Hello, Halo 5: Microsoft’s hopeful fresh take on the popular game

The Halo video game universe is about to expand with new characters and storylines. Will passionate fans like what they see?

I’m sitting inside the armory wing of a Pelican dropship, more than 500 years in the future, getting ready to wage all-out war. The other Spartan supersoldiers, like me, are 7-foot-tall genetically augmented humans clad in 1,000-pound armor.

An arrow in my heads-up display tells me to approach a raised, hexagonal platform where the hologram of our commander briefs my fellow soldiers and me on our mission. She explains our objectives and shows us detailed 3D tours of the terrain we’re about to fight on.

We move to our battle stations, ready to strike our first blow.

In reality, I’m seated in an elaborate set on the show floor of the Los Angeles Convention Center — chilled by full-blast AC against the June heat — during the marketing extravaganza known as the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3. I’m also wearing Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality headset, which analyzes my surroundings and floats 3D images before my eyes.

This is the closest I may ever get to experiencing life inside the universe of Halo, the science fiction series that made shooting video games the most successful and beloved genre of a generation. Thanks to Microsoft, which owns the Halo brand, I’m getting a firsthand taste of Halo’s new look.

The illusion breaks when I remove the HoloLens and head off to an Xbox game controller to play Halo 5: Guardians. Due out October 27, the next major installment in the Halo series represents Microsoft’s big push to persuade players to plunk down about $350, £300 or AU$500 for its upgraded Xbox One game console. Blockbuster titles like Halo drive console sales, and Microsoft has waited nearly two years to deliver a game like Guardians.

If that sounds awfully weighty for a new game, think of it in cinematic terms. Halo is the video game equivalent of Star Wars. It’s a sweeping space opera about humanity’s ongoing struggle against hostile alien species. Players assume the role of Spartan John-117, also known as Master Chief, as he fights galactic battles with advanced civilizations. Over the Internet, gamers can mix it up in complex, multiplayer combat where an enemy player can up the stakes with a rocket launcher, a tank or a walking armored vehicle nearly two stories high.

The HoloLens adds a new wrinkle. Although Microsoft doesn’t commercially sell the headset — yet — it points to the future of video games: rooted in storytelling and delivered by technology that plunges us smack into the center of this alien world.

The trick is making sure players stay along for the ride.

Shining legacy

Three years in the making, Guardians will debut exclusively for Microsoft’s Xbox One. While it’s the fifth entry in the series, it’s only the second from Microsoft’s in-house studio 343 Industries, or 343i — named after an advanced artificial intelligence in Halo’s fictional world.

Microsoft created 343i specifically to shepherd Halo after the series’ creator, Bungie, split from the company in 2007 to make new games on its own. Microsoft’s studio released Halo 4 three years ago, receiving high marks from critics and earning $220 million the first day of its release and $300 million in its first week.

“Master Chief is an amazing story, but we can’t tell his story forever,” says Ross. “There’s going to be a point in time where his story needs to take a rest.”

A Halo without Master Chief would be akin to Super Mario Bros. without Mario. But it may be what Halo needs. And while we may not see the end of Master Chief’s story anytime soon, Microsoft is treating Halo 5: Guardians as a step in that direction.

Fans of the series should be prepared for anything.

“When we took on the franchise, we weren’t just thinking about the next game,” Ross says. “How do we tell hundreds of stories for the next decades?”


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