How to Fix – Halo: Reach

Welcome to another article in our How to Fix series, a collection of features dedicated to outlining the main issues with the story of a film, game, TV show episode or book and suggesting ideas of how to effectively ‘fix’ it. As stated in previous installments of this series, the subject in question does not necessarily have to be something that is already bad – a prime example of a How to Fix article covering a title that is already of a decent standard is this one. Halo: Reach is without a doubt a legendary game. With a community that is still active to this day, and the recent announcement of a PC release that is likely to lengthen this game’s already impressive post-launch lifespan, the game is still a popular title even nearly ten years after its release. And yet, as popular and enduring as Bungie’s final Halo title is, there is still a lot about the story of the Campaign in particular that can be improved. So, how could Halo: Reach be fixed?

reach story.jpg

Story and Campaign

Though epic in its scope and powerful in its delivery, Halo: Reach’s story does leave something to be desired by the end, especially after multiple playthroughs. The early story is gripping as it peppers multiple clues about Halsey and the Covenant through the various missions – the discovery of Halsey’s data in the first mission, to meeting Halsey herself, and then after that being chosen by Cortana to get her to the Pillar of Autumn so that the story of Halo: Combat Evolved can kick off. But there are many aspects to the story, particularly later on, that are unexplained, and plot threads left unanswered. Some of these are smaller, more nitpicky things such as ‘Why do Emile and Jorge hate each other?’ and ‘What was Carter and Kat’s prior history?’ that are never truly resolved as the various characters die before their stories can progress. Whilst this does add to the shock factor and warfare immersion initially, as it keeps the player on their toes and reminds them that warfare isn’t kind, but after multiple runs through the story you expect the deaths to come and yet there is still no way of expanding on the character’s backstory.

As for the campaign itself, the gameplay is almost perfect – there really isn’t much to fix here, as Halo: Reach has some of the largest and most intricate levels in all of the Bungie games, and despite not featuring any Flood or Forerunner enemies, the game still manages to make the levels feel varied as it features the most Covenant enemy varieties of any Halo game to date, even beating Halo 2. That being said, as with many later Halo games, your allies do not feel as useful in this game as they did in previous titles. Although your Noble squadmates feature in some levels as AI bots to help you through the mission, in a manner similar to that of the Arbiter in Halo 3, they are not exactly masters of aiming precisely on target – in fact, one might go so far as to say that the Noble team AI is almost totally pointless, and the Marines actually offer better support to the player in missions than their Spartan compatriots do. Not only that, but the AI driving for Noble Team seems to be particularly bad – an infamous example of this being Kat’s godawful attempts at keeping the Rocket Hog steady during the run on the AA Guns in Tip of the Spear, only to topple both herself and the player off a cliff.

reach multiplayer.jpg

Multiplayer

Although Halo: Reach’s multiplayer is perhaps one of the most treasured of all the Halo games, and the recent announcement that it is coming to PC via the MCC has fans ecstatic, upon its initial release the game was met with a mixed reception from fans, who called it too far of a deviation from the classic Halo formula to be considered a ‘true’ Halo game. They were of course referring to the additions of armour abilities, specifically Sprint and Armour Lock, which were quite radical additions to the Halo sandbox at the time but, in hindsight nearly 10 years later, these pale in comparison to some of the additions that Halos 4 and 5 would go on to add, so by comparison it doesn’t look as bad – although the dreaded firefight-stalling pace-shattering Armour Lock still remains one of the games most controversial features.

As for the maps, there are plenty – although almost all are sourced from either the Campaign missions, or Forge World map variants. This is not necessarily an issue in itself – after all, Forge World is a really diverse map and, as previously discussed, the Campaign does involve a variety of different terrains and arenas, so the developers definitely had plenty to source from. The main problem with Reach’s maps is the lack of specialising particular maps for particular kinds of game – with the addition of Sprint, as well as Anti-Vehicle Armour Abilities such as Jetpack and Armour Lock, many of Reach’s maps moved away from map control and layout memorisation. This is further exacerbated by the inclusion of Loadouts, though these are not present in all game modes online, and in recent years the Reach multiplayer seems to have moved away from Loadouts and Armour Abilities and more towards emulating the classic Halo style in some game modes, suggesting that they have taken fan criticism to heart.

falcon.jpg

Weapon and Vehicle Sandbox

Though there is no denying that Halo: Reach had a fantastic weapons sandbox, including a diverse variety of new weapons such as the Grenade Launcher, Focus Rifle, Concussion Rifle, Plasma Launcher and the legendary Target Locator, one of the essential elements missing from Reach’s weapons sandbox is specialisation – many of the weapons have counterparts that do a similar or, in some cases, the exact same job. Examples of this include the DMR and the Needle Rifle, both one-shot weapons capable of landing headshots and good for medium-long range aiming, the Plasma Rifle and the Spiker, both two-handed automatic Covenant weapons with a similar rate of fire, and the Concussion Rifle and Grenade Launcher, both of which are short-range explosive weapons for clearing out large areas. Some weapons do have special traits, such as the Needle Rifle’s supercombine and the Grenade Launcher’s EMP, but overall some more diversity in the weapons sandbox might have been better – the DMR is a solid rifle, but the Battle Rifle reigns supreme.

Speaking of notable absences from Reach, many previous Halo vehicles are absent from Reach’s sandbox, including the Chopper, Prowler, Spectre, Hornet and Elephant – and although there are some new vehicles, like the Revenant and the Falcon, overall Reach’s vehicles seems to be the only aspect of the game in which it feels like there is actually less content than there was before. This would begin a trend in Halo games up until Halo 5: Guardians in which the number of Covenant vehicles usable in the game is drastically reduced, which is a shame considering that they are among the most fun vehicles to drive. As always, the Banshee, Ghost and Wraith all feature, and Reach’s Banshee has the best handling of all the Bungie Banshees – but unfortunately, the addition of the limited boost feature for all three vehicles has significantly reduced their effectiveness. Overall, Reach’s vehicles are perhaps its game’s biggest shortcoming, but there are two particular vehicles of note in the game, ironically the two vehicles original to the game mentioned earlier, the Falcon and the Revenant. The Falcon is an instant fan-favourite, the ‘team troop carrier’ that was ideal for Capture the Flag getaways – although there should have been an option to turn on the pilot’s main weapon and the inner passenger seats for Custom Games. As for the Revenant, it is hilariously fun to drive and finds a sensible middle ground between the Ghost’s speed and the Wraith’s firepower. Plus, it has a passenger seat!

forge world

Conclusion

All things considered, Halo: Reach is definitely one of the best Halo games in its own right, as it remains one of the most unique and creative Halo games in history and definitely a fitting sendoff for Bungie. The inclusion of Reach into MCC, and the concurrent and long-awaited release of Reach on PC, is definitely good news for fans. Overall, the issues that Reach experienced early on were mostly due to sudden and unexpected changes that fans weren’t happy with but, in hindsight, Reach seems far closer to the earlier Bungie games like Halo 3 now that the new pariah of the franchise, Halo 5: Guardians, has released. No prizes for guessing what the next Halo How To Fix will be about…

Read More

 

 

How to Fix Michael Bay’s Transformers Films – Part Three: Good Plots in Disguise

Welcome to the next piece in a new sub-series of ‘How to Fix’, revolving around the monumental task of fixing the Transformers movies, which started in 2007 with Transformers and have since become infamous for their paper-thin character development, over-dependence on CGI and racist or otherwise offensive content. Since fixing such an infamously bad franchise can hardly be done in just over one thousand words, this ‘How to Fix’ feature has been broken down into parts, and each part has been broken down into segments. Part Two focused on the mishandling of many of the series’ villains, particularly relating to continuity, and this carries over into this piece focusing on the various plot devices, MacGuffins, and other contrivances used in the series.

allspark-and-matrix.png

The Allspark and the Matrix

As MacGuffins go, the Allspark isn’t half bad – it is basically the lifegiver for Transformers, at least that is how it is depicted, and for the first two films it is a very important factor in the stories even after its destruction. If the films has continued to revolve specifically around the Allspark or the knowledge it contains, then the series would be much more cohesive. For all its flaws, Revenge of the Fallen does at least try to continue the importance of the Allspark by having the plot kick off by the discovery of two surviving shards of the cube, but by Dark of the Moon the Allspark is all but forgotten, replaced by the Matrix of Leadership which Optimus acquires in the second film. Had it been better explained that the Allspark power had been somehow transferred to the Matrix then this would explain how it can be used to revive the dead, but this still does not explain why Optimus does not use the Matrix to create more Autobots, or revive dead ones like Jazz and Jetfire. The later films decide to simply write out the Matrix altogether, which although servicing the plot does little to expand the continuity.

Ultimately, this is a symptom of poor pre-planning – undoubtedly the Transformers films were not planned in advance, and each one was essentially a standalone project – this explains other discrepancies between films, such as the designs of the Transformers changing or the physics of the universe fundamentally shifting – for example, do Transformers bleed blood or Energon? Had the films been better planned, undoubtedly the Allspark would have made a return as implied in dialogue from Revenge of the Fallen, and Cybertron would be remade allowing the Decepticons to return home with the Autobots fortifying Earth, in a similar fashion to the cartoon series. However, the lack of continuity means that this never transpired, and unfortunately the mainline Transformers movie series suffered as a result.

knights.png

Rewriting History

Another fault that many later Transformers films suffered from was the repeated attempts to rewrite history, by either incorporating Transformers into Human mythology and lore (which is nonsense) or implying that Transformers either created, relocated or at the very least interacted with ancient humans. Although having Transformers exist as an ancient race that were once active on Earth as a plot device would work for the plot of one film, perhaps for justifying the unearthing of a hidden Decepticon army or the Matrix as in the original film. However, each and every film uses this motif in some form for each of their MacGuffins. The Allspark is buried in Hoover Dam, the Matrix is entombed in Egypt, the Pillars are buried with Sentinel on the moon and the fourth and fifth films go so far as to imply that the Earth itself is either a creation of or the host for an ancient race of Transformers. The effect is dulled by the fact that each and every major event in Earth’s history is connected in some way to Transformers – the extinction of the dinosaurs, stonehenge, the pyramids – even the moon landing – so by Transformers 6 the audience would not be surprised if it was revealed that the Transformers were somehow responsible for Brexit.

bumblebee-hanh-trinh-04-d6aec6

The ‘Chosen One’

As if a constant use of different plot devices wasn’t bad enough, many of the films also try to imply a ‘Chosen One’ prophecy either with Sam, Cade, or Bumblebee – but again, like the MacGuffin complaint, this trope becomes far less effective the more it is used. However, the first film does a good job of veering away from this and opting instead for the ‘coming of age’ story for Sam. This is maintained in the third film too with his arc of being ‘the Messenger’, a role he eventually decides he fills perfectly. Overall, though he is a strange character indeed, Sam is possibly one of the best things about the series, as he is well acted by Shia LaBeouf and is generally a likeable character. Unfortunately, one of his central arcs – his relationship with Mikaela – was dashed when Megan Fox was dropped from Dark of the Moon, and although Shia is at his best in the third film, the character of Sam was dropped in favour of Cade. In an ideal world, both characters would exist simultaneously in the films and fill similar roles to Sparkplug and Spike from the original cartoon series.

If a ‘Chosen One’ prophecy concerning Optimus was fully fleshed out, that would perhaps be the only version of this trope that audiences would accept – the idea that, as a Prime, Optimus has a specific duty or role to fill that he is destined or otherwise obliged to fulfil. This idea is ham-fistedly shoved into Revenge of the Fallen with the idea that ‘only a Prime can defeat the Fallen’, but that plot thread is immediately concluded at the end of that film, and by Dark of the Moon the importance of Optimus’ rank is diminished somewhat by the inclusion of Sentinel Prime. Again, it comes down to poor planning – had all five films been planned out in advance, the series might have carried a Chosen One plot concerning Optimus with some degree of effectiveness. As it is, due to the mishandling of the franchise and a lack of basic cohesion, each attempt to use a ‘Chosen One’ plotline involving destiny or a prophecy came across as a feeble attempt to give the series a deep backstory when in reality, the audience is well aware that each new film is  essentially a cash-grab, and at this point and any attempt to effective translate the heart and soul of the original Transformers cartoon into movie form has long since been squandered. Narratively, the series lies in ruins – and although commercially the franchise has been a huge success, particularly in China, for most fans the series has been a total disappointment, and no amount of sequels can fix an inherently broken backstory or inspire any kind of optimism in a generation of jaded fans.

Bumblebee-trailer-Shockwave

Conclusion

For for those fans who were initially invested in the Transformers movies, however, all hope is not lost. With the recent release of Bumblebee, the series seems to have initiated a form of ‘soft reboot’, with reshoots to the film including a redesigned Cybertron and various classic G1-inspired characters that seems to effective ‘re-write’ the backstory of the first Transformers film. Overall, though it was fun while it lasted, it seems Michael Bay’s disjointed Transformers series has come to an end, with five movies each as bizarre as the last, but from it seems to have sprung a glimmer of hope for Transformers fans that a new movie series spearheaded by people who appreciate the classic series and want to bring the nostalgic iconography to a new generation. We can only hope that new films in the series learn from the mistakes of their predecessors, and improve the quality of the films to rival high-quality cinematic universes like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

At the end of the day, attempting to fix the Michael Bay Transformers series was always going to be an impossible task. But by breaking down the flaws into these individual sections, hopefully fans can read this review and agree that, in the future, any Transformers cinematic endeavour should be pre-planned, staffed by people who appreciate the series and able to tell a unique story to the same quality of other shows and games in the Transformers franchise.

Read More

How to Fix Michael Bay’s Transformers Films – Part Two: Decepticontinuity

Welcome to the next piece in a new sub-series of ‘How to Fix’, revolving around the monumental task of fixing the Transformers movies, which started in 2007 with Transformers and have since become infamous for their paper-thin character development, over-dependence on CGI and racist or otherwise offensive content. Since fixing such an infamously bad franchise can hardly be done in just over one thousand words, this ‘How to Fix’ feature has been broken down into parts, and each part has been broken down into segments, Part One dealt with several missed opportunities of the series’ basic foundation, including the odd characterisation of Optimus Prime and the use of classic characters for cheap shock value deaths in later sequels. This piece opens with another great missed opportunity that could have made the Transformers movies great:

megatron.jpg

Megatron

Although there is very little wrong with Megatron as he is presented in the first film, gradually, like Optimus, his original character begins to fall away and is replaced with an aimless idiot. For a start, it has to be asked – what was the actual reason for Megatron being on Earth? Each film gives a different reason. Initially he’s there because he was hunting the Allspark, but it is later implied that he was there at the behest of the Fallen, and then later, to meet Sentinel Prime. Overall it seems Megatron is treated as whatever the film needs him to be as the cackling villain, and rather than have him come up with a devious scheme in each film in a similar fashion to G1, instead the Decepticon leader often plays second fiddle to other evil Transformers, to the extent that he has less than ten minutes of screen time in the entire of Dark of the Moon.

Ultimately, like so many other things in this iteration of the iconic franchise, Megatron was wasted. The greatest tragedy was that Hugo Weaving was great as Megatron, and he steals every scene he is in and clearly had a great time recording his lines, which enhances his performance. In fact, it is safe to say that Megatron is one of the best things about the series as a whole. The issue with him is that he barely features, and when he is featured, he is usually playing the Starscream role to some other generic villain, which as a knock-on effect damages Starscream’s character as he is given very little to do in these movies and the audience has to be outright told by Megatron that Starscream is ‘traitorous’ because that’s what he was like in G1, but the film spends absolutely no time establishing this.

Still, back to Megatron, the concept of another Cybertronian villain working alongside Megatron only to be betrayed or otherwise undone by the leader of a faction that literally define themselves around their abilities of deception would have been fantastic, and we see an inkling of this in Dark of the Moon, in which Megatron eventually backstabs Sentinel Prime in a final moment of glory before being unceremoniously beheaded by the power-mad Optimus. However, Megatron’s overall motives and even basic character lose even more focus in the final two movies, as the character becomes Galvatron in Transformers 4 only to the revert back to Megatron in Transformers 5, and by that point it was clear that the writers held no regard for even basic continuity between films.

decepticons.png

The Decepticons

In the original Transformers cartoon, the Decepticons were as diverse and recognisable as the Autobots, which was essential as the series was designed to sell as many toys as possible, and it stood to reason that kids would want a diverse and recognisable cast of villains in their favourite franchise. However, Michael Bay didn’t seem to think so, as when producing the new Transformers films he not only limited the Decepticons in terms of their character but also their visual design. The original film does, to its credit, attempt to make each Decepticon distinctive from one another, but even as early as the second film any hope of Decepticon characters beyond Megatron, Starscream and Soundwave getting any development at all were dashed as the producers opted to make the Decepticons a faceless generic army of evil-looking robots – most of the Decepticons in the second film don’t even possess vehicle modes.

In similar fashion to the shortcomings of having a new villain depose Megatron in each film, the movies also suffer from ‘trailer syndrome’ – the idea that each film has to have a bigger and more powerful Decepticon than the last in order to put something explosive in the trailer. The second Transformers film started this with a combination of ‘Wheelbot’ and Devastator – both of whom share a combined screen time of about eight minutes in the actual film, yet make up the majority of the trailers. Transformers 3 had Shockwave and the Driller, which again appeared very briefly in the film and were easily dispatched. Unfortunately, in a fashion similar to how the films used the Autobots for cheap emotive deaths, the iconic Decepticon characters were also squandered for cheap action sequences. Transformers 3 is particularly bad for this, as Shockwave, Soundwave, Starscream and Megatron are all dispatched too soon for the sake of an action sequence.

But it isn’t just the main Decepticons that suffer the wrath of Michael Bay’s total disregard for character – as the films progressed the once threatening Decepticon forces were reduced to mindless fodder. In the first Transformers film, total of six Decepticons are featured with each having a unique body type and vehicle form. Most take part in the final battle, during which a lot of time is dedicated to the humans and what remains of the Autobots figuring out each individual Decepticon’s weakness and taking it out. However, by Transformers 3 the Decepticons have inexplicably obtained an army of soldiers despite Transformers 2 asserting that they are running short of energon and that the ‘hatchlings’ keep dying. Again, note that the Decepticons seem to be driven by desperation in these films – rather than by a lust for conquest as in the original series. The fact that Optimus seems completely indifferent to the fact that his race is nearing extinction and Megatron just wants to do something about it makes the audience question the basic foundations of the story.

sentinel-prime.jpg

Each New Bot on the Block

As previously discussed, this franchise suffers badly from the repeated use of the ‘bigger baddie’ – the idea that the villain you thought was the strongest and most powerful villain in the series is surpassed by an even bigger villain. The problem with re-using this idea is that it quickly becomes cheapened – to recap, Megatron is upstaged by the Fallen in Transformers 2, Sentinel Prime in Transformers 3, Lockdown in Transformers 4 and Quintessa in Transformers 5 with no explanation given as to why, after four attempts at working with another evil Transformer, Megatron doesn’t decide to just go it alone for once. The series even went to the trouble of reformatting Megatron into Galvatron for the fourth film, which would have been the prime opportunity to bring him back as the main villain for the series, except his role is reduced to a lackey for Attinger and eventually a minor threat compared to Lockdown.

The repeated sidelining of Megatron coupled with the films lack of basic continuity not only makes Megatron’s true motives for being on Earth unclear but also contributes massively to the decay of the threat posed by each film’s newest Decepticon army. Despite the loss of fan-favourites like Ironhide and Ratchet to the new big bad of Transformers 3 and 4, respectably, the true irony is that even with Leonard Nimoy voicing Sentinel Prime and the inherently interesting idea of a faction-less villain in Lockdown the films fall short of realising the potential that Megatron himself had as a villain. In many ways, the character could have stayed dead at the end of the first film and it would have made very little difference to later films.

Though it cannot be said that Sentinel Prime and Lockdown weren’t good villains, others like The Fallen were less than impressive, and Shockwave may as well have not even been in Dark of the Moon since he did absolutely nothing and then died. If it wasn’t for the less effective usurper villains, the few good ones would be far more effective.

Next in this series is Part 3 of How to Fix – Transformers, in which we shall discuss the continual re-use of another lazy writing trope, the ‘chosen one’ prophecy, as well as several others, with the recurring theme of each film starting with a ‘reset’ of sorts.

Next: Part Three – Good Plots in Disguise

 

How to Fix Michael Bay’s Transformers Films – Part One: More Than Meets the CGI

Welcome to a new sub-series of ‘How to Fix’, revolving around the monumental task of fixing the Transformers movies, which started in 2007 with Transformers and have since become infamous for their paper-thin character development, over-dependence on CGI and racist or otherwise offensive content. Since fixing such an infamously bad franchise can hardly be done in just over one thousand words, this ‘How to Fix’ feature has been broken down into parts, and each part has been broken down into segments, starting with what is arguably the biggest misstep in the Bay universe.

optimus-prime.jpg

Optimus Prime

The most glaring problem with the movies is Optimus Prime and how he is depicted. Gone is the wise and principled Prime from the cartoon series and in his place we are given an imposter wearing the voice and outward personality of his namesake as a mask to disguise his violent and sociopathic tendencies. We see these traits come out when this Optimus has any combat scene following Revenge of the Fallen, but in fairness, Optimus Prime in the first Transformers movie is a fairly accurate representation of the character, even down to his brutal decapitation of Bonecrusher on the highway – which in the context of the film was entirely justified, as Optimus had to prioritise saving the people on the highway.

However, in just about every combat situation from the second film onwards, Optimus Prime is a savage psychopathic brawler who seems to delight in mutilating his victims to death in a variety of grisly fashions. Gone is the wise mantra of ‘freedom is the right of all sentient beings’ that the original Optimus Prime stood by, as the Michael Bay version of Optimus has ripped people’s faces off, torn someone’s spine out with an axe, and shot a defenseless prisoner in the head with a double-barreled shotgun at point blank range. However, as all of these acts are committed against Decepticons, the films act like there is no moral baggage on Optimus’ shoulders whatsoever.

In fact, Optimus seems to be almost callously indifferent to the deaths of not only the vast majority of his species, but even his fellow comrades, as although he briefly laments Jazz’s death in the first film, not a tear is shed for Ironhide, Wheeljack or Arcee, and although he does seem appalled by the death of Ratchet in the fourth film, he uses that as an excuse to go on yet another violent rampage. Whilst Megatron has consistently voiced his desire to ensure the survival of their species throughout all five films, Optimus is insistent on stopping him, despite having no plan of his own of how to actually go about restoring Cybertron. But this brings us to the next biggest problem with the film series:

autobots

The Autobots

The Autobots in the Michael Bay Transformers films are very strange indeed. One would assume, given what is at this point common knowledge about the Transformers series, that the Autobots would take the place of main characters and primary heroes of the series – but this is not true. The Autobots play little more than an assisting role to the heroes for all five films, and whilst Bumblebee and Optimus are given more screen time, Bumblebee is treated more like a pet and, as previously discussed, Optimus is a maniac. In the original cartoon series, characters like Ironhide, Ratchet, Jazz and Wheeljack were developed characters with their own relationships, personalities and roles within the team. In the Michael Bay movies, the Autobots are cardboard cutouts with silly voices that are in the film because the branding requires that they are there.

Throughout the entire franchise so far, aside from the cases of Optimus and Bumblebee, no attempt is made to develop any of the Autobot characters in any way, and eventually the surviving two Autobots from the first film – Ironhide and Ratchet – ended up being wasted in the exact same way that they had been in the original G1 movie – for cheap shock value deaths when the writers couldn’t think of any other way of making the film’s villains threatening. Whilst killing main characters is a good way of making the audience hate a villain, a prerequisite of this is that the character killed is actually known to the audience, and not a faceless drone. The same logic can be applied to Star Wars’s Order 66 scene – it is only emotive to superfans who know the characters from wider lore, but to the average viewer it is practically meaningless.

There is also several consistency issues with the Autobots – some appear and disappear between films with no explanation, and others appear for the first time but act as if they have been around since the beginning – either way, it is safe to say that there is a reason that Bumblebee and Optimus are the only Autobots that the audience remotely cares about – they are the only two that the film bothers to do anything interesting with, despite their potential. A reboot of the Transformers movie series should definitely focus more on the Autobots and less on the Human characters. Speaking of which:

humans.jpg

The Humans

Though it has been said many times, the Transformers movies focus far too much on the Human characters. At the end of the day, however, this was an inevitability – when making this kind of cartoon series into a live action film there are dozens of things that need to be taken into account, like how the average moviegoer is going to be able to relate to the film and how much money would have to be spent on CGI to animate the Autobots, if they were the main focus. However, just because there are logical reasons why the Humans have to be at least one of the main focuses of the franchise, doesn’t mean that the Humans that are featured have to be completely insane, immature social outcasts.

Let’s face it, the vast majority of the human characters depicted in this franchise are unhinged – they are either prone to constant inane chatter, buffoonish bumbling or yelps of fear – and Sam Witwicky is arguably the worst, being guilty of all three. The vast majority of characters get so little time for development that they are presented as obvious stereotypes, and though the Humans get far more screen time than the Autobots this is squandered on pointless awkward scenes – one of the worst being the scenes of Sam at his job in the third film – that completely undermine the point of the movies. It would hardly be an issue of the majority of the run time was dedicated to the Humans if the time that was spent on the Autobots wasn’t so wasted, but the final nail in this series’ coffin is that the time spent with the Humans is wasted too, so the whole thing comes across as a gigantic waste of everyone’s time.

Next in this series of completely objective and constructive articles is Part 2 of How to Fix – Transformers, in which we shall discuss Megatron, the Decepticons and the ‘Big Baddie’ syndrome that the films grew to suffer from.

Next: Part Two: Decepticontinuity

 

How to Fix – The Paradigm Daleks

Welcome to the next article in a series called ‘How to Fix’, this piece will discuss how the infamous Paradigm Daleks could be improved in future seasons of Doctor Who, should they ever return. As previously mentioned in Doctor Who Theories – What Became of the Paradigm Daleks? the taller, bulkier and multi-coloured redesign of the Daleks that took place in Series 5, Steven Moffat’s first series as showrunner, was not well-received by fans.

chrome of the daleks

DW XI I Ep3
Image Credit: Dalek 63 88

The most important thing that was to blame for the poor reception of the New Dalek Paradigm was the lacklustre set that was used for their big reveal in Victory of the Daleks – a tiny room in a disused matchstick factory with a ceiling that was barely high enough for the Paradigm Daleks to even fit. The Dalek props themselves were not nearly as badly designed as fans made them out to be, and alterations to the props for Asylum of the Daleks corrected several issues with the design that were evident from Victory – most notably the plastic-like colours that were replaced with the much nicer chrome finish, but the hump at the back was also reduced in response to complaints about the ‘hunchback’ design. For more information on the specifics of the tweaks to the design click here to visit Dalek 63 88’s comprehensive history of the Paradigm props used in Asylum of the Daleks.

But this seemed to be too little, too late, and the Paradigm Daleks were never seen again following Asylum of the Daleks. In total, they had featured prominently in just four episodes in the entirety of Matt Smith’s run as the Eleventh Doctor, which were Victory of the Daleks, The Pandorica Opens, The Big Bang and Asylum of the Daleks. They had also cameoed in  The Wedding of River Song and been featured prominently in several video games and comics of that era, but by Peter Capaldi’s first episode as the Twelfth Doctor to feature the Daleks, Series 8’s Into the Dalek, the Paradigm had disappeared and have never been seen since.

paradigm1

Before delving into speculation and ideas as to how to fix the Paradigm should they ever appear again, the narrative issues with the Paradigm must first be addressed. These issues are totally separate from the more commonly cited problem of the Paradigm’s design, but are perhaps caused by it – firstly, the Paradigm should have been introduced as an officer class for the Daleks from the get-go. Although it is clear that they later became this in Asylum of the Daleks, when they were first introduced they were certainly intended to replace the bronze design entirely. In interviews that were included in behind the scenes material relating to Victory of the Daleks with writer Mark Gatiss, who wrote the story and helped with the design of the Paradigm, he envisions future episodes of the show featuring the Daleks being staffed entirely by the red Paradigm variety, as he considered that the new ‘Drone’ for the Daleks and it was marketed as such at the time. Had the Paradigm been an officer class from the start, with the Progenitor in Victory of the Daleks producing a few Paradigm Daleks and then more bronze drones, perhaps they would have been better received and could have been included as recurring antagonists in a similar fashion to Russell T. Davies’ Cult of Skaro.

dalek series 6The second most glaring narrative flaw with the implementation of the Dalek Paradigm was the lack of Dalek stories in the following series to back up their introduction. Series 6 was devoid of a true Dalek story and this is possibly the greatest contributing factor to the failure of the Paradigm. Had Asylum of the Daleks’ design tweaks been implemented as early as the first half of Series 6, perhaps fans would have been more accepting of them, particularly as the chrome finish makes them look more metallic and less like oversized toys. Possibly in reaction to the poor reception of the Paradigm, Steven Moffat chose to put the Daleks on a mini-hiatus until Series 7, by which time he had made the decision to backtrack on the idea of the Paradigm completely replacing the bronze Daleks and introduced the Dalek Parliament, which featured bronze and Paradigm Daleks working together with no explanation as to why. Since this was the last appearance of the Paradigm, it is safe to say that this decision essentially killed the redesign for good.

series-9-daleks.jpgInterestingly, although the Paradigm were not featured in later Dalek appearances like The Time of the Doctor and Into the Dalek, it was still possible that they were working behind the scenes as the Dalek officer class that they had now become. Information from sources like Doctor Who encyclopedias and fact files from Matt Smith’s era suggest that the Paradigm were still very much alive, and were working behind the scenes to rebuild Skaro and the Dalek Empire, and that the booming voice of the Supreme Dalek threatening the Eleventh Doctor during his initial regeneration scene is in fact a Paradigm Supreme. However, when Series 9’s The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar came around and fans got to see the rebuilt Skaro for themselves, the Paradigm had been entirely replaced with a new form of Dalek command made up of various types of classic Daleks from the show’s history. Not an unwelcome choice of Dalek design for a modern day episode, but a surprising one. Even more interestingly, behind the scenes photographs from the Series 9 two-parter show that the New Dalek Paradigm props were on set at the time, alongside a Peter Cushing movie style Dalek. However, none of these were featured in the episode, and they seem to be the only Dalek props on set at the time that were excluded from the episode. It seems Moffat was considering following through on his idea to have the Paradigm return as the Supreme Council of the new Daleks, but instead opted to imply that they had either disappeared or had been assimilated into the ranks of a newer Dalek hierarchy instead. Either way, the Paradigm were gone for good.

paradigm-daleks.jpgBut if a future showrunner decided in the future that the Paradigm should return? Could it be done? The props themselves are almost certainly in storage somewhere at the BBC, and provided enough time had passed the return of the Paradigm could actually be quite nostalgic for many fans. Not only that, but bringing the Paradigm back might give fans of the Eleventh Doctor’s era some closure. But how could it work? For a start, there would have to be some kind of explanation as to why the Paradigm disappeared in the first place. Perhaps the mysterious Dalek Eternal meddled too much in Dalek history, resulting in the mismatched Empire seen in Series 9, and as a result the Paradigm were exiled. The explanation from the Doctor Who Experience, that the bronze Daleks eventually overthrew their superiors, could also make for some interesting television that harks back to the Dalek Civil War story arc of the 1980s Dalek stories.

If the Paradigm were to return in the future, it is highly likely that more tweaks will be made to their design. Although fans in 2010 were highly critical of these Daleks, there are many aspects of their design that are actually really effective that should be retained in future designs. These include the taller figure that makes them more intimidating, the biological-looking eyepiece that is perhaps one of the creepiest designs yet, and the interesting but sadly undeveloped ‘weapons hatch’ at the back that makes every Dalek capable of transporting multiple weapons or tools at once, which is a great idea that makes sense as a logical evolution for the species. The essential factor to take into account when redesigning the Daleks should be less of “What looks cool?” and more “What makes sense?”. An example of this would be the bolts and rivets on the bronze Daleks – they may look great, but don’t actually make much sense in the logic of the universe, as Daleks would hardly be likely to use human methods of construction when building their army. This goes to show that even the best Dalek designs have their flaws, and adaptations of the classic Dalek look are definitely the way forward for future showrunners who want to try their hand at giving the Daleks a makeover.

Whether they remain a cautionary tale of the hubris of the Moffat era, or they are one day picked up by a showrunner who wishes to do them justice, the Paradigm Daleks will forever be remembered as either a blatant mis-step or a tragic missed opportunity by various factions of the Doctor Who fanbase. One thing that almost all Doctor Who fans can agree on, however, is that although no showrunner should feel apprehensive about trying to put their mark on the Daleks, none should ever again try a Dalek redesign with such zeal without first checking to see if the design actually works well on screen.

Read More

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!

 

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. Whilst this episode is visually fantastic, and features some great direction by Doctor Who legend Graeme Harper, there are some serious and glaring narrative flaws with this story – and given that writer Eric Saward is due to publish the novelisation of this story for the first time this year, it seems fitting to take a look at some of the narrative missteps in such an important episode in the Dalek chronology. So, without further ado, let’s get right into how to fix Revelation of the Daleks.

revelation-of-the-daleks-davros.jpg

Totally Rework the Focus of the Story

What is perhaps most interesting about Revelation of the Daleks as a Doctor Who story is the lack of focus on the Doctor himself – 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 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. For those who have listened to Big Finish’s Dalek Empire series, which depicts stories of other characters fighting the Daleks without the Doctor, the feel is somewhat similar for the first part of this episode, aside from when the episode cuts back to the Doctor and Peri.

An unfortunate side effect of this is that scenes of the Doctor and Peri trudging around the exterior of Tranquil Repose seem like little more than 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 a bit jumbled. Had the episode been written by someone who was more appreciative of Colin Baker’s Doctor, then ideally the Doctor and Peri should have had far more screen time, and perhaps got involved with the main story a little sooner, in order to link the various plot elements together in a way that the audience will understand. Although the scenes inside Tranquil Repose are well shot and feature some great actors and actresses including Eleanor Bron, Clive Swift and Colin Spaull, the audience is thrown into this strange world without a reliable guide to lead them through the complicated story. However, the scenes featuring the Daleks themselves, particularly the Glass Dalek, are the most chilling of the early scenes. Talking of which…

revelation-of-the-daleks-glass-dalek.jpg

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, the first 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’. However, there are also other sub-subplots, including the Doctor and Peri’s jaunt through the exterior of Necros and 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 isolated Dalek scenes, or the jarring broadcasts of the infamous DJ (more on him later). Ultimately, the episode suffers from the two-part format that was in use at the time – ideally, the story could have condensed Jobel and Tasambeker’s story into the first episode, with the Doctor’s involvement being accelerated so that he meets Natasha by the end of the first part. Also, whilst they are excellent, Davros’ interactions with Kara should have fed into the cliffhangar of the second 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

Perhaps the most complicated element to this story, the ridiculous DJ character – who seems so distinctly bizarre and out of place that even characters in the story comment on his borderline anachronistic intrusions into the episode. Played by Alexei Sayle, this character does actually have some intriguing depth to him that is gradually revealed as the story goes on, particularly once he meets Peri. However, for most of the time before that, his scenes are jarring to say the least – although he contributes to the wacky and deranged nature of Tranquil Repose, many viewers now might be put off by the character.

However, he does contribute to some great action scenes in the second episode, with his sonic cannon of “pure Rock’n’Roll” being used to destroy several Daleks in spectacular fashion. We are also given a surprisingly tragic death for this character, who by this point had somewhat redeemed his odd introduction by opening up to Peri as perhaps the only truly sane human in the episode, who just wants to try to connect with Earthern culture after being stuck on Necros for so long.

In Conclusion

Overall, Revelation of the Daleks a troubled 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 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!

How To Fix

More Doctor Who Posts