Then, of course, there's multiplayer. Firefight makes its return, tweaked and buffed so that it supports user-set rules - such as only running for a limited set of rounds - alongside Xbox LIVE matchmaking. Six maps are available and the idea is, as before, to blast away packs of enemies as a team, using a shared pool of lives and weapons, but it's certainly a more robust implementation compared to its foundling state in ODST. And its co-op trappings are just as compelling as ever.
Forge World, too, beefs up Halo 3's Forge mode by turning an entire Halo installation into a series of moveable blocks and pieces, allowing users to create DIY versions and gametypes on-the-fly with other players. You can fiddle with a coast, quarry, coliseum and even a cheeky inclusion of the iconic Blood Gulch. It might not be for everyone, but it's hard to fault the wealth of options Bungie has provided to budding modders.
Traditional adversarial modes now feature oddball-esque Headhunter, where you hoover up as many skulls (generated by killing foes) as you can get your hands on. Stockpile has you carting multiple flags back to your base zone and then nipping into enemy territory to nick off with some more. These slot very nicely into the map rotation, alongside traditional Team Slayer, King of the Hill and CTF.
Invasion brings a touch of objective-based multiplayer to the series, pitting Spartans against Elites (each with their own abilities) and having them take on various tasks that usually involve standing around in big packs waiting to be picked off by a few cheeky grenades. There are now so many playlists padding out the multiplayer screen it's amazing the box doesn't have stretch marks over it. And don't even get me started about the inevitable waves of DLC.
Actually, playing multiplayer is a treat. The weapon selection is better than it's ever been, and trimming out things like dual wielding has allowed Bungie to pare the experience back and keep it regimentally focused. The DMR, which serves as the replacement for Halo 3's oft-abused Battle Rifle, is still potent without ever feeling nearly as cheap, and even taking someone out with the standard assault rifle is more satisfying than it's been in the past. Melee remains satisfying, too.
Armour abilities slot into the mix in the form of prescribed loadouts, easily determining your starting gear and allowing Bungie to keep control over the creative options available on each map. Other weapons are strewn across the maps, as always, and ardent players will quickly find that mixing both together is the key to developing long-term strategies.
Tying both single and multiplayer together is the XP system, doling out rewards after accomplishing pretty much any in-game action and allowing players to dress up their SPARTAN (across all modes, including campaign) from a hefty selection of boots, helmets and shoulder pads. You can even unlock Master Chief's voice for Firefight, if you're prepared to invest a gazillion hours.
The robust and extensive suite of features make for a compelling overall package. It's an incredible campaign, and its less bombastic plot and clear-cut story stop it from getting bogged down in the sense of being overworked. Bungie has clearly proven it can step out of Master Chief's gigantic shadow, although I'm not so sure Microsoft will be able to do the same. Anyone following the Halo series for the last decade couldn't ask for a better game, as Bungie has exited its most precious series with one almighty, planet-shattering bang.
VideoGamer.com Score9 Score out of 10
- Compelling campaign
- Extensive suite of features
- Excellent multiplayer
- Retreads familiar ground