Setting a high standard is hard enough to accomplish in today’s gaming industry, but continuing to live up to even the highest expectations of newcomers and veteran fans is something else entirely. Yet the Halo series has managed to consistently do just that – earning more praise than criticism with every release. With Halo 4, the new development team at 343 Industries is challenged to keep up the tradition, without straying too far from the formula.

The recently released trailer showing off Ragnarok, an updated, upgraded version of Halo 3‘s Valhalla multiplayer map gives a good look at the studio’s overall strategy. The fundamentals look to be the same, but the level of polish, and new vehicular insanity made possible shows plenty of potential. If nothing else, the brand new gallery of Ragnarok screenshots prove one undeniable fact: Halo 4 is going to be a visual feast.

There are sure to be some who wish that the multiplayer stages, mechanics, and overall flow would be something completely new for the launching point of a brand new Halo trilogy. But time has shown that designing multiplayer maps is an art form, not merely a science. Bungie mastered the skill better than many before – or since – and whether 343 can internalize that same dedication remains to be seen. So far, though, all the signs are promising.

Valhalla, one of Halo 3‘s multiplayer maps built on a roughly symmetrical dual-base layout was obviously too well-crafted to mess with. The solution for the developers of Halo 4? Make the thing look twice as gorgeous. Have a look:

The presence of Mantis Mechs alone is enough to get droves of fans playing nothing but Ragnarok for the first few weeks post-release, since mastering new vehicles and weaponry is a must for serious online competitors. But with all the discussion of the mechanics, enemy tactics and gameplay innovations that 343 has cooked up, the actual visual fidelity of Halo 4 has been pushed out of the spotlight. As we see it, completely unfairly.

Here we are at the end of a console life cycle, and somehow, Halo 4 is pushing visuals that are downright suspect. It’s nearly impossible to grasp how the Xbox 360 is capable of the graphics and animations that Master Chief’s next adventure will feature, yet it obviously is. In live demos and online video (not merely high-res screenshots) the detail in everything from the skin textures on a Covenant Ghost to the draw distances on multiplayer maps is staggering. We’ve yet to uncover what, if anything, has been sacrificed to produce them, so the only conclusion is that Microsoft has one or more wizards on their company payroll.

That’s fine by us, but what do you think of the screenshots and footage that’s been shown so far? It’s unlikely that Halo 4‘s technical prowess will lessen desire for next-gen systems, but will they raise the bar for developers who still have games left to release on this generation? Sound off in the comments.

Halo 4 will be released on November 6, 2012, exclusively for the Xbox 360.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

Source: Halo Waypoint