CCI: Master Chief's Legacy Lives On In "Halo 4"

Since the conclusion of "Halo 3" in 2007, fans of Bungie's beloved franchise have wondered what became of the game's main star, Master Chief, missing in action since "Halo 3," with his original journey revisited in "Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary" for Xbox 360 in 2011. The prior two "Halo" games, "Halo: ODST" and "Halo: Reach," featured different protagonists and though their stories tied into Bungie's main universe, fans wondered if Master Chief would ever return.

Last year at Microsoft's presentation at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, that question was answered when the company showed a very brief teaser trailer for "Halo 4," a new project that would put the armored Chief back in the driver's seat. Over the past few months, the company has revealed bits and pieces of the game including hints of multiplayer and the new Spartan Ops missions. This year, however, Microsoft has gone all out on promotion, not only announcing a November 6 release date, but also uncovering more details on what to expect from the hotly-anticipated sequel.

"Halo 4" is, in fact, the first chapter in a new trilogy of games, with the next two releases rumored to be coming for Microsoft's next game console. It's part of a "Reclaimer Trilogy," continuing to tell the story of Master Chief and his holographic AI partner Cortana. It will also introduce a new enemy that could bring an even bigger danger to the universe than the Covenant ever did.

Perhaps the most interesting fact about "Halo 4" is that it's the first new product in the series not handled by the developers at Bungie, who have since moved on to a new project through Activision that will span several years in development. Instead, 343 Industries is working on the game, with producer Kiki Wolfkill, franchise development director Frank O'Connor and creative director Josh Holmes fronting development. This marks a significant change for the team, as does the hiring of Neil Davidge as composer. (Davidge takes over for Martin O'Donnell, who left to work with Bungie on its new project.)

343 knows how to handle the franchise, as it's shown with its treatment of last year's "Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary." However, at first, some were skeptical as to how they would handle new content for the series, especially after seeing the care with which Bungie treated it over the years. A few months ago at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, fans got a closer look through a single-player demonstration of "Halo 4," featuring astonishing visuals and signature "Halo" gameplay. Select players also got to experience the multiplayer portions of the game, which support both versus competition and cooperative play.

For multiplayer, teams will take part in "friendly" "War Games" sessions, pitting teams of Spartan soldiers against one another in a variety of maps, picking up scattered weapons and power-ups to help give them a temporary advantage in battle. So far, three of those maps -- Longbow, Adrift and Haven -- have been revealed with more to come in the months ahead. Some maps are large and fit for huge, epic battles, while others are smaller and more confined, perfect for up-close skirmishes with the enemy.

As for cooperative play, 343 Industries plan to introduce a series of downloadable missions for "Halo 4" starting on release day. Titled "Spartan Ops," these stages will require players to work together as they clear fields of alien enemies while completing objectives, including activating switches and clearing waypoints for ships to land. So far, the only "Spartan Ops" mission seen thus far is pretty long, lasting a good half-hour to an hour depending on the skill of the players. These missions will come often through Xbox Live and will be offered free of charge to those who purchase the game.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo was a good place to hype "Halo," but Microsoft went even further, bringing Master Chief and his cohorts to Comic-Con International at San Diego for a series of events. A private multiplayer event had fans thrilled to get into the action, both through "War Games" and "Spartan Ops," and voice actors and producers behind the project greeted fans and signed autographs on everything from Master Chief photos to "Halo" memorabilia, including figurines and Mega Bloks sets. In addition, a panel was held that showed off details from both the single player campaign and multiplayer modes. Frank O'Connor and his team unveiled a new level-up system that makes soldiers stronger in the heat of battle. A new mode, "Regicide," was also unveiled, featuring one player highlighted as "king" of the game, trying to stay alive as long as possible while the others hunt him. The player who kills the current king become the new king until time runs out.

Perhaps the biggest news was the unveiling of a new "Halo" themed Xbox 360 system bundle. Featuring a specifically designed blue, silver and white console with two similarly designed controllers, a copy of "Halo 4," a 320 GB hard drive and a headset, the bundle is priced at $399.99. It's expected to release on the same day as the game, November 6.

"Halo 4" will definitely get major attention on the game front in the next few months, but Microsoft plans to expand the franchise far beyond the realm of video games. It's also working with Tor Books on a new novel that ties in with the game's universe, titled "Halo: The Thursday War," due October 2. Written by "Star Wars" and "Gears of War" fiction author Karen Traviss, the novel follows the conclusion of "Halo 3" with a sharp focus on the conflict between humans and the Covenant, creating a possible huge set-up for the arrival of the new alien species appearing in "Halo 4."

One other project that Microsoft announced at CCI 2012 is the forthcoming release of a big-budget live-action series, set to debut across the board on both Machinima.com and the Xbox 360 Halo Waypoint app. Titled "Forward Unto Dawn," the series kicks off on October 5, running through the release of "Halo 4" on November 6. The plot behind the series hasn't been revealed, but it looks like Microsoft hopes to expand and explain the "Halo" universe both to casual players and hardcore fans alike.

While Master Chief has been away from the gaming scene for quite some time, he certainly hasn't been dormant and come later this year, he'll be creating a ruckus, kicking plenty of alien ass. "Halo 4" looks to bring a strong single-player campaign and multiplayer back into the picture, along with a novel and web series introducing even more fans into the fold.

"Halo 4" hits November 6 for Xbox 360.

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