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.

Forward Unto Dawn Full Trailer

A few days ago I put up the teaser trailer for the upcoming Forward Unto Dawn mini series that will ramp up to the release of Halo 4 in November. Well, ever at your service, I have found the full length trailer which features none other than the Master Chief. Excitement levels increasing.

Halo 4 Collectors Edition Revealed

News of the Halo 4 Collectors Edition has been revealed today on Halo Waypoint. But to save you some time I’ve robbed it and put it up here.

Available for preorder today, the Halo 4 Limited Edition maximizes your multiplayer experience and puts you in the boots of a Spartan-IV aboard the UNSC Infinity – the hub of your Halo multiplayer career.

The Halo 4 Limited Edition will be available at the estimated retail price of $99.99 (around £60) and includes:

War Games Map Pack Access
The competitive multiplayer modes of Halo 4 are known as War Games. The Limited Edition includes access to nine maps – three future competitive multiplayer map packs, each including three locations, available for download post-launch on Xbox LIVE. Yes, you read that correctly; you get nine maps in the form of future DLC with the purchase of the Halo 4 Limited Edition. Score!

Specializations
Everyone will have access to select Specializations, but those that purchase the Halo 4 Limited Edition will receive the ability to unlock six Specializations early, available at launch on Xbox LIVE. You can use them, one at a time, to achieve higher ranks in your Spartan career. In addition to gaining access to new ranks, Specializations unlock new customization options. We’ll be releasing more information about Specializations at E3, so expect additional details about this particular feature then.

UNSC Infinity Briefing Packet
The UNSC Infinity Briefing Packet includes a Spartan armor customization schematic, information about UNSC weapons, an introduction to the massive ship UNSC Infinity, and insight into what it means to be one of humanity’s finest warriors: The Spartan-IVs. Story lovers will especially enjoy this in-fiction offering that provides a glimpse into the indoctrination of Spartans aboard the Infinity.

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn Special Edition
The Special Edition of Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn is a 90-minute extended version of the live-action digital series which will take fans back to the terrifying beginning of the Human/Covenant war, when the Master Chief inspired a young cadet who would eventually become a leader aboard the UNSC’s greatest vessel ever: the UNSC Infinity.

Digital content also includes in-fiction bonus content that expands the characters and stories of Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, special featurette Bringing Gaming into Reality, and a behind the scenes look at the making of Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn.

Bonus digital content through Xbox LIVE
The Limited Edition includes the following bonus digital content through Xbox LIVE: unique in-game Spartan-IV armor skin, unique in-game weapon skin for the Assault Rifle, an exclusive in-game emblem, Xbox LIVE Avatar prop, and Xbox LIVE Avatar Spartan IV armour set.

Right about now you may be wondering, “If all those things come with the Limited Edition, what are they going to put in the Legendary Edition?” Here is the answer to that question: There will be two options available at retail for Halo 4 – the regular version of the game and the aforementioned Limited Edition. We decided to focus our efforts on a single special edition instead of numerous ones so you wouldn’t have to pick and choose between what ancillary items you want. Now your primary choice is whether or not you just want the game, or the game along with all the goodies. And we’re hoping we made that decision an easy one for you…

Must wash hands before returning to battle
Along with cutting up images and sprinkling the pieces upon the community, we’ve continued to maintain beyond full plates as we traverse the road leading up to launch. Section 3, our services team, is putting the polish on a few different updated experiences. Frankie and Kevin are currently at the Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn set, checking out today’s shoot, “accidentally” bumping into the actors and actresses (one of whom is one of my most favorite actresses EVER), and playing around with various weapon replicas every time the person in charge of props turns his back.

The rest of the team is head down in Halo 4, coming up for breath only as time allows. Some are occupied with an upcoming network test. The majority, though, find their days (and nights) consumed with preparation for E3.

Yesterday we were three weeks away from showing you what Halo 4 is all about. Today we are two weeks and six days away. Every second counts as we finalize the builds, take the screenshots, and prepare to reveal new weapons, enemies, game types, and more.

This particular stage of preparation is nerve-wracking. There’s an indescribable current in the air, one that gets more intense with each passing day. When you pour your heart and soul into something, when you are determined to do right because you know what you’re creating is important to people, the pressure elevates you and fosters an atmosphere that breeds strong focus and drive, where the team is only capable of performing at their very best. That’s where we’re at, in over-drive, with the E3 finish line coming into sight.

And as an added bonus; I saw this mad video that someone did recreating the Believe trailer from Halo 3 – the massive scale model – out of Minecraft.