Halo 4 is one of the most anticipated video games — let alone first-person shooters — of 2012, and franchise publisher Microsoft is preparing the release of what it calls “the year’s biggest entertainment event” by with a midnight release at 10,000 stores.

The Xbox 360 games debuts with as much hoopla as the release of a major Hollywood movie. It features Master Chief and Cortana, who haven’t been in a Halo game for five years with Halo 3. Microsoft’s strategy is to create enough excitement to elevate Halo’s fandom to the point in which you’ll feel left out if you’re not part of it.

Check out our game review by Rus McLaughlin and my own column on the romance of Master Chief and Cortana. We also interviewed the game’s technical director and its creative director.

Stores in 40 countries are opening their doors at midnight. And not without good cause. Since 2001, the Halo series has sold more than 46 million copies and generated more than $3 billion in sales. Halo 3 debuted in 2007 and sold more than 11.5 million copies. The last three Halo games — Halo Wars, Halo 3: ODST, and Halo: Reach — did not feature Master Chief.

Halo 4 carries some risks. Franchise creator Bungie did not develop it; it has moved on to creating a new fictional universe, with Microsoft’s new game studio 343 Industries taking over on Halo.

Celebration events will occur at the University Village Microsoft Store in Seattle as well as in 30 other major cities.

“The launch of ‘Halo 4’ is a prominent entertainment event and we’re thrilled to be partnering with Microsoft to host midnight celebrations across the country,” said GameStop president Tony Bartel. “Our community is anxiously awaiting the return of Master Chief, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Halo 4 will be one of the biggest games of the year.”

In Europe, more than 700 midnight openings are planned. In Germany, Microsoft’s Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn live-action film will debut in full in screenings in Hamburg, Berlin, and Frankfurt. Halo 4 will also be showcased at the Paris Games Week show in France and in a stunt event between the O2 Stadium and Tower Bridge on the Thames River in London.

Halo 4 features the return of Master Chief as he confronts an ancient evil that threatens the universe as well as his need to save his artificial intelligence companion, Cortana. The competition will be stiff as gamers have plenty of other ways to spend their money this fall. Halo 4 is going up against such big games as Call of Duty: Black Ops II on Nov. 13 as well as the launch of the Wii U game console on Nov. 18.

What do you think? Take our poll below for what you believe will be the top entertainment event of the year.