As Xbox’s flagship video game franchise and one of the most influential game series to date, Halo is known for many things. From recharging health systems to popularizing console multiplayer, there’s a lot for the beloved First Person Shooter to do, but what makes Halo really iconic? After all, there was certainly no shortage of competitors, many of which have similar gameplay mechanics, but in the end most of them are faded in memory, or worse yet, in obscurity. Maybe, besides being backed by Microsoft’s nearly unlimited vaults, the answer lies in Halo unique artistic style, which has since spawned a number of prolific characters, weapons and vehicles.
Of course, space marines, aliens, and power armor aren’t exactly new concepts by today’s standards, and they certainly weren’t new back then. Halo: combat has evolved came out, but we can say that Halo revolutionized people’s expectations of how such things looked by adding a bit of realism, as ridiculous as that might sound for a game set in 2552. For example, before Halo output, the appearance of space marines generally fell into one of two categories: the super muscular variety at the LOSS or the kind “my armor cannot fit through the door frames” which StarCraft and Warhammer 40K are fond of. Suddenly with the release of Halo, you had these Marines with normal human proportions, wielding weapons that look like they were made by humans, driving vehicles that look like human vehicles, fighting alongside a main character who didn’t have epaulettes giant and bulbous ones that were large enough that they could generate their own gravity.
Likewise, the Covenant weren’t those incredibly bestial aliens who had no apparent desire for anything but to send you back to the last checkpoint. Instead, you could tell at a glance that they were a civilization, one that followed similar rules to ours with its own obvious hierarchies, technology, and culture. Once again, Halo might not have been the first to introduce the concept of a civilized, non-extinct alien, but the game certainly popularized it with its character and level design. By the first levels of Halo: CE, you might get the impression that the UNSC preferred those blocky, dull-colored, but utilitarian designs that were immediately familiar, while the Covenant were big fans of ornate, curved, and brightly colored objects that threw subtlety by the window. As alien as the Covenant were, you could relate to them, especially as the series continued and introduced the Arbiter, a character whose relatively elaborate armor design instantly told you a lot about the respect that the rank once ruled.
Obviously, you can’t put every enemy, level, and ally on a poster and pretend a series is iconic because that would look like a mess, so it’s probably a good thing that Halo is represented cumulatively by the Master Chief. If you were to build a gallery of some of the more easily identifiable characters in the game, chances are you would immediately choose Mario, Sonic, Link, and maybe even Lara Croft or Samus, to begin with. Aside from the long history of their respective games, these characters are widely regarded as iconic as their overall design has proven to be quite scalable and symbolic. Mario, for example, will always have a red hat, a fairly big nose, and a mustache, regardless of the game, much like Sonic is always blue. Likewise, although you may never see the face of the Master Chief, his helmet is recognizable anywhere; although the rest of his armor may have undergone a drastic change in appearance in Halo 4, his helmet is still, for all intents and purposes, his face – the thing people identify with because it lets you imagine yourself as the legendary Spartan.
If you still doubt the importance of artistic design in a game like Halo, Consider this: When 343 Industries took over the franchise and made their own changes to how it looks, did fans of the show keep quiet or voice their opinions? When the rocket launcher was transformed into a super generic green tube rather than a distinctly bulky twin-tube design that everyone was familiar with, was that visible? Perhaps most notably, when the Elites and Grunts underwent a massive design overhaul, did people complain? Even if you look beyond the Halo series, the eagle-eyed people couldn’t help but point out how visually similar Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare dropship was at the Pelican, which, at the very least, is an indication that Halo had gradually become the benchmark for what a “generic” space shooter should look like.
This Master Chief is a fairly common sight wherever cosplay is to be expected speaks volumes about how Bungie’s art style brought the Walking Tank to life. Naturally, it helps that Master Chief’s Mjolnir armor can actually fit through revolving doors, but maybe that’s what makes Halo, good, Halo. Everything you see in the games has been crafted with a touch of realism into the mix, which, again, looks silly, but it would be hard to imagine what the games would look like if it wasn’t. .