When Halo 4 was first officially revealed at E3 2011, the epic announcement trailer teased an entirely new storyline for Master Chief – allowing the team at 343 Industries to drastically change-up existing plot and gameplay elements. The developer has been very careful about honoring Bungie’s creation, as well as the larger canon mythology, but (as with any long-running series) 343 also needed freedom to move the franchise in a fresh direction.

While 343 is very clear about where they intend to take Halo in the coming years, possibly through Halo 7, 8, and 9, they’re also not afraid to revisit some of Bungie’s best inventions. New screenshots reveal that as 343 introduces fresh elements, such as a mech vehicle (the Mantis), they’re also reaching back into the Halo canon, reintroducing The Flood parasites for multiplayer, in order to provide as many engaging gameplay possibilities as possible.

The first three Halo titles relied heavily on the zombie-like gameplay and narrative elements provided by The Flood, parasitic organisms that could infect, and subsequently control, humans and other sentient life forms. Back in 2001, when Halo: Combat Evolved was first introduced, the creatures served a specific gameplay function – to provide stronger, more resilient, and diversified variations of established enemy types. However, after three Master Chief-centric game appearances by the creatures (not to mention as a Halo Wars faction), The Flood began to look more like a franchise hold-over – without any significant evolution or story function.

While some players enjoyed the parasites’ final campaign appearance in Halo 3, many gamers were ready to see the franchise move on – or, at the very least, significantly mix-up The Flood format. 343 Industries listened and promised that, while Halo 4 follows the events of the prior trilogy, the new installment wouldn’t actually include The Flood as campaign enemy types. However, when a new image of revamped Flood infectees appeared online, gamers began to wonder if the enemies might actually make a return after all.

However, CVG reports that, as promised, The Flood will not appear in the campaign but will be included as part of a multiplayer mode, “Flood,” which is a variation of Halo‘s long-running “Infection” game type. In Halo 4, the Flood variant is a 10 player mode where two gamers start out as Flood troops and attempt to spread the infection to the remaining competitors.

Details are still scarce on the “Flood” game variant but, whether or not the inclusion of the characters is just a fun (cosmetic) fan-service nod, or a core design element that hints at a deeper “Infection” game type, the updated models are definitely cool looking. In-campaign interest in The Flood may have worn thin over the years but, if “Flood” is purely cosmetic, the parasitic enemy type could still lend itself to an enjoyable change of pace in Halo 4‘s Spartan Ops – fingers crossed.

Check out the Halo 4 Flood below (along with images of new vehicles, the Mammoth armored transport and Mantis mech, as well as sneak peeks at improved character designs, multiplayer armor customizations, etc):

Fans who appreciated The Flood “twist” in the original Halo game might be worried that 343 Industries intends to turn Master Chief and Company into just another military shooter clone. In some cases, established franchises have significantly switched up their format in an attempt to appeal to the enormous Call of Duty customer base – Capcom has previously stated that the survival horror market was too small for Resident Evil.

That said, in a recent with CVGHalo franchise development director, Frank O’Connor, reassured fans that even though the studio is making changes to the series, “We haven’t tried to chase that tail. Those games are good for specific reasons, and Halo is good for a different set of specific reasons […] I think the closest we’ve come to that conversation about Call of Duty, is that we wanted to have an amazing player progression experience that wasn’t just aesthetics.

Given the look of that mech in the screenshots, it’d be a lot easier to draw comparisons between Halo and the Metal Gear (or possibly Mass Effect) series. Kidding aside, Halo 4 is shaping up to be a worthy followup – and, assuming they pull it off, the 343 team will have walked a very fine line between what came before and planning for Halo‘s future. The studio’s focus on delivering the best Halo game experience possible is definitely encouraging and, despite a lot of trepidation during the Bungie-343 handoff, it’s hard to imagine that fans will ultimately be disappointed by the final result.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for further updates on Halo 4 as well as other movie, TV, and gaming news.

Halo 4 launches on November 6th, exclusively for Xbox 360.

Source: All Games Beta [via CVG] & CVG