I thought the soundtrack was generic. The only thing that stood out to me as a positive was the shifting of the main theme’s chant to a low C#. I really did not like the use of over saturated ‘action’ music in the big grapple reveal. Will update this post with reasoning.
Re. Music - if you listen in the section where the player first uses that grapple hook, the incidental music is nothing more than your standard variety of action staccato string section hits overlaid on a growling soft-trap beat. Then there are the horns that accompany you to the top of the hill, and the re-use of the distorted fuzz snare mixed in with the very tribal drums. This is clearly a nod to Reach's use of brass harmonies - and because of that it makes me feel conflicting emotions. The use of brass in Reach was to stress the atmosphere of impending doom, towards which you march, knowingly. They are the sad horns of fulfilling a tragic duty. The horns here are triumphant, but use the same harmonies, the same style of voice leading that Reach's used, and are overlaid on the same action beat as the strings before. There's no layering. It feels empty, just like the world around the player. But it also feels frantic, and scripted. I think it is generic, not special, and I don't like it.
Compare this to the original soundtracks, which used pedal tones, both in terms of pitch and in terms of instrumentation. Long, sustained choral lines, tender string harmonies, resonant drums, and very, very, VERY restrained brass to fill out the choir. And each line would lead into the next, each layer would lead into the next, each 'choir' pushes the next one. Even the tracks that use a drum machine or synths, and an anvil are constructed in the same way. Hero, Heretic, for example, and it's Halo 3 version - the hybridization of instruments feels so natural in these, and the emotional tone is 10 times more poignant because of the use of voice, of breath, of sustain. The use of the bass and bongos, and a rock drum set all fits so well, and doesn't get in your face with what it is conveying. It's clear, not frantic. And it fills out the world, rather than beating you over the head.
It reminds me of every other big-budget shooter that's come out in the last 5 years. More of the same. Safe. Not trampling on the legacy of the original soundtracks, but nevertheless undercutting them with something that has been heard a billion times before.
While I'm on the subject, I think the same goes for the cinematics. I appreciate the one-take movement, for sure, a lot of work goes into setting up that kind of shot. But one of the things that makes Halo 3 stand out to me was its use of storyboarding, its use of tight lenses, wide shots, etc. which made the game to look so much more real than it was. I don't get that same impression from a one-cam shot at the dashboard of a Pelican. If anything, it makes the characters look smaller, less real, because I'm watching every single little jitter they make from the same angle, like I'm really there, but not really. It makes me feel like I am a voyeur, not like I am watching a story unfold, within which I can invest myself.
No identity, but wearing a mask. Huh. The more real it is in representation, the less real it feels in the experience of the art (or the assets).
Historical example: Michelangelo's David. The anatomy is all wrong - but man, what a sculpture!