Try as they might, the developers at 343 Industries are fighting a losing battle if they want to turn Halo protagonist Master Chief into a fully-realised character. If the studios' Halo 4 was about anything, it was about the big green man crying over his dying computer. It was like being told GI Joe once overcame a stutter or He-Man fell down a well when he was a child. Nobody cares, these are action figures not action heroes.
Halo has been one of gaming's biggest franchises for 14 years now, and for most of that time its hero has been little more than a power fantasy writ large – a metallic green icon to be slapped on bottles of energy drink. Chief is the cipher through which players save the world single-handedly, not an allegory for the folly of man.
He was only ever intended to be little more than a silent protagonist too. "We left out details to increase immersion; the less players knew about the Chief, we believed, the more they would feel like the Chief," said Bungie lead writer Joseph Staten back in 2011.
Yet in the lead up to Halo 5: Guardians 343 has been saying the opposite about the character it inherited. "I think Chief is a really interesting character and we've got to learn a lot about Chief in Halo 4," said 343's director of production Chris Lee. "We wanted to bring the Blue Team in who has a really deep connection with Master Chief and kind of see him from a different perspective than you have in previous games."
Why? He's a suit and a mascot who was designed to be an avatar for extraterrestrial heroism. He never needed to be anything more until 343 decided that should be the case.
The "lore" of Halo is of interest to just a few, and far fewer if you remove those working on the series. While robust enough to serve up several interesting, fun single player story campaigns (including Halo 5, which is great fun) the stories have never endured longer than the memorable moments of gameplay they created.
In 2001 Halo brought the first-person shooter to consoles in style, not just giving us the blueprint for how all console FPS games would work from there on out, but offering something different to the genre as a whole. Its beginning is one of the most pitch-perfect in games – allowing players to get to grips with the controls in narrow grey corridors before plumping them in a large, vibrant open area, giving them a gentle nudge and saying: "Go nuts!"
Halo often feels like a toy set, a game made up of different sandboxes, each with a new array of toys interacting. Warthogs slide around like they have the invisible hand of a child guiding them, careening around each corner, Master Chief wipes out battlefields like he's the favourite toy, the king, and all the other toys are just fodder.
There's skill to the gameplay that elevates it above exactly what I'm describing and makes the games fun for all. I also don't mean to undermine the series – this is just what Halo is. Other games offer different things in different ways – some featuring great characters and stories. Halo has never been about that and never really should be.
Halo 5: Guardians has a great campaign with a story that serves its purpose as a strut supporting the fun. The characterisation is meek and Chief's character is as a non-existent as before, despite him showing some poor judgement for perhaps the first time ever. All of this is fine though. Chief is a big heroic suit of armour, he doesn't need to be anything more.
Halo doesn't need characters pondering their own existence or waking bolt upright in bed because a dream revealed that their daddy really did love them all along. Halo is a Saturday morning cartoon, not Catcher In The f**king Rye.