Itís not often that Iím left baffled and speechlessÖwell, barring the Percy Jackson movie from a few years back. But itís not often where I can stare at a product -- story, video game, what have you -- and walk away from it without the ability to say anything meaningful about it.
Thatís how I feel whenever I cross paths with Halo
-- and consistently, at that.
IÖjust donít get Halo
, I guess. I had a GameCube last generation, so I outside of five minutes playing in the middle of the campaign with a cousin, I donít have any fond memories of the original. When my brother got a 360, he grabbed a cheap copy of Halo 2
in preparation for 3
-- in spite of playing it maybe four times in all. We DID beat the campaign in 3
together, and played a fair amount of the multiplayer (like about half the planet), but there was still a big disconnect for a gamer jumping into the series so late. I think The Arbiterís cool -- certainly helps that heís voiced by the testosterone-laden siren Keith David -- but thereís still a lot Iím missing about him. Like a sheep (a sheep in the sense that he wasnít a fan of the franchise and he wanted the game becauseÖbecause
), my brother grabbed Halo: Reach
. It didnít leave much of an impression, and thatís about the nicest thing I can say about it; it reached a point where, upon a visit to GameStop and spotting a Reach
action figure with a soldier standing atop a rock, I joked that the rock was the most well-developed character and most noble hero of the bunch. Oh, and ODST
was a thing that happened, I guess.
So yeah, Iím not exactly a storm of loyalty when it comes to Halo
. I canít bring myself to HATE it, because I recognize that itís a series that brings a lot of joy to a lot of people, and as I understand it thereís been plenty of world-building to flesh it out beyond shootiní and jumpiní. But I canít bring myself to LOVE it, because -- and I stress this is opinion alone
-- I find it bland and repetitive, and at least as far as the games go itís an ultimately shallow experience. As an English teacher of mine would put it, itís like popcorn; it tastes good and itís a mainstay of certain experiences, but itís a snack. Fluff food. Nothing more, nothing less.
And now Halo 4
is on the way. If I know my brotherís impulsive game-buying habits, itís only a matter of time before he rolls home with a copy in hand. Right now, I canít bring myself to respond with anything besides a resounding ďmeh.Ē Itíll be well-put together, and have some spiffy gameplay bells and whistles, and present everything in glorious HD graphics, butÖIím so neutral itís almost painful.
I think the root of my problem is that I donít really have a feel for Master Chief. I could take the scumbag route and say ďItís because he doesnít have a personality; heís just a cipher for gamers to superimpose themselves atop!Ē But I know thatís not true, and certainly not fair to the dedicated and knowledgeable fans. Itís just that often I find myself defining a game according to its main characters. Itís probably an underlying reason for my hatred of Final Fantasy XIII,
but there are other applications. Like how I prefer Dante and his games over Kratos and his games. Or how I think Skyward Sword
is actually a surprisingly deep game, in spite of -- or maybe because of
-- the silent protagonist in a silly green hat. Or why BlazBlue
has one of my favorite casts among any fighting gameÖand by extension, is a serious contender for my favorite fighting game. Characters can mold, if not completely decide, the shape of a story into something wonderful (like Ezio), or something horrifying (like Busby).
So what kind of shape does Master Chief impart on the Halo
franchise? Even though Iím wildly out of my element, I could hazard a guess. The silent, stoic warrior; the masked man whose foot-thick armor pales in comparison to his hardened resolve; the soldier who always gets the job done, preferring to speak with his weapon, and knowing that diplomacy alone isnít enough to turn the tide. Someone that appears to be colorless may be anything but; heís just rigidly devoted to completing the mission (though his loyalty to Cortana speaks volumes). For that, Iíd say heís pretty admirable. Not my cup of tea, but admirable nonetheless.
On the other hand, he could be exactly what the naysayers suggest: little more than a blank slate. Iím of the opinion that FPSes in general donít lend themselves to making players resonate with a character (though thatís a broad statement, and I know
there are counter-examples out there), but Master Chief may have codified it. Iím having a hell of a time remembering anything substantial the Spartan said during Halo 3
outside of a few one-liners. True, actions speak louder than words, but that doesnít mean words are useless. Even at their worst, silent protagonists like Link or several Shin Megami Tensei
leads manage to create a character (Skyward Sword
had Linkís personality conveyed through his expressions and reactions and a few dialogue choices; meanwhile, even games as low-budget as Devil Survivor
had branching dialogue, and a few still sprites of the heroís face). I think we can at least agree that a character, regardless of medium, needs to leave an impact on us. So why has Master Chief done nothing of the sort for me? Why is it that I find the people around the chief more interesting than the leading man himself? Come to think of it, doesnít ďMaster ChiefĒ sound bland at best and ridiculous at worst? And with his real name being John (as far as I know), does that really help things? Was his last name Generic at one point?
It seems like thereís a pretty big divide, now that I think about it. For argumentís sake, letís have a look at Link through the years.
Now letís have a look at Master Chief through the years.
Thereís no denying that one of them has seen a lot more different art styles -- certainly because heís spent a lot more time kicking around. But thereís one advantage Link has that Chief has yet to tap.
You never really realize how much you miss a face until itís not there anymore. But supposedly, people are hardwired to recognize and find faces. Itís why we say thereís a man on the moon. Itís why as babies, one of the first things we learn to recognize is a face. Itís why there are disorders devoted to lacking an ability to recognize faces.
Theyíre important. They show emotion. Thoughts, opinions, approval and disapproval. Now consider that part of the reason for The Wind Wakerís
art style was to put an emphasis on Linkís expressions. Given that, consider that even in Halo: Reach,
seeing one of Noble Teamís faces meant they were about five minutes away from death. Do you see why there might be a problem with Master Chief?
But itís a problem that I donít want to have. I want something to latch onto, just as others already have. What makes this character great? What makes him special? What makes him and his like-armored cohorts worthy of appearing in a couple of episodes of The Simpsons
? Iím willing to accept the no-face thing (particularly if he looks like Deadpool or Darth Vader under there), but whatever the case I need something of substance. So if someone asks me, ďHey Voltech. What makes Master Chief so great?Ē And then Iíd bust out a mile-long scroll of reasons why, in spite of his apparent shallowness, he -- and his game, by extension -- can actually be pretty deep if you give him the chance.
And I want to give him that chance. But Iíll need your help, Dtoiders. So let me hear it: just what does Master Chief mean to you?