After taking a day out of my schedule to blast through the latest Halo campaign with a friend, something strange happened: as the credits began to roll and the latest epic musical score swept in, I felt empty. Not even Halo 2 made me feel empty. Has something happened to Halo or is it me?
343 Industries has repeatedly emphasised that the new trilogy (labelled the Reclaimer Trilogy) will be about the hero Master Chief and his struggle to feel human. But after playing through Halo 4, I’m not sure this was the right thing to do. Halo has never just been about the Master Chief: it’s about humanity and its struggle to survive against insurmountable odds. Every Halo to date has always had strong undertones of humanity’s fight: whether you’re regrouping stranded marines and busting them out of Covenant prison in Halo 1, battling to save Earth in Halo 2, 3 and ODST, or staying on Reach to allow the rest of the planet to leave in Halo Reach.
The offshoots of the main series, Halo ODST and Halo Reach, are testaments to Halo’s underlining theme of humanity. The former is about scattered friends, lost loves and how every soldier in the UNSC has an important role to play in the war. The latter is about the sacrifice and bravery of the men and women of the UNSC, particularly the super-soldier Spartans. Halo 4 has marines, and even Spartans, but they never impact the world like they have done before. The UNSC begins to feel like a personal taxi for the Master Chief by the end of the game, never doing anything useful apart from moving ‘The Chief’ from one location to another and providing him with weapons.
…promised so much…
Halo 4’s promotional live-action series Forward Unto Dawn promised so much. We were introduced to Lasky, a senior commander on the super-ship UNSC Infinity, which features heavily in the game.
In the live-action series, Lasky endures much physical and emotional trauma: we learn of his sympathetic stance towards human insurgents, we see him struggle with an allergic reaction to cryo-stasis and we watch as most of his friends are brutally killed in a Covenant invasion. Forward Unto Dawn brilliantly told the story of a man who didn’t want to become a leader, but circumstance required him to. Halo 4 references none of this. Lasky becomes a radio chatter character, telling the Master Chief of what’s happening on the Infinity and filling him in on other minor plot points. It’s so disappointing to see such a great character relegated to a small talking head on the left-hand side of the screen, and it feels that most of the characters, aside from Cortana, are pigeonholed into these roles.
…the Master Chief has always been portrayed as the ultimate hero…
The only hope I have left is in the new Spartan-Ops campaigns, which focus on the Spartan IV’s investigating the planet Requiem 6 months after Master Chief’s story finishes. But sadly, for me at least, I think the damage might already be done. The Master Chief has become even more of a superhero, with everybody else slowly getting pushed back to the sides of the stage. What was once a story about a soldier being a highly trained tool in the UNSC arsenal has now been flipped: The UNSC and humanity are a tool the Master Chief uses to help him stop the Covenant and Forerunner threat.
There are plenty of stories I could read/watch/play where I am the sole badass of the universe, and while there is no doubt the Master Chief has always been portrayed as the ultimate hero and saviour of the human race, he could never do it alone. In the Halo universe, the ultimate badass has always needed other badasses to help him: be it Sergeant Johnson, Captain Keyes, Miranda Keyes, Buck or the Noble 6 team. These are the people you root for; these are the people that bring character and charm to the series. In Halo 4, I didn’t want to root for anybody except ‘The Chief’, and when the only person you are rooting for is borderline mute, it doesn’t make for an engrossing experience.