So, the Halo 5 trailer came out recently and it was pretty awesome. Haven’t seen it yet? Well take three minutes and check it out below; go ahead, I’ll wait.
Seriously, how cool was that? From the airborne deployment to the single-handed takedowns of multiple enemies (including Phantoms) that delivered on the action and excitement fans have come to expect from Microsoft’s flagship franchise. Plus there was a lot of throwbacks to the storyline that ran through Halo 4’s Spartan Ops mode which will reward players who sunk alot of time into those episodes.
Also, look who’s back!
Yes, that is Nathan Fillion, but more precisely that would be Gunnery Sergeant Edward Buck who last made an appearance (other then a brief audio easter egg in Halo:Reach) in Halo:ODST. I was really excited to see him here as ODST is probably my favourite of all the Halo titles and of all the former Firefly castmates who populated it, Fillion’s Buck was easily the most fun.
Buck was cocky, quick talking and occasionally a little frantic (all traits some people may recognise from another famous Fillion character) and all of these traits helped to humanise not only him, but the enormity of the situation he and his men were caught in. After all, while most Halo Games have you in the comfortably shielded boots of Master Chief or another Spartan, ODST kept things firmly human in scope and drove home just how imposing the Covenant actually are without the benefit of genetic engineering, shields and the latest armour.
Or at least, that’s how he must have felt until he became a Spartan and now has all of those advantages too.
This is part of a wider pattern I’ve been noticing since 343 Industries took over with Halo 4. While the main campaign was fantastic and easily stands among the best in the series, the accompanying Spartan Ops storyline featured alot of elements that seemed to contradict alot of what earlier games had established.
See, one of the interesting things about Master Chief; the Halo games enigmatic silent protaganist, is that while he is constantly surrounded by fairly classic Sci-Fi/Action movie situations and characters he himself is a tragic hero. Less Rambo and more Jean ValJean (excuse me while I adjust my monocle).
Think about it, he’s the saviour of the human race who has had his own Humanity stripped from him in order to become that saviour. Stolen as a child, experimented on and augmented to become the perfect soldier and so damaged by the process that he can barely speak to those around him. Even when he has won the war and saved the UNSC he gets pulled back into the fight and now has to cope with the gradual decline of his only friend and confidant. Despite all of this, the Chief always gets the job done and that is what makes him heroic. The fact that, for all the reasons he has to give up or to downright hate the UNSC he always does his duty.
Compare that to Majestic Squad, the protagonists of the Spartan Ops shorts and you start to see a disparity. Majestic are all volunteers for the new Spartan program, former Marines and Troopers who are granted the super-human abilities of Spartans and apparently use it to–pick up chicks–according to the first conversation you hear. Everything after that mostly serves to reinforce the Dude-Bro mentality of the squad’s two main members and, while they admittedly prove mostly inferior to the player’s ‘Fireteam Crimson’, there’s little to mark them as heroic other then their augmented strength.
While the recruitment of new Spartans isn’t itself an issue, after all no self-respecting government isn’t going to try and improve on the ‘Kidnap and Brutalize Children’ method, the impression you’re left with is that the goal is to completely repopulate the Halo Universe with Spartans, rendering them essentially just particularly massive Marines. This is an impression that only grows when they take one of the series’ only completely human action heroes, Buck, and throw him into the Mjolnir armour too.
Even the trailer for Halo Wars 2 showed this to a certain extent, by featuring a trailer focussed entirely on a Spartan team in combat rather then any of the human characters who made up almost the entire UNSC cast of the first game.
The danger with all of this is pretty straightforward, by removing human characters from Master Chief’s story you lose the stark comparison between himself and those he’s protecting and as such lose a major part of what makes him such a great character.
Or, to put it another way; If everyone is special, then no one is.
Ultimately none of this really matters, Halo 5 still looks incredible and I’ll buy it along with most other people. Still, if humanity does start to take a backseat to the Spartans and we lose that link between them, I’ll feel like one of gaming’s most iconic characters is a little bit worse for it.
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