Any Halo game is bound to drum up a special amount of interest. Developer Bungie took the momentum Halo generated in 2001 from being a critically acclaimed first-person shooter and rode it all the way to morph the series into one of the best selling game franchises of all time. It became so big that the Xbox consoles have become synonymous with Halo and everything the games represent. Fast action, tons of weapons and superb online multiplayer. Not to mention Master Chief, what a badass.
Now Bungie is finished with Halo and it's the turn of 343 Industries to show fans that there is life in the old dog yet. Winning over the sceptics was always going to be a tough proposition but the early signs seem to point towards Halo 4 being yet another must-buy game for Xbox 360 owners.
Starting out in the new campaign, it's not instantly obvious the Halo developers have changed. Master Chief wakes up from a four-year slumber on the Forward Unto Dawn ship and quickly introduces himself to a cluster of different species from the Covenant. There's the usual decor and ambience players have come to expect over the years, although graphically things seem to have been enhanced slightly.
Soon enough Master Chief stumbles into an elevator shaft and a quick-time event follows, a first for the Halo series. Players must evade falling debris by moving left and right at the correct times, before eventually climbing to the top of the shaft. Once there a Covenant Elite attacks from nowhere, forcing the player to quickly press a button so that Master Chief can throw him off the ledge. It's simple stuff but it serves its purpose to let new players get used to the controls and adds a bit of drama to the occasion as well.
It's not until you reach a Forerunner planet and come up against a new set of enemies, the Prometheans, before you realise how tough the game is. You can't admire the scenery for long as these new foes turn out to be much more difficult to defeat compared to the Covenant. Some Prometheans can teleport right in front of you to give you a scare, or away from you if they are under threat from being destroyed. A lot of the time they are protected by flying drones who have healing powers, so taking care of these first is critical. Master Chief will also have to be wary of the Prometheans that climb up walls and attack from all sides, a tricky proposition.
To help combat this new set of adversaries is an improved selection of weapons. Guns like the Light Rifle and Suppressor have their own unique qualities that can aid players on the battlefield. My personal favourite was the Scattershot, a shotgun with a slow reload time but powerful enough to dispatch most enemies with a couple shots. Not only do they feel powerful, they look fantastic and the animation when firing and reloading is superb.
But the campaign is just one part of the very big Halo 4 pie. Multiplayer and the new episodic Spartan Ops series will keep players entertained long after the campaign is done with. The Spartan Ops mission we managed to get our hands on involved four players attacking three different Covenant bases across a large map. This was a much easier task compared to the campaign missions we had been struggling with earlier, but with several months worth of content promised it will definitely add another level of replayability to the game.
Finally the tried-and-trusted Team Deathmatch in multiplayer was the usual blast of fun you'd expect. We got to play on the Ragnorak map, which Halo 3 players will recognise as an updated version of the Valhalla map. Ragnarok has several vehicles lying around for you to commandeer at any point to really take the battle to your opponent, including the Mantis. This is a one-man mech that can fire rockets at anyone that gets in your way and proves to be a real game-changer for anyone who gets to it first.
Overall it seems like Halo 4 is in very good hands with 343 Industries. Even the most die-hard fans worried that yet another Halo game would cause the series to become stale should be pleasantly surprised when the game launches next month. Master Chief is back and it looks like he's here to stay.