I'm enjoying the heck out of Halo 4's multiplayer. The hell, even. Partly that's because of how adroitly 343 has woven certain recent shooter trends - streaks, passive abilities, different types of assist - into the old Halo matrix. You get points for distracting people nowadays, a significant departure from the multiplayer blaster I used to play as a lad, back when Activision still made shooters that aren't Call of Duty and DLC meant "dual-listed company". Given the scale of the revising, which encompasses eight multiplayer mini-classes, 50 ranks and an X-ray vision mode, it's remarkable that such timeless tricks as bunny-hopping with a Magnum have made it through intact.
But I'm also enjoying it - and to a lesser degree, the downloadable Spartan Ops campaign - because it's a chance to return to the world of Requiem, tossed aside like a soiled tissue a few hours into the whisper-thin Halo 4 campaign. As Jonty notes in our review, capturing something of Combat Evolved's mystique was a key priority during development, and Requiem has more mystique than a bucketful of enigmas, lugged from the depths of Dark Souls. It's in the tangled jungles knotted around the belly of the downfallen UNSC Infinity. It's in the chrome pillars that sprout from the world's inner lining. It's in the way hostile fauna coalesce into existence from neon butterfly wings and puffs of static electricity - only to crisp away to nothing again when you paste them with one of their delicious crystalline weapons.
Though entertaining enough, Halo 4's campaign is a long way from the series best. As CVG's Mike Gapper observes at length, the environments are prettier but more restrictive than those of prior games, with far less potential for extravaganzas of vehicular mayhem. As esoteric as they appear, the new weapons don't throw your expectations out the airlock like Halo 3's Bubble Shield - a masterfully fecund mechanism that's only equalled in terms of the possibilities it breeds by Half-Life 2's Gravity Gun. The odd unwillingness to capitalise on what's quite clearly an excellent, memorable setting eclipses all other disappointments, however. Sure, we find out roughly who built Requiem and why, but we're never allowed to get to grips with the detail. We're never allowed to linger, as we were over the worlds of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Mass Effect, Dead Space and Dishonored.
Obviously, those are radically different kinds of games. An FPS is the wrong place for in-depth environmental storytelling, you could argue - anything which doesn't turn your crosshair red should be dispensable. Fair enough, but Halo is a series named for a setting, and Halo 4 is a game that's the core of an attempt to establish a new narrative universe (or if you prefer, expand an old one) across multiple games and media. In the circumstances, a little more attention to the intricacies of those enormously expensive art assets doesn't seem much to ask. It's not the only casualty of the scattergun narrative. After leaving Requiem, you're treated to a fleeting glimpse of another Halo installation before the bad guy's machinations whisk you off to a collision course with cliché.
Which is why Halo 5 needs to go back, back to the bowels of the Legendary Planet, in search of additional enemies and backstory. I want to hear more about how the Prometheans were created. I want a chance to properly explore one of those floating citadels, rather than drifting through the mid-section aboard a glorified airport walkway. I want to commandeer that Chthonic eyeball of an AA gun during the Mammoth mission. I want to see the inside of the Didact's sphere. I want I want I want. Given the on-going industry refusal to really change things up at the mechanical level, the places blockbuster videogames take us are arguably more important than what we do while we're there. Requiem has a lot to offer, given a campaign that's willing to actually stop and take an interest.