When Bungie announced they would be leaving Microsoft to pursue other projects, the question on everyone’s mind was “what will happen to Halo?”, the franchise that saved the Xbox when it debuted back it 2001. Bungie was leaving behind some pretty big shoes. Who could fill them? When the torch was passed to 343 Industries, many were unsure if these Halo newcomers could continue Bungie’s nearly 10 year Halo hot streak. Whatever they did, it was enough to convince me to take a look, and now I can confirm that Master Chief is in good hands. Halo 4 a strong start for 343i’s Halo trilogy, and my favorite entry in the series.

In a possible call back to Halo: Combat Evolved, the story begins with Master Chief waking up from deep sleep and being rushed into action to defend the ship he was occupying from the attacking Covenant forces. Pulled onto a foreign planet by a gravity well, Chief quickly stumbles upon an alien who is bent on wiping out the human race, and it becomes his responsibility to prevent that from happening. Making matters worse, his AI partner Cortana’s age is causing her to deteriorate, putting her in a maddened state called rampancy that will eventually end in her death. As someone who isn’t well versed in the Halo lore, I found the overall story to be a little confusing, and I couldn’t buy into the idea of rampancy, especially given how advanced the rest of their worlds technology is. Still, this was the first Halo game where Master Chief felt like a character with presence, thanks to strong voice acting from both him and Cortana. You feel like Master Chief is a hero, and is integral to the story.

This feeling pairs excellently with the gameplay, which will help you fully realize your fantasy of being Chief. Master Chief feels much faster and floatier than any other first-person shooter protagonist, but once you get a handle on him you will be putting Covenant in their place left and right. There are a wide variety of weapons to use, as well as multiple armor abilities to choose from like invisibility or a jetpack. The game only lasts about 8 hours, but that is just long enough for it to exhaust all of its mission ideas, which are varied and never feel repetitive. The game hits its stride when the new enemy race, the Prometheans, show up. I enjoyed using their all new arsenal, and it was nice to get away from the Covenant and human weapons for a while. The only problem I ran into was the constant lack of ammo. The game does this to force you to use all the different weapons, but at times I had to scour the battlefield just to get a few more shots, leading to some unnecessarily long firefights. When things go just right you will be using the games full range of guns, grenades, and vehicles to tear through enemy forces, and that is when the game shines.

Halo 4’s world is beautiful, but feels a little familiar. Over the course of the 8 missions you won’t visit any particularly interesting locales, but they are all so gorgeous you aren’t likely to care. Cutscenes look especially good, sporting the most realistic facial animations I have ever seen. Master Chief’s new design is stylish, and weapons (especially the Promethean guns) are very cool. The soundtrack didn’t catch my interest as much as ones in past Halo games, but all of the sound effects are great, especially the powerful sounding guns.

“But how is the multiplayer?” asks the impatient reader. Well you really should play the campaign, but the multiplayer is possibly the best the series has seen. Halo 4 falls in line with other modern shooters, intergrating load outs, weapon unlocks, and kill streaks (kind of), but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. These new systems are easy to understand, and allow you to customize your Spartan better than in any other Halo game. Most players will stick to Slayer, but the game has a ton of game types, including fan favorite mods Zombies (now called Flood) and Grifball. You can still play splitscreen with up to four players on one Gamertag, which makes it easy to kill a few hours with friends. As for how it plays? Feels like the same old Halo you have put hundreds of hours into, and that feels good. The other multiplayer offering is the new Spartan Ops, a series of mini story missions that will be released gradually. These are fun, and I like the continued story, but I would have liked to see Firefight return as well.

For a long time I thought no Halo game would ever hook me in the same way the original did. Reach came close, but it wasn’t until I played Halo 4 that I felt that same Halo magic I remember getting with Combat Evolved. Halo 4 is like no other first-person shooter that will release this year, and you owe it to yourself to check it out.