The Halo game series is a sci-fi first person shooter originally developed by Bungie Incorporated and more recently by 343 Industries. It has established a strong following by breaking out of the norms for first person shooters with unique enemies, weapons, and gameplay mechanics along with a strong narrative. From this strong following sprouted an extensive extended universe including multiple novels and comic runs as well as some live-action, cinematic stories.
The main titles of the game series follow the story of John-117, Spartan II, a supersoldier with the rank of Master Chief in the UNSC (United Nations Space Command). The UNSC is the primary military, exploratory, and scientific .agency of the Unified Earth Government. He is tasked with defending what remains of humanity from a hostile alien race known as the Covenant who, with the exception of Spartans, in every military capacity far outclass the human race. There is far more to the story than this but for purposes of my argument here as well as to prevent spoilers this summary will suffice.
To fight against this threat it makes sense that Master Chief would need to have some pretty incredible capabilities, considering by the beginning of the games he is the only Spartan left alive. Pulling from the entire Halo universe here are some of his abilities and feats.
Without Power Armor
- Reaction time – 20 milliseconds (faster when in combat due to adrenaline)
- Running foot speed – 55 KPH
- Bench press – three times their bodyweight
With Power Armor
- Physical and mental capabilities multiplied by about 5
- Incorporated energy shield capable of deflecting bullets and small plasma weapons
- Able to dodge bullets and high speed plasma
With installed AI assistance
- Further increase to base capabilities
- Can punch tank shells out of the air
- Falls from orbit unscathed
Now in order to basically single handedly fight an entire alien army it makes sense that Chief’s feats would be so over the top. However this creates the conflict with the gameplay mechanics. If a player was able to simply dodge or even just shrug off incoming bullets and punch incoming tank shells out of the way the game would no longer be challenging. In addition, any hope for the competitive multiplayer Halo was known for would have been impossible. So, for the sake of strong game mechanics not all of Chief’s capabilities are put into the hands of the player. The result is a moderately challenging game that doesn’t represent that the character’s actual abilities with 100% accuracy.
This begs a question. Is it disrespectful to the story of the game to misrepresent a character for the sake of mechanics? Or in the opposite, was it disrespectful to the source material to make the character much more powerful in the extended universe? Further, even if either way you look at it seems disrespectful, is it worth it for solid game mechanics and storyline believability? This becomes highly a matter of opinion. I think that either way you look at it, the sacrifice of a different portrayal of Chief depending on the medium, strengthens each medium as standalone works. The loss of some cohesiveness for the sake of this seems a forgivable misstep. However, I think this may very depending on the circumstance. For example, Samus from the very famous Metroid series is a superpowered bounty hunter in her games sure, but in her extended universe she has fought against and literally destroyed an entire dimension on her own. This is a far more egregious change and results in a much greater disconnect. As such I think Halo dances on the edge of this dangerous line but accomplishes it well enough for the benefit to outweigh the downside.