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Dear Halo Franchise, February 5, 2010

Posted by criticaluniverse in Video Games.
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Let me start by saying that I myself am an X-Box 360 owner, and I have played every Halo iteration to date. The first in the series, Halo: Combat Evolved was the second game I purchased for my original X-Box and to this day I still have very fond memories of t he experience. The fact that my brother and I could both play co-op split screen was a major bonus, fighting off alien invaders is always better with a partner. Now let me say that as an avid science fiction reader I consider a lot of the Haloverse trash.

Space Marines have been done in military sci-fi a hundred times before, and a hundred times better than in Halo. I feel like the games are specifically dumbed down to be accessible to average people who don’t share an interest in sci-fi. I can understand, Bungie and Microsoft have to market this game to a larger demographic than sci-fi geeks in order to make money. The thing is Halo just isn’t very original. The main story takes place approximately 500 years in the future. In that time mankind has spread to the stars under the watchful gaze of the United Nations Space Command (more on the UNSC later). However despite significant leaps in space travel technology humans are still using extremely out of date weapons.

For example. The MA5B Assault rifle is a fully automatic, gas operated, magazine fed, 7.62mm personal combat weapon. In comparison the AK-47 is a selective fire, gas operated, magazine fed, 7.62mm personal combat weapon that has been in service since 1949. So in about 550 years assault rifle technology has not advanced…at all. One more example. Here we have the M808B Main Battle Tank which features a 90mm cannon that fires tungsten armor piercing ballistic capped rounds, a 7.62mm machine gun, a whopping maximum acceleration of 5.6 mph, and weighs in at 66 metric tons. In comparison the M1A1 Abrams has a 120mm smoothbore cannon which fires depleted uranium armor piercing rounds or HE rounds, a 50mm machine gun and two 7.62 mm machine guns, with an off-road speed of 30 mph, and weighs in at 67 tons. The original variant of the M1 has been around since 1980. Once again, modern weapons tech beats out future weapons tech.

Not only is Halo unimaginative but it is completely lacking military strategy. I have never served in the Armed Forces, though I wish I could, but I have read enough history and military sci-fi by authors who have served to know that Halo misses the mark for accuracy. Which is fine. It doesn’t have to be accurate. It is a game geared toward casual gamers and people who don’t care for all the details. What bugs me is that while reading Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising I couldn’t help but feel that NATO and Russia would have been far better suited to fight the Covenant than the UNSC. The only thing they would lack would have been the space ships. But seriously. Red Storm Rising was written about 20 years ago and is a book about the Cold War heating up. It is fiction but not science fiction. It is about humans fighting humans. And I still think the military forces in that book could have easily trumped the Covenant. It seems that the only tactic in the Spartan handbook is overload the fusion reactor on any UNSC ship in the vicinity and make a daring escape.

 It just seems to me that instead of doing their research, which is essential in sci-fi, Bungie just took a couple modern day weapons and gave them different names. Of course the weapons aren’t the only thing important to sci-fi, not by far, but in a sci-fi first person shooter they do have a degree of importance. It is a wonder that the UNSC was able to fight the Covenant at all with such out dated weapons. This brings me to the UNSC.

Here on Earth the United Nations is an inefficient bureaucracy, a compilation of countries committed to maintaining international peace and security. A job that the UN fails at most admirably. Things like the Rwandan Genocide, Srebrenica Massacre, Somalia, Iran, Sudan, and Darfur come to mind. Killing off an entire ethnicity? We, the United Nations, will write you a letter with fancy wording and threaten to put sanctions on you! Continuing with plans to create nuclear weapons? We, the United Nations, will blah blah blah. Regardless of real life Halo is fiction, set in a future 500 years down the road. Who knows? Maybe the UN got its act together and conquered space so that the assembly members could sit around a camp fire on Harvest and sing “Kumbaya”. Or maybe not. Apparently there were 23 billion civilian casualties during the Human-Covenant War. My guess is that these were the result of the UNSC’s failure to act. Or they may have been right on the ball, sending a very gruff letter and threatening sanctions on the Covenant.

The truth about Halo is that it is 85% style and 15% substance. I won’t deny that there were moments when, playing the Halo games, I got a sense of something epic. But the truth is that what Bungie created is a hype machine with sci-fi themes and a lack of military knowledge and research. Were any fanboy to read this I guarantee they would be outraged. That sort of things is a guilty pleasure of mine. Here soon I may write up a criticism on Halo 3: ODST which I find to be the absolute worst entry in the series. But for now I’m content to sit back and watch the sparks fly.