Here comes the new boss: fears for Halo’s future

Sunday, 11 March 2012 11:39 GMT By Mike

Microsoft, Bungie and 343 Industries have bent over backwards to assure fans the studio handover won’t change anything for Halo 4. Mike Bowden dares to doubt.

The very thing that made Halo magical, the very reason I invested so much time doing the kinds of things I described, in all the manners I which I described it in, was because of Bungie’s decision to keep the Chief’s character as empty as possible.

Halo is the best console shooter to date. There, I said it. I don’t really believe that, however. In fact, I’m chuckling to myself as I’m writing. No. Halo is actually the best shooter to date, period, but I like the PC crowd and don’t wanna piss on their chips; they been good to me, y’know?

Now, with that said, I’m sure that once-crowded room that only a VG247 headline article can create, now only has a handful of people in it. My audience. I love you too.

However, this article isn’t about how great Halo is. It isn’t about how, the first time I played it, I got “the rush”. I felt like it was me behind the wheel. That perfect head shot. That sticky grenade thrown right across the map, soaring through the air majestically like Pat Garratt on his way home from San Francisco, landing on its invisible Elite target with aplomb. The musicality of the faint screaming of Grunts as the Elite tries to take cover but no: all dead. I took aim, I pitched, I shot. I scored. Heaven.

Next time I played however, I missed. So I didn’t wipe them all out I one go and the game was different. Another time I had a different weapon load-out which again, changed how I approached the situation. If I was feeling particularly aggressive I would steam in (not on Legendary obviously, that would be stupid), determined to come out on the other side ablaze with the kind vigour and verve of a Master Chief: a man of battle. (It took man-guts to write those words). Or, in a more thoughtful, reflective – a kind of quiet vicious – mood, I would hang back, targeting the Elites and Jackals from afar then simply waltz across the battlefield, meleeing the hapless Grunts, who flit around with flapping arms begging for their lives.

Then there are the Warthogs I could pick up and mow my enemies down with, or not. Then there were the marines whom I could take with me, or not. Then there were the Banshees I could fly in, or not.

My choice. My game. My sandbox. My Chief. Me.

Oh, Halo. There’s never been another game like you. Or should that be, there’s never been another game like me?

What am I talking about? Indeed, what. Trust me, hold someone’s hand and keep reading – this goes deep.

The very thing that made Halo magical, the very reason I invested so much time doing the kinds of things I described, in all the manners I which I described it in, was because of Bungie’s decision to keep the Chief’s character as empty as possible. I’m calling Bungie Lead Writer (and marine voice-actor) Joseph Staten to the stand, who, in February 2011, told Industry Gamers that:

We left out details to increase immersion; the less players knew about the Chief, we believed, the more they would feel like the Chief.”

Under 10? Halo At A Glance:

Halo: Combat Evolved released in 2001 as a launch title for the fledgling and unproven Xbox, the first American-made home console to challenge Japanese domination in generations by going head-to-head with PS2. It was originally expected to be a Mac exclusive and also appeared on OS-X and PC. The series is generally credited with popularising online multiplayer in the console sphere, thanks to Microsoft’s revolutionary Xbox Live, and the franchise has become one of the platform’s most important exclusives. The latest release is a remake of the first game, an Anniversary Edition built on the Halo: Reach engine.

Bungie developed the first three numbered games as well as Reach before handing over to the Microsoft-owned 343 Industries. With Halo 4, due for release in the 2012 holiday season, 343 will begin a new trilogy called Reclaimer.

Damn straight. Hoo-rah! Boom! Etc. He called it. I can’t disagree with him. He nailed it. Or, Bungie nailed it. Apart from the open maps, the underlying story-arc, the locations, the weapon-balance (*cough*pistol*cough*), the score – oh my God, Marty! THE SCORE! (getting goosebumps just thinking about those chanting monks), the hidden-treasures, the co-op, the multiplayer, the way the team almost single-handedly redefined our expectations for online gaming across the board, it was that – that was the overriding feature of Halo that made, or makes, it legendary and moreover The Chief so goddam sexy. It’s because he’s you, he’s me (he’s more me than you, obv.), he’s a symbol of your playing style, he’s everything you want your hero to be. Like most things in life, Staten’s design decision was beautiful in its simplicity. Forget John 117 or whoever he is/was, I’m Spartacus.

Ok, great. I’ve single-handedly encapsulated what elevates Halo above every other shooter franchise out there. Well done me. Now what? Well, the whole poit of this is, is I have to tell you, I’m scared. I’m scared because 343 Industries has just announced they’re taking bold steps with regard to the big man’s character. They’re delving and I’m not sure I like it.

343’s Frank O’Connor, aka Mr. Halo to some, told our aforementioned trailblazing international editor, Mr. Patrick Garratt-if-you-please back on the West Coast of the US: 343 wants to delve into Chief’s character to see what “makes him tick”.


“There will absolutely be these quiet moments of introspection and character study in the game, but […] you’re going to walk around the corner and see a staggeringly huge, bigger than Hollywood set-piece,” Frankie said.

Now that last bit I like, but I can’t help but ask myself the question: Is 343 in danger of alienating players and their affections for Master Chief? Were Staten’s words only last year perhaps those of warning for the fledgling studio? Surely the more Master Chief gets his own character, the less me there is, ergo the less enjoyment I’ll get?

“Immersion was the main goal here. Also keeping the Chief a man of few words reinforced what we wanted to be a tough-as-nails soldierly persona,” said Staten. His formula is tried and tested. So is 343’s, if were being honest. I’ve assumed the role of many a character whilst playing a video game. In fact, RPGs are my bread and butter. I’ve assumed the role of the lonely soldier, the bad-ass soldier, the deep, introspective soldier, the wise-cracking, thick-skinned-but-fragile-on-the-inside-and-a-huge-hit-with-the-ladies soldier, but the personality and character for the Master Chief, that what makes him indubitably iconic, is that with the Halo franchise, the hero is who I want him to be and the genius of it all was, was that the game engine facilitated and more than catered for the scope of imagination, hence its enormous popularity and following.

As a Halo fan, 343 has got me worried. The panic button hasn’t been pushed yet, but I’m worried. Please, Mr. 343 man, don’t take my me away from me.