At last, 343 Industries released Halo 4 in the PC Master Chief Collection. Note that up to this point, Bungie had made all the main entries. By the time they made Reach, they had already bought themselves back from Microsoft. They cited oppressive corporate culture, and went straight into the crushing arms of Activision. (Why oh why did Bungie think Activision would be better?) Microsoft formed 343 Industries to pick up where Bungie left off, and this is the first of the new series.
This picks up where Halo 3 (the canonical last game) left off. Like I suspected, some things were reset like a sitcom. Chief wakes up in his floating piece of metal, and is immediately attacked by "the Covenant", who he said that we had a truce. I don't know what news he read, because I remember not only the executive leadership's assassinations, but half of the ruling body and military getting killed, and its capital city destroyed. Why would you have a truce with them? Add in lots of repressed speciesist hatred, that's not something that you can just come back from. If by "Covenant", you mean "Elites", and by "truce", "peace", then sure.
Chief notes that this "Covenant" is more fanatical. None of them speak a word of English, and all the elites look like they're pumping steroids and iron. While I appreciate the total language immersion, grunts in the past games have been the comic relief. Grunts have exceptional learning speed, but I guess the new Covenant Grunt school curriculum doesn't include English classes. Like the original game, the nature of this Covenant is unexplained throughout the entire game. Unlike the diverse enemy Covenant from Reach, this one only has the standard elite, grunt, jackal, and sometimes hunter forces.
While fighting Covenant is mildly entertaining at this point, it wouldn't be a mainline game without a 3 way fight. Instead, there are Prometheans. These seem to be Forerunner robots meant to fight the Flood. Most of their forces are war dogs that are agile and somehow have wall climbing abilities. They are commanded by 'knights', who are a poor substitute for elites. They are supported by fliers that are more annoying to kill than the old Covenant's flying bugs. (Those seem to be missing from the new one.) The new enemies are accompanied by new weapons, which are functionally equivalent to human weapons, but shinier. Prometheans have their own grenades, but I'm puzzled about how they actually work, and I didn't find them as effective.
Half of this game takes place in shiny underground tunnels. The rest of the game takes place in spaceships, fields of spaceship wreckage, and beautiful meadows, with a brief shortcut through a swamp. Much of the last quarter of the game involves air and space combat. The last part has you flying through narrow spaces, but the collision detection is terrible. I should have made it flying through at least half of those holes.
Bungie perfected their games by having a 30 second loop. That is mostly present, but that momentum sometimes smashes into a wall. I'm not sure if the weapons are ineffective or the enemies are bullet sponges, because I run out of ammo too often. Sometimes, I needed to spend a few minutes backtracking to the last gun rack to pick up ammo. I would have picked up ones the dead enemies dropped, but everything gets cleaned up too fast! And no, there is no dual wielding here!
The story wants to focus on Chief's humanity, but I never considered that an issue. (Does everyone question someone else's humanity? What does that mean, exactly? Is 'humanity' just an excuse to make mistakes? Or is it another term for "midlife crisis"?) Chief has been fairly quiet in the story up to this point, but he now spouts off at least a paragraph worth of words every mission. And it's so sad about what's happening to Cortana! Except it wasn't with you for half the time up to now, and I don't have any particular emotional connection to it.
After I finished playing through this on normal, I replayed Halo 2. I noticed that the main gameplay loop is tighter in 2, than it is in 4. And to sharpen comparisons, I replayed 4 on easy. Save for two times, I didn't run out of ammo, but the knights were still harder to kill than what I would have liked. I was also disappointed in that the story pumps you up for a boss fight, but it ends up being quicktime event letdown instead. Come to think of it, the only game in the series that ends with a classic boss fight is 2. But I'm not too disappointed, since 4's boss came off like a Saturday morning cartoon villain from the start.
This isn't a bad game, but it doesn't live up to the series name. The ingredients are present, but it's not baked. If you can carry more ammo, make the Prometheans slightly weaker, and press fewer buttons, most issues would go away.
Nevertheless, I'm sold on Halo, even though playing through the collection feels like walking through someone else's museum. If Halo 5 comes to Steam, I'll buy it with Infinite. (Take that as a threat, since that worked well last time, and the time before that.) There's rumors and requests to include 5 in the collection, but I don't care. For now, I'll leave Halo where it is and move on to something I've been anticipating for a while, but I'm not sure if I'll find a breathtaking videocard in time.
EDIT March 2021: There is another mode to Halo 4, called Spartan Ops. It can be played co-operatively or solo, and you can choose one of 5 identical load-outs. Spartan Ops continues the Halo 4 story, and is set 6 months after it. Unlike the campaign, this reveals more about the new Covenant, or at least the names of those in charge. You see many of them up close, and they growl a lot. Halsey, a cutting edge researcher central to many key human technologies, was treated like the bad guy in the campaign cinematics. She appears here, but I'm still puzzled as to why she's still the bad guy.
Playing through it all is tedious, as each of the 10 'episodes' is broken into 5 'chapters'. Each chapter needs to be selected and started individually, because they don't automatically load the next one when completed, like the campaign. The cutscenes are likewise. The chapters in the first 5 episodes are played over about 12 maps (some ripped from the single player campaign). The last 5 episodes are played over about 12 other maps. It's just more of the same: the new Covenant is fun to fight, but the Prometheans are just as boring, cheap, and not fun.