The lights are on
Immediately upon seeing that Master Chief would return in the beginning of the new trilogy, I was drop dead excited, and like many fans of the series, or just people who played the previous installments, was curious how they'd handle Chief's story along with Cortana's, and in a greater sense, Humanity's. They go into Chief and Cortana (in notably immense depth), Humanity, the history and role of the Forerunners, and some other new characters that play a pivotal role with Chief. (In fact if you play in the Spartan Ops side mode, the story extends even further into known characters like Doctor Halsey.) This is fantastic, as it finally brings into the game's story characters and background that will further help players understand what typically only book readers did, and one character in particular that was introduced from the books is indeed one of the best in the game itself. Aside from the occasional snag in logic or tacked on event to help further the gameplay, the story is golden, and arguably the best presented yet. I'm extremely satisfied with the story 343 has rendered, and for once, certain characters actually draw you in emotionally and create an unexpected connection. This is something new to Halo, but it works, and incredibly well at that. All this, and it remains very consistent, as well as being paced perfectly. With the extra kick given to higher difficulties over previous games, it promises (and delivers) a good run through.
Halo's gameplay philosophy has always been four things: Guns, Grenades, Melee, and Vehicles. As it was in every other Halo title (excluding Halo: Wars, if you're nitpicky.) it is in Halo 4, along with eight new weapons, and the new Mantis Heavy Vehicle. Similar to Reach, Halo 4 has sprint in all modes, whether it be campaign, multiplayer or spartan ops, though unlike Reach, Sprint is now default, with a perk that allows for unlimited sprint should you choose to have such. This was among great controversy, as Halo has always had a unique nature to the way it plays, and fans felt it would be giving in to the norm of modern shooters such as Call of Duty and Battlefield. Despite the negative reaction from that side of the players, the default sprint works perfectly, and flows with the maps given to you. But more importantly, it just feels right, and doesn't feel like a change to the Halo gameplay, but more of an evolution of it. A few other things have been changed slightly, like armor lock now being a less powerful Light Shield, and the default control scheme being tweaked. A major change worth noting though, is that there are now load outs. This as well as the default sprint had the same controversy, but don't worry, it as well works wonderfully with the game, and is something I've always wondered about in the Halo games. While it in the long run works beautifully as a new addition to the gameplay approach, there are a few issues with it, too. In the previous Halo games, weapons were spread across the map, forcing players to approach certain situations in certain ways, and mixing up the games, while settling in a general balance to the map field. Now if somebody has a high power semi-automatic rifle (DMR) with cloak, they can just camp out in certain game modes and, if they're an experienced enough player, not worry about losing any points, especially since they get assists and defense bonuses now. Whereas in Halo 3 you had to interact with the map, now you just glue to one part, and this makes certain matches very dull, especially larger variants and objective based modes.
Halo 4's multiplayer, even if a bit flawed in particular areas, is a phoenominal experience. While expanding upon Reach's contributions to the franchise, it brings forward inspired modes and systems that reward the player for being a good team mate, and finally provides a leveling system both simple and complex. With Halo 4 343 has introduced "Specializations" Which are unlocked at level 50, then every ten levels beyond that until the maximum level, which is 130. Each specilization brings forth a new set of unlockable armor and a perk unique to the class' play style. For example, one is focused on stealth, which increases assassination time and decreases your appearance of thermal scanning, where another is focused on vehicular gameplay, and increases vehicle damage resistance and decreases the time your vehicle is paralyzed from the Plasma Pistol. There are many others, and each has their own helpful addition to the way you play. It's a neat style of perks, and keeps you interested in the leveling process. These interesting approaches to ranking up are consistent, and with daily, weekly, monthly, and indefinite challenges, you'll be busy for a long time, with 343 also throwing in new gametypes then and again for people to play, like Grifball, Team Snipers, and SWAT. Granted if ever the matchmaking aspect becomes a chore, you can always hop onto fully customizable custom games or forge to play a match where and how you want to play it, on a map layout preset or to your liking, something that I hope becomes a thing with modern day shooters, and shooters to come in the near future.
But sadly, where Halo 4 dominates in multiplayer, it utterly collapses in its side mode, Spartan Ops, a co-op based, episodic storyline with five missions released each week with a cutscene to give some background. While the three to four minute cutscenes kept me focused on the events and interested in the characters' story, the gameplay, which is 90% of the mode, is lackluster at best. Every mission you are thrown into with cheesy dialogue is on a recycled map, from both the multiplayer and the campaign. Seriously, with the exception of one or two maps, the 25 that have been released thus far are carbon copies of other maps already in the game, just with NPC's tossed into it. This shakes the foundation of strategy and gets boring very fast, with each mission usually being survival with an insignificant objective tossed into the beginning. This wouldn't be too bad if it were the first side mode in a halo game, especially being 343's first, but with the countless fun on Reach's side mode, and the beautiful execution of Halo 4's campaign and multiplayer, it just doesn't feel as well done, and resonates being tacked on without much focus or care. This is disappointing, especially from a franchise that is known for delivering quality additions.
In the end, Halo 4 is an extraordinary game. Not only does it exceed most other Halo's in certain aspects, but is arguably the best Halo ever made, and delivers the best multiplayer shooter you can get this year. This is the Halo you've been waiting for, and will make the wait for Halo 5 on the next gen Xbox all the more difficult. It's beautiful, touching, interesting, intense, worthwhile, and most importantly, it is incredibly fun.