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     "'Call of Duty: Alien Warfare' is now the default title for Halo 4 around the office. "

      Title: Halo 4 by Microsoft

      Format: Xbox 360 Shooter

      Reviewing Monkey: Our Ape Masters

      It's a bit unusual to begin this by discussing a conversation I had with my editor about writing this review, but I think it's fitting in this case. Because when I turned in my first draft--a piece that only weighed in at a paltry 400 words--he looked at me and said, "Is this it?" He was understandably disappointed that coverage for one of the biggest titles of the year would be so ridiculously short.

     But there's just not much to say about Halo 4. Sure, I could pad this out to the standard two pages by hyper analyzing and expounding about individual aspects, but it's just not necessary--because the game is good. Good, but really, really generic. Generic because the franchise--which was once the hallmark of console shooters--apparently decided it had fallen behind the curve and tried to evolve itself to catch up. But in that process it has become little-more than a Call of Duty clone in science-fiction clothing, which makes it hard to get excited about.

     On the plus side, the graphics are greatly improved--and boy, howdy, do I mean greatly. As is the audio. And both of those features had us sitting up and taking notice for the first few hours of play.

     The controls and combat are also solid, and feel as tight as ever, though the interface has received a minor overhaul to bring it more in line with Call of Duty. New to this franchise, but lifted straight out of CoD, is a hit indicator (telling you when you've landed a round on an enemy), an incoming grenade indicator, a left-thumbstick-enabled short-term sprint, and numerous "limited interaction cut-scenes", which require you to time specific button pushes during fixed story pieces.

     Also new to Halo 4 is an unlockable multiplayer perk system that, again, borrows heavily from CoD and the presence of "Spartan Ops", a new, generic co-op mission mode that is so obviously a take on Spec Ops that they didn't even bother to disguise the name.

     None of these are bad, per se, but they do work to blur the lines between the two franchises to the point that they're almost indistinguishable. So much so that "Call of Duty: Alien Warfare" is now the default title for Halo 4 around the office.

     What is unquestionably bad, however, is that several of these changes come at the cost of classic elements we've leanred to expect in Halo. Gone is are the cooperative mode Firefight and the adversarial Headhunter, both of which are unforgivable omissions as far as we're concerned. Also lost is some of the "flavor" of the game, ditched in favor of balancing. Now each of the three races has essentially identical versions of the same weapons (assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, semi-auto mid-range rifle), a choice that aggressively works to further strip the title of any real distinction.

     The campaign is fun, but--and here's that word again--generic; being made up almost entirely of linear elements we've seen thousands of times before. While the competitive multiplayer is...well, you know; composed entirely of game modes and map designs that are truly standard in the industry.

      The Verdict:

       Ultimately, Halo 4 isn't a bad game. No single aspect of it leaves you desperately wanting or hating what Microsoft chose to give you. But with all the hype they tried to heap on the "new trilogy" and the push towards re-establishing the franchise, you would really think they would have chosen to make a game that would stand out in some way. Instead, Halo 4 is a title that you'll play through once, jam online with for a few hours, and then never think about again.

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