A More Complete Look At The Halo Franchise
Written, Researched, Produced And Published By Halo-Nation member "Synth Samurai"
Always A Stranger, In A Strange Land
Written, Researched, Produced And Published By Halo-Nation member "Synth Samurai"
BELIEVE. Does anyone remember the marketing campaign for Halo 3? And more importantly, do you all remember how impactful it was? At the time I was just starting university, and while it was emotionally deep and beautiful to me at the same time I never really appreciated the tactfulness the marketing team executed that campaign until much later. The diorama was breathtaking; all leading up to John-117 in the clutches of a Brute Chieftain, defiant to the very end. That what caught 2007 me's eyes back then, the Master Chief rallying the whole of humanity to finish the fight. Ironically enough, that's what the marketing team was trying to invoke as it turns out. With the shorts of future soldiers reflecting on how it was John-117 who saved the human race, and who never gave up. Present day me, however, recently watching the trailer again doesn't see the John-117 as the centerpiece of that diorama, or even the marketing campaign itself.
I see UNSC soldiers dying in the mud, bodies half buried in spent cartridges and those who are alive clutching each other in fear. You have to wonder, how long each of these Marines bore witness to the war since the beginning. Decades gone by, glassed planet after glassed planet. Billions dead, and here they are on Earth as it burns around them. I think it's something that is criminally underdeveloped and swept under the rug when it comes to Halo's lore. The novels never properly convey these soldiers emotional response to the war, the entire war. You get bits and pieces, but then it always swings back to The Spartans or some massive battle being waged. Never enough time it seems, to really live the war through the eyes of the average boots on the ground soldier who fought in the most horrific battles of the war. The closest I think we ever came to truly seeing this, was in the Halo Legends shorts "Prototype" and"Homecoming."
That is until last year's novel "New Blood" by the talented Matt Forebeck; truly he's an amazing writer who is passionate about games/fiction. The novel follows up on Edward Buck and Alpha-Nine post war. It's an incredibly gritty, "Heart of Darkness" style read that for once truly portrays how the average soldier dealt with and continues to deal with the effects of the war. Buck has always been my second favorite character in Halo lore after John-117, and even now Buck is beginning to oust the Chief in my eyes in terms of characterization. I see Buck as the "face' of the average Joe, the side of the war that we rarely ever got to or get to see. More than that, he's possibly the most diverse and engaging character in the series. Hell, if he was any better, and he is, he'd deserve his own spin-off series.
A Human Machine
Edward Buck is unique to Halo in the sense that he has seen the war as few people ever did, from the beginning. Born in 2510 on Draco Mercy in New Albany, Draco III, Buck enrolled in the UNSC at the age of eighteen. Three years later, the Covenant struck Harvest and began the longest most brutal way humanity had ever fought. Buck fought at Harvest so valiantly he was commended for his actions, and remained on the front lines for the remainder of the war as an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper. That means he saw action in most if not all key battles against the Covenant. We are talking the battles for the outer colonies, war waged in space combat and hard drops into hostile territory. He fought in the most brutal battles of attrition during the war such as Sargasso, Reach, Earth and the concluding battles.
Buck, as with the Master Chief, has known very little but war and suffering. He is the more human machine of war, the much more vulnerable side of a never ending conflict. John-117 had no family to speak of but his fellow Spartans and perhaps Halsey, but Buck had family. Family he witnessed die on his homeworld of Draco III at the hands of the Covenant. The Spartans were considered assets and hardware. Something that had been psychologically beaten into them since they were children. Buck was a human being, fighting in an extraordinary war as he watched his species be burned away planet by planet. Have many planets has Buck defended, only to fall back and watch it be glassed? The Spartans were trained to see victory in the eyes of defeat, to die to the last.
The ordinary soldier in Halo however was just that, ordinary. Planet after planet fell during the war, countless died defending what was essentially lost causes. Buying time until the next line could form to stall the Covenant. It certainly had to take a toll both mentally and physically, knowing your efforts boiled down to a delaying tactic and only prolonging the inevitable extinction of your species. Again, the Spartans were psychologically programmed to never accept defeat.
An average soldier like Buck merely followed his orders. Orders which saw the deaths of many of his closest friends, or as he himself put it "This late into the war, who isn't?" (a replacement.) Orders which also forced him to witness the fall out most of human held space, defeat after defeat. Even after the war, Buck saw Alpha-Nine disintegrate from betrayal, and lost some of his closest friends. But like the Spartans and his fellow soldiers, Buck never gave up. And unlike his fellow soldiers, he wasn't satisfied with watching it all burn as a grunt. During the war he graduated from soldier, to Marine and finally to ODST squad leader. Enduring the pain of defeat did not stop him from becoming better, and yet better still. And that is what makes him so unique within the series, he is a human machine of war. With all the sadness, pain and futility that go along with fighting such a horrific war of desperation.
Tears of A Clown
People deal with horrific situations in various ways. During out non-fictional Vietnam War soldiers would often dress up their armor with slogans or art or just smoke copious amounts of cigarettes. Other's may become depressed, fatalistic or have their will sucked out of them. For an ordinary soldier this is a luxury, such a luxury someone like Buck never had. Through all the horror of the Great War, Buck was a born leader and a natural inspiration. Soldiers would follow him, into the jaws of death if need be. He inspired his soldiers to go forward no matter to odds or outlook. His humor lightened his men's hearts and gave them something to laugh at during a time of great sadness. But beneath all of his heroism, humor and positive banter, there lay a man on the verge of breaking.
Buck is so, amazing to me as a character in the series because of how damn well Joseph Staten wrote him. His character among those he commands is strong and verbose, beaming with humor. But in solitude and with those he truly trust like Veronica Dare, he shows deep cracks in his armor. At one point in "New Blood" Buck discusses how he always told those under his command why he was always a leader "There's a reason I'm in charge of Alpha-Nine. 'Cause I never give up, goddammit. Call me the man with the plan." And while he states this humorously, throughout the novel he looks back at the war and how fatalistic he felt during most of its later years. It all came to a head when New Mombasa was beginning to be glassed by the Covenant, with Buck screaming "Those Covenant Bastards! It's just like Reach all over again!" Ironically it took the person who he trusted most, Veronica Dare, to calm him. Showing that Buck is just as vulnerable to the horrors of war as any other soldier he ever commanded.
I find it a breath of fresh air that in Halo's lore there is a character who rose up from a normal farm boy on a backwater planet to the ranks of ODST squad lead and then finally a full fledged Spartan, while keeping his genuine humanity (both the positives and the negatives) intact. And not because he has weathered the worst battles of the war, but because he cares enough to mask his true defeatism with positivity for the sake of those around him. While John-117 inspires those under him because he cannot ever know defeat as they do, Buck inspires even when he knows the battle is lost. It's such a shame then, that the one soldier in Halo who we see have these unique traits gets one novel and partial exposure in other's narratives (The Rookie's and Halo 5's overall story.)
I would love to see 343i (if they choose not to go with the more potent narrative of the Forerunner/Flood War) write more material for Buck with the themes that makes his character so powerful. A game that see's us following Buck from perhaps Harvest to just before Halo 3: ODST would I think put some much needed perspective of what the war was like for the average soldier. And interactively seeing Buck transition from a soldier to an ODST would in itself be an amazing narrative journey if done correctly. Halo (game wise) has always been about the big guns and entire fleets. Halo desperately needs a game that steers away from the macro, and really delves into the little details of the ordinary not so little men and women who fought under the skies of the Covenant invasion.
A Halo fan since the beginning, 2001. Also a games industry consultant, writer, and educator. These are my thoughts, praise and advice concerning the past, present and future narrative of the Halo franchise.
Halo, all assets within, characters and merchandise are property of the Microsoft Corporation and is developed by its subsidiary 343 Industries.
I do not own, claim to own or retain any rights to the Halo franchise. This is a fan based work, and is strictly non-profit.
All other images, articles linked, materials and franchises that are not strictly specified as my own are property of their respective owners.