Apart from his brief cameo appearance in Halo: Reach, the last time we got to spend any meaningful time with Master Chief was way back in 2007, when Bungie released the superlative Halo 3.
That is set to change next week when the new custodians of Halo, 343 Industries, release the hotly anticipated return of John 117. As launch day edges ever closer, we've assembled everything you need to know about Halo 4.
Yes John, we missed you...
Halo 3 ends with an uneasy alliance. The relentless force of the Flood has been repelled by a combination of Elite and Human forces, and although there are still some differences between the two species, the epilogue shows us a prevailing peace. "For us, the storm has past. The war is over. But let us never forget those that journeyed into the howling dark and did not return," says Admiral Hood after the dust has settled.
Master Chief and Cortana are left drifting in space onboard the Forward Unto Dawn. Feared dead by their comrades back home, John tells Cortana to wake him when she needs him, and for over four years they drift together in space, orbiting the planet Requiem.
The Legendary ending from Halo 3 inspired the first trailer that we would see for Halo 4. Pulses were raised by that first reveal, and later footage shows the Chief quickly resuming hostilities with a Covenant boarding party. It's almost as if he was never away.
Forward Until Dawn
As well as being the name of the derelict ship that John and Cortana are using as a life raft, Forward Unto Dawn is also a live action mini-series that takes us back to the start of the Human/Covenant war, and focuses on the rise of Cadet Lasky. The events depicted in this five part series fold neatly into the the events that take place in Halo 4, and that makes Forward Until Dawn essential viewing for fans.
There are currently four episodes of the mini-series available to watch on Halo Waypoint. It's very well made, and Master Chief features prominently. Get watching.
A New Challenge
The Scanned Trailer was exec-produced by Hollywood director David Fincher, and sets the scene brilliantly. If we weren't convinced of the credentials of our new adversary, this live-action trailer dispels any lingering fears.
In our most recent preview Gillen McAllister got hands-on with three different missions. Two from the main story, the third lifted from the Spartan Ops co-op campaign. Campaign, multiplayer and co-op are set to include a variety of enemies (including, surprisingly, the Flood), modes, weapons and features, some familiar, others less so.
Infinity: Wargames and Spartan Ops
Whilst we look forward to the campaign, multiplayer is where the longevity rests, and in Halo 4 it comes in the all encompassing form of Infinity (here's our hands-on preview). Multiplayer is made up of two different strands: Wargames and Spartan Ops.
Spartan Ops is the most radical change to the online side of Halo. Weekly content drops will deliver a whole co-op campaign that intersects with events that transpire in the main story. If 343 can deliver meaningful content, this new mode will likely add a decent amount of longevity to the overall package.
Wargames is PvP multiplayer, and most strongly resembles the multiplayer found in Halo: Reach. That said, there are quite a few differences, the most prominent of which is the introduction of Specialisations. It's a new feature that will allow players to access a selection of different pathways when they reach Level 50 in multiplayer.
Each Specialisation unlocks different items as you move through ten additional levels. Once a path has been chosen, that Specialisation must be completed before players can change direction, so careful consideration will need to be made.
Wetwork and Pioneer will be available at launch, the rest of the classes will be made available gradually post-release, but only to those who pre-order the game (or purchase the limited edition). Here's a description of each of the new Specialisations (courtesy of Halo Waypoint):
Wetwork: Spartan optimization for stealth operations which focus on the elimination of an enemy target with the goal of leaving no tactical footprint behind. The Stealth armor mod allows users to move quickly and silently in combat, executing enemy assassinations with lightning fast dexterity.
Pioneer: Spartan optimization for deployment into uncharted, hostile territory, such as uncolonized worlds or Forerunner constructs like Requiem, for the purpose of gathering and relaying information. The Fast Track armor mod allows Spartans to gain more experiential data from each encounter, effectively ranking up quicker during the process. This Specialization will be available at launch.
Engineer: Spartan optimization for the subversion, repair, and or reconstitution of a wide range of technology, including Covenant and Forerunner complex networks. The Drop Recon armor mod allows users to predict the location and time of an ordnance drop through an external suborbital monitoring system.
Tracker: Spartan optimization for long-range target tracking (trans-continent and off-world), particularly in scenarios where conventional tracking has failed or such a substantial time has passed that the trail has gone cold. The Requisition armor mod allows users the ability to recall their own ordnance requests in order to acquire more helpful weapons in the field.
Rogue: Spartan optimization for single-operative missions which require a lone Spartan to be deployed on their own for incredibly long durations of time, even years if required. The Stability armor mod allows users to increase their aiming stability when being fired upon.
Stalker: Spartan optimization for target shadowing missions which require tactical invisibility despite operating at an extremely close range to the target itself. The Nemesis armor mod allows users to target and track down previous attacking enemies, highlighting them on the armor's passive sensors.
Pathfinder: Spartan optimization for deep, unconventional deployment within unknown enemy territory and with little to no assistance from command. The Gunner armor mod decreases the time of weapon overheat when occupying a vehicle weapon position and increases Spartan speed while carrying a detached turret.
Operator: Spartan optimization for the operation and control of a wide range of vehicles: space, air, ground, and sea. The Wheelman armor mod gives Spartans the ability to coax every bit of stamina and durability out of vehicles they are piloting.
You can see some older gameplay footage here. The most recent gameplay trailer takes us to Vortex, and shows two big teams going at it. And there's a new piece of tech waiting to be experimented with: meet the Mantis (though if we're honest, we're equally looking forward to revisiting Valhalla - the remake of the Halo 3 map featured in the Mantis trailer).
The Mantis isn't the only unfamiliar piece of kit we'll be seeing next week. With the introduction of a new race, the Prometheans, we're also set to receive a brand new selection of weapons to experiment with. This trailer succinctly demonstrates the range of Promethean weapons. But they're not the only fresh toys we'll be able to play with in the game, as old favourites (like the Battle Rifle) return and new models are introduced to the UNSC's collection. And don't forget the Covenant are there too, and their weaponry is as deadly as ever.
Interviews and Shows
We've got a healthy selection of interview and trade-show appearances for you to enjoy. We talk to Frank O'Connor and the game's Lead Designer. We've also got footage of Halo 4 on the road at Comic-Con, RTX 2012 and Halo Reborn at PAX.
A Hero Awakes is a documentary in which the new custodians of Halo discuss the Chief, his background, and how they went about redefining him for Halo 4. And here's an artistic trailer showing the folks over at 343 doing their thing.
The music for Halo 4 has been composed and produced by Neil Davidge of Massive Attack fame, and it was recorded at the famous Abbey Road Studios (he talks us through each track right here). The official soundtrack has already launched, but the launch of the limited edition (details can be found here) was pushed back to coincide with the launch of the game to due to an "exclusive content reveal."
Beyond that there's the usual selection of Halo-related merchandise. It's always worth taking a look at the McFarlane range of Halo collectible figurines, and there's also the smaller and more playful Megabloks range.
There's a growing collection of novels that support the franchise fiction. Most relevant at the moment is the recent Forerunner Trilogy by Greg Bear, which gives a lot of background to the events that transpire in Halo 4. Here's Amazon's collection of books and graphic novels (or for those who prefer audiobooks you can head here).
Depending on just how excited your are about the return of Master Chief, there are several levels of investment worth considering. For those seeking to spend lavishly, you need look no further than the Limited Edition 320GB console (on GAME's online store for £269.99) being released by Microsoft (the controller can also be purchased separately).
If that's a little bit too extravagant for your tastes, there's either the Standard Edition (around £40), or the mid-priced Limited Edition (between £60 and £70 depending where you shop), the latter of which comes complete with the following:
"War Games Map Pack Access - The Limited Edition includes access to nine maps - three future competitive multiplayer map packs, each including three locations, available for download post-launch on Xbox LIVE. (A detailed release schedule for the map packs will be announced at a later time)
Specialisations - Receive early access to six Specialisations, available at launch on Xbox LIVE, to achieve higher ranks in your Spartan career. In addition to gaining access to new ranks, Specialisations unlock new customisation options. Purchasers of the Halo 4 Limited Edition will get access on launch day, while others will have to wait as Specialisations are released over time.
The Limited Edition also contains the UNSC Infinity Briefing Packet, which includes an armour customisation schematic, a blueprint of the massive ship itself, and insight into what it means to be one of humanity's finest warriors: the Spartan-IVs.
Bonus digital content through Xbox LIVE:
Unique in-game Spartan-IV armour skin
Unique in-game weapon skin for the Assault Rifle
An exclusive in-game emblem
Xbox LIVE Avatar prop
Xbox LIVE Avatar Spartan-IV armour set
Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn Special Edition - An extended 90-minute version of the live-action digital series that will bring the Halo universe to life as you've never seen it, and provide an enthralling backstory leading up to the events of Halo 4.
Halo 4 Limited Edition also includes the following exclusive videos:
Bonus in-fiction content expanding the characters and stories of Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn
Special Featurette : Bringing Gaming into Reality
Making of Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn
There's a huge collection of screens and images flying around. Here's a selection of the best.