How to Fix – Halo 4

Welcome to the next article in a series called ‘How to Fix’, in which I will be offering my opinion on how to improve on stories from various entries in different franchises. It must be noted that not all of the films, games or episodes that I will be talking about in this series have to necessarily be ‘broken’ in order to fix them, simply that these articles will offer alternate means of telling the same stories.

Given that Halo: Infinite has been teased as a game that returns Halo to its classic art style and fans have welcomed this decision with open arms, it is interesting looking back at Halo 4 and the patchy legacy that this game has left for the franchise in its wake. Upon release Halo 4 was the first mainline Halo game created by 343 industries, the company that took over the Halo franchise from Bungie in 2010 after Bungie decided that they wanted to branch out to other projects. Since they have taken over the franchise, 343i have been a subject of debate among the fanbase, and Halo 4 was the catalyst that started the whole debacle. So, how can it be fixed?

halo 4 didact

The Story should be better explained

Well, the first thing that I will touch upon in this article is Halo 4’s story which, for the most part, is actually really good – unlike the previous two mainline Halo games, Halo 4 opts for a ‘simpler’ story, in that the basic premise is that Master Chief and Cortana crash on a Forerunner planet and Chief has to deal with Cortana going rampant whilst also trying to stop the insane Forerunner from within the planet from destroying the human race. What confused a lot of players at the time is the reliance on expanded media to explain the backstory of many of the game’s side characters and villains, meaning that the Didact’s appearance baffled many players, many of whom had no idea who the Didact was, and those who did believed him to be a benevolent force (as he was depicted in the Halo 3 terminals). The Didact’s backstory is given some explanation in the Halo 4 terminals but this is not where the game developers should have hidden plot-reliant story points, because this defeats the purpose of having the terminals as Easter Eggs. In the original Halo trilogy, players did not have to read the terminals to understand the motivations of the Prophet of Truth or Tartarus of the Gravemind – the terminals told totally separate stories for those interested in the wider universe.

Clearly, the first and foremost thing that needs changing about Halo 4’s story – and indeed the story of many of the 343 industries games – is that the dependence on expanded media like novels, comics and short films has to decrease. It would certainly have improved Halo 4’s story if the full explanation of why everything looks and feels different in Halo 4 than it did in the previous trilogy had been given in the game also, which links to the next major point:

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The Game should feel like a Halo 3 sequel

Although it is easy to forgive 343 industries for trying to make their ‘mark’ on Halo now that the franchise belonged to them, thus distancing themselves from Bungie’s games and forging their own path, Halo 4 should have had much more continuity with Halo 3. For a start, Master Chief, Cortana and even the Forward Unto Dawn all look different at the start of Halo 4 to how they looked at the end of Halo 3, which marks a jarring discontinuity with the art style of the original trilogy. This precedent for sweeping change even affected the Covenant, as now Elites, Grunts and Jackals all look radically different to how they looked before – although the Hunters basically look the same. They are just about the only thing that do though – even the weapons radically change from Halo 3 to Halo 4, and not for the better – who would choose a Storm Rifle over a Plasma Rifle given the chance? Why do the Shotgun and the Scorpion, two iconic staples of the Halo games, now look so utterly different?

The truth is that 343 industries was so eager to ensure that their version Halo looked and felt distinct from the Bungie games that they decided that the best way to create that impression was to change absolutely everything, indiscriminately – something which did not sit well with players. And that is the biggest problem with Halo 4 – it threw a lot of fans off because of its sudden changes, combined with an effort to feel more like Call of Duty, made it seem less like a sequel to Halo 3 and more like a discontinued spinoff. Speaking of feeling like Call of Duty:

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The Multiplayer should have been better maintained

Halo 4’s multiplayer copied a lot from Call of Duty’s multiplayers at the time, particularly in the area of mobility and in-game ‘ordnance’, and with this came the Call of Duty format of bringing out more maps. Whereas earlier Halo games had usually just released one map pack, usually included with later discs (such as Halo 3: Mythic being included with Halo 3: ODST) the Halo games since Halo: Reach had started to release more numerous map packs, spread out across the months following the games release. Halo 4 was the most guilty of this, and the player base for the multiplayer was quickly divided each time map packs that cost money were introduced. Within a year the multiplayer numbers had all but flat-lined.

As the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer showed, the best way to keep a multiplayer alive is to release regular free updates that add content whilst keeping the player base together. In hindsight it is easy to say that Halo 4 could have used a similar system, but in reality the only reason why Halo 5’s system worked as well as it did was because Microsoft could justify the release of DLC for free because of Halo 5’s controversial microtransactions system (aka the REQ packs) could make up for the costs. If 343 industries had introduced microtransactions into Halo in their first outing, undoubtedly this would have alienated many of the fans and potentially doomed the franchise. Time will tell if Microsoft play their cards right for Halo: Infinite, or if EA-style money-grabbing will send Halo to an early grave.

halo 4 requiem

Halo 4 should have had more

Ultimately, Halo 4 took out more from the Halo franchise than it put back in. Fan favourite weapons and vehicles from the previous games like the Hornet, Falcon, Chopper, Spiker or Grenade Launcher were absent, and although Halo 4 did add the fairly interesting Spartan Ops there was no sign of Firefight, which was a shame given the potential of the new Promethean faction. Given all that had progressed in Bungie’s games since Halo 3, with Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach adding and refining new features, it is odd that only a select few like Armour Abilities and Sprint made it over to Halo 4, and yet modes like Firefight which had been refined to near-perfection in Halo: Reach were conspicuously absent.

The absence of Marty O’Donnell as composer was also a massive drawback of Halo 4, as although the new composers created an objectively good soundtrack for Halo 4, it was somewhat lacking in character and didn’t fit with the overall aesthetic of previous soundtracks. True, other Halo soundtracks have radically deviated from the norm – Halo 3: ODST had a different genre entirely and Halo: Reach definitely had its own distinctive sound. But the overall style of Marty O’Donnell permeated throughout, and this is conspicuously absent in Halo 4. In many ways this is an example of a repeating problem with Halo 4 – no matter how much we may try to fix it now, the fact remains that whatever the story of the game was like, the game would have still felt different – the new art style, new composers and new direction definitely shows with Halo 4 to the point where its identity is defined by radical change, and it is up to the fans whether or not this is good or bad.

So that concludes How to Fix – Halo 4. If you enjoyed then be sure to leave a like, and you can follow Sacred Icon here or on Facebook for more content like this.

In the meantime, look down below for more of my Halo-related content!

 

How to Fix – Revelation of the Daleks

Welcome to the next article in a series called ‘How to Fix’, in which I will be offering my opinion on how to improve on stories from various entries in different franchises. It must be noted that not all of the films, games or episodes that I will be talking about in this series have to necessarily be ‘broken’ in order to fix them, simply that these articles will offer alternate means of telling the same stories.

Since one of the very first posts on this blog was an opinion piece on how good Remembrance of the Daleks is, it seemed only fitting for me to attempt to write a similar piece on the previous Dalek episode from the 80s, the ‘prequel’ to Remembrance, the Sixth Doctor story Revelation of the Daleks. However, upon re-watching the episode after not having seen it since I was young, a few flaws become immediately apparent, particularly when comparing the story and execution of this episode with other 80s Dalek stories as well as Big Finish releases featuring Daleks. So, without further ado, let’s get right into how to fix Revelation of the Daleks.

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Totally rework the focus of the story

Before getting too far into criticism of Revelation‘s focus, it has to be said that the final product would be perfectly fine – if the show it was an installment of wasn’t called ‘Doctor Who’. Because of all the various colourful characters in the episode, the Doctor himself receives possibly the least screen time. In fact, the Doctor doesn’t even get involved in the main plot of the story until the second part (technically the third part, had Revelation used the standard classic series format) and this creates a strange feeling of disassociation for the audience. Whilst the denizens of Necros and the goings-on of the strangely technicolour funeral parlour are mildly interesting, and the in-depth look at Galactic politics and the activities of scheming assassins even more so, Revelation seems to put what should be the primary focus of any episode of Doctor Who – the Doctor and the companion – on the back seat, behind even the most minor of secondary characters.

Ironically, this creates an even bigger problem for this episode – the fact that the writers seemed obliged to insert scenes of the Doctor and Peri trudging around the exterior of Tranquil Repose makes these scenes seem like distractions from the main story, as if Doomsday had frequently cut to scenes of Canary Wharf janitorial workers, or if Blink had frequent scenes involving the man who owned the video store watching his crime films. Whilst Doctor-lite episodes have worked in the past, Revelation is not wholly committed to the idea, and so the first part ends up as a bit of a jumbled mess. The Doctor and Peri should have far more screen time in order to link the various plot elements together. Talking of which…

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Put more emphasis on the ‘Revelation’

Whilst Resurrection of the Daleks was named almost as a pun, reflecting the fact that the Daleks had not been used in the show for some time beforehand regardless of the fact that there was no ‘resurrection’ of any kind in the episode, Revelation of the Daleks does at least have some kind of ‘revelation’ involved – the idea that Davros has created a whole new faction of Daleks, an idea that would be critical in the setup for Remembrance. Unfortunately, this idea is somewhat buried in amongst the sheer mass of plot elements going on in this story. To briefly summarise, this episode devotes somewhat equal time to at least 3 different subplots – the activities in the funeral home surrounding Jobel and Tasambeker, the mission undertaken by Natasha and Grigory to find her father’s body (now metamorphosed into the Glass Dalek), and Davros’ plan to manipulate Kara and her company into distributing his cannibalised food in the guise of the ‘Great Healer’ with Kara’s subsequent plan to hire Orsini to assassinate Davros.

This is a lot of ongoing plot threads to be contained within one episode, and this isn’t even mentioning the smaller subplots of the Doctor and Peri wandering in the wilderness, the beginning of the Dalek Civil War, or the cringe-inducing broadcasts of the infamous DJ (more on him later). What makes this even worse is that most of these threads seemingly go nowhere – what exactly was the point of Jobel and Tasambeker’s significant screen time when they ultimately both end up dead, having contributed nothing to the main story? Why did Natasha and Grigory get so much focus after finding the Glass Dalek, when this is really all they were needed for in the narrative? Why wasn’t more focus placed on the Kara-Davros-Orsini dynamic, the only major plot thread that actually amounts to anything overall? The episode should have condensed the Jobel and Tasambeker story into the first episode, with the Doctor’s involvement being accelerated so that he meets Natasha by the end of the first act. Also, whilst they are excellent, Davros’ interactions with Kara should have fed into the cliffhangar of the first episode – perhaps have the ‘Great Healer’ persona be a more effective disguise for Davros instead of simply a rubber duplicate of his horribly deformed and instantly recognisable face – so that the reveal of Davros is more of a surprise. This would ultimately lead to the ‘revelation’ of the new faction of Daleks being a more critical plot development rather than simply being buried in the mix.

revelation of the daleks dj

Hang the DJ

We all knew this was coming. What on Exxilon were the writers thinking? Well, the character of the DJ was apparently designed to parody 80s DJs at the time, making this entire character tailor-made to lose his effectiveness as time goes on, but the problem of his inclusion runs deeper than this. Ultimately, despite the relatively signifcant amount of precious screen time dedicated to him, the DJ character goes nowhere other than as a means to distract Peri from the main story. Even if one ignores the fact that his entire reason for being in the facility is totally useless (quite literally playing music for the dead) things take a turn for the worst when he uses a ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ gun to destroy Daleks. If you thought Captain Jack destroying Daleks with a laser designed to get people naked was ridiculous, this is on a whole other level.

Ultimately, it is difficult to reconcile this character without a complete rewrite from the ground up, so the only realistic recommendation is to axe this character completely, and spend the time wasted on him to focus on more important plot points. However, for the half-dozen or so people out there who actually like this character, at the very least he should have two to three scenes maximum, and cut out the idea that Daleks can be destroyed by a gun that fires concentrated Rock ‘n’ Roll. Where did he even get that thing, anyway?

In Conclusion

Overall, Revelation of the Daleks is no masterpiece. Whilst the episode in its current state stands at a respectable 6 or 7 out of 10 according to the majority of fans, the concepts and ideas along with most of the characters and plot developments should have made this story a solid 8 or 9. Unfortunately, bad pacing, lack of clear focus and an abundance of irrelevant or poorly executed subplots drag this story down.  Hopefully this installment of How to Fix can give an idea of what could have been…

So that concludes the latest How to Fix, I hope you enjoyed and if you did be sure to leave a like. Check out the links below for more Doctor Who related content and other installments in the How to Fix series. Thanks for reading!

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Star Trek – Ranking the Opening Titles

Whether you sit through them every time or use them as an excuse to grab a snack, the Star Trek opening titles are a staple of the series, and rightly so. The main themes of each version of the show are all fantastic for the most part, and the opening usually comes with some nice visual effects, be it model shots of the setting (usually a ship) or CGI renderings of various iconography related to the show (as in Discovery, but we’ll get to that). But the question remains – which opening is the best? So for convenience, we’ve ranked them all (apart from the movies), starting with:

6 – Discovery

Whilst it is clear that the idea behind the Discovery title sequence was to distinguish it entirely from prior titles in the series, the fact of the matter is fans would probably have preferred a showcase of the modern day special effects to create Discovery’s take on the classic style of Star Trek intro – that is, the ship flying around through space. Think something like the titles of Star Trek: Voyager, but with updated effects to show off the new ship. Instead, what we got was a strange blueprint/technical specifications manual in 3-D showing the ship and various pieces of Star Trek iconography like Phasers, Communicators and even the Vulcan Salute, coupled with high-resolution pictures of people (or at least parts of people – like a chin and an eye) who are presumably the crew. Regardless of whether you like this or not, what is undeniably the greatest drawback of Discovery’s titles is the theme itself, which is both uninspired and forgettable.

5 – Enterprise

The other standout of Star Trek title sequences that radically diverge from the normal formula to the point of being almost incomparable is Enterprise, which does a great job of establishing this show as the first in the timeline with specific focus on the progress that mankind has made between the early days of sailing in which the name ‘Enterprise’ was born to the first in what will be a long line of interstellar exploration vessels bearing the same name. This is also the general idea behind the theme, which for many is the primary drawback of this title sequence – it is a bit cheesey, particularly since it has vocals, something which thankfully has never been done again in Star Trek. One thing that Star Trek: Enterprise did do right, however, was the awesome variation of the title sequence used for ‘In a Mirror, Darkly’ for the Mirror Universe.

4 – Deep Space Nine

The first on this list from the ‘standard’ formula of Star Trek openings, The problem with Deep Space Nine’s opening titles is the fact that instead of a nimble ship that can zip around the screen, the crew in this show inhabit a giant space station that is, for the most part, immobile. For the first few seasons Deep Space Nine used a title sequence that did a very poor job of showcasing the station’s actual size, but this was later improved in an updated title sequence that was introduced as the USS Defiant became a staple of the series, that had lower angled shots of the station and more ships. One particular change that did wonders to better showcase the vastness of the station was the addition of a Nebula-class ship docked on to one of the pylons at the start, which fans of TNG will know is almost as big as a Galaxy-class ship, and yet it is dwarfed by the station. Although the theme of Deep Space Nine is somewhat of a slow march, it does have some real feeling to it that begins to reflect the content of the show itself as the series progresses.

3 – The Original Series

The original Star Trek title sequence set the staple for opening titles to come, and is also the first of two entries on this list that include the iconic “Space… the final frontier…” speech. The visuals are dated but that won’t bother anyone who is fond of the original series, and the main theme is upbeat and great for a sing-along. The only true drawback to the original opening titles is that by far the shortest of them all, hardly even topping a minute in length. Still, these titles have gone on to be a pop culture staple and those first four notes of the opening theme inspires excitement and awe in fans even over half a century later.

2 – The Next Generation

To get the obvious out of the way first, the main theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation is brilliant. easily the most bombastic of the themes, it really sets the tone for the blend of sci-fi and politics in TNG, and the model shots of the Enterprise-D give the illusion that the ship is huge. Patrick Stewart’s opening monologue is arguably better than William Shatner’s, and also replaces “To boldly go where no man has gone before” with “To boldly go where no-one has gone before”, which genuinely rolls off the tongue better as well as updating the line to be more in-keeping with the spirit of the show. Also, it is worth mentioning that TNG actually had two variants of the title sequence, with the later incarnation having updated effects and an altered theme, both of which were well-received by fans.

1 – Voyager

Sporting the best visuals of the four best opening titles, the opening to Star Trek: Voyager gives a sense of the isolation that comes along with the running plot arc of the show by dwarfing the ship against planets, asteroid fields and nebulae, showcasing the epic scale of the Delta Quadrant. Unlike the TNG opening titles, the ship is a CGI render and not a physical model, and this allows for some great angled shots of the ship. The music is definitely one of the best Star Trek opening themes, and like DS9 it has a melancholy aspect to it that is quite unlike the bombastic fanfare of TNG, reflecting the more dire situation that the crew of Voyager have found themselves in. Overall, Star Trek: Voyager is the one incarnation of Star Trek that has a title sequence that I will never skip.

So that concludes this ranking of the Star Trek Opening Titles, if you enjoyed then be sure to leave a like and you can see more content related to this article below:

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