Halo 4 is finally upon as it comes as no surprise that this game is already proving a smash hit with millions of Xbox gamers around the world. As with any major AAA title, Halo 4 has undergone endless waves of hype and speculation from fans and non fans alike and in 99.9% of cases, games can never fully deliver on peoples expectations.
The most important aspect of Halo though is that it should feel like a Halo game, as with all the other games before it, Halo CE, 2, 3, ODST, Reach and not forgetting the CE remake we had last year, little has changed in the main formula of the game. With Bungie no longer at the development helm there is that fear that Microsoft and 343i will change the series for ever, for better or for worse.
I'm not going to bore you all with the back story of the Halo series but lets see if I can paraphrase it down for you. It's a big series and the story reaches back to the days of the original Xbox release but for those that don't know the history it's essentially about a bad ass super soldier and his A.I. pal Cortana, saving the galaxy from a bunch of aliens called the Covenant and it's an FPS.
Halo 4 is set after the final events of Halo 3. Master Chief has been in stasis floating through space for nearly 5 years and winds up at a Forerunner planet. Forerunner being a highly advanced race who were responsible for the building of the Halo rings many millennia ago, you pretty much take up the story from there and quite frankly I don't fancy spoiling more than the first level for you, but with new enemies, new guns and new locations you're in for a real treat.
While the campaign story is one of the best in the Halo series, what this game is really about is action and that's where Halo 4 really shines through. Sure most of the missions boil down to get to the way point marker and along the way shoot some aliens, but such is the way of any FPS for quite some time now. Thankfully the narrative and setting make this more enjoyable than anything I've played for a long time.
The locations involved in the game look simply stunning, offering up what have to be the best look graphics the Xbox 360 has ever produced. While I am an avid PC gamer and I know that the Xbox can't cut it with modern graphics cards, you do have to stop and wonder about Halo 4's graphics "just how the hell did they do it?".
Even in co-op the game shines out from the crowd, sure you loose pretty much all dynamic shadows and a gain a little specula draw distance. But it's a hammer blow level of improvement on the graphics we saw in Halo Reach and likely something that won't be topped this generation for the console.
Sound has also been hugely overhauled for the first time in the Halo series. While many fans, myself included love those original Halo gun sounds, they sounded a little under powered and not in line with the size of the guns you were actually firing. Now the guns have some really defined and characteristic sounds, everything from the reload to the recoil sounds have been re-done from scratch, but still take into account what made the original sound so great, I highly approve of their efforts too.
The story is no longer than you find in most shooters these day and clocks in at around an 8 hour play through. I played through it on local co-op on Heroic, but as a long standing Halo fan I didn't find it too much of a challenge. While Halo does always offer a nice easy mode, it's no easy game and its Legendary options still provide you with a demanding challenge that you rarely find in other titles these days.
The real pay dirt here is the multi-player, which I must warn you requires a whopping 8GB install to play, this extra data is supplied on a 2nd dual-layer DVD and once installed you then move back to disc one to access the online gameplay options. With that little fuss out of the way though, Halo 4 delivers more online action than ever before.
Halo 4 hides nothing about its new options, which are obviously inspired by titles like Call of Duty and Battlefield 3, but if you're going to integrate features from another online shooter, you may as well borrow the best bits right? As such, Halo 4's multiplayer features loadout customisations, unlockable specialisations (classes), extensive armour customisation unlike anything seen in previous games and a whole range of new and improved abilities to unlock.
Sprint is now a default function for all players, but you have the option of adding in a 2nd power up such as jet pack, evade, shield, Promethean vision (see through walls). Add to this in game perks in the form of weapon drops, score a few kills an you can call in a drop pod with various power weapons and abilities too, but be careful as other people can get the drop before you.
It seems every which way you look in Halo 4 there is something new, something different or something gone all together and this is where I feared that it would no longer feel like a Halo game. There are so many minor changes such as running speed feels snappier, auto-aim has been (thankfully) toned down in multiplayer, bloom issues are improved on automatic weapons, abilities are more diverse and constant in multi-player and maps are bigger to compensate for peoples new found speed.
Yet while everything feels different, it does still feel and play like Halo should. I for one welcome the faster multi-player and the more intense action filled battles, this is how multi-player gaming should be. While some will argue it's not better at all, I think that will be the minority, there are always a few.
I'm a big fan of Bungie and I feared not having them at the helm for the first time in the Halo series would be the end, but well done to 343i for proving me wrong and making one of the years finest single and multiplayer shooters of this generation.