Release of sci-fi favourite will probably result in several sick days across the UAE. Read our interview with one of the games developers and check out the trailer of the new Halo 4 game.
Busting out of hibernation and back into business Halo 4 reaches UAE
He's been lost in space since 2007, but tomorrow finally marks the return of Master Chief, the green-suited protagonist from Microsoft's stupidly successful (like, around 50 million copies sold successful) sci-fi shooter series, Halo. With Halo 4 - billed as "the biggest entertainment launch of 2012, in any medium" by one excitable website - now on the shelves, we talk to the game's executive producer Kiki Wolfkill to see what the man in the mask has been up to.
A bit of background please
We don't have anywhere near the required space to go into the Halo series' increasingly convoluted storyline. Suffice to say it involves futuristic human colonies on far-flung planets, enhanced super-soldiers, gigantic floating megastructures, alien alliances and eye-wincing arsenals of intergalactic weaponry. Master Chief, the man behind the orange visor and involved in much of the action (although he didn't appear in a couple of more recent offshoot games) was last seen floating into space aboard the wreckage of the frigate Forward Unto Dawn in the finale of 2007's Halo 3. But now, at long last, he's been awoken from hibernation.
Change of management
Not only is Halo 4 the first instalment in a new saga entitled the Reclaimer Trilogy, but it's also the first to be developed by 343 Industries, the US-based games production house especially created by Microsoft to take charge of Halo after the original developer Bungie split from the company in 2007. "It's been the biggest challenge I've ever taken on," says Wolfkill, a veteran of the gaming industry for more than 16 years and with credits including Project Gotham Racing, Gears of War, Mass Effect and numerous others to her name. "It's been a really crazy ride, a pretty intense three years."
The development of Master Chief
He's never seen without his mask and is a man of very few words, but the cybernetically enhanced supersoldier Master Chief Petty Office John-117 is as famous in video game land as Mario, Sonic and, er, the four-by-one Tetris block. While his faceless demeanour and silent nature might make personality expansion something of a struggle, efforts have been made in Halo 4 to create a more rounded figure. "We definitely wanted to give him a little more dimensionality," says Wolfkill. "If you read any of the extended fiction, there's so much more that you can understand about him that you don't necessarily get in the game." Wolfkill and her team worked extensively on Master Chief's personal story, particularly his relationship with the AI character Cortana, and the audio to enhance players' understanding of the character. "Hopefully they'll realise that there's a human under the suit."
Got your tickets to the gun show?
According to Wolfkill, Halo 4 has the biggest arsenal of weapons so far, with the addition of the new enemy, the Promethians, helping to expand the range of weaponry. "The thing about Promethian weapons, aside from their unique look, is that they all have interesting secondary fire," she says, adding that her personal favourite is the Scattershot, a shotgun whose blast has a ricochet behaviour. "So it can be very effective in close quarters," she says. There's also the Mantis, a new mech vehicle laden with guns. "It's enormously fun to play and even more fun when you take one down. It's very satisfying."
Keeping everybody happy
With Halo having grown from its humble origins as a mere first-person shooter to an all-encompassing juggernaught spanning novels, comics, toys and numerous other brand extensions, it must be difficult to please all fans, especially when there's the added drive to attract new gamers to the franchise. "It's certainly hard trying to move in any direction without some part of the audience feeling like it might not be the right thing to do," admits Wolfkill. "Part of the difficulty is that we have a really diverse audience, from those who are only interested in the campaigns to those only interested in competitive multiplayer. But we're definitely motivated to bring in new players. Halo is now 10 years old and there are players now who weren't around when the first one came out."
The early signs
It's fair to say a lot is resting on Halo 4 to keep the momentum of what's regarded as the Xbox's "killer app" going and show there's still life in the old console yet (it's likely to be the last in the franchise before the third generation is launched). Thankfully, the early signs are good and the game holds a rating of 89/100 on the Metacritic website. Master Chief may have been lost in space for a few years, but thanks to Wolfkill and her colleagues at 343 (named after a Halo character, naturally), the green armoured one appears to be back in business.
Halo 4 is out now, priced at Dh249 or Dh375 for the limited edition (which includes a 90-minute version of the live-action digital series Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn)