Halo 5’s Marketing is Brilliant, Exciting, and a Lie.

I’ve written, talked, gushed, and sang praises ad nauseam about how 343 Industry, the child of Halo’s founding company Bungie, has absolutely knocked it out of the park with their marketing leading up to Halo 5, one of the most anticipated games of the year.

This is not a review of the game. The world doesn’t need another “where’s our split screen?” war cry. As a first person shooter fan, the game is a marvel, with nothing but nitpicks going against it. As a Halo fan, I was disappointed, and it’s thanks to that great marketing campaign.

Hunt The Truth and “all Hail the conquering hero”

After being shown a trailer featuring a cloaked Master Chief in 2013, we heard little until the end of March this year. Microsoft launched “Hunt The Truth,” a podcast that paid homage to radio dramas that ruled the early half of last century, and the iTunes charts for the past half year. The 15 minute episodes followed a journalist investigating the events prior to Halo 5’s beginning, including the unsavory history of the fictional Office of Naval Intelligence.

They brilliantly paired Hunt The Truth with a TV spot that would be shocking to a casual viewer, but a subtle nod to fans that were following. Marketing aside, the drama deserved its award for innovation in advertising, and stands on its own as fantastic entertainment.

Alongside this, Microsoft released the “All Hail the Conquering Hero,” ads, one depicting the long time hero of Halo as a traitor, and the other showing him towering over Jameson Locke, the man who’d been tracking him with a vengeance.

All this painted a visceral, damning story: the Master Chief had been demonized by those he protected, and was being targeted with extreme vengeance.

What do you do after you’ve saved the world? You can’t go bigger, so you go micro. Make it more personal. This Halo was about conspiracy and half-truths, and it’d be up to you, the player, to figure it all out. It was going to be human, daunting, and real.

Until it wasn’t.

Details won’t be used for spoilers sake, but after four hours of campaign, we didn’t get any of this. The Chief and Locke met all of twice in a story that had little conflict between them, and no clashing resentment that seethed from Locke that was advertised. Bait and switch is a harsh phrase, but consumers were certainly misled.

The argument has been made that it’s just advertising. Nobody said it would match the game, and bring up Halo’s previous live action trailers (see above: ODST’s only trailer, and my personal favorite) as examples. The difference is these painted us in the universe, but never addressed the story directly. Halo 3’s lauded campaign had retired UNSC marines retelling their passing interactions with Master Chief, but none of what they said was ever in the plot.

Halo 5 was the first time we see the top billed characters in the advertisement, and gave us specifics to look forward to. What we were promised versus what we got feels…empty. The depth we were left to imagine was filled with concrete until we were left with nothing but the shallow end of the pool.

It’s worth noting the complaints made today were the same made 11 years ago when Halo 2 launched, which aged into a highlight of the series. Time will tell the truth. I’ll let time take it from here. I did my hunting.

Halo 5’s Marketing is Brilliant, Exciting, and a Lie.