Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The New Star Wars?

I hate to say it, but there is a competitor to Star Wars for my nerdy heart's affections. While there's no question of my undying devotion to my first love, it must be said that I am drawn to a newer, shinier Sci-Fi giant these days.

It is, of course, Halo. And while Mass Effect 2 is currently vice-gripping my attention on my first play through, my time on message boards and 'pedias is roughly equally split between the other two franchises and I think that the ringworld games have the potential to be an equally powerful medium.

Note that I said potential, because the Star Wars franchise has a massive leg up on Halo. A massive expanded universe has been established since the movies first aired. It also looks set to continue and expand further with innovative titles such as Legacy leading the way. But I have to admit the current all-hardback novel series has curbed my ability to shell out on additional fiction and perhaps dulled my ardour.

Halo is going from strength to strength, with novels and short stories, successful comic lines and the recent anime series Legends all successes. If this continues it has the potential to build an equally powerful universe in addition to the games that are the main focus of the franchise.

Both franchises have achieved something very hard to do, they have both built a world larger than themselves. The original Halo game showed one battle as part of a massive war. If that wasn't enough they added a planet sized artifact which also contained a devastating alien race with the potential to destroy all life in the galaxy. All this made Halo 1 very exciting, but left you wanting more. You got it in 2 and 3 as we 'finished the fight' but we still hadn't had the full picture. Novels fleshed out the details, but also every game since has been a prequel, from Halo Wars in the early days of the Covenant war to forthcoming Reach, which is an immediate precursor to the trilogy - very satisfying prequels they are too!

You have to be ambitious to pull this off and maintain it. With spin-off novels and also comics now commonplace on bookshelves it's hard for a franchise's 'expanded universe' to stick out. I have to admit I was initially sceptical of the novels because of this, but the wide-ranging Halo universe made getting my hands on one inevitable so I could explore more of the war with the Covenant and the tragic upbringing of the Spartans. This was also triggered by the purchase of The Halo Encyclopedia - and I think that is a benchmark, does your universe have enough in it to fill an encyclopedia?

Are there other competitors - yes, of course, but none have quite hit the same bar...yet! Gears of War has a rich and gritty setting with a host of gruesome enemies and a desperate war being fought, but it doesn't have the added element of the wider backstory that Halo does with the Forerunners and the Flood. Mass Effect does possess an equally powerful story and universe with their very similar Protheans and the Reaper threat and a truly diverse range of planets and species.

The only problem this franchise has at the moment is it's too well done. The story has been perfectly designed to be told in the RPG medium and while there have been some decent novels I can't really imagine a movie or anything other than the excellent game series - but I'm willing to be proven wrong!

So what does the future hold for Halo? It has the potential to go from strength to strength, the final game by original developer Bungie, Reach, is out soon - we will have to see how the franchise fares without them but I'm confident in the new 343 industries team to take it to new heights.

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