Before I go on please note that I did NOT say “Halo is better than Star Wars” so this isn’t an argument for or against either franchise. As I typed the title I could already feel the Force grip of millions of Jedi’s around my neck whilst in the back of my mind I could hear the chant of “This is not the article you should be writing” repeatedly, Obi-Wan style!
Halo is my favourite franchise of all time. I love the game, I love the story and I love the idea. It’s another cultural phenomenon that has captivated not only the imagination of gamers but those outside the community as well.
Star Wars and Halo are very different beasts but what they represent – culturally – is very similar.
Star Wars means a lot to a huge amount of people and rightfully so.
The original trilogy is fantastic. The trial of good over evil represented through ideas such as the Force, utilized by the opposing ideals of the Jedi and Sith, was completely original and fascinating at the time. George Lucas’ creation captured the hearts and minds of not only Sci-Fi fans but families and children across the world.
The shocking revelation that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father at the climax of The Empire Strikes Back and his redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi were shining examples of imaginative vision and an apt conclusion to an inspiring series of movies.
Subsequent movies, comic books, novels, and video games; further filled out the Star Wars universe introducing us to many unique characters and a galaxy complete with its own history, myths and legends.
The impact of the original trilogy and the franchise is recognized throughout modern cinema and pop culture. There are not many people who have no idea what a Stormtrooper is or couldn’t point out an Ewok in a crowd. Star Wars has touched millions of people.
I was not around when Episode IV: A New Hope was released in 1977 but I watched the movies on TV on numerous bank holidays and Christmas vacations before owning them on VHS and DVD. Countless viewings served to immerse me in the story.
But immersion is the key.
Star Wars used the media at the time it was released to tell a story. It was one of the first blockbuster movies. Special effects were getting better and George Lucas was able to utilize these, as well as a brilliantly crafted plot and a rich ensemble cast, to broadcast his vision worldwide.
Halo: Combat Evolved, similarly, used the technology of the time to introduce a new generation to a vast science fiction universe using the Xbox back in 2001.
Cinema, which provided something more stimulating than books to the youth of its day, is now nowhere near as immersive (there’s that word again) a tool than a game is.
If handled correctly, a game can absorb the player, and weave itself in their consciousness, making the experience incredibly personal.
As a game, it was a stand-out contribution by Bungie to the First Person Shooter genre. The controls were weighted, the visuals sharp and pristine and the gameplay was perfect. The multiplayer aspect was amazing. It later even allowed gamers to use map editor Forge to create their own arenas of battle and create sculptures within the Halo setting.
The key though was how involving it was.
Becoming Master Chief John-117 (although his name was not revealed until Halo 3) meant you took the reigns of the last SPARTAN warrior, humanities last, best hope in the final years of an intergalactic war in the 26th century. This soldier was a honed killing machine but was more than just a robotic nobody who the player could dive in and out of. Who was this mysterious character? Why was he the last of his kind? What were his motivations? What were his origins?
The environment was equally as absorbing. One moment you were battling through the corridors of the Pillar of Autumn and the next you were looking out of forests and mountains of Halo; a massive, artificial ring-world. At some points, when facing in the right direction, you could see the immense construct reach up into the sky above you to meet its apex before curling back round behind you. You were left asking more questions – who built this world? What were they like? Why was it so valuable to your enemies?
You faced off against the Covenant. This was a multi-racial theocracy. Lead by The Prophets, this society was on a quest to take back all Forerunner artifacts (the beings who had built Halo) in the belief that this was a spiritual journey. They reviled humanity and viewed the Chief as a demon who stood in their way to enlightenment. Again, I was left wanting more – who were these aliens? What was their Great Journey? Why were they so malevolent?
On exploring Halo, Master Chief and the United Nations Space Command Marines unleash a terrible entity know as The Flood. This species, controlled by a being known as the Gravemind, took control over any living creature and distorted it, using it as host and fed upon anything in its path. Why were they sealed away on Halo? How long had they been there?
The game posed many questions and was so well put together that it attracted a huge fan base. People flocked in droves to purchase the game and I’m sure it worked in Microsoft’s favour to sell a few Xboxes.
But, as Master Chief responded to Cortana at the end of Halo: CE, “I think we’re just getting started.”
I was hooked.
Nothing had ever gripped my imagination like this before. All the pieces were in play, all the questions that I NEEDED answered. I awaited the release of Halo 2 with baited breath.
As did I with Halo 3, Halo Wars, Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach.
Bungie had developed a completely involving space opera and one that you could become a part of. YOU were the hero. Everything about the Halo universe was designed to feel real, particularly the behaviour of the characters and units in the game. Halo made you part of a galactic conflict that felt like it could happen.
But Halo did something that only the likes of Tomb Raider had done before. It was no longer confined to the console.
Eric Nylund wrote novels to accompany the series which were endorsed by the producers. These went into incredible detail about the aspects of humanities ascent into the stars, its colonial wars, and the shocking and controversial development of the SPARTAN project. The books also looked at the war from both sides, offering the unique perspective of the Covenant forces; the Grunts, the Elites, the Brutes and the Prophets.
We were introduced to Dr. Catherine Halsey, the mastermind behind the SPARTAN inception. We met Fred and Kelly, members of John-117’s original unit. And learned of the tragic fall of Reach, Earth’s last, major bastion before it was attacked by the Covenant. The novels followed Master Chief throughout his journey as Earth’s hero but also fleshed out many other characters and events along the way, expanding on the Halo universe as it went.
Many comparisons were made between the books and Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers in terms of content, storytelling, and realism.
When Halo 3 was released things went a step further.
By this time Halo and Master Chief had become household names. Adverts for the game were shown in theatres and TV and the franchise broke records for merchandising, something that another staple of pop culture, Harry Potter, had held before.
This was unlike any other gaming experience. It was a story that broke the constraints of its platform and went on to influence games that came after it. It shifted the focus from making not just an involving game but crafting an incredible story on which to support it.
Comic books by Marvel have been written showcasing the adventures of Master Chief, to accompany the games and the multitude of characters in the franchise. A Blu-ray was created to delve even deeper to the mystery of Halo, its origins and the history of The Covenant and humanity. A continuing range of action figures and vehicles have been released following all the games and developing the ideas within the saga. Halo Wars and Halo: Reach are both prequels to the trilogy that started with Halo: CE.
Reach was Bungies farewell to the series it so successfully ushered into the world. 343 Industries have now taken over management of Halo – this division of Microsoft was developed solely to run all things Halo and is even named after the Forerunner AI, 343 Guilty Spark, from the games.
This year, the game that started it all is ten years old and gets a re-mastering of its own.
Drawing any parallels to another franchise I mentioned earlier?
I wasn’t there for Star Wars original release but Halo seems to have had that same cultural impact on my generation. It has captured fan’s imagination and ran with the ball, going from strength to strength.
I hope it can continue to keep up the pace.