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Make it a (Virtual) Reality: Halo

You are Master Chief. For the first time, you really are inside that iconic visor, surveying the battlefield that stretches out in front of you, enemy Banshees dancing off in the distance and Warthogs skating around the scene below. You draw your battle rifle and leap off of the hillside, landing hundreds of meters below without so much as a scratch. The field around you falls silent for a second as you look up to see a group of Grunts staring at you in disbelief. You stand from a crouched position, covering the tiny enemies in your shadow as you rise and draw your energy sword.

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To say that we owe Halo a lot is something of an understatement. Though today’s first-person shooter landscape may be dominated by modern combat set piece spectaculars, it was Bungie’s iconic series that made it all possible. The 12 year old original was the first must-have title for the entire Xbox franchise and set the standard for console shooters with its intelligent design, accessible controls and flat out fun gameplay. Over time the series has evolved into one of the biggest entertainment franchises out there, with a promising future ahead of it on Microsoft’s Xbox One. But what if the company chose to steer that future in the direction of virtual reality (VR)?

A living, breathing recreation of Halo’s world is not only hugely exciting, it makes complete sense. As mentioned in the opening scene setter, using an Oculus Rift (or, god willing, the potential Microsoft VR headset) players could really feel like they wearing the famous Spartan’s helmet. On a standard display the franchise has mastered this sense of being, integrating standard videogame HUD elements into the visor to make it look as if you’re seeing exactly what the Chief is seeing. The rebounding shield display sits at the top as a constant caution, while the map rests as the bottom, giving you a constant idea of your surroundings. Yes, these features would likely need optimising to fit in VR, but if worked out it could make leaps and bounds in how we present such information with the technology. Topped of with a pair of headphones plugged in so that Cortana’s voice spoke directly to you, Halo could offer a complete VR experience.

A few other changes would have to be made to the franchises’ perspective. The third-person camera used for vehicles would likely have to be ditched in favour of a cockpit view, not that we think anyone would mind. This would be to retain the sense of immersion by not breaking away from Master Chief’s view, though in reality it would probably add to the effect more so whilst rattling around in the front seat of a Warthog or paving the way forward in a Scorpion tank.

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Action enhancements would carry over to combat, where the franchise would really start to make us feel like super soldiers. Halo’s mechanics are decidedly slower than the likes of Call of Duty, which gives us confidence that they’d transfer over to VR convincingly. It isn’t an experience of twitch-based reactions or a tour de force of explosions and tightly-constructed set pieces. It’s far closer to a war of attrition’ Master Chief’s energy shield ensures that he can take hits without much panic, but the threat often comes in numbers or enemies equal to his own strength. This promotes a style of FPS that lets users take a little more time and be a little more playful with their approach.

Not to mention the range of weapons we’d love to revisit in VR. Perhaps we could use a motion controller with the series’ iconic energy sword or even the destructive Gravity Hammer. Having the Needler’s pink spikes pop out from the top of the weapon would also be an amusing novelty.

Then there’s the environment itself, which would be a joy to take in in VR. The Halo series boasts some of the genres most fantastical, open and colourful settings, from Halo: Combat Evolved’s sparkling beaches on The Silent Cartographer mission to the stunning ancient covenant temples seen in Halo 2 and beyond. The series has no shortage of locations that we’d love to revisit in VR to get a real sense of presence and scale.

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For many, Halo is the definitive FPS series. We feel that, given the proper time and attention, it could also be the definitive VR series. As VR grows in popularity and Microsoft starts to put more thought towards a true VR competitor to the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus we can only hope it realises that Master Chief can be the one to pave the way for the technology. He’s done it for the company before and we’re sure he could do it again.

‘Make it a (virtual) Reality’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes the videogames we already know and love and looks at how virtual reality (VR) could enhance them. From retro classics to modern blockbusters, we examine the pros and cons of bringing a franchise to VR headsets.