Those of you who were around and gaming when Microsoft first stepped into the console gaming market know all too well how risky an endeavor it was to take on Nintendo and Sony. But when Microsoft brought out a system that was bigger, blockier, and sporting controllers that could turn any player’s hands into crippled claws, they had a secret weapon. Halo changed the face of modern shooting, and quite possibly modern gaming, and Microsoft’s ace in the hole catapulted them to the top of the heap.
Now ten years later, the franchise that started it all, Bungie is handing the franchise off to another studio. But according to Microsoft the series is just as integral to the system’s success as it always has been, going so far as to say that the Xbox can only succeed if Halo leads the way.
That’s no small amount of pressure to place on the new team at 343 Industries, but as self-described Halo super-fans it would be difficult to find more capable hands than theirs. Microsoft doesn’t doubt 343’s abilities, but there really is no understating the importance that the next few games will have on the outlook for the Xbox 360.
Console-exclusives are important, sure, but in the eyes of Microsoft’s top brass the path the Halo series cuts is just as much an indicator of how in-touch with the current market the platform is. In an interview with Official Xbox Magazine, Microsoft Games Studios vice-president Phil Spencer explained that the best games are what drive a games system, and no studio bears a larger burden than 343 when it comes to expectations:
“I think it’s important that our AAA first party titles do help craft and shape how the platform evolves…Halo just by its sheer nature of size, of user base – as well as how important the FPS is in today’s gaming world – has to play that role.
“If we lose our way with Halo, we lose our way with Xbox, because Halo and the importance of games like CoD and other shooters, that state of the art needs to continue to move forward, and our team at 343 need to move forward with that. That’s always going to be one of our success criteria.
“The good thing about 343 is that they’ve had the time, through the dev of Reach, working on getting the map packs out, and getting to know the infrastructure and the build systems and everything about Halo…They’ve also brought in their own talent and their own view so that they can put their own stamp on the franchise”
The developers at 343 Industries will likely say that they’re up to the task, but that is a serious amount of pressure to place on a team who is already facing a potential wave of fan outrage no matter what decisions they make. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary will be the first chance the studio has to show how well they understand the franchise. It’s still early, but the team seems to know what made Halo special.
Spencer is right to point out just how important FPS titles are in today’s gaming world, but that can’t last forever. Bungie’s farewell documentary made it clear that Halo succeeded because it was a fresh and inspired project, not because it let players shoot things with guns. So while the success of Halo 4 might be a sign of how good a shooter the team can provide to the masses, that isn’t where their impact will end.
If 343 delivers a fantastic, fresh, and truly ‘AAA’ game then we’ll know once and for all that the Xbox 360 can be a superior machine all on its own, not just a platform riding the momentum of being ‘the Halo system.’ That’s a massive amount of pressure to place on a team that has just recently remodeled Bungie.net, but they are showing signs of bringing something new to the series, whether fans are open to the idea or not.
They’ve made it clear that Halo 4 will be all about Master Chief, and are addressing the recent explosion of cinematic storytelling by adding animated cutscenes to Halo: Combat Evolved. With a strong connection to the past, 343 might just be able to bring enough fresh philosophy to Halo to meet Microsoft’s hopes. After all, a system really is only as good as the games one can play on it.
We’ll have an idea of where the Halo series – and therefore, the Xbox – is headed when Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is released on November 15, exclusively for the Xbox 360.
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