For millions of video game fans, the name Master Chief is all they need to hear to know they're in for hours of intense game play. And for years, through iteration after iteration, the Halo franchise has kept those fans glued to their Xboxes.
This holiday season, fans will get yet another crack at the world of Spartans, the Covenant, and John-117: Halo 4.
At its annual Spring Xbox Showcase last week, Microsoft gave the video game press their first look at game play from the next version of one of the industry's all-time best-selling games. And this time, said developers from 343 Industries, the game studio that has taken over stewardship of the franchise from longtime Halo developers Bungie, the game will take a deep dive into looking at Master Chief's humanity.
According to Frank O'Connor, 343 Industries' Halo franchise development director, Halo 4 will introduce players to new threats beyond anything Master Chief has faced before, and the game will feature far more assets than any other Halo game.
But everything 343 has done with the game was designed to move the franchise forward, and to make it bigger and more innovative, and to give players more Halo than they've ever had before, O'Connor said. Halo 4 has to satisfy old fans, and bring in new ones, he added.
Yet while 343 looks at what they're building with Halo 4 as a "reinvention of Halo," said Kiki Wolfkill, the game's executive producer, it's not the kind of reboot, or "origin story" that Hollywood likes to tell with superheroes like Spider Man or Batman. Halo 4 simply picks up where 2007's Halo 3 left off.
Wolfkill said that the idea with Halo 4 was to give players a very visceral and immersive first-person shooter experience where they can "experience the strength and athleticism that Master Chief embodies."
For now, 343 isn't showing much of the game. In a behind-the-scenes demo, the studio showed only brief snippets from the game, and just a couple of minutes that revealed two of the game's maps, Warhouse and Wraparound.
Fans desperate to play the game will have to wait to hear more.
Kinect Star Wars
Another all-Kinect title on display at the showcase was the latest from LucasArts, Kinect Star Wars.
Available April 3, the new game "brings 'Star Wars' to live like never before," a fact sheet reads. "Harnessing the controller-free power of Kinect...[the game] allows fans to physically hone their Jedi skills, wield the power of the Force in their hands, pilot iconic ships and vehicles, rampage as a vicious Rancor monster, or even dance with iconic 'Star Wars' characters. Using full body motions, players can live out the ultimate 'Star Wars' fantasy to use the Force, battle with a lightsaber, and more."
The new "Star Wars" game features several different experiences, including Jedi Master training, Pod racing, Rancor rampaging, one-on-one lightsaber duels against the Dark Side, and even a dancing game.
The game is expected to cost $50.
There are few video game designers more accomplished than Lionhead Studios' Peter Molyneux, creator of Black & White and the Fable series. At the Xbox showcase, Molyneux was on hand to personally demo the latest version of that series, Fable: The Journey.
The game is one of several that are coming out this year that don't use the Xbox's standard controller at all. Instead, the new Fable relies entirely on players' use of the Kinect motion controller. Set to come out some time in 2012, it's a fully-functional role-playing game, Molyneux said.
The game "immerses you in a role-playing experience like never before with a deep storyline and a slew of compelling characters and creatures," Lionhead's fact sheet for the game reads. "In this action-packed adventure, you'll develop a lasting bond with your horse through an emotion-filled journey that will uncover the mystery behind Theresa, who has appeared in all previous game in the franchise."
Because the game does away with the standard Xbox controller, players have a wide range of ways of controlling the game, and because Molyneux is a big fan of "discovery," there is no tutorial. Instead, the game rewards experimentation, and those who put in the time will find that they have access to very subtle ways of attacking, defending, interacting with the things around them, and much more.
Other games and updates
At the showcase, Microsoft and its publisher partners had many other games on display as well, including some that have already been released but which have various forms of expansions or new content coming out this year.
Among the other titles that were being shown were Forza Motorsport 4--which will feature a new 10-car pack and some general updates, both of which will be released on March 6. As well, this May, a new Porsche expansion set will be available to FM4 players that will give them access to 30 Porsche cars, and 20 new events. Finally, there will be an all-new game this fall: Forza Horizon, from Playground Games.
Other titles on display including Mass Effect 3 (new Kinect integration); Steel Battalion Heavy Armor (first hands-on with new game content including heavy Kinect integration); Gears of War 3 (first hands-on with "Forces of Nature" map pack); and many others.