The last time a numbered entry in the Halo series was released, the whole world stopped. Well, certain parts of it did, anyway - New York's Times Square was taken over for a Microsoft-funded celebration, and in London Pharrel Williams headed up a party at BFI's IMAX cinema. When a new Halo launches, it's a big event.
The launch of Halo 4 this November is likely to be similar, although it's going to be a very different proposition. Bungie, the developer that created the series and made every mainline entry since 2001, has left Halo behind, leaving the Master Chief in the hands of the newly formed studio 343 Industries. Will this be a very different Halo, then?
Well, perhaps not - but that's not exactly a bad thing. 343's formed of veterans who are as in love with Halo's well-established formula as the millions of players on Xbox LIVE who've danced the Spartan's merry dance for countless hours. This is Halo as you likely know it - there's the same spongy movement and the same collection of weapons, both muscular and bizarre.
Wake Me... When You Need Me
It's the same, then, but it's oh-so-slightly different. The return of the hero Master Chief (ODST and Reach, the two games that preceded Halo 4, moved the spotlight to other, less iconic characters) is a momentous occasion in itself, and 343's seen fit to celebrate the moment with the finest looking Halo game yet. Indeed, it's probably the best looking game on the Xbox 360 to date, and given how the console's days are slowly ticking down it may be the best to ever grace it.
The opening level - a homage of sorts to the beginning of the very first Halo game, if you can remember that far back - sees the Chief rudely awaken from the hyper-sleep he entered at the end of Halo 3, working his way through the destroyed innards of the hulking spaceship Forward Unto Dawn.
Cool blue light rushes through the steel halls, occasionally lit by the most spectacular of explosions. Halo 4 feels more cinematic than its predecessors, and there's the creeping influence of Call of Duty in some of the first-person moments where control's wrestled away from you in a dimly interactive cut-scene.
Starting The Fight All Over Again
That's not to say that the free-form combat that's defined Halo - and that's made it such an incredible success - isn't there. It returns for Halo 4, and it returns in some style. The Covenant, Master Chief's arch-rivals with which an uneasy truce was made in the last game proper, make a mysterious return, but it's the introduction of some new enemies that really steals the show.
Prometheans are a new part of Halo's make-up, and they promise to be the trickiest, most challenging foes yet. They come in various shapes and sizes: there are Crawlers, small canine units that are easily disposed of. More troublesome are the Knights, the Promethean's answer to the Covenant Elites who possess the rather irritating ability to teleport across the stage. Knights are often flanked by Watchers, airborne units that can generate shields for their allies, and it's advisable to dispose of the Watchers first before clearing out the rest of the battlefield.
Returning To The Ring
It all makes for combat that's got a very different pace to earlier Halo games, and it results in a very different experience. Also helping distinguish Halo 4 is the new weaponry lent by the Prometheans - it's typically inventive, setting Halo further apart from more terrestrial shooters such as Call of Duty. Why spend your time online with a mere AK-47 when there's the option of using a plasma-spitting Promethean rifle?
Five years on from Halo 3's release, though, and it's going to have its work cut out to oust the likes of Modern Warfare and Black Ops from the hearts and minds of the shooter faithful. Halo 4 looks like it's got what it takes to do just that - and come November 6, it looks like the world will stop once more for the Master Chief.