Halo 4 hit the sub-£15 price point in most second-hand game outlets a month or so ago. I picked it up with some left over holiday money when I got back from Skaithos and was initially a little cheesed off at its sameness in comparison to the other games in the franchise. However there is that adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. My first impression was that they had tweaked the graphics, the weapons and the enemies a bit, but that the basic gameplay remained the same. However, first appearances can be deceptive and I realize that my £12 has been money well spent.

Halo 4 is really three games in one box, on two disks. First you have the campaign, then war games and finally Spartan Ops. War Games is the multiplayer part of the game and I guess what most people buy the game for. I didn’t, and I won’t be partaking – I have experienced Halo multiplayer often with the previous releases and unfortunately I can’t get along with a majority of the user population (in much the same way as Call of Duty).

The campaign story of Halo 4, billed as the opening chapter of the Reclaimer saga, is set 4 years after Halo 3. It opens with the UNSC ship Forward Unto Dawn drifting in space towards the layered planet Requiem. Master Chief is woken from his King Arthur style hibernation by the AI Cortana who looks foxier and more pouting than ever. Before they have time to remark on their changed appearances rogue Covenant forces attack the ship. Forward Unto Dawn crashes through the planet’s outer layer and crash-lands inside. As the Master Chief fights Covenant forces and Prometheans, Cortana reveals that she is going rampant, because she is past her use-by date. A rampant AI isn’t something you want to be around and involves the AI going mental and thinking herself to death. Chief promises to get Cortana to Doctor Catherine Halsey on Earth to fix her.

The story is quite dull until the appearance of the bad guy; a Forerunner called the Didact, who is one ugly sonofabitch. At this point I was hooked and kicked myself for not giving the game’s story time to develop. I would go so far as to say that Halo 4’s story is the most engaging yet, and also the most clearly understandable. I will not discuss the plot any further, but suffice to say that it develops the story of the Forerunners and their artifacts and the role of the human race in the universe in new and interesting ways.

There is some action with vehicles (one particular level being a little too much like the Death Star X-Wing run for my liking), no Flood (thank God) and some great new left-bumper button activated defensive systems such as cloaking, hologram, shield, and a floating sentinel ball which helps you zap bad guys. The standard difficulty setting is challenging at times and the need to scavenge weapons from the battlefield is still a major component of gameplay. Yes, the game is linear and sometimes if Cortana doesn’t give you a waypoint you feel a little lost. It seems less open-world than previous offerings, but I was happy to be steered along because of the motivation to reveal the next plot point.

The story doesn’t end when you complete the campaign. If you select Infinity from the game menu you will find Spartan Ops. This is a real bonus for the player who only knows one or two other people he would happily waste time shooting stuff with. This set of games can be played as a single player or with friends. It is an episodic series, taking place after the end of Halo 4’s campaign. Seasons are made up of 10 episodes, each containing 5 chapters, which gives you 50 co-op games per Season! The episodes are released in free weekly DLCs available to Gold Members. Each episode features an excellent short CG movie to explain the story and it feels a bit like watching Battlestar Galactica at times – the graphics are great and the voice talent superb.

I tinkered a lot with the Forge, screenshots, recording games and Waypoint when I got Halo 3 and so haven’t really dabbled any more with these extras – I assume they are just as good as Halo 3. I was really taken with the excellent recording controls for Halo 3, but haven’t the time to be fannying about with them this time around.

In short, I would recommend this game to Halo fans and casual gamers alike, but if you don’t like sci-fi then look elsewhere – this as satisfyingly sci-fi as it gets.