Special: Playing the odds and random speculation.
It is inevitable that 2009 will be a big year for the Halo franchise. March will see the release of the long-awaited Halo Wars, the real-time-strategy debut for the series, and this fall will see the release of the Halo 3 expansion pack Halo 3: ODST. But what will lie beyond this year, you ask (besides Halo: Chronicles that is)? Will I have to settle for annual updates to sports franchises for my gaming fixes in years to come?
I'm guessing that we haven't seen the last of Halo yet as there are more stories to be told and more money to be made. The question is what shape will these new endeavors take? Bungie is exploring new horizons so the avenues from which Halo will arrive are destined to change. Here we'll take a look at some of the logical steps for the franchise, some unexpected twists that could turn out well, and some ugly directions that will only sound good to the dirtiest of marketers that just want to make a buck.
With Bungie out of the picture, Halo 4 is a real enigma right now. You know that Microsoft has to be thinking about how to print more money with this franchise but the question remains, who steers the ship (and where to) when the captain retires?
Microsoft recently going on a hiring spree we have some idea who that will be as the company has been nabbing developers from Gearbox, id Software and Bungie's own Frank O'Connor to head up an internal Halo team. With this team currently hard at work on Peter Jackson's Halo: Chronicles, any talk of Halo 4 is premature. But if Halo Wars has shown us anything, Microsoft does not have any definite plans to end the series anytime soon. Halo 4, like Judgement Day, is inevitable.
Assuming that the logistics are sorted out, what would the game entail? That question looms as large as life itself. With the Flood seemingly wiped out at the end of Halo 3, we could hope that the infection storyline is over. On the other hand the Covenant is still out there with the Brutes and company ready to make a mess of things for UNSC forces around the galaxy. I would put my money on Halo 4 centering around a combined offensive between the UNSC and the Elites to strike at the Covenant on their home worlds.
Halo Wars 2
I would have called this sequel a slam dunk until Microsoft announced the closure of Ensemble Studious following the completion of Halo Wars. However, just because Ensemble is gone does not mean that we are about to see the only RTS entry in the Halo franchise be released next month. There are plenty of examples of sequels handled by other developers (Obsidian often does a great job of following in BioWare's footsteps) and Halo Wars 2 could very easily see the light of day in the hands of former Ensemble employees as at least three new studios are rising from the still smoldering ashes of their closure.
Since we haven't actually played through the first Halo Wars it is near impossible to speculate on the direction that the sequel would take. However, you could near guarantee that there would be solid multiplayer offerings and rich single-player and cooperative narratives.
Wizkids, the creators of the Halo ActionClix game, were struck by the same curse that hit Ensemble Studios. Late last year their parent company, The Topps Company (of trading card fame), announced that WizKids would immediately cease operations and discontinue their product lines. This leaves the Halo tabletop game in question with, in my humble opinion, two very likely solutions (based entirely on my own speculation) for the tabletop future of the series:
1.) A large company, my guess would be either Hasbro or Marvel Entertainment though the latter would prove awkward with WizKids also producing DC Comics-based products, purchases the intellectual assets and licensing rights of WizKids and continues to produce the Halo ActionClix game as we already know it.
2.) This would be more likely to happen if option number one doesn't come through, but the licensing rights for the Halo franchise go back out on the open market. It would not surprise me to see Games Workshop, the company behind Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, put in a bid for said rights. Games Workshop has already shown an open-mind regarding licenses with their acquisition and production of a Lord of the Rings miniature game and the Halo license could be a great partner product to the 40k game. If put together correctly, I could see this come together as a standalone product that has compatible rules with the standard 40k game, leading to epic battles between the UNSC and the Tyranids, Tau, or Eldar. Is it a stretch? Sure. Would it be worth it? Hell yes.
The New Directions:
There is room on the Xbox 360, the NeXtbox (I should copyright that now), and even the PC for more Halo action. As Halo Wars is showing us, the war with the Covenant started well before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. That lays the ground for untold battles that we've yet to see. There are also different perspectives to be told on the battles that we have already played. I think that these two venues are ideal to flesh out these tales:
Halo: Aerial Combat
There is limited use of the UNSC Hornet and the Covenant Banshee in the Halo games that we've already played. The vehicles were used in a ground support role and never really addressed the ship-to-ship combat that was taking place in orbit around various planets and in the depths of space. We saw glimpses of these battles throughout the Halo games but have yet to play a role in their outcome.
There are plenty of assets already in place for a game of this nature. I imagine that the narrative would be told from the UNSC standpoint (I think that everyone agrees that the Arbiter's story from Halo 2 pretty much kyboshed the idea of having a Covenant-based game) and that the bulk of the game would be played in a Longsword Interceptor (briefly seen in games up to this point) with alternate missions putting players in the pilot's seat of Hornets, Pelicans, Shortsword Bombers and maybe even a gunship or two, depending on the mission profile. If they want to mix things up a bit, throw in a mission, as clich?d as it may be, in which you steal a Covenant fighter.
The nice thing is that Microsoft has produced games like this in the past. Their Combat Flight Simulator or Crimson Skies technologies could be adapted to this title depending on whether they are planning on a sim or arcade experience, respectively.
Halo: Class-Based Combat
Call me a purist, but I do think that Halo's biggest draw will continue to be with first-person-shooters. However, do you want to over-saturate the market with annual iterations of the same game or do you want to break down barriers and create new experiences for players? If done right, the latter can open doors to people that never played the original game. That could be the ticket for creating a class-based multiplayer title set in the Halo-verse. Think equal parts Team Fortress 2, Star Wars Battlefront, and EA's Battlefield series, set amidst the early battle of the UNSC-Covenant confrontation. There would be plenty of room for Snipers, Marines, Engineers (to setup turrets and repair vehicles), Pilots, and Medics in urban, natural, and alien settings. We could even break out of the mold itself and creat some genre-changing classes, too.
The End of the World
You know that when we see these titles hit the streets that the world is coming to an end, don't you? If they see the light of day I may take my own life for having suggested them in the first place. That said, other franchises have blazed the trail for Halo to spin out of control in the following directions:
Take an excellent diversion like the Rocket Race gametype from Halo 3's multiplayer offering, mix in more vehicles like the Warthog, Ghost, and Chopper, throw in a useless story of rising to the top of the intergalactic racing circuit in a post-war united galaxy and you have the makings for a cash-in opportunity within the Halo setting. While Star Wars pulled this off reasonably well with their Episode I Racer, they also screwed it up with Super Bombad Racing. Ditch the story attempt and this could, perhaps, in the best of cases, be a decent Xbox Live Arcade title.
Halo Party Games
Ah, yes. The obligatory party game title. When other, more engaging, ideas have run out there will always be the opportunity to release a collection of Halo-based mini games under the guise of a post-Covenant war game show in which war-time heroes try to win cash and prizes in head-to-head competition in a variety of button-mashing, rhythm, and basic driving events. Think Smash TV meets Fusion Frenzy with a Halo theme. I can see it now, Master Chief, The Arbiter, Cortana, and Captain Keyes running around the screen smashing Flood head suckers with a Brute Hammer while accidentally
whacking the competition, too. The more that I think about this the better the idea becomes. Now I know how marketing guys get caught-up in bad ideas.
I must stop.