It’s been nine years since Microsoft was nearly scoffed off stage at E3 for announcing a game featuring a “cybernetic warrior from the future.” But we all know what happened next. Halo: Combat Evolved defined a generation with the finest shooter ever made and when Halo 2 landed, Xbox Live became a frenetic community of potty-mouthed millions practically overnight. Master Chief was a big, swinging dong

So here we go again: a prequel this time, with you playing the role of supersoldier Noble 6 helping planet Reach to fend off the irksome Covenant. Except this time Bungie Studios, the developers who are moving onto new projects, won’t be leaving anything behind. This is their final fight, the game they want to be remembered for. With the game shitting shelves today, FHM speaks to director Brian Jarrard and campaign designer Niles Sankey about their masterpiece…

First things first: tell us about the new weapons?

Niles: It was important for us to retain what worked for the fans throughout the franchise. So the old favourites the pistol and the assault rifle are still there, but then at the other end of the scale we ‘ve got the target locator. You can paint an entire squad with laser targeting then have them destroyed by an orbital bombardment. It can be pretty crazy. It’s the exact opposite of something that’s fun and precise. It’s big and messy and just kills everything. It’s a massive impact weapon.

Brian: I love the target locator but I keep going back to the pistol. It’s such a great throwback to the first game and if you use it right it’s almost unbeatable from long range and close range. It really rewards clever players.

And what’s the bravest decision you made during development?

Niles: That’s a good question. Honestly, with a lot of the Halo games and especially this one it’s hard to point to one thing. I know that’s a bit of a cop out but I’d say right off the bat that the new Forge world was one of the bravest things we did. It’s a giant, expansive level that you can spend literally hours designing yourself. But then there’s also space combat and jet packs. What other game can take you from the surface of a planet all the way up to orbital firefights? We take every part of the game and push it as hard as we can – almost to the breaking point.

Brian: Another one would be that we’ve continued to support split-screen play. Hardly any games do that anymore and from a technical level it’s pretty challenging. With Xbox Live, some people would argue that it’s not even necessary, but for us it was really important. We wanted to maintain that tradition of sitting on the couch together and have some drinks. As great as Xbox Live is, it’s still not the same as being able to punch the guy next to you!

Halo: Reach multiplayer footage

The gameplay is as awesome as ever, but does the campaign have a cool storyline too?

Brian: Well in Halo: ODST you got to see more of a human side to the universe. Master Chief, cool as he was, was a bit of an empty vessel. We really want the players to identify with the characters in this story, so we’ve got new voice acting technology, facial animation, lip-syncing and the most believable human performances we’ve ever had. There’s a lot at stake for them and ultimately, when this planet does fall, we want that to matter.

Halo jetpacks

And tell us about the space combat?

Brian: There’s a mission that’s reminiscent of a beloved level from Halo: Combat Evolved. You storm a beach and fight your way up to a launch facility, get in this spacecraft called the Sabre and seamlessly launch into space. The next thing you know, you’re in a swarm of space combat that rivals any big Star Wars on-screen moment. It’s pretty awesome, but it’s just one of a whole variety of different new experiences that await.

Niles: Yep, the story beats in that mission are very emotional. I’m really excited for people seeing it for the first time.

Halo Reach space combat

You’re going head to head with Call of Duty: Black Ops. What would you say to people who say they’re only going to play Black Ops?

Brian: I’d say that Reach is - honestly - the dog’s bollocks. It’s the best game we’ve ever made, with all the lessons we’ve learned along the way put into development. We went back to the beginning to identify the key attributes that defined this series and you’ll feel that when you play the game. You’re on the beach again, you’re fighting against Elites again, but there’s a whole new strategy and depth to it.

Niles: For me, the customisation of armour is a game-changer. You can collect your credits, build up your Spartan in so many different ways as you go along and take him online.

Is there a Batman suit?

Niles: Er...

Halo: Reach is out now