playing style. The graphics card has had enough perhaps? I got back to some movie-making after that, and at the moment I'm just too wound up with H1 to be bothered with the hassle of getting the 360 repaired, so I'm just going to write what I can. That means it'll be much less detailed than originally planned, focussing on my relatively early impressions; twice through the campaign isn't much after all. But on the bright side that might make it more digestible - as well as saving me a whole lot of work, yahoo!
One of the best things for me about the campaign is the presence of Cortana. Not only is she present, she's also part of the storyline as she seems to be going a bit nuts. Ok rampant - I know the proper term. The prospect of this strong Cortana presence was actually a significant factor in my buying the game at all, and I feel pleased enough with that aspect, having now played though. It was good to hear her melodious tones and chirpy humour again, and I especially liked the "Whoa cowboy!" line when a nasty drop was looming for the Chief. That made me chuckle, and at that point I remember feeling glad I'd got the game.
Visually however, I was less pleased. Pretty face and cute hairstyle aside, she has an oddly naked appearance, something I find awkward and incongruous, especially in view of the military dimension. Don't the UNSC have regulations about that stuff? Maybe the dress code doesn't apply to AIs, but still! Dark surfacing akin to body paint provides a degree of modesty here and there amongst the flickering light-patterns, but I can't say it's very attractive, especially in the way it covers most of her arm length and lower leg area. Looks kind of messy to me. The body model isn't even very sexy - I guess that's not what they were going for - and at times she seems to've piled on the pounds in the hip and thigh area; e.g. in the cutscene at the end of Infinity. One might've thought our leading lady would be depicted in a more glamorized way. Or at least been kitted out with a proper holographic wardrobe.
Somewhere along the line though, I think I heard that she was actually based on Halsey. So maybe that explains the unglamorous body shape? It was a snapshot of Halsey's at some point? I'm not sure how it would explain the lack of clothing though - unless maybe Halsey had a thing for doing her lab work in the nude.
The covies are up to their old tricks again, and we're back to the original four covie types, hooray! But wait, maybe I shouldn't cheer so loudly - let's see.
Jackals and more
Something I was delighted to see was the appearance of the Jackal shields. Returning to something very like the originals, they're a vast improvement on the garish red and blue shields of Reach, which so often formed an ugly blot on the landscape. Am I right in thinking that Jackals have also stopped flitting around at high speed? I don't remember seeing any of that, but I hope so. As for Elites, their movement animation is looking much better than that of Reach, in which they seemed to shuffle around in an unnaturally speeded-up fashion, so I was pleased with that too. With more natural dynamics, it was a lot more enjoyable to shoot at them. I really need to spend more time examining Jackals and Elites for their appearance and behaviour - Hunters too - but thus far I've felt comfortable with them.
When it comes to the Grunts however, there's trouble afoot. In fact, here comes one of my major complaints. Let me just put on my best grumbling socks a moment…
For one thing, the Grunts look very different from all previous versions. They don't so much look like Grunts as miniature cave trolls. Their animation is rather different too, and when they flee with arms aloft, it's not nearly as amusing as before. Their arms aren't even waving much. But what really gets me the most is the astonishingly awful pinched-nose voicing. Utterly different to anything that's gone before, Grunts don't even seem to have distinct lines now, to any noticeable degree. There's just a blandly indistinct whispery Grunt voice sound, which I didn't notice any great change in even when tagging one of the critters. In addition, the voicing doesn't seem well localized. I don't pick up much sense of where a voice is coming from. It just seems to be "in the air" as if coming though a sound system. The woeful voicing also makes these Grunts seem like the idiot cousins of previous types, though their different animation probably also contributes.
In summary these regrettable impostors have no edge, no charm, and precious little comedy value. Now a totally forgettable feature, one of the franchise's greatest assets has essentially been lost. As a long-time Grunt fan, that's obviously quite a depressing blow for me. And with the grunty magic gone, that removes a significant part of the draw.
I think the best I can do is rationalize away the newcomers as some sort of inferior mutant subspecies. Like, the real Grunts decided to take a holiday and sit this particular war out, so they sent their cave-dwelling B team instead. Yeah, that might work.
Getting back to something positive, a welcome surprise was the covie death animation. With H1 sequels I've long complained about death animation, which for me has been woefully inferior to the highly amusing animations seen in H1. In particular, the sequels' ragdoll physics tended to make bodies seem like lightweight sponge dolls or something, breaking the illusion of a real body and having little of the comedy value of old. With H4, covies go down more amusingly, and if ragdoll physics takes over at some point, at least it does so to less detrimental effect than before. Accordingly, I was enjoying my kills more.
A major development in the franchise is that we've got some new enemies to deal with. I'm not sure exactly who or what these guys are - I didn't catch everything - but something to do with Forerunners I think. As usual I take a fairly earthy view of these things, never having read the books or been into the whole back-story business. If it looks at me funny, I shoot it, ok? So let's get down to business. How do the newcomers stack up? Have to say, I'm not sure I like them all that much.
Let's start with the big fellows first - the Knights. Probably the biggest thing I dislike is the way they look. With their long spindly legs and top-heavy nature, they put me in mind of giant heads on stilts. Ok the top assembly isn't really a head; most of it is some sort of back-pack container for a Watcher. But still, they do look odd and ungainly to me.
Another thing I'm not fond of is their teleporting. Most of the time this just slows things down annoyingly. Often you don't even need to change position to get a new firing angle, so it's questionable whether they're even teleporting intelligently (reminds me a bit of H3 Brutes, who'd deploy a bubble shield then promptly step out of it). Sometimes they teleport right up to you though, which is when I dislike it the most. It's something to keep you on your toes I guess, but I could've done without Knights appearing in my face and cutting me down before I know what's what.
On the plus side Knights have quite a nice disintegration thing going on when you kill them, something which for me was at its most satisfying when blasting them at close range. At longer range, firing usually felt like an unsatisfying exercise in attrition (e.g. with the lightrifle, which was generally on hand), and I'm not sure I was getting much sense of reaction from them when they took hits.
Along with the Knights, you've usually got a plague of dog-like Crawlers running about the place - including on cliff faces and walls. They seem to be mechanical, and eventually I realized they had guns embedded within, which explained the spare firepower lying about the place amidst Crawler wreckage - duh! Killing these guys with headshots was especially satisfying in view of the way they explode. That was nice.
The animation leaves something to be desired though. I haven't made a close examination but I think that when a Crawler is turning, what's basically going on is that the body is being rotated and you've got some leg movement going on, but the two aren't very strongly linked, if at all. The leg movement doesn't look believably responsible for causing the rotation. This subtly jars me and is the main image which comes to mind when I think of Crawlers. I think of them sliding around on their feet as they turn. I'll also say that there were maybe a few too many of them for my liking.
Taking more of a support role, we also have the strange looking Watchers which flit around the place and potentially bring Knights back to life, as well as sometimes providing shield cover. Looking vaguely like a hovering pair of thick-rimmed spectacles with a nose in the middle, they're functionally a bit like the Engineers of ODST, so I soon got into the habit of trying to eliminate them first. Fortunately they're pretty soft targets; and the fact that they're airborne and quite fast moving when trying to escape gives you some variation with your shooting work, a possible plus. Good targets for my DMR.
Weapons and grenades
I won't give a systematic listing and appraisal of the game's arsenal, but I do have a few things to say, starting with a prominent issue relating to multiple weapons.
A glaring defect
One of my major complaints about the game is the terrible glare which greets you when you zoom certain weapons. When you zoom a carbine or beam rifle or fuel rod gun, your view is washed over with a strong greenish glare, along with some patterning. To give a crude analogy, it's kind of like you're peering through the uneven base of a green glass bottle. I'm just baffled by this. Not only is it sometimes mildly painful, it also reduces the contrast in the picture, making it harder to pick out targets. As well as which, the beauty of the scenery is nullified, so you lose out on an aesthetic level as well as the functional level. Who on earth thought this glare was a good idea? I suppose someone thought it would look stylish or something. But when it ruins the view and actively repels you from using zoom at all, I'd say that's a pretty dubious weighing up of priorities. For me the it greatly devalues what would normally be one of the most enjoyable aspects of combat.
There was also some zoom glare with some of the Promethean weapons, but there it was reddish and more around the edges of the view rather than the central area. So although it was a bit distracting, it wasn't as outright annoying. It still makes the view quite a mess though.
Magnum and battle rifle
There were two other significant weapon defects for me. Firstly, the firing sound of the magnum is awful. Bizarrely, it sounds a bit like a quieter version of the Warthog's Gauss cannon from earlier games. Not a proper bang at all. I did use it quite a bit, but it felt odd continually hearing what seemed like the sound effect for the wrong weapon. Secondly, I didn't much like the firing sound of the battle rifle. To me it sounds like some sort of heavy industrial thud, and it was hard to even make out three shots.
As usual, the DMR was the weapon I was looking out for most. It was satisfying to use, but I would've liked to see it around more often and with more ammo available. It was often depressingly low on ammo even when picked up from some designated weapons stash, where you might've thought the UNSC would ensure things were topped up ready for action. Just to mention a particular example, there's a section where you pilot a Pelican and it has some weapons on the side, but the DMR only has a piffling amount of ammo, which is so annoying. And even if you take the time to combine it with the ammo from the DMR on the other side, you still don't have that much. Who the heck equipped that Pelican? Lack of ammo often forced me to switch to another weapon. That said, there are probably a few ammo sources I haven't found yet, so the situation may not be as bad as it presently seems.
Assault rifle and SAW
I also enjoyed the assault rifle which has a good meaty firing sound. I carried it quite a lot, in preference to most covie weapons. Going upmarket a bit, the SAW looked rather inviting when I encountered it. Always nice to find a new toy eh? That ripped through Knights very nicely at close range, so I was generally quite keen to pick one up when I could. Maybe the firing sound could've been made a bit more visceral, but it was ok.
At some point I found a 'sticky detonator' and started having a go with it, but didn't fare too well as I wasn't sure how it worked exactly. After getting myself killed quite a lot through trying to use it, I eventually switched back to more conventional weaponry. However, I dare say this thing could be good fun when I've had more practice.
Needler, storm rifle and more
The needler has a poor firing sound, a bit like a machine gun, and it has rather an ugly arming sound too. I'm not sure those needles home so well either, but maybe I needed to get closer. I was certainly finding it very hard to dodge needles though, so I'm not sure what the full situation is here.
It was disappointing that the plasma rifle was missing. Its replacement seems to be the 'storm rifle'. I used that a fair amount but it felt a bit weak. Also, as Gravemind highlighted in his Halo 4 review with a side-by-side comparison, it looks a lot like the carbine; so at a glance it's not that easy to tell them apart when they're on the ground. Why would 343 make them look so similar? Beats me.
Just to make a minor remark on the fuel rod gun, one of the three covie weapons blighted by zoom glare, the sound effect for arming yourself with it includes what sounds like part of the old sound effect for a needler reload. So that kept reminding me of needles.
Naturally it was fun trying out the Promethean weapons, but overall they didn't grab me that much. The one I used most was the lightrifle (note: it's just one word in the game, so that's what I'm going with), but I can't say it was terribly satisfying to use, except when exploding Crawlers with headshots. It didn't feel very visceral.
The suppressor was another common weapon (kept falling out of those mechanical doggies), and for a while I was only using it as a last resort as it seemed so weak, and the scatter was atrocious. Later on however, I used it more when I realized I could kill a Knight if I got really close and drilled him hard. As with the lightrifle though, it didn't feel very visceral. If anything, it felt more like I was tickling him to death with light.
And then we have the boltshot. I'll be honest, by the end of my two plays through campaign, I still don't think I had the hang of that thing. There's some sort of secondary fire mode where you build up a charge or something then really let your enemy have it in the face, but I was struggling to use that well, so I've got some learning to do there. Course, the total lack of a manual didn't help; so I blame 343, hah!
Next, the scattershot. Or in other words, an alien shotgun. I didn't use it much to begin with as I was trying to keep a safe distance from the Knights, but later I tried it and found it enjoyably effective at close range. So, no complaints there.
There were also a few really exotic and powerful weapons - the binary rifle and incineration cannon - which I had some fun with (and which you definitely don't want to get hit by), though again I think I've got some practicing to do to make the most of them. Got myself killed a few times trying to use them.
The binocular view available with various weapons was good. It works better than in Reach because when you zoom, your view is centred on where the weapon was centred, rather than being a bit higher, something which always bugged me.
My only remark about grenades concerns the newfangled pointy orange ones. I thought they were blinkin' useless! I kept lobbing those things but couldn't see that they were having much effect aside from making enemies dive clear - which they had ample time to do. I had the impression they created a nice ball of light for a while, and that was about it; but obviously there must be a bit more to it than that. Still, give me a good ol' frag any day!
A few thoughts on certain vehicles now. Again, not a comprehensive appraisal - just the things which stood out for me in some way.
Well, it sure looks like a Warthog, but oh my goodness, the engine sound! What a terrible noise it makes. I've been trying to think what it reminds me of. Not a Warthog, that's for sure. UNSC engineering has really taken a turn for the worse while I was kipping in that cryo-pod! Early in Requiem there was a long downhill route which you were evidently meant to use a Warthog for, but I took a stroll instead and admired the pretty scenery. I would've felt like a complete hooligan polluting the ambience with that dreadful engine racket!
Dang, I'm gonna have to grumble again. Sorry but it can't be helped. The Banshee is horrible to control. As in Reach, I hate how it insists on going forwards all the time, making it so much harder to line up shots. Also, how are you supposed to land it? My best attempt so far has been to use the A button to descend (something I found only by trial and error, as there was no manual to help), then dismount when near the ground. Usually the Banshee ended up spurting forward for a moment; not very elegant at all. Didn't the covies think to fit this thing with some sort of stop control? Do you really have to just jump out and hope you don't scrape your knees too badly, or am I missing something?
Also, you have to use Y to switch between plasma fire and a fuel rod blast, which is awful! Using a button to swap personal weapons is fine, as it represents the act of putting one away and whipping out the new one, but it makes no sense at all with fixed Banshee weaponry. It makes mixing up your fire a comparative pain, and hinders split-second weaponry decisions. Having the blast be mapped to the B button would be much better.
The one positive thing I do have to say about the Banshee is that I'm pleased to see a pilot fly out when you blow one up. The anomalous absence of pilots in Reach was a significant defect, so I'm glad to see it rectified, even if the Elite doesn't fly though the air quite as amusingly as in H1.
Hey, I thought I was already an oversized killing machine. Now they wanna stick me inside an even bigger oversized killing machine? Er, ok then.
The Mantis provides some novel fun but took a bit of getting used to. I wasn't helped by the fact that there was an onscreen message saying "PRESS A TO OVERLOAD MANTIS HYDRAULIC SYSTEMS". For one thing, I had no idea why I'd want to overload the hydraulic systems. That didn't sound at all healthy to me. What next - "PRESS X TO REMOVE OWN SPLEEN"? And for another, nothing seemed to happen when I tried it anyway. Of course, the lack of any manual didn't help. Have I mentioned the missing manual already? So I resorted to a bit of googling and eventually found that it was a flaw due to my using the Recon controller layout. What I needed was B - my melee button - which would make the Mantis stomp. Ok that made sense as last - and was quite satisfying too. But what the heck is with this long-winded "overload Mantis hydraulic systems" babble? You're stomping! That's what they should've called it. The message should've said "PRESS B TO STOMP". Sheesh.
Wow. You think they made that thing big enough? You don't actually drive this crazy-ass contraption, but it does provide you with a novel moving platform from which to shoot. Have to say, I didn't have a whole lot of luck with that, and would've quite liked to be able to ask the driver to slow down a while so I could take my time. As I recall, I also found it too dark inside. It was frustratingly hard to see the weapon stores.
I didn't mind the new 'in-helmet' representation, but I have a few criticisms of some aspects of the HUD, revolving around a common theme which I'll get to at the end.
Intrusive pick-up prompts
When a pick-up prompt appears for a weapon or bit of equipment, it's just below the reticle. As such, it potentially interferes with your view and distracts you, and also makes your view more ugly. I'd much rather have it away from the centre. It's not as if it needs to be so central for you to notice it. Indeed, normally you pick up something by seeing it then moving to it, and at that point you're expecting a prompt, so it's fine to have it away from the central area.
I'd go further in saying that I'd also like an option to get rid of the text. As an experienced Halo player, all I really need is an indication that I can now pick up the item. That could be done simply and elegantly by showing a small outline picture of it. Perhaps in a different colour to the normal blue, to help indicate that it's an option.
Superfluous weapon indicator
Further relating to weapons, the HUD shows a picture of the weapon you're holding, but that seems redundant to me. Just clutter. I mean, you know what you're holding don't you? All I need to see there is the ammo state.
You get onscreen instructions for various things, and unless I miss my guess, they're going to appear every time. But I'd really like an option to turn those off. Once you've played a bit, such instructions become superfluous clutter, doing nothing more than spoiling the view. For example, I kept seeing the (incorrect) prompt for Mantis stomping mentioned earlier. But that's rather like showing you a prompt for "PRESS B TO MELEE" in standard play. Not needed - and nobody wants to feel treated like a noob. Another example would be the instruction for prying open a door in Dawn. Once you've done it a few times, you don't need to get instructions any more.
In addition, when I run out of ammo, I don't want to see "PRESS Y TO SWITCH TO SAW" or whatever. That's like babying you. The "OUT OF AMMO" bit would suffice; and really I don't even need to see that, because it should already be apparent from either the ammo readout or from the lack of firing sound when I'm pulling the trigger. So this is something else I'd like to be able to remove.
Again in Dawn, I found the presence of "PRESS B TO KILL ELITE" quite awful. That was for the bit where you get grabbed after a slow and tedious climb strongly reminiscent of how Lara Croft escapes a sinking ship in the first level of Tomb Raider Underworld. How engrossing is it to kill an enemy by reading an instruction like that then doing what it says? I fairly winced with embarrassment when I saw that message pop up.
HUD customization desired
Bringing together much of what I've said above, I think it's high time we had some control over what appears on the HUD. It needn't be complicated. At its simplest, we could be given a choice between the standard HUD and a more succinct version for experienced players, which would cut out all the instructions you never need to see again, make pick-up prompts much more subtle and out of the way as per my earlier suggestion, and eliminate the superfluous weapon indicator. There are probably other things to consider too, but that's the basic idea.
In this section I'll talk about the outdoor and indoor environments you pass through, including any shortcomings in rendering things.
Part of my impetus for finally buying the game was provided by the look of the outdoor scenery I saw in a video or two. Even if the gameplay might turn out to disagree with me, I wanted to visit those environments for myself and walk around. I can't say I'm disappointed in that respect. There's a lot of nice scenery to enjoy, and I particularly appreciate the rocks and cliffs, which are really gorgeous. Practically works of art. Another thing that impressed me was the crystals growing out of rocks in a few places. On the minus side there seemed to be quite a lot of glare in some areas - or at any rate that's how I remember it - but I'll have to play more to judge how significant that was.
As for indoor environments, I can't think of a lot to say, and as far as I recall they seemed largely fine. However, some of the light bridges were painfully bright, making them something I disliked having to use.
Graphics trouble with natural scenery
One thing I specifically kept an eye out for was any rendering defects - especially in view of the pop-in flaw (detail appearing only after a noticeable delay) which plagued Anniversary. Thankfully the game appeared to be mostly free of serious trouble, but I did see some defects worth mentioning.
For one, grass exhibits phase-in, whereby you see it sort of growing or solidifying as you approach, which is somewhat like was seen in H3, but at least it's not severe. For another, there are places where cliff faces can sharply change appearance as you get closer or further away; e.g. along part of the cliff to your left near the start of Requiem where you're expected to take a long downhill drive in a Warthog.
But the most noticeable flaw I saw with natural scenery was in the mission with the Mammoth. There's a place where it stops, and there's a large area on the left where you need to shut down three power sources to bring down a forcefield. From distance, enemies and equipment can be seen to materialize, and rock textures pop in. Some rocks are initially just smooth (no proper texture added), even when seen through a zoomed sniper rifle. Some remain smooth until you're closer, off the Mammoth. That's all pretty glaring stuff, dead ahead, so I was surprised to see it.
Hold on though, I've just seen something alarming when skimming through a video to remind me of the mission. At about 4:23 in Tyrant's Requiem walkthrough, new scenery can be seen to appear ahead of the Mammoth. Yikes! That's a bit major isn't it? That's got me wondering what else I missed in my two plays of the campaign. Maybe the scenery's glitchier than I thought.
There was also one time when I think something changed radically in the sky when I zoomed in, but that needs checking as I'm not sure exactly what happened.
Trouble with weapon cases
Covie weapon cases have a rendering problem. The dark recessed core area exhibits jarring changes as you alter your distance (especially if you use a zoomed view, not that you'd normally have such a view). I'm not sure the core is even being shown with an appropriate level of detail; it can look blurry and plain. A surprising flaw to see, as it's hard to think 343 could've failed to notice it. You see covie weapon cases again and again after all.
As for UNSC weapon cases, their interiors were often so dark that it was hard to see what weapons were there, something I found quite annoying. Also, part way across a bridge (where you eventually get attacked by Banshees), there was a UNSC case its side, and the base was a mess of changing low-res textures.
Running the gauntlet
The game features a couple of carefully engineered obstacle courses, which I'll talk about here.
Broadsword death ride
There was a crazy section at the start of Midnight where I had to fly along a passage for miles and miles avoiding various obstacles, many of them moving. It reminded me of Tomb Raider games, in which ancient civilizations have spent an inordinate amount of time devising nasty hazards for you to negotiate. There were all sorts of doors closing and gaps to try and whizz through in time, and it was like everything had gone haywire. Things were rather cramped too. If you imagine trying to fly an F-16 through a long and bendy shopping mall while angry shoppers throw stuff at you, that might give you a rough idea. I lost count of the number of times my ship blew up.
Things became additionally irritating because of what might be considered a design shortcoming (present in other parts of the game too, I might add). Namely, in many cases when you get bounced back to a checkpoint after dying, you get some voicing just after it. So if you keep dying, you hear it again and again. That got so grating for me that I eventually switched the sound off (my ultimate mark of disdain for annoying gameplay, short of quitting) and just treated things as an unpleasant task to have to slog my way through. But with practice I'll hopefully be able to routinely succeed without dying, and hence be spared the repetitious voicing in future.
I suppose there was some explanation for the mad obstacle course, but I didn't catch it. Of course, we've had obstacle course gameplay before, going right back to H1's mad Warthog escape drive at the end, but I'd say this new effort takes things to a whole new whacked-out level. Playing it, I remember thinking that the designers must've thrown all pretence of plausibility out the window and decided to just make it as outlandishly over-the-top as possible. They had a big joke with it, in other words. Possibly I'll enjoy it more after enough practice to be able to get through without crashing, but give me serious soldiering over this gimmicky madness any day.
Ghost escape drive
There's a similarly themed ride at the end of Forerunner, except this time the scenery's natural and you're in a supercharged Ghost. That was more fun and way easier - in fact I'm not sure I even died at all. It's not really the sort of gameplay I want, but it was pretty nicely done and at least you can splat a few of those ugly cave trolls on the way. Also it's worthwhile just for Cortana's amusing "Whoa cowboy!" at the end. I'll always look forward to that.
Story and climax
I could well do with a few more plays to get the campaign story clearer in my head, but evidently that Didact fellow was up to no good. Cutscenes appeared very well done - fairly lavished with cinematic polish in fact - though their pre-rendered nature meant that the Chief was often carrying the wrong weapons compared to what I actually had.*
However, the climax fell completely flat for me. After some tedious work with a joystick to do some crawling, I saw something on the screen saying to press something or other to attach the grenade, and by the time I'd taken a guess at what the correct thing to press was (the image having been too small to properly make out), I'd apparently been killed. And I didn't even see that, because I was too busy reading the screen. I managed to attach the grenade on the second try, and after that there was some more tedious crawling with the joystick to reach the bomb, but it was still an intensely boring and unsatisfactory way to end things. There's no significant or interesting skill there, and certainly no combat skill at all. Merely the skill of pressing something within a smallish window of opportunity. The ending was scarcely more involving than if I'd got a message on the screen saying "PRESS X TO WIN". It might just as well have been one big cutscene. It'll obviously go smoother in future now I know what to do, but it's still going to be the same dull on-rails affair, in which you're little more than a passenger with a couple of button presses at the ready.
In addition I'd say that the multiple onscreen instructions about crawling and placing the grenade rather reduce the dramatic potential. We hardly want to be seeing or reading instructions at the supposedly dramatic conclusion do we? It doesn't exactly add to the cinematic spectacle. This is another case of getting instructions I'd like to be able to disable, an idea mentioned in the HUD section earlier.
As a side issue, I'm still not sure exactly what happened to the Chief after he detonated the bomb. I mean, he was kind of close to that thing wasn't he? I'll have to listen more closely next time.
*Correction: apparently most cutscenes aren't pre-rendered after all. But still, the weapon anomaly remains.
Here are some assorted remarks I didn't have appropriate sections for.
In advance, I'd heard that when you hit your action button to operate a control, the game does a first-person hand animation, in contrast to previous games where the control just operates. From the description, I was concerned that this might feel intrusive, taking away your control too much and disrupting immersion. Having now experienced it, I thought the animation was done pretty well and I didn't find it too annoying, but I think I'd prefer if it was faster, so things would feel more like the quick response of old.
One other thing. In Spartan Ops there are some controls where you don't get an animation; and consequently you're left thinking maybe you didn't press your action button properly - so you press it again, superfluously. If we're going to have hand animations, they need to be used for every control.
Tough Guy skull
My shielding felt too weak. Even when only on Heroic, I usually felt obliged to stay distant from clusters of enemy for fear of being cut down in a trice. Obviously things might feel a bit better when I get more experienced with the game, but regardless of that, I'd really like a 'Tough Guy' skull which would majorly boost my damage resistance so I could enjoy a more gung-ho style of play, letting me charge in more often. I'd probably use that a lot, and I'm pretty sure I'd have way more fun.
When dropped in certain areas, weapons appear to rise up off the ground a short way, which can be noticeable (e.g. by the shadow cast). They can end up looking visibly off the ground by a short distance.
Hologram and jet pack
The hologram was fun to use, and I think I'll be on the lookout for that in future. But I was disappointed with the jet pack. The thrust was too brief and it was a job even to boost myself up from the ground to reach the top of the Mammoth.
When I tried to kill a scientist who talked to me - just to see what happened - I got instantly killed by the game. Bah! That completely violates realism and reminds you you're in a videogame - not that Reach didn't feature this lazy and dull approach too. Anomalously though, I was able to kill others nearby who were being attacked by Hunters. Possibly the game was giving me the benefit of the doubt, thinking I might be trying to hit the Hunters, but I was really being very obvious about the killing, so I'm not sure.
Sound effects were often unfamiliar, and I got killed quite a bit due to not recognizing sounds as indicating significant danger. I'm not sure that necessarily reflects badly on the sound design, but I just thought I'd mention it. Obviously it should happen less as I get more used to things.
I came across quite an oddity in Requiem when you get to some wreckage after a few minutes. I heard some radio chatter coming from somewhere, and when I tracked it down it turned out to be coming from a Warthog tyre lying on the ground! You can blast the tyre somewhere else to check, and you'll see that the chatter goes with it. So, the UNSC are fitting radios into their hog tyres now? Weird.
In Dawn I got a prompt saying "TAP B TO PRY DOOR", so I gave the button a light tap but it did precious little except open a small gap for a moment. Tried it again; still no good. Ok, maybe I'm meant to tap harder? Nope, still not working. Soon I was starting to wonder if the game was broken, and I resorted to the internet. After finding YouTube footage of someone managing to open the darned thing, I realized what you were meant to be doing. You needed to tap the button repeatedly, to keep expanding the gap. That word 'repeatedly' they left out. Ok, I guess in some contexts 'tap' can mean knocking something repeatedly, but I still think they could've done with adding the extra word. Would've saved me quite a hold-up anyway.
I was carrying a plasma cannon into a tower after destroying a load of Phantoms with a Pelican, but it disappeared out of my hands when I crossed a loading point. Grrrr…
Going nowhere fast
At the start of Reclaimer there was a sniper running into the cliff wall. I don't know if that always happens, but still, it wasn't a great start.
I'd heard about Spartan Ops in advance and it sounded appealing. After getting through Campaign I tried it out on Heroic and got quickly slaughtered in the first episode, an expansive vehicle-based affair. That wasn't much fun and I suspect the gameplay was intended more for a team of players rather than just one, so I knocked things down to Normal and that was better. Vehicle play really isn't my thing but there were some later episodes in which to do some plain old foot soldiering, and I enjoyed quite a bit of that.
Wildly varying difficulty
However, the difficulty level seemed to vary wildly across the episodes. There were a couple where, despite still being on Normal, I was getting absolutely slaughtered by Prometheans, with Crawlers attacking in high numbers. I remember one snowy place in particular which I was really getting annoyed with. It was like I'd accidentally flipped the setting to Legendary or something (I shudder to think what Legendary really would've been like). So I think the episodes need to be balanced for difficulty a lot more carefully.
A further negative was that there were episodes where I was having good fun fighting covies, but eventually the Prometheans turned up, and that rather spoilt it. The Galileo Base episode was a good example of that. With all that shiny firepower sitting around, I was having a great old time until the new guys showed up.
In the long run I think I might be spending more time on Spartan Ops than Campaign if I sign up for more gold membership, which you need. But having to also be connected to LIVE to play is an annoyance as I have to take my computer offline and switch the broadband connection to my 360 instead. And also, I just plain don't like having to be online to play.
With Cortana along for company - one of the best features for me despite her disconcertingly naked look - the campaign feels like a pretty good adventure overall, with some beautiful outdoor scenery and the prettiest rocks and cliffs I've ever seen. I'll probably play it quite a bit, and may play Spartan Ops even more if I decide to shell out for further gold membership. I can't say I find the Prometheans all that appealing as enemies so far, and there's certainly no humour to them, but they were ok. Among the weapons, the DMR and assault rifle are both as satisfying as I'd hope, so that's good.
But there are three serious negatives. For one, Grunts have become a blandly unappealing shadow of their former selves, with hugely altered appearance, different animation and - worst of all - a really terrible new voicing style. They'll no longer be any significant draw for me; just relatively dull cannon fodder, perhaps best rationalized away as some sort of inferior mutant subspecies. Then we have the crazy decision of putting a strong greenish glare across the zoomed view of various covie weapons, badly degrading your view and making zoomed shooting much less enjoyable than it should've been. A real shame. And thirdly, Banshee control is so horrible that I'd sooner avoid using them at all.
To briefly mention a few of my lesser grievances, I dislike the centrally placed pick-up prompts on the HUD, the magnum sounds wrong, the Warthog sounds awful, the wacky gauntlet run with a Broadsword in Midnight was a serious pain (though maybe I'll enjoy it later), and the final encounter with the Didact was a boring on-rails let-down in which you're pretty much reduced to pressing a couple of buttons when instructed.
I also would've liked more time spent on standard soldiering rather than having quite so much novelty play with special vehicles (Mantis, Mammoth, Broadsword, Pelican, Scorpion), but the game does have a good amount of the former and it plays pretty well. So despite my criticisms and even the absence of proper Grunts, it looks like I'm not jumping ship on the Halo franchise quite yet.