I bought the original Xbox for Halo (as most people did) and I’ve played every franchise entry since.
I haven’t been as impressed with recent installments but they’re still worthy shooters that are, at the bare minimum, mildly entertaining. At best, they offer memorable gaming moments that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
At the same time, I think we all have to admit that the protagonist, Master Chief, has got to be one of the most boring main characters in the history of video games. Sure, we had some one-dimensional, faceless protagonists back in the day – back when gaming was basically one-dimensional to begin with – but these days, we expect more.
Aren’t we supposed to care about the lead character?
I’m pretty sure we are. And yet, dating back to the original Halo, I’ve never cared a fig about what happens to this guy. If we’re really reaching, we could say he’s the strong, silent type; the kind of hero that gets things done, regardless of any emotion or internal conflict he faces. Okay, I can go with that. The problem is that the writers have never really given Master Chief a chance to shine.
None of the plots spend much time on the main character, if any. This is why it always felt like I was guiding a disembodied gun around the screen. Protagonists have to stand out in some way. They have to be likable or villainous, or they have to be sympathetic. Good protagonists make us want to turn the page, or in this case, advance to the next area. We want to see what happens to that person; we don’t just want to see what he or she does.
I wouldn’t care if Master Chief dropped off the face of the earth tomorrow. What’s that say?
Zero personality = ‘yawn’
He doesn’t have to fit a certain stereotype but he does have to be something other than a robot. Look at the main characters of today. They typically have well-developed personalities, even if the writing isn’t always top-notch. You may not like Nathan Drake’s persona but at least he has one. In one of my favorite Xbox games, Alan Wake, we felt for the main character because we wanted to know what was happening to him. Is he just crazy or is the world really imploding all around him?
With the main character in Halo, we don’t really care about much. That’s the fault of the writers, and this lacking is most visible in Master Chief’s nonexistent personality. Again, maybe “strong and silent” can be considered a personality but if so, it’s probably the most boring one you can imagine. I mean, he talks every now and then but has he ever expressed an emotion? If he has, I must’ve missed it.
Put him in an RPG and I lose interest in an hour
Good thing Master Chief is in a shooter, a genre that doesn’t typically boast the most compelling stories and character development. Had he been part of a much more robust and intricate script, he would’ve made for the most ho-hum character in all of entertainment, let alone video games. I’m not saying the Halo protagonist needed to be as well-defined as some of the characters we’ve seen in story-driven role-playing games, but you get my point.
The problem here is that we can’t really connect with the character. To some, that may not matter. And hey, I’ve played all the Halos, right? So obviously, it didn’t matter much to me. But just think how much more appealing these games would’ve been had Bungie taken the time to give Master Chief even the slightest hint of a personality…
It’s a missed opportunity, plain and simple. You can only survive on the “enigma” label for so long, you know. After a while, you start to realize that he isn’t an enigma at all. He’s a drone.