The green-helmeted and golden-visored hero of the sci-fi Halo video game franchise is poised to deliver some timely real-world heroics for Microsoft’s Xbox One game console.
The space warrior Master Chief makes his return in Halo 5: Guardians out Tuesday for Xbox One ($59.99). To celebrate the event, Microsoft has a six-hour live video event today on YouTube starting at 6 p.m. ET/3 PT and festivities tonight at Microsoft stores across the U.S.
Halo 5 is the first original game in the ongoing multibillion-dollar space saga to appear on the Xbox One, which Microsoft brought to market two years ago. Last year’s Master Chief Collection included upgraded Xbox One versions of 2001’s Halo: Combat Evolved and three sequels that appeared on previous Xbox consoles.
Powered by a custom-made software engine, Halo 5 brings “to life that epic feeling that we have always wanted to deliver with Halo but couldn’t until the Xbox One,” said Bonnie Ross, founder and head of 343 Industries, the Microsoft-owned studio that created the game. “You feel you really are this 900-pound super-soldier in this epic sci-fi world.”
Microsoft has sold more than 65 million copies of Halo games, generating more than $4.6 billion in sales of games and merchandise including books. The software giant hopes that Halo 5‘s arrival will spur increased sales of the Xbox One, which is trailing competitor Sony’s PlayStation 4 in the battle for living rooms.
“For us, Halo is one of those franchises that rises above the ‘this is another video game’ release,” said Phil Spencer, who heads Microsoft’s Xbox division. “It’s a pop culture event for our brand and franchise.”
Microsoft stock is riding its highest stock prices in more than a decade after posting results that beat Wall Street expectations last week. But while monthly active users of its Xbox Live online network rose 28% to 39 million, Xbox One unit sales are trailing Sony’s PlayStation 4.
Microsoft has sold about 14 million Xbox Ones globally, compared to about 25 million for Sony’s PS4, estimates Michael Pachter, managing director of equity research for Wedbush Securities. Consumers will likely buy about 8 million copies of Halo 5, and the game could drive another 4-5 million in console sales by the end of the year. “The game is Microsoft’s highest-profile exclusive, so it’s the biggest reason to pick an Xbox One over a PS4,” he said. “It’s important.”
Microsoft hasn’t announced any updated Xbox One sales figures since November 2014 when it had sold 10 million. But Spencer says that Xbox One sales are outpacing the Xbox 360 as the two-year mark approaches.
The 600-employee strong 343 Industries, which took over Halo after original creative studio Bungie left to begin work on Destiny in 2007, has been toiling on Halo 5 for four years. The project represents an investment of about $160 million, Pachter estimates.
The result, Ross says, is a leap forward in fidelity and storytelling. During the game, Master Chief is accompanied by three squad mates who he leads on an objective against the wishes of the United Nations Space Command. Players alternate missions between his Blue Team and another squad of super soldiers, Fireteam Osiris, whose team leader Spartan Locke is charged with tracking down the Chief.
For the Master Chief character, “you can look at this as the start of his own hero’s journey,” Ross said. But Locke and Team Osiris — with a character Buck that sports the voice and likeness of actor Nathon Fillion (Castle) — we are bringing in more characters to expand the universe so that we can tell bigger stories going forward.”
As you play through the game’s story mode, your AI-controlled squad members will resurrect you as needed. And you can replay missions with friends in cooperative fashion. You can also play four-player vs. four-player battles and a new 12 vs. 12 Warzone multiplayer mode.
The squad action “is a blast and a pretty neat twist,” Digital World Research analyst P.J. McNealy said. Reviews have been favorable for the game, which sports a Metacritic rating of 86.
Halo 5 is “the anchor game for Microsoft for the Xbox One” and “a huge differentiator” between it and the PS4, he says. “It is important for Microsoft to keep punching, and this is the biggest straight right they have in their arsenal. I’m not sure they are going to close the gap (with the PS4) this holiday, but I expect (the Xbox One) to have a pretty good October and November as a result.”
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider
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