E3: In Halo 4 the (mostly) silent hero finally gets a voice.


Like many shooter heroes Halo‘s Master Chief seldom speaks. Conventional wisdom says the absence of a specific voice makes it easier to identify with the hero, projecting parts of ourselves into the game. During a short video demonstration of Halo 4 at E3, Master Chief again breaks this genre convention, though its effects are largely invisible.

The demo shows a massive ship called the Infinity crashing to the surface on an alien planet. “Track its descent,” Master Chief says to his AI companion Cortana as it slowly descends into a valley below. The voice is grim and grainy, expressing only skepticism. It is paradoxically impersonal, revealing the mysteries of a man whose name is a hybrid of superlatives. Most of his dialogue is procedural, embodying the functional non-ambiguity of military speak. “Can you get us down to the ship?” he asks of Cortana a few moments later. “Affirmative,” she answers.

As the demo continues, a new dynamic emerges thanks to Chief’s ability to speak. His stoicism is in constant dialogue with Cortana who, while being an AI, is dramatically more expressive. She marvels over the familiarity of the weapon an enemy drops and cries out in danger. “Chief, don’t let it get away!” she says later on after a strange new enemy begins fleeing into the jungle. 

Master Chief’s voice is the stereotypical growl of the omni-capable military hero, but the more interesting character remains Cortana. She is the emotive core of the entire demo, reacting to danger, registering new wrinkles in the plot, and revealing a palpable care for the Chief whenever he is in danger. 

In contrast, the disengaged one-liners and non-responsiveness of the hero feel almost sociopathic. Even when given a voice, Master Chief still needs someone else to fill in the emotional blank spots for him. 

Editor’s Note: This article originally stated that Master Chief had never spoken in the series. It has since been corrected.