One of Microsoft’s biggest draws at this year’s E3 event simply has to be the latest outing for Master Chief, Halo 4.  With the hero’s return to the Xbox 360 set for November 6, the big “M” is going all out to push his latest adventure with developer 343 Industries.  The company recently invited us to go hands-on with the game during a private E3 2012 event last night in Los Angeles, giving us a test drive with the new digs.  We like ‘em.  A lot.

Though the single player campaign wasn’t available to try out, Halo 4 still had plenty to offer when it came to its multiplayer.  It provided two different kinds – co-op missions and competitive multiplayer, which most players will agree is the real source of depth for the series.  We’ll get to the cooperative first, as it involves a new component to the Halo saga – the Spartan Ops episodic content.

Shortly after the game launches, 343 will be prepping episodes for the Spartan Ops saga, and each one will be free of charge to download through the Xbox Live Gold subscription service.  These episodes will be tied together using a CG-animated story sequence, one that follows your career as a Spartan as you fight with fellow soldiers to complete certain objectives, such as clearing out a wave of Covenant enemies from a bunker or retrieving a special item in order to give your team the advantage in this ongoing war.

Though the mission we took on, The Cauldron, was quite short (we were done with it in about ten minutes), the co-op in Halo 4 feels spectacular with plenty of good team reliance and changing objectives.  Plus the checkpoints were fair as you respawned in a location close to your death, rather than all the way at the beginning.

Our rep saw us itching to play against other people, so we quickly moved onto checking out the new versus multiplayer, with a number of modes and maps available.  This has been handled particularly well by 343, and we got to see that first hand by running through Infinity Slayer modes, both in team and solo.

The first map, Haven, is a small one, ideal for quick battles and skirmishes (and not having to worry about taking down campers).  It’s also a great place to learn melee skills, especially if you have a plasma sword handy.

The second map, Adrift, was much, much bigger, with multiple levels taking place on a space freighter just within the distance of a nearby sun, so the stage is set aglow in certain spots, depending where you go.  This was a great stage when it came to using booster pads and tracking items.  Furthermore, if you perform well enough, you’ll unlock collectible goods including speed boosts and additional grenades.  Stock up while you can.

The game played like past Halo games, reliving any fears about the change in developer from Bungie (long-time makers of the Halo series, having moved onto Activision after Halo: Reach), but 343 shows they are up to the challenge.  It plays exactly like you'd want a new Halo game to play like, but with plenty of new surprises (did someone say Forerunner weapons?  Yes, I did).

Even though we do sort of miss Bungie, Halo 4 is definitely in good hands with 343 Industries, at least from what we’ve seen thus far.  Look for more impressions, including a glimpse at single player, in the months ahead, leading up to the game’s November 6th release date.