We're just days away from the launch of Halo 4 and the fate of Microsoft's precious franchise lies in the hands of 343 Industries, an untested studio that has a whole lot of expectation to live up to. Our review for the game goes live later this week—November 1st to be exact—but before we give you our final verdict on the Chief's fourth adventure, let's take a look back at the earlier installments surrounding this iconic hero.
Since both Halo 3: ODST and Halo Wars don't offer much by way of set up for Halo 4, we won't bother delving into either of those titles. We're also going to be looking at these games in chronological order so we can provide you the most easily digestible rundown. As one might expect, we will be discussing SPOILER-filled content, so please keep that in mind. But before we get into the actual games, let's take a quick look at some of the major players…
Cortana – This purple AI is Robin to Master Chief's Batman. With a mind-boggling level of knowledge, she serves as an incredible asset to not only John-117, but also the UNSC as a whole. Despite the fact that she's not an actual living being, she has an incredibly close relationship with John. Weird, we know. As one of many "smart" AIs, Cortana is based on the brain of another and begins to deteriorate after seven years of existence (rampancy). In her case, she is built off the brain of Dr. Halsey. Speaking of which…
Catherine Halsey – Not only does this woman possess the mind that Cortana is based on, she is also the UNSC scientist behind the Spartan-II program. If you put the pieces together, you'll soon realize that yes, she is the one to blame for the abduction of John and many other innocent children like him who were then bred to be killing machines—that is, if they managed to survive the training and augmentations. Regardless of her morally ambiguous pursuits, it was thanks to her that humanity could rely on super-soldiers to defend them from the existing perils that threaten their existence.
Jacob (Miranda) Keyes – As Captain of the UNSC, Jacob Keyes is an integral character in Halo: Combat Evolved. Before this, he was the Lieutenant who accompanied Dr. Halsey as she searched for suitable children to steal for the Spartan-II program. After rising the ranks, he became that Captain of the Pillar of Autumn, the ship that the Master Chief awakens on during the Covenant attack in the first installment in the series. He unfortunately faces a grueling fate… but we'll get to that. He has a daughter with Catherine Halsey named Miranda, who goes on to serve as a prominent leader in the UNSC.
Avery Johnson – Sergeant Johnson is undoubtedly the most memorable marine in all of Halo. This wise-cracking loudmouth of a soldier fights alongside the Chief in his pursuit against the Covenant and Flood. Created by Bungie as sort of a stereotypical, cigar-smoking soldier of African decent, Johnson is a bit one-dimensional, but adds a fun level of comedy and whimsy to a sometimes dark and sci-fi heavy plot. He sadly falls victim to the insidious Forerunner AI Guilty Spark, but we'll get to that.
The Covenant (and the Arbiter AND the Prophets) – The main antagonists of the Halo series, the Covenant, are marked by strong religious beliefs that motivate them to activate the Halo rings. Their religious leaders—the Prophets—guide the alien race in their quest to do so, calling it "The Great Journey." When one specific Elite soldier fails to stop the Master Chief (known by them as the "Demon") in destroying a Halo, he is sentenced to embark on a suicide mission as the Arbiter. To make a long story short, things don't turn out quite like the Covenant planned—again, we'll address that a bit later on.
The Flood (and the Gravemind) – This parasitic alien lifeform wreaks havoc on any and all life it comes across. The ancient civilation known as Forerunners were forced to wipe out themselves and all sentient life in the galaxy in an effort to effectively starve these horrifying creatures. Little good that did. In fact, the Halos were created for the sole purpose of keeping these guys at bay. The Gravemind is their leader of sorts, who serves as a central intelligence hub for the horrifying creatures.
The Forerunners (343 Guilty Spark) – We don't know a whole lot about this ancient civilization, but their handiwork strewn throughout the galaxy gives us clues on their existence. One such remnant is 343 Guilty Spark, a mischievous Forerunner AI that often proves to me more of a hinderance than an asset. He refers to the Master Chief as "Reclaimer" throughout the games, which is (not so) coincidentally the name of the new trilogy of games 343i is creating.
Next: The epic fight for the survival of all mankind begins…
The story begins (as far as the games go anyway) on the planet Reach, centered around a group of Spartans called Noble Team—no, the Chief is not part of the group, he's just chillin' aboard the Pillar of Autumn LIKE A BOSS. As Noble Six, you and your team investigate a downed communications center. Soon after, you run into the Covenant—big surprise—and that's when things start to heat up. After fending off a healthy amount alien forces, the group meets up with Dr. Halsey (you remember her) and find out that the Covenant are in pursuit of a valuable piece of intel.
The big, bad aliens refuse to let up, and when a massive Covenant carrier pulls overhead, Nobel Six and Jorge (one of the other Spartans on Nobel team) attempt to take it down. After an awesome space battle, the two make it onto the ship with a bomb. Unfortunately, the timer on the explosive doesn't work, so Jorge offers to sacrifice himself and detonate the bomb. Very sad.
Nobel Six lands back on Reach, all alone and clearly distraught at the loss of his friend. Finding himself in New Alexandria in the middle of an evacuation, the heroic Spartan aids in the effort. In doing so, he meets back up with the rest of the crew when the Covenant start to wipe out the city. Sadly, another member of the team, Kat, bites the dust after getting blasted in her dome piece by a sniper shot. Ouch.
The group is then directed by Halsey to travel to a secret underground location that houses what she believes to be the key to taking down the Covenant: Cortana. It's then up to Noble Six and what remains of the group to safely transport Cortana to the Pillar of Autumn. Along the way, a team member goes with Halsey, another dies, yada yada yada. After being the one to get the AI to Captain Keyes, Six makes the "noble" decision (har har) to stay behind and clear the sky for a swift escape. The game ends with Nobel Six fighting endless waves of Elites and Grunts until he finally collapses to his death. EPIC.
Despite being the first entry in the series, Halo: Combat Evolved takes place immediately following the events of Halo: Reach. After the Pillar of Autumn manages to escape the slew of Covenant on Reach thanks to Noble Six (may he rest in peace), they are ambushed by a Covenant fleet after exiting slipspace. Yes, these aliens are persistent little buggers. Captain Keyes orders that the Master Chief be woken from cryo-sleep to aid in holding back the alien ambush. The Chief, with Cortana plugged into the back of his helmet, fights off as many Elites and Grunts as possible before having no choice but to evacuate via an escape pod to a nearby ring structure we later find out is a Halo.
Captain Keyes manages to survive the ambush but is held captive by the Covenant. Naturally, it is up to John-117 to rescue the fearless leader, so aboard a Covenant ship known as Truth and Reconciliation he goes. After rescuing Captain Keyes, the Chief and Cortana make their way to Halo's control room to determine the purpose of this massive structure. After entering Cortana into the system, the Chief is told to leave and find Keyes, who ends up falling victim to the Flood, which the Covenant have managed to release accidentally. Not good.
This then triggers the release of Halo's AI monitor, 343 Guilty Spark, who instructs Chief to find something called the Index, which is capable of stopping the spread of the Flood. The Spartan manages to find the Index, but is stopped by Cortana from activating it after she finds out that doing so will wipe out all life in the galaxy. In an effort to prevent the activation of the Halo, the Chief and Cortana blow the entire thing up. Not an easy task, but let's face it, John-117 is no ordinary soldier.
Next: The Arbiter joins the fray as the Covenant's religious quest continues…
Taking place shortly after the destruction of Halo, Halo 2 starts off with the trial of an Elite commander who is being prosecuted for failing to stop the Master Chief from destroying the ring. After being tortured by Brutes, he is sentenced to a suicide mission as the Arbiter. Meanwhile, the Chief and Sergeant Johnson accept awards for their work in stopping the activation of Halo (Miranda Keyes accepts one as well on behalf of her father). The celebration is cut short when the UNSC learns that the Covenant are headed to Earth and the Prophet of Regret is with them.
The Chief heads to New Mombasa, Kenya to deal with the Covenant, only to have Regret make a swift escape after most of his forces are taken out. Naturally, John, Keyes, Johnson, and the rest of the gang chase after him. They make their way to yet another Halo—yes, there are more than one—and realize they need to squash the danger that this massive ring presents.
While the Chief hunts down and murders the Prophet of Regret, Keyes and Johnson chase down the Index. As all of this is going on, the Arbiter sets out on a mission to take out various heretics at the request of the High Prophets and stumbles across 343 Guilty Spark. The Elite soldier then gets wind that Regret is in trouble and heads out to aid him, but is too late. The death of the Prophet creates discord among the Covenant and the Brutes are appointed their new protectors.
The Arbiter then hunts down the Index, Miranda Keyes, and Sergeant Johnson; however, his victory is short-lived when the Brute leader Tartarus reveals that they have been ordered to take out all the Elites and sends him falling to his almost certain death. Coincidentally, the alien invasion caused the Chief to fall into a lake and be captured by Gravemind, who also manages to capture the falling Arbiter. The massive Flood leader reveals the truth about the destructive capabilities of the Halos and sends the two out on a quest to stop its activation.
John-117 is transported to the alien ship High Charity where a Covenant civil war has broken out. With both the Chief and the Arbiter distracted, the Gravemind spreads, overrunning the Covenant, taking out the Prophet of Mercy. The final remaining prophet, Truth then orders Tartarus to take the Index, Miranda, Johnson, and 343 to activate the ring, and escapes aboard a Forerunner ship. The Chief follows him on the flying vessel, leaving Cortana behind to take out High Charity.
The Arbiter, now on Halo's surface, makes his way to the control room and manages to kill Tartarus after he's activated the ring. Miranda removes the Index, leaving all of the Halos in the galaxy in standby mode, ready for activation via "the Ark". In one of the most excruciating endings ever, we are left with the Chief hitching a ride on the ship, promising to finish the fight.
The third chapter in Chief's story begins with John-117 crashing in Africa, who is soon found by the Arbiter and Sergeant Johnson. After fighting their way through the jungle, they meet up at a nearby USNC military base where they discuss their plans to stop the Prophet of Truth from activating a Forerunner artifact in New Mombasa. They make their way to stop the Prophet but are too late, as the activation of the artifact triggers the opening of a slipspace portal which Truth makes his escape through. At the same time, a Flood-infested vessel crashes to Earth's surface containing a message from Cortana, which prompts the entire crew (John, Miranda, Johnson, 343, etc.) to follow Truth through the portal.
On the other side, they find Truth getting ready to activate the Ark, which will in turn trigger the activation of all the Halos. The Flood infest the scene and create total chaos. Johnson is captured by Truth because a human is required to activate the Ark. Miranda is killed in her attempt to rescue him, and Johnson is forced to activate the rings. The Arbiter and Chief forge an alliance with Gravemind, and they proceed to overwhelm the Covenant forces as the Arbiter takes out Truth.
The Gravemind then turns on them and the crew finds out that the Ark is constructing a replacement Halo to make up for the one the Chief destroyed. John decides to activate this Halo in order to deal with the Flood infestation on the Ark, which means rescuing Cortana who still has the original Activation Index. When they land on the Halo-in-progress, they make their way to the control room, but Guilty Spark tries to protect this ring, as activating it prematurely would destroy the Halo itself and the Ark. When Johnson tries to activate it anyway, 343 kills the Sergeant, leaving the Chief and Arbiter no choice but to take the cute, little AI out.
They then activate the ring and try to make a quick escape on the Forward Unto Dawn. Unfortunately, it gets caught as the slip spaceportal collapses, leaving the Chief and Cortana behind, while the Arbiter returns safely to Earth. With the Chief and Cortana thought to be dead, now aimlessly floating in space, the Spartan decides to enter into cryo-sleep telling the purple AI to wake him when needed. At the conclusion of the legendary ending, we see the ship drifting to a giant metal planet which will undoubtedly play a major role in the events of Halo 4.
So… who's pumped and ready to jump into Halo 4?