Before reading, be aware of the following:
- As of this writing, I have not yet completed the Halo 4 campaign, cooperatively or otherwise.
- I have been made aware, by a friend, that additional story insight is available in the campaign's hidden terminals, none of which I've watched.
- This write-up will be relatively spoiler-free.
Expanding on the fiction of video games in the form of a novelization is, by no means, a new idea. Many major franchises, including Diablo, Mass Effect, Resident Evil, and many, many others have taken part in this to provide rabid fans with either side stories, or expansions of existing stories. In the case of Halo 4, I personally believe 343 Studios may have blurred the line between the two a bit much.
I have been a long-time Halo fan. I've played every iteration, sans Halo Wars, and enjoyed them all. I even went as far as to read the first four Halo novels, mainly because I wanted to learn more about Master Chief's back-story. Since then, I have stopped reading them, simply because they no longer focused on the history, or the ongoing battles of Master Chief. Through reading those early novels, I learned a good amount about Master Chief, Cortana, Dr. Halsey, the Halo installations and the Forerunners. So, naturally, I thought that I would be prepared, going into the Halo 4 story, without reading any of the recent novelizations. Sadly, I feel like I was wrong.
For the first couple of hours, things were going great. Chief woke up from his cryogenic slumber, shot up a bunch of Covenant, landed on a Forerunner planet, and then went about his business. All standard Halo fare, and all exactly what I wanted. Eventually, you run into a main antagonist, a first for a Halo game. This is where things started going south for me.
I was expecting an encounter similar to the first time Master Chief meets 343 Guilty Spark in the original Halo: Combat Evolved. Dialogue along the lines of, "Who are you?" and "What is it you want?" seemed like a fair guess as to where this first encounter would go. This was not the case. Almost right off the bat, Cortana begins calling the antagonist by a particular name that I have never heard before. Master Chief never questions this, and also seems to have an idea of who this character is and what is going on. At this point, I'm starting to doubt myself. "Did I miss a cutscene?" "Have I missed dialogue between the Master Chief and Cortana?" These were a few of the questions running through my head as I continued through the story. Moving on, you run into another character related to the antagonist and, once again, Cortana and Master Chief do not seem surprised and seem to know this character as well. Now, I know it isn't just me being dense.
I did a little research, and discover that pretty much all of the questions that I have were more or less answered in the two most recent Halo novels, Cryptum and Primordium, written by Greg Bear. This made me feel a little better, but at the same time, frustrated. I want to be able to play through the entire story of Halo 4 without being absolutely required to read the novels. They were never necessary for it's predecessors, and I don't see why it should be now. Sure, I can bumble all the way through the Halo campaign, understand most, but not all of it, and leave it at that. As you can tell, I don't want to do that at all. Fans should never HAVE to engage in reading or researching supplemental material in order to understand everything in your game's story. It doesn't really seem fair.
Now, positive things. Everything relating to Master Chief's past is fantastic. Everything involving Cortana's impending rampancy is fantastic. Anytime Master Chief is engaging with officers on the Infinity, it's fantastic. I really do love Halo 4...mostly. I look forward to finishing the campaign and writing down my final thoughts. Most of this is probably stuff that would only bother Halo super-fans, so some may not see why I'm being so whiny about it. But I think that it is important that studios know that not all of their fans read every novel, comic or other media that they release. Some of them just want to play the game, and they want a full experience from that alone.