Thoughts on Halo 4

WARNING – CONTAINS SPOILERS! If you haven’t completed the campaign for Halo 4 and intend to then please don’t read on because I’m going to ruin things for you.

The other day whilst recording the intro end close to Of Dice & Men Adam asked me which I preferred Spartans or Space Marines. As those that know me will testify, I never have a straight forward answer for anything. I very rarely just state a preference or an opinion because there’s a lot of thought that goes into things and I like to share those thoughts whether the person on the receiving end likes it or not.

My answer was this;

If we’re talking generally than Space Marines because Space Marines are awesome, I’ve been collecting them 20 years and they’re ace. If we’re talking purely in the video game arena then Spartans because Space Marine, although good, had some pretty glaring deficiencies which, having replayed it recently, explains why there won’t be a sequel. If, however, the question was; which do I prefer the Master Chief or Space Marines then I have to say the Master Chief.

Now, before people start writing rage mail or leaving me condescending comments – because we all know how I love those – let me just say it’s a preference. A simple choice based on a set of criteria important to me.

For me what makes the Halo Universe and the Master Chief so compelling is that it’s a tale of tragedy. Not just the Chief’s tale but one of humanity as a whole. Our expansion into the heavens led to a war with an advanced alien race that almost led to our extinction and even then left our colonies barren and Earth wounded.

Humanity was saved by the sacrifice of the Spartans. I won’t go into too much detail about the process but the important thing to remember that the Spartan IIs were abducted children, (the later Spartan IIIs war orphans). They were abducted and put through extraordinary levels of physical and psychological conditioning so by the time the Master Chief first experienced combat at 16 he and his fellow surviving Spartans were as far removed from humanity as, arguably, the Adeptus Astartes in 40k. Not in the same way perhaps but the point stands.

John 117’s life from the age of 6 has been one of loss. Loss of family, loss of self then later the loss of his friends during the process that turned them into Spartans. Throughout the war he had to deal with the loss of his fellow Spartans, the loss of men and women and the loss of worlds. And still he fought on, any small victory being seized upon and exploited to the full for the betterment of humanity all the while not convinced of his place in humanity when the fighting was done.

And were this tragedy not enough he was charged with looking after the AI Cortana; the greatest and most sophisticated AI every created, an AI that held the secrets of the Forerunners and the Halo rings. The Chief and Cortana had met before and both were impressed with each other. The Chief had clarity of thought, brave and strong. Cortana was wise yet sensitive and reminded the Chief of the humanity, ironically, that he fought to protect and deep down still possessed.

Their connection was deep and far-reaching. They were as in love as a Spartan and an AI were capable of feeling those emotions. And from the Halo Incident they protected each other. When John-117 was forced to leave Cortana on High Charity he felt the loss acutely and his journey was as much about getting Cortana back as it was to defeat the Covenant.

In Halo 4 yet another tragedy befell the pair and that was Cortana’s descent into rampancy. In a nutshell, an AI only lives for 7 years before they start to think themselves to death. And despite Cortana’s descent into madness and their desperation to return home and see if her creator could do something to help, they put the safety of the UNSC Infinity and that of humanity first. And ultimately it cost Cortana her life. If you’re reading this and you haven’t finished Halo 4 then you’re a damn fool. But anyway…

For all his super human strength and no matter how hard he fought he couldn’t save Cortana. The funny thing was, as he faced down the fact that he was most likely going to sacrifice himself I don’t think it ever occurred to him that Cortana wouldn’t survive. With the loss of Cortana the Chief is forced to look at the world with his own eyes, finding his own humanity rather than relying on Cortana’s.

Halo 4 ended a bitter-sweet love story with tragedy pushing the chief ever closer to an edge he can’t return from as he tries to understand what it means to be human having had his humanity drummed out of him as a boy. John-117 never considered the loss of  because he’d always keep Cortana safe, no matter the personal cost. And now the Chief is left alone, no one he knew before the war left alive. Only Lasky, who he had met at the start of the Covenant War is the only vaguely familiar face.

Halo 5, I suspect will focus an awful lot on the Chief’s search for his sense of self. I also suspect that he won’t be paired with another AI and without the moral compass to guide him he’ll start to alienate himself from his fellow soldiers. Especially the Spartan IVs who are augmented adults. I also suspect that he’ll be haunted by ghosts of Cortana within his armour’s systems forcing him to experience a real and lasting sense of loss and grief rather than the stoic acceptance with which he’d met the loss of comrades in the past.

Halo 4 is not only the beginning of the Reclaimer arc but also the rediscovery of John-117’s humanity. And I can’t wait.

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