As you may have noticed, US mag Game Informer dropped a shipload of Halo 4 details from orbit over the weekend. Rather than reporting on everything piecemeal, we've rounded up the pick of the new info for your attention. Happy browsing.
1. It runs on redesigned Halo: Reach technology
First things first: the techno-trappings. Rather than the proprietary engine 343 Industries built around Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary's recycled Bungie code, Halo 4 runs on a pimped-out, juiced-up Halo: Reach engine, equipped with new lighting and shader systems. It supports true HD 720p and Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing, for a smoother look, and animation fidelity has been kicked up a notch with new motion and performance capture. Combat Evolved Anniversary's multiplayer component also called on Halo: Reach technology, so 343's had plenty of practice with the code. Your jaw will be dropped.
2. The Covenant are back
Of course they are. 343 wants returning players to feel immediately at home when they pick up the pad, and what easier way to achieve that than by serving up a few familiar faces to blast? Master Chief awakens from cryosleep to find the human-Covenant ceasefire apparently broken, with the wrecked Forward Unto Dawn under siege by Elites, Jackals and Grunts. Struggle through to the vessel's hull, and you'll have the opportunity to gawp at an entire alien fleet. Except you won't, because Master Chief doesn't gawp. He merely looks upon things with an air of heroic reserve.
3. You'll get to kill ancient races
But the Covenant isn't the only, nor even the most serious threat. After leaving the Forward Unto Dawn via unknown means, you'll descend to the innards of the mysterious Requiem facility. Constructed umpteen millennia ago, Requiem is basically a massive, heavily shielded time capsule; it's a Dyson Sphere enclosing an artificial planet, populated by lifeforms thought destroyed when the Forerunners unleashed the Halo ring network against the rampaging Flood. Naturally, not all those lifeforms will be friendly. 343 says we can expect a new, more complex and intelligent enemy faction - founded, like the Covenant, on relations between unit types that players can exploit, but considerably more testing. You may even end up sticking it to the Forerunners themselves. After all, they've waged war on humanity before.
4. The story-telling has moved on
A modest touch, this, but Halo 4's cinematic direction is a lot less disruptive. A majority of cutscenes take place in first-person, and you'll retain control (over the camera, for instance) during certain chinwags.
5. Planet-sized caves are the new Halos
Thanks to Requiem's unique architecture, Combat Evolved's famous skybox has given way to something equally far-fetched but a lot more, shall we say, cosy. In place of a tapering loop of Forerunner geography, you've got an omnipresent ceiling. Huge, sculpted stalactite-type structures stab down at a boggling primeval fastness. Bring your inner anthropologist.
6. You'll have to save Cortana from herself
As we theorised, Cortana's possible descent into Rampancy - the volatile penultimate stage of an AI's life cycle - will be a crucial component of Halo 4's plot. "It's about finally moving their relationship beyond the realm of video game exposition," comments O'Connor, not very informatively. "And what it really means to have your only friend be more human than you, but be an artificial intelligence. And what it means to your place in the universe to be put into a position where you have to deal with her Rampancy. You literally rescue her in Halo 3, but her jeopardy was geographical rather than existential." Halo 4: Analyse This Mode confirmed.