Halo in Retrospective: Master Chief always stands by his release date

Another E3 just went on, and while the guys still expecting for Valve to finally announce Half-Life 3 made a massive protest to show the developer how much they want that sequel, the rest of the world didn’t have to move even a finger to see the a new trailer of another (still unnamed) entry of the Halo franchise for the Xbox One.

I remember how I used to go nuts every time a new game of the series was officially announced. Today, it pains me quite a bit not feeling that invested in the franchise anymore. That trailer from last week looked amazing, but I can’t help but wonder if the final game will be able to meet the expectations?

Halo: Combat Evolved was a really influential game to me; back then I was a raging Nintendo fanboy who wouldn’t give a second toss to any game developed for another game console. Halo changed all that. I found myself wanting to get an Xbox just to play Combat Evolved, and eventually I realized that there were a lot of games I was missing out for only being invested in one company. I’ve played many other games for different consoles ever since, but Halo was the one that helped me to make that first step.

I got engaged to this game real quick; there are lots of action, smart (and even creative) AI in enemies and allies alike, and amazing vehicular combat. And even tough Halo: Combat Evolved posses a mostly vague story throughout the game, it’s just enough to keep things moving.

These days I feel different. I’ll just say it: from my point of view Halo 4 is a bad game; it doesn’t offer anything new to the formula, and the whole plot is kind of pointless. It was a nice try but still a forgettable experience. The best thing I can say about that game is that it was a nice rental: I didn’t have any regrets when I gave it back.

“But the multiplayer component is better, right?” 

I guess so. But did we really need an updated multiplayer component anyway? I’m really sure that Halo: Reach didn’t stop being fun after the millionth time I played it over Xbox Live. Remember those guys who didn’t stop playing Halo 2 until the very end? God, they were crazy, but they proved us something: multiplayer games don’t need to be updated to be enjoyable.

And as much as we’d want to blame 343 Industries (the new development team behind the series) for not being up to its original creators, the franchise’s biggest issue is that each game always sticks to its release date.

After Halo: Combat Evolved, each game of the franchise has suffered the lack of something due to its release date coming closer. Probably many of you already know most of the following facts, but I just need to say them out loud. My expectations for the game series I once adored are crumbling, and I swear this tree is not falling in a forest with no one around to hear it.

Halo 2 is the only game of the series I can actually call an honest sequel to its predecessor. It not only added a ton of new content into the gameplay department, this game was the one that truly set the whole canon of the series, like most of the game’s characters as well as most of the plot of the game.

But then, with the game release date getting closer, Bungie was forced to wrap things up and leave the ending in a cliffhanger, but still, one of the best things I can say about this game is that its TV commercial used to give me the chills every time I saw it, and the game actually stayed true to all those expectations.

Halo 3, on the other hand, isn’t all that great. I’m not going to lie. I loved this game, and a big part of me still does. I always knew that it has some issues, but I was too busy having fun that I could forgive most of it… most.

In retrospective, Halo 3 doesn’t actually offer anything to the plot than the ending we didn’t get in the previous entry; it didn’t even include any new character to the series. The game only extended the events that were left behind. No other game for the Xbox has been loudest or more hyped than this one; hey, do you remember those pretentious trailers for the title? Did the final game look anything like that?

I don’t remember the game being this awesome.

And how could we forget about Halo Wars? The only Real Time Strategy game of the series, developed by Ensemble Studios, the masterminds behind milestone Real Time Strategy Games like Ages of Empires and Age of Mythology; the game couldn’t be in better hands! (Starcraft fans, please sit down.)

But then once again, the release date was coming to a close, and instead of delaying the game a little bit in order to make sure that the game met the vision its developers had, Microsoft Game Studios rushed Ensemble Studios to close shop. Not only Microsoft was in a hurry to publish this highly anticipated game, but they already had announced their plans to close Ensemble Studios as soon as they were done with this project.

It’s really a shame when you consider all the potential that this title had. The control is really intuitive and engaging –actually it’s one of the best Real Time Strategy games anyone can play on a console–, but it’s not enough to hide its glaring flaws: its units are poorly designed, the game tends to be too simplistic, and there are not that many units and factions to choose from.

Ensemble had planned to include a Covenant and Flood campaign in the final game, but they were cut in order to meet the deadline. Graeme Devine –lead developer of the game– said with a laugh “If we sell enough copies, perhaps you’ll get to play Covenant in the sequel’s campaign,” it’s been five years now, I don’t think anyone’s laughing anymore.

Then there’s Halo 3: ODST. First announced as a complement for the events on Halo 3, the scope of the game was later broadened as a complete game that would cover the Covenant’s invasion on Earth. I (and many other critics) applauded the new setting for the game, the inclusion of more humanized characters, and an exploration-oriented gameplay, but the biggest issue about this game was how little the game actually offered for a $60 price tag: A shorter campaign with mostly recycled elements from the previous game, and the new multiplayer Firefight mode that doesn’t offer a matchmaking feature. I actually felt robbed by the end of the day, and considering how many copies of this game were sold back to retail stores, I can only guess that some people got even more offended than I was.

Then I can only imagine how more awesome Halo: Reach would be if it had a larger development cycle, but we couldn’t dodge this one, Reach was going to be the last game developed by Bungie.

I mean, I loved the new gameplay additions, the new game visuals (including the new ‘now old’ armor designs), and the grittier mood of the plot. On the other hand, there are things that just don’t feel right; my main complains are how the AI of your allies feels a tad retarded, how every battle seems concealed to small skirmishes, and vehicle battles feel less inspired this time around.

Yes, the multiplayer component was better than ever (Invasion was my absolute favorite), but what I was looking forward was to live that epic battle on Reach the legends had talked about since the birth of the series, but apparently that fight was being fought elsewhere.


Pictured above from top to bottom: Every Halo sequel, and my expectations.


I’m just saying I had enough. Every Halo game builds these huge expectations upon itself, and then they rush whatever they have in order to meet the deadline. You know guys? There’s nothing wrong anytime a game is delayed.

I wish I could feel sympathy for those guys claiming for Valve to finally announce Half Life 3, but you guys are lucky, Valve is known for taking several years to finally release a sequel to any game, but in the end they always deliver (Team Fortress 2 and Portal 2 are such fine examples of this).

I haven’t (fully) played either Half-Life titles, so I don’t know the size of that cliffhanger you’ve been holding on since 2004, but for that same amount of time (Halo 2 was released just a week before Half-Life 2) I’ve seen one of my favorite franchises plummet over and over again; falling less graciously every time it hits the ground, mostly because the people behind it always stand by their promised release date, and not by their commitment to the product itself.

Yes, trailers do look amazing, but Halo will have to show me more than that if it wants my money; call me when we will actually be able to do any of those amazing things that Master Chief does during said videos.

Daniel Castro

Daniel Castro

Daniel is an engineer, teacher, and freelance writer and translator. He considers himself blessed to be born during the the times video games were created, and has followed their development as an entertainment and artistic media ever since. He loves talking about video games as much as he enjoys playing them, and he's always ready to introduce gaming culture to a newer audience.

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