I’ll be the first to admit, I walked into Halo 4 fairly skeptical.  343 made a series of moves that made fans accuse the company of heresy, as customizable classes, the removal of the popular firefight mode, and the addition of an entirely new enemy class were all risky and potentially disastrous decisions that many thought would damage Halo’s sterling reputation.  Come the launch on November 6th, 343 proved the doubters wrong when it not only lived up to the high standards set by its predecessor, but it set new benchmarks for the series.

After numerous sequels, most Halo fans began to know what to expect.  Most thought the  story’s main drive would focus on Master Chief relentless defense against the covenant.  Halo 4’s first few hours provide a more classic experience, as the Covenant inexplicably return after a previous truce.  The plot quickly changes gears when Master Chief arrives on a mysterious new world, and finally encounters the Forerunner race, who were hinted at since the earliest games of the series.  The Forerunners don’t take kindly to humanity’s sudden arrival, and Chief's motives shift from returning home to saving the human race.  Defeating the Forerunners also require a level of strategic planning, making each firefight multi layered and challenging.  Who do you take out first; The promethean knight or the watcher healing him?  These kinds of questions make Halo 4 a more challenging game than previous Halos, so players used to cruising through on Legendary difficulty should expect their skills to be tested.  

Halo 4’s story was very emotionally compelling, a breath of fresh air for the shooter genre.  Master Chief and Cortana generate genuine chemistry as usual, but this time around, with the stakes higher than ever, their relationship goes beyond occasional banter.  I won’t spoil anything, but the aging Chief is forced to deal with loss and his own imperfection.

Character animations look more lifelike than ever, making it easier for characters to convey their emotions, and emotional scenes more impactful.  From Cortana to Captain Del Rio, most characters look they could have been pulled out of a high quality CGI trailer.  As I was watching one of Halo 4’s cutscenes, a non-gamer friend walked in and asked what movie I was watching.  Yes, the graphics are that good.  The same can be said for Halo 4’s top notch voice acting.  The cast consists of quality actors like Jennifer Hale, so you won’t find many grating voices in the game.  

Many gamers eagerly await the next generation of gaming, but I believe that Halo 4 gives us a preview of the of the future with the excellent audiovisual presentation of display.  The gorgeous environments of Requiem look great on their own, but the astounding lighting effects and sweeping score  truly bring it to life.  Halo 4 also sets precedents for sound design, as the sound effects are even more immersive than before.  Weapons sound powerful and weighty, grenades explode with great force, and engines roar like never before.  With its exceptional sound design, Halo 4 takes one step forward towards total immersion.  I was disappointed however, that the exceptional soundtrack was often tuned out by it’s stellar sound effects, and with no way to adjust music and FX volumes, this left music enthusiasts high and dry.  

While Halo 4’s stellar campaign offers an entertaining experience, some are more interested in the retooled multiplayer.  Halo 4 doesn’t shake things up too drastically, adding a few new weapons, maps, game modes, and the ability to customize your classes.  The game seems to cater towards newcomers, as powerful weapons randomly drop around the map, and points have replaced kills as the primary stat.  New game modes such as Dominion and Regicide join mainstays like Slayer and Capture the Flag, and are supplemented by a strong set of maps.  Multiplayer is rounded out with the addition of the new Spartan Ops mode.  Spartan Ops is an episodic cooperative campaign set six months after Master Chief’s recent exploits.  This new mode delivers  five new episodes per week, each about twenty minutes long each.  I was however, disappointed with Spartan Ops, as I found most missions to be repetitive, and the overarching narrative was less than compelling.  Spartan Ops suffers from crippling bouts of lag, to the point that makes it unplayable with friends.  This can be attributed to its synchronous network model, which unfortunately causes the game to crash and burn, even if only one member on your team has bad connection.   To add insult to injury, the addition of Spartan Ops comes with a cost, as it replaces the popular firefight mode.  

Another nagging issue I encountered during my time with Halo 4’s multiplayer also hampered my enjoyment of the game.  While most games were easy to join, the game struggled switching hosts, which has become a legacy issue.  This really isn’t a dealbreaker, but I have been bugged more than once due to these abrupt interruptions of the gameplay.

Aside from the less than perfect online infrastructure, the new additions implemented by 343 are refreshing changes to the property.  Combining a mix of stunning graphics and precise gameplay, Halo sets a new standard for the FPS.  After putting down the game for the last time, I can’t wait to see what 343 has in store for Master Chief and Halo.