And How The Master Chief Can Become Gaming’s Wolverine
My memory was betraying me. I had felt the same feeling before. Even when the credits began to roll, I still couldn’t put my finger on it. Logan’s vicious human story had connected with me in the same way as only one other fable had.
In October of 2007, a week after the release of Halo 3, Microsoft announced “a plan for Bungie Studios to embark on a path to become an independent company.” This would eventually lead to the official split some years later after the developer had released its last two titles in ODST and Reach. Bungie’s Halo most certainly had a stellar cast of characters that could carry its epic story, but there was always something missing. When 343 Industries took the reins of the franchise, the studio set out to expand upon the heart and soul of Halo. Tales of Forerunner constructs and the political squabbles of the Covenant were ever-present, but it was in the character of John-117 that the lost potential of Bungie’s games was finally realized.
For every critique of Halo 4’s narrative, there can be no doubt of its success as a human story. Halo 4 brilliantly combines a complex and lore-heavy plot with the easily understandable relationship between Cortana and John. A story of an AI longing for humanity, and a man that has been ripped of his. These are the themes of Halo 4’s personal tale.
“Bungie’s Halo most certainly had a stellar cast of characters that could carry its epic story, but there was always something missing.”
So what the hell does a genetically altered Spartan from the 26th century have to do with a comic book hero on his last legs? Logan strips away the outer. While a working knowledge of the previous X-Men films will enhance the experience, it isn’t necessary, nor is it the core of the story. This is about a man who has been hurting all his life. And that’s all that really matters. This is a lived-in tale, with interstitial moments of false serenity. There was never going to be a happy ending. But you knew that didn’t you? The once feral animal wasn’t going to claw out of his grave and lead a new generation of mutants. This was about the journey.
And that’s what Halo sorely lacks. Humanity. Emotion. Feeling. Purpose. Focus. Halo 5 is vapid and vacant. It’s not there to serve any purpose. It’s a story for story’s sake. What happened to the 100,000 year-old ancient evil awakening from his cryptum who so handsomely revealed his agenda, motivations, and disgust for humanity? The Didact, Halo 4’s villain, is another example of the shocking drop-off in narrative quality between 343’s last two games. A being who spoke of responsibility and had his own twisted version of the world he awoke to. A character with layers and layers of depth, who marked his introduction and his exit with harrowing articulation, the likes of which Halo 5 could only wish to replicate on such a regular basis.
Logan is the definition of art. The success of its human story was what propelled me to write this piece, not the depressing state of Halo’s narrative in the last few years. Art should inspire, and propel our creative need to tell stories. Having watched a plethora of Logan reviews, I was astounded by the amount of interpretations that people had taken away from just about every scene. I had a problem with the direction of the plot in the second half of the movie, others thought the chase sequence near the end didn’t quite make sense, and there were some debating the way certain characters met their demise. But that’s the entire point. It created talking points and layers of discussion. Even though I have my own critiques of the film, others were able to take away something entirely different. And then I thought of Halo 5. What interpretation is there in any of its cut-scenes and the happenings of its plot? It’s simply shallow. There are no themes to extract or narrative decisions to study and debate like there was aplenty in Halo 4.
“And that’s what Halo sorely lacks. Humanity. Emotion. Feeling. Purpose. Focus. Halo 5 is vapid and vacant.”
With the Hunt the Truth audio podcasts and Halo 4, 343 have proved they can tell human stories with purpose and meaning. The infamous live-action commercials that teased a story of two warring philosophies in the Master Chief and Spartan Locke was set-up to tell the greatest human narrative of them all. For the sake of argument, even if we put Halo 5’s story woes down to a botched development cycle, it still wouldn’t explain head of 343 Industries Bonnie Ross’ comments from GDC about telling a simpler story going forward.
Should we lose hope prematurely? Because 343 Industries doesn’t seem to understand the problems that exist with the state of Halo storytelling. It has nothing to do with simplicity and complexity. Halo 4 is a direct refutation of that. What Halo needs is to continue to focus on its human stories while simultaneously telling a larger than life space opera filled with ancient beings and political intrigue.
For the sake of the franchise, and for the sake of its gargantuan potential, 343 Industries must take lessons from James Mangold’s Logan. A story of a broken man and an introspective into his struggles. A type of story that the Halo franchise delivered in 2012 as the Master Chief stood alone at the end of Halo 4, overlooking earth. Captain Thomas Lasky joins the Chief on the deck of the UNSC Infinity, when the armor-clad Spartan remarks, “Our duty as soldiers is to protect humanity. Whatever the cost.” Lasky, with a puzzled look, challenges John on his definition of humanity saying, “You say that like soldiers and humanity are two different things. Soldiers aren’t machines. We’re just people.” As Lasky takes his leave, John takes a moment to reflect on his poignant words. “She said that to me once. About being a machine.”
“For the sake of the franchise, and for the sake of its gargantuan potential, 343 Industries must take lessons from James Mangold’s Logan.”
Logan and John are no different. Broken men seeking any semblance of humanity, trying to repair old wounds and forgive themselves of the crime of being who they are. In an interview with BUILD, Hugh Jackman touched on what the vision for the film was saying, “This movie is about what it’s like for the soldier returning from the battle. The battle is the easy bit. It’s family that is difficult, it’s real relationships. That’s what is difficult for him. James Mangold [director] hit on this idea of a man who is terrified of love and intimacy being surrounded by family.” If that doesn’t sum up the story of the Master Chief, I don’t know what does.
To 343 Industries I would say: focus on the man that is the beating heart of your universe. He who questioned his place in the galaxy and was taught hard lessons about being human. The one in green who fights for a blue team, and longs for a blue companion. Focus on the man who is discovering his internal humanity, and taking us on a great journey of his own. The legend of 117.