Microsoft has a lot riding on their upcoming release of fourth installment of their cornerstone game franchise: Halo 4. And while the three previous releases in the series, along with a handful of spin-off titles, have been massive hits, fans are tempering their excitement with a touch of skepticism, while few want to say out loud what everyone is thinking: why isn’t Bungie producing Halo 4?
It’s a fair question. Bellevue, Washington production studio Bungie originally launched the series back in 2001 with Halo: Combat Evolved, which became the “must have” Xbox title almost overnight, sold more than 6.5 million copies, and set a new standard for the first person shooter genre. Three years later, Bungie proved their success was no fluke with the 2004 release of Halo 2, which fully supported online multiplayer, made over $125 million on release day, and again set the new benchmark for multiplayer FPS games. Again in 2007, Bungie released the first Halo title on the then-new Xbox 360 platform, Halo 3. As with the first two installments, Halo 3 was a mega-hit, breaking its previous records and generating over $170 million in the first 24 hours of release. Many believed Halo 3 to be the last in the series, completing the epic trilogy of Master Chief, the last Spartan super soldier.
But that’s when the honeymoon started to end. In late 2007, Bungie announced that it had split with Microsoft, and then later announced a ten year publishing agreement with Activision Blizzard. However, Bungie was still under contract with Microsoft to produce additional titles in the Halo universe, including Halo 3: ODST and Halo Wars in 2009, Halo Reach in 2010, and a ten year anniversary edition of Halo: Combat Evolved in 2011. Critical and public acceptance was generally positive, although nowhere near the levels of the first three games in the Master Chief mythology series. After the release of Halo Reach in 2010, some Bungie staff members moved to a new division started by Microsoft Game Studios named 343 Industries, named after 343 Guilty Spark, a character in the original Halo series. 343 was tasked with resurrecting Master Chief and producing a fourth installment, which would begin a second trilogy, with Halo 4. Early trailers created buzz, but many gamers were understandably wary. After more than a decade of the beloved Master Chief residing in the Bungie stable, would a new studio be able to keep intact everything that millions of Halo fans want from the heroic protagonist, while still adding their own flavor, upgraded graphics, and new features?
The music of Marty O’Donnell, which was an integral part of the Halo series, won’t appear in Halo 4. Instead, composer Neil Davidge and conductor Matt Dunkley have the unenviable task of following in O’Donnell’s shoes. Dunkley stated “Hopefully the Halo fans will see that we’re being respectful, but we’ve also taken it somewhere else, and maybe onto a higher plane. If you’re always trying to reference back, you’re not creating new things.”
Voice talent will also be different in Halo 4, although Steve Downes will still voice Master Chief and Jen Taylor will still voice Cortana. That should help at least partially soothe the nerves of skeptical Halo fans, and give them something familiar to latch onto during the games cutscenes. But will voice talent be enough?
For now, fans are mostly waiting and crossing their fingers. There’s little doubt that Halo 4 will be a hit compared to the standards of any other game, but it still has massive shoes to fill, as it will undoubtedly (and rightfully) be compared to the Halos of the Bungie era. On November 6, 2012, we’ll all know for sure.