In the wake of one of the most exciting, surprising, and controversial E3 events in recent memory, the gaming landscape teeters atop the precipice of a new generation. Gaming culture established in the past eight years is set to evolve into a new animal - some of it with awe and wonder, some with criticism and ire.
Speaking of awe and ire: there’s no mystery as to why Sony’s Playstation 4 is leading the pre-order charge after their recent press conference at E3, and why Microsoft’s Xbox One has become the subject of much controversy following a series of rumors, pre-E3 announcements, E3 confirmations, and finally, post E3 reneging. And while the finer points of hardware nitpicking, fiscal buyership, and the next decade’s evolution inside of the coming console generation is beyond the scope of this article, what we can discuss is one of the heavy hitters in the Xbox One’s lineup, and what it means to the story of previous titles in the series and cloak-wearing desert nomads everywhere.
If you’re not living under a rock, chances are you’ve heard of the E3-teased addition to the Halo franchise, which appears to be Master Chief’s fifth starring adventure in the acclaimed blockbuster Halo series as well as what could be the staggering eighth title bearing the Microsoft-owned franchise name (tenth if you include 343’s maiden remake Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, and the upcoming PC/Window’s Phone title Spartan Assault). Since we don’t know anything about the title other than that it will run at 60 FPS and the fact that it will be an Xbox One exclusive, we are left to look at the teaser and the game’s predecessors for additional information. How does any good game - especially a good Halo game – begin its journey? Why, with the advertising of course!
Ad Campaigns: What do they mean to Halo?
Since the commercial success of the landmark title Halo: Combat Evolved, the advertising preceding Halo games and the building of hype have been a huge part of the experience. While actual information about the title is still almost exclusively under wraps, we are still able surmise a few details from what was revealed in the teaser trailer at E3.
Apparel-wise, aside from a stylish tattered cloak, the Chief is decked out in what appears to be a slightly worse for wear version of the armour used in Halo 4, which implies a progression of time, a sequel, or what we could - for the sake of consistency - call “Halo 5.” Not that anyone is expecting anything other than that but it is important to note that “Halo 5″ as a title is not official at the time of this writing. The cracked visor on the Chief’s helmet displayed in the trailer also gives us an important detail about the next game: at some point Master Chief is likely to be struck in the face.
Based on the visual style of the bird-like behemoth that rises from the sand like some majestic desert angel (which is stylized very much like Halo 4′s Forerunner machinery and setting), we could theorize that the new game might further the Forerunner story introduced in Halo 4. 343 did after all name Halo 4 as the beginning of a new trilogy. This would very likely mean the return of Promethean weapons and enemies. Mind you, it’s a thin line to draw but it is a line that could nonetheless influence the style of the game and, really, the whole trilogy.
We also see a more telling hint that keeps true with traditional Halo teaser advertisements in the central feeling with which we are left. In contrast, Halo 3 made use of their “diorama” spot to instill a sense of our beloved Chief’s mortality, as his lifeless corpse hung limp from the muscled arm of a Brute soldier which tore at us with a feeling of finality. Halo: Reach left us with a sense of co-dependency in their advertising campaign featuring a Spartan running across an intense battlefield with an unknown device in tow on a countdown. When discarded by its fallen Spartan carrier, it is recovered by a first-ever seen second Spartan super-soldier on what is then understood to be a desperate push by an unheard of group of Spartans. Halo 4‘s announce was that of a new beginning and, while directly following the events of a previous series, made a bold “here we go” statement reminiscent of Halo: Combat Evolved‘s explosion into the spotlight.
“Halo 5,” as it one day may officially be called, has struck a different cord: one of Master Chief’s humanity. A brief longing gaze at Cortana’s vacant memory chip is the critical mass of a relationship building since the moment we first witnessed the AI and her super-soldier exchange familiar banter on the bridge of the Pillar of Autumn in a scarcely memorable 2001. With a bitter folding of his fist over the trinket that remains of his former (and really only relationship), the Master Chief looks to what we can only assume is his newest foe with something more than the vacant visored stare we’re used to. Could it be that John, Spartan-117, is broken? Could it be that Master Chief is feeling something more than a robotic sense of duty? Something more like rage?
It’s impossible to say. And equally impossible not to hope.
It is difficult to surmise much else. 343 Industries has done an excellent job keeping the “wait and see” element of Halo advertising alive by keeping their reveal relatively void of detail. What we can then begin discussing that holds influence over the future of Halo is its past.
For my brief and awkward recap, please go here.
Already caught up? Well then, what would we like to see campaign-wise from a new Halo? I can’t speak for everyone, but were I to write a top 5 list:
5 “Halo 5″ Wants
Number Five: Better Co-op
Was it just me or did the ghost sequence in Halo 4 really punish the second player? I frequently died when hitting a snag and my partner flew too far ahead. And when I did finally come back, I would often respawn backwards and die again trying to turn around. It’s not the biggest flaw I’ve ever seen in a game by a mile but the glitchy, one-player-emphasized campaign was pretty disappointing when compared to its predecessors. There are more and more games these days whose co-op actually changes how events and objectives are met by the players from the single player alternative. Visceral’s Dead Space 3, and Army of Two franchise are good examples of co-op focus that the Halo series could learn a lot from. Nothing beats some co-op Halo with a friend, so hopefully we see 343 put their best foot forward in this branch of the game. And maybe, just maybe…four player offline co-op?
Number Four: Varied objectives and enemies
Halo 4 suffered in stretches from repetitive battles with dozens and dozens of the same enemy, with the same weapons in the same looking areas while attempting to locate and press the same button as the dozen buttons before it. While the big-picture variety was excellent, there were very frequent tedious runs that I found myself huffing over as I begrudgingly pushed through. I found many areas to be specifically “Covenant” or “Promethean”, with strictly those weapons and enemies. In these areas, I rarely was able to find little troves of mismatched weapons, as were plentiful in previous titles. I had what felt like restrictive choice in armament and, therefore, playstyle. As well, I was constantly pressing a button. The same button. My typical assignment was to arrive at point X, kill enemies at point X, press button X, and repeat. While swapping colours, push and pull animations, melee or hold-to-activate functionality, and simply destroying objectives may seem like trivial changes, the addition of diverse mission objectives would help keep segments from feeling overused or stale.
Number Three: A boss fight
Again, maybe this was just me, but defeating Tartarus in Halo 2 felt like the perfect way to achieve the feeling of completion in what was, importantly, very much an unfinished cliffhanger. While Halo 4’s Didact “battle” emanated this in spirit, the feeling of a firefight with a mobile tank on a three dimensional stage with a manageable yet frantic frenzy of spawning enemies was much more satisfying to a Halo player than the act of pressing a button and the game ending. While a vehicle escape is my preferred way of ending a Halo game, a climactic battle with a cornerstone named enemy is what I believe to be the correct way to end the second title in a trilogy.
Number Two: The Flood
Frankly, the absence of the Flood in Halo 4 – while totally understandable and supportable - was a letdown. The Flood mark a turning point in traditional Halo games, where a daunting and frightening enemy is overshadowed by a larger, more immediate, menacing, animalistic, gruesome and terrifying threat. And while I absolutely agree with starting fresh and breaking the mold, this is a Halo title, and there are expectations and traditions involved therein. Innovate. Please, innovate. I would never wish the scope of something so dear to me as Halo limited by an obligation to repeat the use of an overused formula. However, there are very real reasons as to why Halo arcs the way it does, and innovation at the cost of a one-of-a-kind, beloved experience is almost worse than no innovation at all.
Number One: The Arbiter
The inclusion of the Arbiter in Halo 2 was widely contested. Some praised it while others rejected anything except trudging around Halo in Master Chief’s olive green armoured boots. Personally, I thought that presenting the story from the point of view of a very passionate, vocal, and strangely relatable character to offset Master Chief’s robotic persistence was a welcome change. And not only welcome, it was enlightening. Without a character approaching the situation with a wildly different perspective, we would never have been able to truly take in and empathise with the Covenant’s side of the first trilogy’s evolution. In fact, as I thought about why the Arbiter made such a good co-protagonist for Halo 2, it made me question whether or not Master Chief was the true protagonist at all. If you think about it, Master Chief learns very little in Halo 2. He seems to simply react and push forward. The Arbiter, on the other hand, suffers. He learns things. He grows and is surprised and enraged and betrayed. The Arbiter, in many ways, is the true main character of Halo 2, and a very important element of Halo 3. It is my opinion that the Arbiter can still play a very important role and, for this reason, this is my number one hope for “Halo 5.”
With no information to confirm any of these predictions or education to make them seem plausible, I see “Halo “5 playing out as follows:
The extremist Covenant attack Earth and, in their doing so, rouse the Arbiter; the Elite ambassador and hero, come to the human’s aid to find out why. Master Chief is obviously present as well for this event, and could potentially meet the Arbiter in some mission or another. In this way, the Arbiter or Master Chief will play the role of the “second voice” usually cornered by Cortana, offering intel and suggestions for the currently active character. They will learn of further Forerunner inclusion in the current plot, and Master Chief will split from the conflict to handle the new potentially Promethean element. In doing so, the Chief will come across the currently traitorous Halsey and, in his emotionally damaged state, will place extreme emphasis on recovering Cortana in some way, as was briefly mentioned in Halo 4. A second element to this Cortana issue is the Forerunner technology of the Composer and how it was supposed to convert organics to a digital form to render them immune to the Flood, and then ideally digital back to organic. This is a long, long shot but could Cortana return? And if she did, could…could she become a real boy? The pieces are in play.
From there, it’s impossible to guess. I do foresee a return of the Didact, and hold out hope to see a Flood element but nothing at all has been released, and we are therefore at the mercy of our imaginations. I guess for now, ladies and gentlemen, all we can do is wait.
And, in the meantime, maybe play a little Halo.