Can Halo 2 still be a Halo game when it’s missing the Master Chief? (Review)

It seems odd to take a nearly iconic figure like the Master Chief, and do anything that might diminish him.

Well, life can finally start returning to normal ’round these parts… at 2:30am on Sunday, November 14, 2004, I beat Halo 2. And I think the first words out of my mouth upon victory were “What the crap?!?” To describe the ending of Halo 2 as anticlimactic would probably be a bit of an understatement, and if you browse through any Halo 2-related forums, you’ll find that I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Mind you, I don’t think the game itself sucks. I still had tons of fun playing it until the wee hours of the morning (*cough* 3:30am *cough*), and I suspect it’ll be frequently slipped into the ol’ XBox plenty of times over the next few weeks and months for a quick fix of Covenant ass-kicking.

Now, I’m not talking about the multiplayer stuff here — that’s purely secondary stuff to me. I know that plenty of people bought Halo 2 just for the multiplayer action. While being able to hook together a couple of XBoxes, a couple of TVs, and engage in an all-night orgy of firepower with a couple of other guys is certainly awesome, I’ve always been about the Campaign play, and the game’s storyline.

I was thrilled when I learned that the sequel’s storyline was much more indepth, and in all honesty, it really is. You learn plenty more about the Halo rings, and especially about the Covenant. But it’s now “what” you learn that I had a problem with. It’s “how” Bungie went about doing it.

Let’s face it, the Master Chief is the face of the Halo universe. In the first game, there was something enigmatic about this bio-engineered soldier encased in green armor, such that even though he didn’t undergo a ton of character development (or even have a face), his plight was gripping nevertheless. The first game gave you just enough to make his status as “Humanity’s Last Hope” something that truly felt epic and intriguing.

However, the structure and pacing of Halo 2 dramatically reduces his role in the game, to the point of nearly being misleading. Look at any of the trailers, any of the commercials, any of the marketing, and it’s clear the Chief was being touted as Mankind’s savior in its darkest hour — when in fact he’s reduced to a background character that’s barely there for half of the game (at least, that’s what it feels like). And it just seems odd to me to take a nearly iconic figure like the Master Chief, and do anything that might diminish him.

And of course, there’s the game’s “ending”. Now, I don’t need all of the questions answered, all of the loose ends tied up to be a happy gamer. Bungie has had a long history of leaving their games’ endings open enough to ensure long debates and discussions (hence the fact that the Marathon series, which came out nearly 10 years ago, is still being picked apart), but Halo 2’s ending was way too open to be even the slightest bit satisfying. After waiting all these years and enduring all of the hype, I do want to have some closure.

Of course, the rumor mill is now going into overdrive, and the discussion forums are positively abuzz with speculation as to whether or not there will be a Halo 3. People are picking apart anything they can think of — the game’s ending (which briefly flashes “February 9” onscreen if you beat the game on the hardest difficulty), the short little post-credits teaser (which might hint at a major character’s possible betrayal), the fact that the countdown over on I Love Bees (an alternative marketing campaing for Halo 2) has started up again, the series’ religious imagery, the E3 2003 demo, etc., etc. — and the scuttlebutt is flying fast and furious.

Will there be a Halo 3? I certainly hope so — they’ve left things open enough for one (which, I realize, isn’t enough justification in and of itself, but still). If Bungie doesn’t pursue a new sequel (which, by the way, they have neither confirmed or denied) or do something, not only will they be missing out on a huge cash cow (Halo 2 took in $125 million dollars on opening day!) and pissing off a very dedicated fanbase, but they’ll also be taking the easy and lazy way out. And I think that bothers me even more than anything else.

Bungie has proven, time and again, that they make games that kick lots of ass, both in terms of gameplay and plot. Bungie has set incredibly high standards for themselves, true, but they’ve proven themselves capable of meeting those standards again and again. Leaving the series “as is” would be a betrayal, not just of their legions of fans, but more importantly of themselves and their considerable talents.

Sigh… whatever the case, it looks like we’ll just have to keep playing until February, and then maybe Bungie will let us know just what they were thinking.

On a somewhat related note, I really want one of those Halo 2 Master Chief action figures. Yes, I am a dork.