I think it's fair to say that my feelings towards the Halo series are somewhat ambivalent Some of the games in the series I've enjoyed very much and have had a fairly decent time playing through all of them. And the reason I think that I need to preface with those statements, is because I'm sure a lot of the fans are going to be initially disappointed in my outlook towards the game. Let's dissect this a little and see where I'm coming from.
For starters, I wasn't the most enthused about Master Chief returning. I was perfectly content with someone else taking up his mantle and the Halo games being about another protagonist. But, it was decided by someone much higher up on the game chain than I that the Master Chief was the perfect person to bring back for a final installment. Ok, fair enough. However, by bringing the Master Chief back, there is an expectation and an implication that there will be badassery afoot and huge, world shaking battles. There was none of this.
What we were given was a story that at almost every cut scene made me think I was watching a digital romance between Cortana and the Master Chief. Believe me, I've read enough trashy romances in my time to see the tragic love story taking place here. At every turn, Cortana is messing something up or making a boo boo that 'moves' the story along. And by 'move' the story along, I mean make you groan and wonder why Master Chief doesn't just put her out of her misery. Oh wait, that's right! You can't murderfy your girlfriend, so he just plods along, putting up with a very poorly managed device to move the story forward.
Getting past the dime novel romance unfolding on the screen, we move to what was supposed to be the actual story of the game. When it was first introduced and all the Forerunner folks started coming out of the woodwork, I thought we had something interesting on our hands. Finally, something to make me pay attention to the cut scenes and dialogue interspersed through the game. But my diligence and patience was not rewarded, as the story itself was lackluster and not very well developed. It was sort of a set up to...nothing. It fell flat on its face and ended with me wondering what happened to the promising story that was developing. And at the end of all that I was left with a big 'badass' boss who I was thoroughly unimpressed with and whom the developers didn't even give me the honor of defeating. That's right. Big spoiler: Halo 4 has no final boss fight!
The developers made quite a few other missteps here as well. It feels like just about every weapon in the Halo series is present in this game. While some may find that to be absolutely awesome because they missed having a particular weapon in an earlier game, it's actually a problem. Let me break it down for you. Over the course of any Halo game, Master Chief is continuously spraying the sky with lead as he kills his enemies. Par for the course. Ammo, of course, is not infinite so you need to resupply at certain points. Because you are going into enemy territory, you never know what sort of weapons your enemies will be carrying. If they're not carrying the weapon you're using, you can't pick up the ammo. Which means switching to a different weapon. Which means occasionally switching to a less than ideal weapon in order to continue fighting. Which means that your favorite weapon may only be used as long as you've got ammo in that first clip. Very disappointing. And there are several new enemy weapons that are introduced in this game, increasing the weapon count and the likelihood of having to switch weapons even more.
Speaking of enemies – what's with the Covenant? Brand new game, brand new stuff going on and there are way too many Covenant enemies to fight. They were good enough to introduce us to a few new enemy types which, was totally awesome I must admit. It was very cool to see some exciting new bad guys, especially when it came to developing a strategy for dealing with them. One of the new enemy types, Promethean Knights, are especially awesome. Nasty guys, hard to kill and equipped with an awesome grenade that releases a damaging ball of energy that explodes after a few moments. They even teleport around the field, making them a nice challenge. And only moments after fighting them and some of their friends, you're faced with some of the same, boring Covenant enemies again. Boooring! Halo 4 proves that the developers are perfectly capable of coming up with some new guys for us to deal with but then falls back on the enemies from every other Halo game.
Moving on from the story itself is the new mode, Spartan Ops. This mode has the players completing mini missions with a Spartan team that's based on the Infinity, the ship that's stationed around the new planet you play the game on. These missions take place on the multiplayer maps and feature some pretty standard game play. However, most of the battles in Spartan Ops feel better balanced than the battles in the main game. Where the main game was lacking in story, it really needed to make up for it in gameplay and exciting fights which it lacked thanks to the same old enemies and constant ammo scavenging. When playing Spartan Ops, I found myself actually enjoying the firefights. They were engaging, interesting and had me on my toes while trying to deal with the enemies. A few of the levels were obnoxious to finish, but the majority released up to the time of this review were actually quite fun.
However, Spartan Ops does something that when thinking about it, angers me even more towards the main game. So far, the story in Spartan Ops is interesting. It's intriguing, engaging and everything that the main story was not. Dare I say it, but I believe that the story in Spartan Ops is the real game that the developers wanted to give us for Halo 4 and that the story with Master Chief is what they were forced to do. There, I said it. I think the extra multiplayer mode is the real story of Halo 4. It is worth mentioning though, that when playing with multiple players, you're not actually allowed to watch the videos that give you the story for Spartan Ops, which makes no sense. Especially when both players are on the same console. It's as if they were keeping it all locked up for only the solo players to enjoy.
One of the gravest missteps made by the developers was how the developers chose to treat the multiplayer. Being entirely honest the storyline in Halo games is more or less irrelevant since the player vs. player content is always the greater focus of the Halo community. But, for some unknowable reason, the developers have chosen to implement a load out build similar to the Call of Duty games. Now as you level up you can unlock new starting weapons, armor abilities, support abilities and customization options.
This right here shows a dramatic misunderstanding of what made the Halo games so much fun. Previously you picked up the game and were automatically on even footing with your opponents. Halo: Reach brought in the various character builds but this maintained the same basic premise. Everyone was always on an even footing out the games and it was up to the players to use what they had, memorize the weapon locations on the maps and learn to use what they could get. Here you can just start the level with a wide variety of boosts that leave the game massively unbalanced for those just starting out.
When pairing this up with the ungodly plethora of weapons in the game this causes a bit of an issue. Purchase a Plasma Pistol and Battle Rifle and watch enemies die before they realize what happened. What's the difference between the DMR, Covenant Carbine, Battle Rifle and Light Rifle? Good luck working that out. Don't have a high enough level to purchase one of the abilities? Well then you've just been gimped by the game. These ideas would work fine in Spartan Ops but they do nothing but hamper the Halo multiplayer experience by making life different for the non-hardcore crowd. This is a change that frankly has no business existing in Halo and should have stayed in Call of Duty. The games were strong enough without borrowing elements like this from its contemporaries.
The visuals for this game were both stunning and disturbing to see. During the opening main cut scene, I was actually fooled for a moment into thinking that they'd gotten live actors onto the camera. Until they started speaking and I could see the problems with the mouth animations, that is. But even then the game just looks amazing: the planetary environments were pretty, expansive and decently varied. Sound for the game was well done, but again, nothing that stood out in my mind. This is a stark contrast to the older games where the soundtrack was as much of a highlight as the set pieces.
It seems like Halo 4 was overall a game of mediocrity. It felt like there was supposed to be so much more. And with this actually being game number six, counting Halo Reach and Halo: ODST, you would expect some improvement and growth. I saw none of that here and it was not only disappointing, it was insulting. The game is solid, but nothing special. It should have been special. It should have been epic. And I should have been able to feel, see and experience why the Master Chief is so badass. Instead, I was told he is, just because. I didn't see it, feel it or experience it, which makes me a very sad gamer.