Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Microsoft Ditches the Best Halo Games, Or; Scraping a Personality From Where There is None

Halo 5: Guardians, apart from continuing the current trend for everything with a title needing a colon, looks set to continue the story of the Xbox Mascot, Master Chief. Why has this quite literally faceless space marine become so popular, and why has Microsoft cut ties with the two finest instalments in the series, purely because they don’t feature The Big Green Dude?

  As Halo 5 draws ever nearer, and I start to slowly chant the Halo theme music louder and louder every time Chapman goes near me, there is a planned HD-Remaster of all the Master Chief Halo games to be released as a fun bundle. Apart from questioning whether Halo 4 really needs a HD remake already, this bundle ditches my two favourite Halo games, Halo: ODST and Halo: Reach

Contemporary Media: More colons than a proctology ward

Their reasoning is that these games do not feature Master Chief, therefore aren’t part of his story. I mean, come on, his story is essentially “Master Chief, he sees the aliens! Then he shoots the aliens and with the help of his best friends and some crazy old technology he makes them go away!” And yeah, I know there’s all sorts of stuff in between; The Flood, The Ark, The Librarian, The Composer, The Noun, The Other Noun, New Mombasa, Cortana etc. These plot elements tend to be more of a way to move Master Chief around to the next set of brightly-coloured baddies. I’m not complaining, Halo is a goddamn masterpiece of space opera spectacle and melodrama, I’m a big fan of that stuff it’s why I also love Mass Effect and Star Wars so much.

Joke about the prequels and headaches, I dunno.

But until the recent games, Master Chief wasn’t exactly a brilliant character. Yeah, he had the odd quip or one liner, but in general the guy was just a killing machine with a gravelly voice. It was only in Halo 3 that he started to say stuff more and even then it was not until the next instalment that there would be much emotion or conflict in the character. By pretending that Master Chief has some brilliant over-arching backstory contained wholly within those games isn’t entirely accurate. For the most part, he’s just a gun on legs, or occasionally wheels. Perhaps that is part of his appeal, there is nothing complicated about him. He is just fighting the good fight, with guts and guns, a real American hero. He could be anyone in a suit of armour and equipped with a plasma launcher. The ultimate wish-fulfillment character, bland enough you can imagine yourself as them yet likeable enough you don't hate them. He's hardly Mario or Sonic, a mascot for a different age of gaming. 

As gaming matured and adapted to a wider audience, the plots of the old generations seemed to be abandoned as 'childish' or lacking appeal. Maybe this was a good decision, as the Lord of Serious Games, Call of Duty, is estimated at being worth $3 billion, more than many countries. Perhaps Master Chief is symbolic of the changes that the gaming industry had to go through in order to grow into the huge market it is today? I dunno, this is getting very deep for a game about shooting aliens with pink needles.

Because Halo has also had a big focus on “the bigger picture”. Halo 3 had the nifty terminals which you would plug your face into and be treated to some cryptic text from an argument between millennia-old AI constructs. ODST had all sorts of story stuff hidden in the background; collectable audio logs, graffiti, set pieces and environmental clues. Reach has these datapads you can only get from specific enemies, on specific levels, on specific difficulties. The sheer volume of extraneous media outside the games, from books to comics to that series Forward Unto Dawn to the animes. A great deal of Master Chief’s backstory and character development comes from these non-game sources. His childhood and relationships etc. cannot be gleaned from the games alone. Therefore, cutting two big sections of the “canon” so to speak from a series where actual plot arcs are a bit thin on the ground feels a bit like a cop-out.
Plot arcs were sacrificed for burning wreckage gracefully arcing through the air

Halo: ODST is a sort-of spin-off of Halo 3; where you play as an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (bit like Space Marines from 40k but not as armoured or religious) digging through the ruins of New Mombasa, an occupied African mega-city after your drop goes wrong oozed atmosphere. Apart from being directly related to the events of Halo 3 (your pod is broken because of an enemy ship jumping away which Master Chief is following) it builds up the world outside the energy shielded eight foot tall war machine. Your character is just a guy, a very well-trained guy, but still a normal human. You can’t run as fast, jump as high, hit as hard or take as much damage. 

It was a really interesting take on the universe and provided a whole new perspective on the conflict it was trying to depict. In previous Halo games, you are told again and again how terrifyingly powerful the alliance of alien religious zealots known as The Covenant are. But this jars quite badly with you being able to jump into the middle of an enemy squad, spin around in a circle holding your trigger down (while going “AAAGHHHHHH”) and absorbing their shots effortlessly.

                                                              It also had a bitching trailer 

ODST changes this dynamic; stealth, cover and positioning become far more important than in the rest of the series. The gameplay is also, uniquely for a Halo game, centred around a hub, the shattered cityscape of night-time Mombasa. The player must work his way past superior numbers of enemies, finding clues as to what happened to his squad and to the city. Audio logs provide a taste of civilian life, and the city’s AI, Superintendent, leaves clues in road signs and PSAs as to what route to take. It’s pretty atmospheric and cool. 

When you find a clue (e.g. a broken sniper rifle from your squad’s sniper) you play a flashback where you switch to their viewpoint and find out what happened. It is in these scenarios that the more traditional Halo gameplay is seen, as well as the pretty well-written squad dynamics and dialogue. The game seems to have hired most of the cast of Firefly, with Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk and Adam Baldwin essentially reprising their roles from the series, but in different clothes. While the “main” character is an entirely mute slate, playing as actual characters with lines instead of a stoic soldier type in Master Chief is a breath of fresh air.

"Hello nerds, it's me! Your god!

Reach is a different beast. It’s a bit more serious, given the whole “Everyone is going to die at the end” part of the mythos it plays into. It’s also the most complete Halo game to date. It is packed full of weapons, unique levels, vehicles (by far one of the best things about the whole damn franchise), interesting characters and top gameplay dynamics. It’s rammed with different gameplay modes and maps in multiplayer, with a wide array of nifty armour powers. The campaign is intense, well-paced, diverse, beautiful and fun. There’s a level where you fight up a beach to a hangar, launch a fighter into space, dogfight around a shipyard, then disable and board an enemy frigate, tie a giant fuck off bomb to it and then fly it into the enemy carrier ship. Simply put, it’s the best Halo and you should all play it, forever, while going DANANNANANAA and whooping. 

Cutting these two fantastic games, with all the improvements they brought to the series (both gameplay and story) seems like a shame, especially when they’ve made room for the god-awful Halo 2 and re-made Halo 4 already for some reason.

Oh right, yeah.


  1. I read this while drunk, remembered something about colons and halos and fell asleep.

    Will read again when sober

    1. No that's pretty much the gist of it well done

  2. The Big Green Dude is what Just Saying becomes when drunk.

    You have entertained us again, B.

  3. In the end, I got bored with Halo games! These days mobile games have grown on me. I like playing Alto's Adventure and this one in particular, helps me release stress.