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:

halo-4-ragnarok.jpg

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:

halo-4-multiplayer.jpg

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!

 

Author: Cameron Walker

Writer, Painter, Dalek collector, Walker, General Idealist but Political Realist, Fan of Doctor Who, Star Wars, Halo, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and Ghost in the Shell, among other things. All Doctor Who discussion particularly welcome, but be warned, I am a huge nerd.

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