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Halo 4: Why the trilogy ends on next-gen

Michael Gapper makes the case for why it's Microsoft's own Star Wars...

Halo 4 will bring Master Chief back from the dead, see Cortana start to lose the plot, and feature alien worlds the likes of which you've never seen on any console ever - where bitter wars between the Covenant and humanity are still raging.

Crucially, though, Halo 4 will still bring back the awesome sandbox action that made the original such a cult classic and - through Halo 5 and 6 (which have already been planned) - it'll carry the Xbox's biggest series into the next generation.

That's where all the evidence is pointing us based on Microsoft's reveal at E3 2011, careless dev quotes, and mini-leaks, which have seeped out this year... But it all starts with an ending. Just days after the release of Halo 3, Bungie became an independent studio in exchange for an unspecified sum and the promise of two new Halo games.

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This was 2007, and Bungie would hammer out ODST and Reach within three years, forcing Microsoft to hand Halo 4 on to a third party or build a new team from scratch. It's rumoured Gearbox were briefly in line for the job, having ported Halo CE to PC, but instead Microsoft took the same path that made Forza the world's best driving game and set about assembling a bespoke, all-star studio: 343 Industries.

Bungie's content manager Frank O'Connor was headhunted to oversee the Halo franchise, joining staff drawn from Gearbox, Kojima Productions, Treyarch, Lucasarts, id, Rockstar, 2K Marin and more. "We have the unique luxury that every one of the 200 people we hired came to the studio because they wanted to make a Halo game," says O'Connor, talking with Xbox World. "We're here to take ownership of a franchise and a universe that we all love."

The three new Halo games - informally christened the Reclaimer trilogy - are going to be more than a retread of former glories. "We have things to add. That's going to be one of the difficult transitions for fans of the Bungie games".

IN WITH THE OLD

Everyone already knows how Halo 4 will handle, after all. "It plays like Halo," says creative director Josh Holmes, speaking at August's Halofest event. "That was really important to us and we wanted to maintain that magical Halo feel. At the same time, it
was important for us to take risks and evolve the gameplay so it's fresh and different.

We had to maintain that commitment to the sandbox nature of Halo gameplay - making sure we're empowering players to make choices in how they approach each problem instead of giving them only one solution. That was one of the things we held at the core of everything we did." So far, so familiar.

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Those new sandbox battles will be deliberately like the ones fought in Halo, rather than the similar-yet-somehow-different firefights from Reach. "Halo's original campaign was kinda under-designed," says O'Connor. He means it as a compliment:

"You learn the sandbox at your own pace, and I kinda miss that. It's something I would like to see come back to the Halo universe. I sometimes feel that modern games are overdesigned - they funnel you into fights when really what you want to do is smell the roses. Halo used to let you do that. As it got more modern, it tended towards more defined encounters and experiences. Reach tries, I think successfully, to make you use all the elements of that sandbox in a very certain, rigorous, action-packed fashion."

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