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E3 2012: Hail to the King: the Chief returns for Halo 4

Thursday, 7th June 2012 17:00 GMT By Stace Harman

He’s saved mankind, championed the Xbox and entertained millions, but Stace Harman has never been a fan of this little green man. Could that be about to change with Halo 4?

Halo 4

In development since 2009.

Features Master Chief and Cortana for the first time since Halo 3 in 2007.

It’s the first of a three game arc called the Reclaimer Trilogy.

Launches worldwide on November 6 for Xbox 360. Widely assumed Halo 5 and 6 will launch on Next-Gen Xbox.

Watch the debut campaign demo here.

It’s true, I’ve never been a fan of Master Chief. His name (or, more accurately, the rank that has become his name) has always felt like it was decided upon by committee as a deliberately macho moniker that lacked any subtly and could have been made up of any two equally strong sounding words: Prime General, Imperial Alpha, Ultra Vox; the sound of it has always jarred.

His lack of both face and voice have been equally as troubling to me, but not because I can’t relate to the strong, silent types; I’ve spent a lot of time with the lead characters of Bioshock, Half-Life and Zelda and rarely felt disconnected from them.

I think it’s because I’m told that Master Chief is a big deal and all I see is an ignorant man in a silly costume with a nonsensical name – although, for various reasons I of all people should probably be able to relate to that.

A while back, Microsoft said that with Halo Reach and ODST the company lost its way, and that, paraphrasing somewhat, it was to do with not playing as Master Chief. I didn’t get that at all.

I mean, in Bioshock and Half-Life the character you play does not make or break the game; perhaps more so with Zelda games, where Link’s persistent presence in each title is more integral to the experience, but then Zelda games are predominantly third-person affairs and a protagonist’s role in a third-person game is very different to that of a first-person title.

Not surprisingly, franchise development director at 343 Industries, Frank O’Connor – who has been with the series since Halo 2 – doesn’t think that Master Chief’s absence was to the detriment of either Reach or ODST, though he concedes that his return in Halo 4 feels very natural.

“Both [Reach and ODST] were successful, so I wouldn’t say that they were hurt [by not featuring Master Chief] necessarily, but it was definitely a thing that we thought about,” admits O’Connor.

“Basically, people would just rather watch a story about Master Chief, in the same way that you’d rather watch a story of Lord of the Rings with Bilbo Baggins and Frodo and those guys. People just miss them if they’re not there.”

To me, this says something about the strength of the world and the narrative that surrounds the character, rather than the character themselves. Reach and ODST were consistent, well-made titles that enhanced the Halo brand, but both were very deliberately kept apart from the canonical storyline.

“[Chief] has a little bit of a personality. He’s stoic and heroic but, sure, those are hardly unusual characteristics in a video game protagonist, right? But because he’s faceless and because he’s quiet, he’s reactive and so he’s defined by the things around him.”

They were used to further explore the deep lore of the universe to great effect and both featured stellar production values, but all the while they felt like side dishes to Master Chief’s main meal, prompting that nagging feeling that without the Chief, Halo just isn’t Halo.

Can that be true? Can you miss the presence of something or someone, even if it lacks an explicit personality?

“He has a little bit of a personality,” argues O’Connor. “He’s stoic and heroic but, sure, those are hardly unusual characteristics in a video game protagonist, right? But because he’s faceless and because he’s quiet, he’s reactive and so he’s defined by the things around him.

“Chief is a great hero, but he’s also a great vehicle to invest yourself in and to discover your own sense of adventure. In some ways, he’s become the standard-bearer for that very specific feeling that you get in a game of this kind.”

Master Chief as an icon makes more sense to me than Master Chief as an engaging character and perhaps that’s the very point that O’Connor and 343 Industries, as well as Bungie before them, have been making all along: that Master Chief is collection of ideals and an emblem for epic adventure.

Whether I can see that or not is irrelevant because Master Chief is, to a large degree, different things to different people. In the same way that I’m sure some of my favourite video game characters with defined personalities – Geralt, Vincent, Lara – are not to everyone’s taste, Chief isn’t to mine, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not important.

“With him, it just makes people…you’re not constantly reminding the player that they’re not a hero, or that they’re not the Master Chief,” says O’Connor, trying to verbalise Chief’s precise appeal.

“We have kids from all walks of life, background, creed, ability and gender who all feel like they are the Master Chief and who are never wrenched out of that sense of immersion because of anything that he does.

“With third person games, you have a really well-defined character like Nathan Drake, but it’s a story about Nathan Drake and that’s what people are invested in. The Master Chief is a little bit different; people don’t even call him by his name, they call him by his rank because that’s the rank that you take on when you’re in his shoes.”

They’re big shoes and whether they could perhaps be filled by anyone else is soon to be rendered a moot point because the Master Chief is returning for Halo 4.

He’s returning to empower mere mortals, he’s returning and bringing with him the start of a new tale of intergalactic heroism and he’s returning to continue the seldom-mentioned love affair that clearly bubbles beneath the surface of his relationship with Cortana.

He is returning and I, Stacey Leigh Harman, find myself caring a little more about him than I once did, even if I still think he has a very silly name.

Halo 4 launches on Xbox 360 on November 6 worldwide.

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37 Comments

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  1. funkstar

    errr… he has a voice

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Johnny Cullen

    I think he means the lack of chatter we’ve heard from him in past Halo games. He speaks a few times, but he’s not a chatty person. Halo 4 changes that, though.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. M. K.

    Hm… I mean, I never was a great Halo fan. I loved the first because it was fun in coop. I played the second, because the MP was fun. But since then I never touched a Halo game, but I always thought that they look interesting. I can’t tell that after watching the E3 footage tough, it looks totally boring and ugly :/

    #3 2 years ago
  4. funkstar

    oh you mean non-cutscene? because he talks to cortana and others a lot in cutscenes

    #4 2 years ago
  5. polygem

    halo must be seen as a whole. it is nostalgia. it is great atmosphere. superb music. epic settings. great story in a huge living and breathing galaxy where everything is connected. and maybe most importantly- perfectly smooth and challenging gameplay. the best fps hands down if you ask me. bungie created one of the very best videogame franchises ever with halo.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Maximum Payne

    OK so I really don’t have anything against Halo,I watched reviews for Halo 3, Reach ,mp videos and I think looks solid(both gameplay/graphics)…
    But I really dislike e3 demo It was very poor.That forest look really bad.They didn’t show friendly ai ,vehicles,bigger view distance /landscape,bigger battle… anything.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. ManuOtaku

    #5 i agree 200 %, you cannot believe how much of an impact halo combat evolved had in me back in the day, i had 24 years old, if i do the math correctly, but for me it did had it all,kind of survival horror part in the library sections, solid gameplay, great graphics, and a good mistery sci fi story, man i laughed so hard with the incredible AI, shouting names at me, grouping, sending the little guys first, and then when they did fight the flood on the latest levels, that was a joy and very fun sections, seeing the little ones running, with the big guys sreaming wut wut wut, at the flood while i was only looking and waiting to pick the left overs, one of the few series that i hold in the highest regards alongside with the nintendo ones, man i did love that game, and i hope this fourth game brings those memories back, although the prior ones in my eyes, didnt came close.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. polygem

    i agree also the nintendo part. to me halo, zelda and mario are the most important videogame franchsies…there are many more, esp. nintendo ones. but this my personal top 3.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. G1GAHURTZ

    I enjoyed the first Halo, got bored half way through Halo 2, and had to almost force myself to finish Halo 3.

    Since then, I haven’t bought any more versions.

    But I thought that the E3 clip looked amazing.

    Thet also mentioned a MASSIVE load of content and features that looked capable of rivalling what CoD offers.

    Seriously, they were talking about weekly DLC!

    How ambitious is that?

    #9 2 years ago
  10. reask

    I never played 2 giga but loved 3.
    I bought reach day 1 and still haven,t finished it.
    I actually played 3 twice which is unusual for me but I had to beat it on highest diff, It was tough but I loved it.

    I remember Tea sending me a message saying he went out and bought it as he seen I played it for like 8 hours straight on a Sunday. :)

    #10 2 years ago
  11. RoOhDiNi

    It’s like putting on the Sheriff Star.

    Also it is a matter of consistency. By playing as Chief you automatically add the things you’ve been through in prior adventures, making the game feel more epic in scale.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. G1GAHURTZ

    @reask:

    What do you think of the Halo 4 stuff so far?

    #12 2 years ago
  13. Ireland Michael

    I’ll say this.

    I won’t deny the importance of the franchise. I won’t deny that it helped legitimise shooters on console. I won’t deny that’s it’s online multiplayer helped set the foundation for social console gaming. I won’t deny that it’s ability to create levels, game types and shareable content was groundbreaking and brilliant in its execution. I won’t deny that its AI is an impressively subtle beast with tonnes of depth, that still impresses even now.

    But… good god all mighty, the gameplay bores me shitless.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. polygem

    …and i totally cannot understand this. seriously. i just can´t.

    #14 2 years ago
  15. daytripper

    At the E3 demo I thought he was looking for Spock’s coffin

    #15 2 years ago
  16. G1GAHURTZ

    Maybe that’s why you have such a pathetic k/d, O’Connor!

    Did you fall asleep mid game?

    Is that your excuse?

    Hmm?

    #16 2 years ago
  17. polygem

    halo 4 looks incredible. everything they´ve shown this far looks perfect. contentwise it is insane really. i wanna know about the pay model of the weekly coop dlc stuff though…i am sceptical. this is microsoft. they´ll find a way to glue their hands on your wallet.

    i liked reach more than 3. i even liked halo 3:odst more than 3. i don´t know why but i had mixed emotions with 3, i was disappointed by it at first. i still liked it and also played it twice. but it is probably the halo game i played the least. i played reach like 3 times and finished it on legendary. every other halo i just finished on heroic.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. reask

    Yeah it looks pretty good giga but not too sure if I fancy another one tbh.
    I loved 3 and I remember playing it and been astounded at the AI in it.
    I know it gets knocked a lot but personally at the time nothing else I had played up to that did what halo done sp wise.

    I sucked at mp big time but fared a lot better in reachs mp although never quite mastering it.

    Funny thing is just today I was pondering putting reach back in to the drive as it was a very good game but I never felt like I needed to get to the next bit if you know what I mean.

    Going through a bit of fatigue with shooters the past while so my opinion is a bit skewed to be fair.
    Only good thing is I stopped trading in so all my games are there which is good as I played pgr4 the last week having left it on the shelf for years and I got in to it big time.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. Pytox

    I have played one,two and 3,first one was kinda hard with the library level ofcourse.Two had an easy boss fight at the end.Tree was cool,especially that flood level almost the end but damn that was hard. :D

    Might get 4 at one time, btw is Reach worth it for campaign only or not?

    #19 2 years ago
  20. Ireland Michael

    @14 Apples and oranges, my friend.

    Can you appreciate the huge amount of extra depth in Virtua Fighter over all other fighting games?

    Can you look at Vanquish and understand why it’s gameplay is more refined and complex than Gears of War?

    Can you see why Bayonetta is a step up from Devil May Cry, and how it improved on the formula?

    Do you believe that Battlefield’s teamplay is a vast improvement over Call of Duty’s simplistic approach?

    I have no doubt there is something in the gameplay I’m just not “getting”. I’m sure there’s something in the design that just doesn’t click with me – it’s slower pace, the strategic placement of weapons, etc.

    I’ve just never really gotten on with the “Quake” style of shooter. My k/d ratio will attest to that. =P

    But I just don’t enjoy it. At all.

    @16 Probably, yeah.

    #20 2 years ago
  21. polygem

    i saw you playing pgr4 :)

    halo is quite tough and unforgiving as a competitive mp shooter. what i love about it is that there are so many gametypes. in reach even more. you have the objective stuff, like oddball and stockpile, assault and so on, where K/D isn´t all, different versions of slayer, team slayer, squad slayer, FFA, invasion, big team battle and much much more. everything feels and plays differently. also the hit detection is perfect. it takes what, 5 shots with the dmr to put the shields down and get the kill? it is very strategic often. you have all these verhicles and the game is well balanced. i don´t know, reach for me was almost perfect….armour ability was my only complaint. and maybe some minor changes in the matchmaking and 1 or 2 maps that i din´t like that much. other than that perfect game and a great goodbye present from bungie.

    @20:
    ok. that makes sense. still hard for me to believe ;)

    #21 2 years ago
  22. reask

    @ pytox.
    Maybe not the best opinion but reach is a damn good game but for me I never got into it enough.
    I don’t know what it was maybe too many drop-ships or something but if you like good AI and nice fire-fights it will not disappoint.

    I just never felt the 3 about it I mean I remember been on the bridge section on 3 with the mid air grunts and thinking wtf do I do here.
    I must have spent a week on that section on heroic but I never got bored.
    Frustrated but still wanting to get through it.
    I eventually finished it on heroic and man that was tough.

    #22 2 years ago
  23. reask

    Ah right poly youre talking mp.
    Yeah pretty pretty good but I always played ffa so it was just kill kill kill :D.
    Or in my case kill get killed get killed get killed kill. :)
    Edit:
    Oddball was a laugh.

    #23 2 years ago
  24. Cozzy

    Admittedly I’m a little bit of a Sony fan boy, since the original Playstation I’ve always used Playstation as my primary console and probably will do next gen (unless Microsoft blow us a way) but I can honestly say the Halo series is one of my all time favourites of any genre and certainly my favourite FPS.

    There was always something about the Halo games that just clicked. It set the marker for the modern day FPS and for me, Halo Reach is the best multiplayer experience of this generation so far. I cannot begin to explain the joy I’ve had playing with friends on Halo Reach that no other game has come close to.

    I cannot wait for Halo 4. I thought the demo shown looked fantastic, the graphics look beautiful, the singleplayer looks brilliant (I love the Halo gameplay and if the lore behind the Halo universe is anything to go by the story is going to be incredible) and the multiplayer looks great.

    Bring on November 6th!

    #24 2 years ago
  25. polygem

    @pytox: i loved the campaign.
    i would definiteley go and pick this game up. on the 360 it is definiteley one of the must play games. i really suggest playing it on normal and then on heroic at least. i am actually not the type of gamer who plays the campaigns on cranked up difficulty levels. in halo the ai really reacts in a very satisfying way though. the game really plays different on a higher setting.

    @reask: big team battle is the most relaxed way to play halo mp.
    when i play cod i almost only play FFA. not in halo though- very rareley. to me it doesn´t fit so well with the pacing of halo. it still is a lot of fun but halo is all about slayer imo. big team battle is really great too and a mix of objective games is a must for me to -yea -mix it up a little.

    i think i´ll play some reach today…

    i am almost a field marshal and actually wanted to at least become mythic before halo 4 comes out…but damn it takes ages to lvl up in reach.

    @cozzy: i would totally sign that. also the sony part (though this gen i used the 360 as my main console, lateley that changed again, i only play bf3 from time to time now on the 360 and plan to play halo 4 of course. so much other stuff gets me excited on the ps3 atm and the near future)

    #25 2 years ago
  26. Gadzooks!

    http://halo.wikia.com/wiki/Master_Chief_Petty_Officer

    Do at least the tiniest bit of research for your ‘Journalism’ please.

    #26 2 years ago
  27. manamana

    Nearly all Halo games have very smooth gameplay. ODST & Reach have some of the best, if not *the* best AI around. Gameplay is absolutely engageing on legendary. I haven’t played a game where the AI comes even close in terms of versatility and behaviour.

    #27 2 years ago
  28. polygem

    enemy ai was not

    you gotta shoot the enemy y´know

    #28 2 years ago
  29. manamana

    Ok, I meant the ones you are supposed to fight.

    #29 2 years ago
  30. polygem

    7:03
    :D

    #30 2 years ago
  31. Cozzy

    Yeah on Reach, Cat had a habit of driving off cliffs…Typical woman driver! :P

    #31 2 years ago
  32. manamana

    :-D

    #32 2 years ago
  33. ManuOtaku

    #32 so it was an AI sim, rather than a AI mistake in the end of the day 8D

    #33 2 years ago
  34. polygem

    don´t let that hear my girl!

    #34 2 years ago
  35. fearmonkey

    I knew Halo 4 would look great thanks to the lovely Corrinne Yu.

    The books tell a better backstory to Master Chief, but it’s not necessary to enjoy the game. I have always viewed His character like Darth Vader, in that the mystery of what he looks like, that little is known about him, makes him more interesting.

    #35 2 years ago
  36. reask

    @ pytox
    Update.
    I went and played reach tonight to see could I get back in to it.
    If you like good sp shooters get it is my advice.
    I am on normal 8th mission I think and I remembered how good halo is as an entity.
    Thanks guys for making me put this game back in I can only imagine what its like on heroic.

    More than that though its just a good good game where everything works like a headshot can make all the difference for instance.
    The pace also is really good.
    I just subscribed to plus today but may be waiting a bit before I get in to it as I think I will finish reach now.
    Compared to the doddle gears was on second highest diff this is refreshing.

    I really look forward to bungies multi plat outing.

    #36 2 years ago
  37. polygem

    cool! i cannot wait for bungies multiplat game either…it is rumored though that the first game of the series will still be ms exclusive? we´ll see. it is good that they go multiplat anyway. insomniac will go multiplat as well so it is all just fair.

    #37 2 years ago