First off, I think we have to thank Bungie for delivering one of the most successful games of all time. On the original XBOX, Halo made the distinction between the XBOX and PS2 abundantly evident, a constant reminder of Microsoft’s superior technological advantage at the time. Although Sony would go on to rectify this with the PS3, the drive for Blu Ray basically gave Bill Gates a one year drop on the almighty Sony console, the kind of market share that has allowed the XBOX to threaten the very success of Sony in the console market. Regardless of how the XBOX Loop/720 vs Playstation 4 pans out, gamers will no doubt be offered an amazing gaming machine from each of these highly respectable companies…
Getting back on the Halo Train, the journeys of Master Chief have provided countless hours of campaign and multiplayer fun, Halo 2 sitting alongside Goldeneye, Unreal Tournament, and the more recent Call of Duty MW 3 as one of the most compelling multiplayer experiences ever. Unfortunately for Bungie, Halo 2 represents the pinnacle of the franchises success from a gaming perspective. Although Halo 3 would go on to break sales records (which have been broken many times over by other games), Halo ODST was possibly the worst game ever released by Bungie, a testament to the powers of corporate greed rather than gaming innovation. Fortunately, Halo Reach was an absolutely superb final offering, by far my favourite in the Halo series and a wonderful way to cap off Bungie’s influence over Master Chief, a toast the green armored warangel (you need to put the Halo atop Master Chief’s head for that metaphor to work).
And now we are presented with a new direction with the Halo series, as 343 Studios have taken on the responsibility of delivering on the expectations set for Halo 4.
It could just be me, but I think Bungie got slightly lazy with the Halo Franchise, the graphical improvements between Halo 2 and Halo 3 not quite the stuff of legend. They were good, but not of the ‘Gears of War’ standard, that would become the benchmark of all games on currently available hardware. Fortunately, the move to 343 studios would appears to have instigated the fresh injection needed for the visual glamour of the original Halo games to be recaptured. The enemies offer that rare combination of the extremely ugly yet graphically beautiful villains that every gamer craves, a bitter sweet combination of paramount importance. On that point, the bad guys in Halo 4 look pretty god damn massive, dwarfing the armored suits of Master Chief and his companions. More than anything, Halo 4 just looks cool again. Crysis style vegetation-based environments mixed with awesome alien villains and beautiful lighting. Perfect Halo battlegrounds.
The return of Master Chief:
Although Master Chief is almost inseparable from the franchise, the fact is that Microsoft’s posterboy has received sparse attention in recent years, with Halo ODST and Halo Reach essentially offering backstories which did very little to develop the actual Halo narrative. Now that Master Chief is back, the universe can expand beyond the confines of the 2007 Halo story. This is, for all intents and purposes, good news. Master Chief was in desperate need of some airtime.
Halo is probably the only game that I can boast to have played every single campaign. Unlike eventual burnouts like Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk, Microsoft have managed this particular franchise with great care, acutely aware of the cultural significance of any Master Chief exploit. Given the five year lapse between Halo 3 and Halo 4, fanboys have a right to be both excited and demanding. Fortunately, Microsoft and 343 Studios would appear set to deliver.