Halo – SPV3 – CMT’s Re-Masterpiece

As Halo mods go, you can’t get much better than SPV3. Custom Mapping Team, headed by Masterz1337, have created nothing short of a masterpiece with their fantastic re-imagining of Halo: Combat Evolved‘s campaign. Downloadable for free on PC, SPV3 features many interesting surprises for even the most hardened Halo veteran, thanks to remastered graphics, new assets, new weapons and vehicles, and in some cases totally re-imagined levels with new playspaces to explore. As if all that were not enough, the mod also features new enemy types including Brutes, Skirmishers, Sniper Jackals, Honor Guards three different types of Hunters. With so much in this mod, it can be hard to summarise totally in one article, so this may not be the only time this mod features as a topic in the future. For this introduction, the focus will be the new features of this mod that stand out the most when compared with both Halo: Combat Evolved and it’s Anniversary version.

spv3-soundtrack.jpg

The Music

One of the first aspects of this mod that jumps out at you is the music. Whilst Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary’s soundtrack mostly stuck to the tunes featured in the original game, SPV3’s soundtrack draws from various other Halo games and many of the remasters are radically different from their original counterparts. Whilst many of the classic musical cues in the levels we remember make a return, the mod adds enough new music to make each level feel like an entirely new experience. Highlights of the soundtrack include Under Cover of Night, Rock Anthem for Saving the World, Halo, Sleeping Grunts, Covenant Dance, Leonidas, Brothers in Arms and In Amber Clad, but each and every track in the game has been painstakingly and quite spectacularly enhanced for this updated Halo campaign.

halo-spv31.jpg

The New Levels

The most exciting of the new additions to the campaign in SPV3 is the new levels, as each and every one has had its weapons, objectives, encounters and atmospheres altered or expanded in various ways. The Anti-Gravity sections in The Pillar of Autumn, the Anti-Air Wraith battle in Halo and the Grizzly rampage in Assault on the Control Room are among the most notable stark enhancements to the campaign’s fun factor, and long-time fans of Halo: Combat Evolved who know the game inside out will be met with many wonderful surprises when playing through SPV3’s campaign as the familiar and the unfamiliar collide in a thrilling single player experience. With all ten of the original levels plus an alternate take on The Silent Cartographer featuring in SPV3, there are a vast variety of classic and brand-new enemy encounters to overcome and dozens of tweaks to each and every facet of the original Halo experience.

spv3-covenant.jpg

The Covenant

In the original version of Halo: Combat Evolved, there were four Covenant races featured – Elites, Grunts, Jackals and Hunters, with some of these having variants such as the Jackal Major, the Stealth Elite and the infamous Zealots. SPV3, on the other hand, has the benefit of hindsight – since Halo: Combat Evolved‘s release, various other Covenant races and variants have been introduced into the franchise such as Jackal Snipers, Elite Honor Guards, Skirmishers and Brutes, and thanks to the power of mods all of these and more are featured in SPV3’s campaign, as well as a vast variety of new Covenant weapons like the Focus Rifle, the Brute Plasma Rifle, the Brute Shot and even Halo 5’s ‘Voi. Also, the CMT have created many of their own totally new Covenant weapons that blend seamlessly into the aesthetic of the game, such as the Shredder (a Brute version of the Needler), the Particle Carbine (like the standard Carbine but battery powered) and the Brute Plasma Pistol (which includes an overcharge that spews fire upon impact). These additions to the Covenant make them more dynamic enemies to fight and the vast variety makes for some challenging encounters with larger groups of enemies that the original Halo: Combat Evolved would have struggled to process.

spv3-the-flood.jpg

The Flood

Another big surprise in SPV3 is just how much the Flood have changed in this mod compared to the original game, as they are now a more dynamic threat than ever before. Each of the five Flood levels have been totally reworked from the ground up – the original identity of levels like The Library, Keyes and The Maw have been retained but the mood and atmosphere have been altered considerably, essentially transforming the latter half of the game into a unique and exhilarating horror experience. Levels that were formerly bogged down by repetitive level design and unimaginative encounters have now been re-imagined into some of the best Halo experiences, and this is made all the more exciting by the wide variety of forms the Flood can take in this mod. In the original game, the Flood came in four basic forms – the tiny Infection Forms, the bloated and explosive Carrier Forms and the two varieties of Combat Form, derived from either Elite or Human host bodies. In SPV3, new additions to the Flood ranks include Jackal Forms that howl and screech as they leap towards the player, Brute Forms that are essentially tankier versions of the standard Combat Forms and, for the first time in a Halo game, ODST Combat Forms that are stronger and more dangerous versions of the standard Human Combat Form. If all this were not enough, CMT went one step further and added Halo 3’s instantaneous infection feature, meaning that any Covenant or Human soldiers that are attacked by an Infection Form will be transformed into a Flood form before your very eyes.

In Conclusion

Those out there who are Halo fans and have not yet given SPV3 a go are strongly advised to download this mod, it has clearly had a lot of time, care and effort put into it to make it fun and fresh for fans of Halo: Combat Evolved and the Halo series in general.

Read More

Halo: The Flood – Book Review

When William C. Dietz was approached by Bungie to write a novelisation of Halo: Combat Evolved, a game that he had never played, he was initially reluctant. However, after going away and playing the game a few times, as well as reading the preliminary novel Halo: The Fall of Reach, he decided to take up the challenge. Following the book’s release, it received mixed reviews from critics – some said that it didn’t deviate enough from the games, some said that Dietz’s presentation of the character of the Chief wasn’t consistent with previous author Eric Nylund’s, and most said that the novel is rather repetitive – often consisting of little more than descriptions of gunfights repeated over and over again. Now that the release of Halo: Combat Evolved is but a distant memory, it is interesting going back and re-reading this novel for two reasons – first, I have not read this book since I was a child, and second, the book isn’t anywhere near as bad as many people have made it out to be.

In fairness, I am a massive fan of Halo, so perhaps the book appeals to me in ways that it would not for a casual reader. Also, there are some issues with the book that gripe me – the presentation of the Covenant, for example, is radically different from how they are presented in Halo 2, but that is hardly the author’s fault. In fact, many of the best parts about this book are actually segments that Dietz fought to have included – initially Bungie didn’t want a Covenant subplot, but Dietz felt (rightly) that it would add more to the narrative. The representation of events going on during Halo: Combat Evolved that the Chief was not present for is also particularly good, and the characters of Major Silva and Lieutenant McKay are particularly well-written. Other highlights of the book include Yayap, who provides some comic relief but is a strong character nonetheless, and the depiction of Captain Keyes and Wallace A. Jenkins’ horrific assimilation by the Flood, the former of which was adapted for one of the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary terminals.

Arguably the most engaging character is Zuka ‘Zamamee, an Elite who makes it his mission to hunt the Master Chief throughout the majority of the book. Interestingly, this subplot places Zuka in many of the locations that the Chief himself visits throughout the campaign of Halo: Combat Evolved but either too early or too late to actually encounter the Chief himself, save for a few encounters that don’t go well for the Elite – all the while, Zuka is being tailed by his unwilling assistant Yayap, who is perhaps the most developed Grunt character in the entire Halo franchise. There are also several one-shot Covenant characters that appear for only a chapter or two, which Dietz essentially uses as fodder against either the UNSC or the Flood, with varying degrees of effectiveness. An example of how this doesn’t quite work appears quite early in the novel – an Ossoona named Isna ‘Nosolee, who boards the Pillar of Autumn during the opening chapters and boards Captain Keyes’ lifeboat as the Autumn is evacuated, only to be shot in the head by Keyes during the descent. Whilst this is an interesting addition to the novel, it seems to set up a plot point that goes absolutely nowhere, as Keyes and his team are later captured anyway. The reason for this is that Bungie only accepted Dietz’s proposal to have a Covenant subplot in the novel on the condition that he kill every Covenant character that he introduces in the book, so that Bungie would not have to include them in any media that would follow.

This highlights one of the weakest elements of this novel, in that the fact that everyone has to die at the end of the novel – in a similar manner to Halo: Reach, the knowledge that eventually all the characters will die except for the Chief somewhat reduces the tension throughout. Still, that is perhaps this books most prominent weakness aside from an over-dependence on military dialogue and constant action sequences, which in all aren’t particularly bad – the book is a novelisation after all, and to complain that a book that retells the same story as the game doesn’t deviate enough from the story of the game is not a fair criticism.

One of the strongest aspects of this book is the depiction of the Flood, particularly through Private Jenkins and Captain Keyes who undergo the horrors of infection but still retain a glimmer of consciousness despite their ravaged bodies being host to the Parasite. Dietz’s depiction of how the Flood picks apart the memories of their victims is truly harrowing to read, particularly since readers of the previous book Halo: The Fall of Reach will have a particular connection to Keyes as a character that we didn’t really get from Halo: Combat Evolved, with many players finding Keyes’ habit of getting himself captured very frustrating. The finale of the book from the perspective of Major Silva and Private Jenkins is poignant and really shows just how close the Flood were to getting off Installation 04, making the tension of the Chief’s final run all the higher since the stakes are raised from the depiction of these events in the game.

Overall, Halo: The Flood is an effective novelisation, but perhaps not as strong of a narrative as Halo: The Fall of Reach and Halo: First Strike. It is an absolute must-read for Halo fans, particularly those who are intimately familiar with Halo: Combat Evolved, but is probably a stretch too far for non-Halo fans, to whom many of the game’s extended descriptions of weapons, vehicles and locations would mean absolutely nothing. Dietz’s strongest plot threads include the side plots involving Zuka ‘Zamamee and the Flood, with the story of Melissa McKay and Major Silva being an interesting inclusion but ultimately futile. The best way to read this book is by listening to the Halo Soundtrack alongside it, playing the songs that feature in the various levels to give atmosphere to their accompanying chapters, as the book does capture the spirit of the game and that is perhaps the biggest contributing factor to its success.

Read More

Top 10 Halo 2 Glitches

It is a well known fact within the Halo community that Halo 2 was rushed to release, and although the finished product is a great game, it wasn’t as polished as the developers would have liked, particularly in some areas of the campaign. This is great news for players, who in the time since the game’s release have found a multitude of ways of exploiting glitches in the game’s physics engine to explore outside the levels in the campaign, which the developers actually filled with Easter Eggs knowing that this would happen. Some of the glitches in Halo 2, however, are less to do with the lack of level boundaries and quirks with the physics engine and more to do with specific objects or enemies in particular levels that, to the uninitiated, may come across more like Easter Eggs – and for all intents and purposes they are, albeit unintentional ones.

needler-sentinel.png

10 – Needler Sentinel – Quarantine Zone

The origins of this particular glitch are somewhat unclear – either Bungie originally intended for Sentinels to carry and use weapons other than their usual energy beams, or it was simply a one-off error with the coding of this particular Sentinel – but either way, in a particular room on the game’s eleventh level, the player encounters a massive firefight between Sentinels and Flood combat forms that can get pretty hectic. In the chaos, it can be hard to miss this one particular Sentinel that fires Covenant Needler rounds instead of the Sentinel Beam, and when it is destroyed, it drops a Needler. Interestingly, the Sentinel Enforcers do use a weapon similar to the Covenant Needler, but that weapon fires red shards instead of purple, and Sentinels are never seen wielding that weapon either. Bungie employees have given varying explanations for this, from an accidental ‘slip-of-the-mouse’ when the level was being coded to an entirely cut feature in which Sentinels would use their own version of the Needler on occasion – regardless, it is an interesting glitch.

spectre-great-journey.jpg

9 – Sergeant Johnson Drops Dead/Four Sergeant Johnsons – The Great Journey

This glitch is actually two (or perhaps even three) glitches at once, all in the same place on the same level, but they essentially amount to the same result. If the player can manage to maneuver a Covenant Spectre into the final room of the final level of Halo 2 – no small feat – one can actually use the vehicle in the final boss against the Brute Chieftain Tartarus, and can even convince Sergeant Johnson to climb aboard. As Halo 2 veterans will known, Johnson is crucial in the final fight against the Chieftain – he uses a Covenant sniper rifle to lower the creature’s shields, thereby allowing the player to deal the fatal blow. Due to a strange glitch in the design of the three-tiered arena, however, crouching on the lowest level will cause the player or any other character to drop dead instantly, because you technically intersect with the death barrier that prevents you from falling beneath the floating structure. If one can maneuver Johnson in the Spectre onto the bottom level and cause him to climb out, and because Johnson always crouches after exiting a vehicle, the normally invincible Sergeant will drop dead, allowing you to loot his weapon.

Also, using the same method of getting Johnson in the Spectre, the player can amass a small army of Johnsons since the game automatically spawns a new Johnson when the old one moves too far away from his sniping spot – undoubtedly to keep the battle fair in case Johnson somehow falls. With one Johnson on the powerful plasma turret and two Johnsons riding shotgun, plus another Johnson occupying the sniping spot, this glitch can seriously tip the balance of the boss fight in the player’s favor.

heretic-leader.jpg

8 – Bullying the Heretic Leader – The Arbiter

For those who played the first two Arbiter levels and thought “How is the Heretic Leader always one step ahead?” and aren’t quite satisfied with finally killing him at the conclusion of the level The Oracle, on the original version of Halo 2 for the Xbox it is actually possible to reach him early and essentially beat him up – you can toss grenades at him, throw him into a chasm, or even drop a Banshee on him, and yet he will simply refuse to die. For this to happen, you must equip an Energy Sword in the scene in which the Heretic Leader is visible through a window giving orders to his men and then climbing aboard a Banshee to escape your wrath once again. If you time it right, it is actually possible to use the sword’s lunge attack to clip straight through the window and hit the Heretic Leader directly. Now simply use a grenade to render his Banshee inoperable and he will just stand there, as if accepting his fate. It should be noted that doing this makes the level impossible to complete, and as previously mentioned this only works on the original Xbox version of Halo 2, so it might be more trouble than it is worth at this point. Still, a fun time-wasting glitch that is actually one of the few glitches in the game to be patched in later re-releases.

lake-regret.jpg

7 – Exploring ‘Lake Regret’ – Delta Halo/Regret

Who doesn’t love exploring outside level boundaries? This particular glitch can allow players to not only explore outside the usual confines of the levels Delta Halo and Regret, but it also demonstrates the Master Chief’s less-well known ability to breathe underwater indefinitely, something that comes in very handy when walking across the bottom of a deep lake Pirates of the Caribbean-style. To accomplish this, one has to simply use a grenade to propel the player onto the hills around the final part of Delta Halo or the first part of Regret, and then simply walk around the lake to find a point in which it is possible to walk into the water. Falling into the lake is not a good idea, since fall damage will usually kill the player on contact, but another method that involves using a Ghost to climb the grassy verges around the level can speed things up a bit. (This is easier with the Sputnik Skull enabled that allows the player to propel themselves further with explosives). Once in the lake, the player is free to wander around, study the architecture of Regret’s temple that seems to float on the lake with the supports cutting off about 3 feet beneath the water’s surface, listen for the sound of invisible Whales, and find a large and ominous hole in the floor that seems to serve no real purpose whatsoever.

It should be noted that, although not included here, the well-known ‘Vacations’ that can be taken on almost every Halo 2 level (using similar methods to exploring Lake Regret) constitute their own ‘sub-category’ of fun and interesting glitches. In fact, that might be the subject of another article later down the line…

out-of-his-throne.jpg

6 – Knock the Prophet out of his Throne – Regret

Speaking of the Prophet of Regret, another fun glitch allows the player to temporarily remove the shriveled Covenant hierarch from the safety of his Gravity Throne. During the boss fight with him at the end of the level Regret, the throne must be boarded in order to injure the Prophet as his shields absorb anything the player can throw at him from overcharged Plasma-Pistol shots to both barrels of a Rocket Launcher. However, since Regret;s throne is treated like any other vehicle in order for the boarding mechanic to work, with enough explosive force the player can flip the throne over and, like all occupants of a flipped vehicle in Halo, Regret will be forcibly ejected. Interestingly, the Prophet will simply sit on the floor in the same position as if he were occupying his throne and then attack the player with a Plasma Pistol of all things. This alludes to the fact that in the Halo novels he and most other Prophets are depicted carrying at least one Plasma weapon as a sidearm, and the Prophet will actually drop this pistol upon death whether he is in or out of his throne. This glitch is tricky to pull off, and it is recommended that either the Scarab Skull or weapons like the Fuel Rod Gun or Needler are used since only these can create enough inertia to bounce Regret out of his seat.

keyes-in-space.png

5 -Miranda in Space – Cairo Station

For those who are not convinced that Miranda Keyes is an unmitigated badass, this glitch confirms that Miranda Keyes can actually breathe in space. Using an Energy Sword on the level Cairo Station, it is possible to push Keyes (or Johnson, for that matter) past the point in the level in which they would usually leave the Chief and through an airlock, and as they are programmed to be invincible the repeated strikes will not kill them. By eventually pushing them into a section of the level that they are never supposed to enter, the player can actually push the naval officers into space, as the next section of the mission requires Chief to exit the station and fight Covenant EVA troopers. Though they need the player’s help to get through the level, Keyes and Johnson will attack enemies that are nearby and speak to the Chief, despite the fact that they are in a near-vacuum without any protection whatsoever. Oddly, they will de-spawn if the player attempts to push them back into the station later in the level, and nudging them off the station and into the vast abyss of space will cause them to drop like a rock, still adopting a combat-ready pose as they plummet into the Earth’s atmosphere.

plasma-grenade.jpg

4 – Plasma Grenade Fountain – The Oracle

This is another glitch that exploits the Heretic Leader, specifically one of his holo-drones. At the start of the game’s seventh level, the player encounters a hologram of the Heretic Leader that taunts you and your allies before disappearing. However, in the game’s code, this hologram is treated as an enemy – and if you melee it with the Piñata Skull on in Halo 2: Anniversary, it will drop Plasma Grenades in abundance. Using the faster swing of the Energy Sword means that in the brief time the hologram is present the player can spawn dozens of grenades, and this can cause a massive explosion if they are all detonated at once.

envy-skull.jpg

3 – Permanent Invisibility – Chief Levels

In the original Halo 2 for the Xbox, Skulls had to be found and activated in levels on Legendary, and the effects of the skulls only lasted until the console was switched off. This was done because, at the time, there was no menu option to activate and deactivate Skulls, they were merely included by the developers as wacky Easter Eggs. As a result of this, acquiring the Envy Skull in the original Halo 2 and using it just as a checkpoint passes, saving and exiting, and then restarting the Xbox and loading up the level will cause the Chief to be permanently invisible. This works because the Envy Skull trades Chief’s flashlight for Arbiter’s active camouflage, a feature that he can never acquire in regular gameplay, but only for the time in which the Envy Skull is activated. Because switching off the Xbox deactivates the Skull, saving and exiting a level while Chief is still invisible means that, after the Skull is deactivated, the game cannot revert him back to normal visibility and the player will be able to sneak up on unsuspecting enemies and eliminate them at their leisure. This glitch is most useful on Legendary, but it can only be used in levels in which Chief is the playable character.

creepy-cortana.png

2 – Cortana’s Scary Face – The Great Journey

This glitch is a result of the feature in Halo 2: Anniversary that allows players to switch back and forth between the classic graphics and the updated, remastered graphics created by 343 Industries and Blur Studios. At the conclusion of the final cutscene of Halo 2 when Cortana accepts Gravemind’s offer of answering his many questions about Humankind and the Covenant, switching from new graphics to classic graphics at the last second of the cutscene after it cuts to black will present the player with this abomination – clearly Cortana’s rampancy is taking its toll. This is caused in part by the fact that the remastered cutscene is longer than the classic cutscene was, and so switching back shows the player the models after the cutscene has technically already finished, and is also due to the fact that the camera has panned inside Cortana’s head, leaving only her eye visible. Hilariously, this glitch is also accompanied by the spooky final few notes of the Halo 2 Soundtrack’s Epilogue.

Honorable Mention – The ‘Ghosts’ of Halo

This phenomenon caused quite a stir when it was first discovered in the early days of Halo 2 on Xbox Live. According to legend, players on maps such as Lockout on Xbox Live began reporting sightings of strange characters that resembled other players but lacked a gamertag, movement animations or a place on the scoreboard – these ‘Ghosts’ would reportedly kill players by sliding around the map and tossing grenades in all directions, and in certain cases they were apparently un-killable. Various explanations for this odd occurrence were suggested throughout the fanbase such as the ‘Ghosts’ being a result of a glitchy network connection, but other more ludicrous theories sprung up such as the idea that Bungie employees had programmed bots into the game, that Microsoft were spying on players or that the maps were legitimately haunted. Ultimately, confirmed sightings of the so-called ‘Ghosts’ that haunt various multiplayer maps of Halo have been scarce since Xbox Live has improved, which would suggest that the phenomenon was a result of little more than a bug in Xbox Live or a dodgy network connection, or that the entire thing was a hoax. Either way, the ‘Ghosts’ of Halo are still regarded among the game’s most infamous glitches.

honor-guard-councilor.jpg

1 – The Honour Guard Councilor – Gravemind

Halo 2 had numerous boss battles in the game, ranging from our old friend the Heretic Leader to the Brute Chieftain Tartarus, but one boss fight in the game was actually created by accident as a result of a glitch in the game’s code. The final enemy of the mission Gravemind is an Elite with a unique set of armor that changes each time the level is played – sometimes the Elite will have an Honor Guard helmet, a Councilor helmet, or even no helmet at all – but the armor will always be white with the gold and black spurs of the Honor Guard. This mini-boss with unique randomised armor is actually the result of the game trying to spawn an Elite Zealot that was coded with the wrong tags, causing the Elite to spawn with widely varying armor and much higher shield strength. Strangely, the Elite can sometimes spawn with the face of Rtas ‘Vadum, an ally to the Arbiter throughout the Halo 2 and Halo 3 campaigns, and sometimes the Elite spawns with a strange and unique helmet that was coded into the game but never allocated to any characters. This visually unique accidental mini-boss is arguably the best example of how good some of the glitches in Halo 2 actually are – although the game is riddled with bugs like these, it doesn’t negatively impact the gameplay, and instead serves to make the game that bit more interesting.

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!

 

Halo – What makes the ‘Classic’ art style of Halo: Infinite so important?

My recent article on how Halo: Infinite could save the Halo franchise talked briefly about how the new Halo game seems to be adopted the ‘Classic’ art style from the original Halo trilogy, and how this represents a significant shift in the direction for the 343 Industries and how this could mean a brighter future for the franchise. But what is it about the ‘Classic’ art style that is so important to Halo, and why should 343 Industries pursue this art style rather than their own take on the games that they have been developing for the past few years? The answer comes in several parts, the first being:

halo-classic-mission.jpg

The Classic Halo Art Style Didn’t Need Changing

This is the primary reason why Halo fans were embittered by 343 industries’ sudden change of the look and feel of the universe between Halo: Reach and Halo 4. For many, the change came as a disappointing shock, similarly to if the new Star Wars movies had decided to totally change how Darth Vader, Lightsabers, Star Destroyers and Gungans looked between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. It is important to note that Halo fans were never against the inclusion of new things into the universe – even the unbalanced and bullet-spongey Prometheans from Halo 4 were effectively inducted into the Halo universe, particularly thanks to their overhaul in Halo 5: Guardians, and all the new weapons that 343i have introduced have been fairly well-received, like the SAW and Forerunner weapons like the Light Rifle and the Scattershot – the problem is that 343i decided that the art style needed changing regardless of whether or not fans wanted it, and suddenly all the iconic things in the game we had all come to love the designs for – such as the shotgun, the Scorpion tank, the Banshee and even the Grunts looked totally different to how we all remembered them, breaking the immersion to a degree.

As such, the radical change to the art style – such changing Chief’s armour during the time he was in cryo, changing the look of the Elites, and remodeling all of the Covenant and UNSC weapons and vehicles – was met with resistance by many players, and for many the look and feel of the games was never the same. The ironic thing about this is that, when pushed to recreate Bungie’s art style in the Anniversary versions of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, 343i actually did a really good job. Both Halo: CE Anniversary and Halo 2: Anniversary look and feel fantastic and, most importantly, authentic. 343i managed to recapture the nostalgia of the Bungie games despite them being totally remastered, so why not recapture that same magic in their newer, original games?

halo infinite

Halo’s identity, and how it can keep it

Another crucial reason why Halo’s art style is so important is that Halo had, and perhaps still has, a definitive and unique identity as a game – it is more than just a simple sci-fi shooter, as any Halo fan knows, and how the game looks and feels is important to contributing to this. Halo: Combat Evolved‘s first few levels depict a human ship in the midst of combat against strange aliens, a desperate escape to a mysterious alien ringworld, and a sense of shock and awe as the environment of the Halo ring unfolds before the player. The mind-boggling potential of having the entire ring seemingly at your fingertips, traversing the vast environments of an even more vast alien landscape, that is still remarkably familiar. Part of the charm of the original Halo game is things that regular players might not even consider at first – things like finding the beam emitter towers in the canyon near the start of the second level, and experiencing the blend of wide, open and natural environments and angular, metallic Forerunner structures, that perfectly illustrates how Halo defines itself as a game that is both about the familiar and the alien being forced together.

As the more iconic Halo games begin to drift further and further back in time, it is imperative that the newer Halos attempt to recapture that magic of the original and the sense of ancient, mysterious wonder that comes with it. Halo: MCC tried its best to repackage the original games for newer players, but unfortunately its less-than-ideal launch meant that this didn’t reach as many players as it could have done. In light of this, it has never been more important that 343 industries look over their art style and focus to better cater to Halo fans, old and new, in the modern age.

halo-mcc.jpg

‘Classic’ Halo is just Halo

The overall issue of the ‘new vs old’ debate with the art style of Halo boils down to how the game feels for those who play it. Clearly in recent years Halo fans have been less-than-optimistic about 343 Industries’ handling of the franchise, and in many ways the loss of the old art style in the newer games is a major factor contributing to this. Thanks to the clear decision to recapture the old art style in Halo: Infinite, it looks like Halo is back on track to recapturing the old nostalgia, mystery and magic that the original offered to millions of players back in the 2000s, and offering just as much to new players in the 2010s and going into the 2020s.

So that’s my thoughts on why the original art style of Halo is so important, and how Halo: Infinite is taking steps to redeem the franchise. 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!

 

 

Halo – Microsoft E3 Announcement – How Halo: Infinite could save the franchise

So Microsoft recently announced Halo: Infinite, allegedly the ‘Halo 6’ that everyone has been anticipating. Since no tangible news or updates about Halo 6 have surfaced in the 3 or so years since Halo 5: Guardians was released, this new trailer for the newly confirmed Halo: Infinite is the first glimpse at what lies in store for Halo in the future. And boy, did it look tantalizing.

For a start, and let’s get the obvious out of the way first, Halo is back. And I don’t just mean the franchise – I mean the ringworld. The essential setting for Halo as a series in the glory days, the cradle of the classic, lore-rich, atmospheric and iconic series is back and it looks better than ever. The graphics in this trailer are, hopefully, a sign of how the game itself will look when it launches, as everything look beautiful – the ground, the wildlife, the trees and especially Chief’s armor. Oh, and on that topic…

halo infinite

Yep. Chief is back. And the classic art-style is too. I was a heavy critic of 343 industries’ design overhauls back in the day, but eventually learned to live with them – but Halo 2: Anniversary showed us what classic Halo could look like updated for modern graphics, and 343 industries has clearly realised that the fanbase prefers Bungie’s look and feel of the games. As good as 343i’s effort to put its own stamp on Halo was, they clearly understood the wisdom of giving fans what they want in this regard, and the results speak for themselves.

From the look of the trailer, the game will feature more ambient wildlife, which is an interesting thing to focus on – Halo has certainly had ambient wildlife before, such as the Moa in Halo: Reach back in 2010, but on the whole wildlife has never been much of a focus. Interestingly, however, ambient wildlife was a focus of a Halo E3 trailer – that being the original demo for Halo: Combat Evolved back in 2000. A subtle link, but a link nonetheless, and perhaps a deliberate one.

This trailer also shows some of the state of the wider universe – we see a downed modern-era Pelican, representing the scattered and vulnerable UNSC forces in the wake of Cortana’s AI invasion at the end of Halo 5: Guardians, as well as a cave with Covenant writing scratched into the walls – a message? A warning? The shot in the Pelican also focuses on a radio, implying that various factions across the galaxy are responding to a message of some kind, although that’s only a guess.

Hopefully, characters who were present at the end of Halo 5: Guardians will make a return, such as the Arbiter, Catherine Halsey, Lasky, Fireteam Osiris and Blue Team, and presumably the rampant Cortana will return also. However, could more classic Halo characters be returning given the general feel of this game appears to be invoking that classic feel? Could characters like 343 Guilty Spark or the Gravemind, both characters who were disposed of in Halo 3 but have the potential to return, have a part to play in t this new game? Or perhaps characters with more rooting in the lore, such as 032 Mendicant Bias or perhaps the original Didact, Bornstellar? Time will tell.

halo infinite stones.png

Ultimately, its looking more and more like 343 industries have learnt their lesson and may finally be coming out of their ‘rebellious’ phase and back on target for delivering Halo games that we love. Given the chance, Halo: Infinite could well go on to save the franchise.

Thank you for reading my thoughts on the reveal of Halo: Infinite, remember to like and share, and you can follow Sacred Icon either here or on Facebook for more content like this. In the meantime, look down below for more of my Halo-related content!

Halo – Ranking ALL the Halo Games

Eventually, it had to be done. A comprehensive ranking of every Halo game, so that’s Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Halo: Reach, Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians. Not included are Halo Wars and Halo Wars 2, because comparing strategy games with first person shooters is ultimately pointless. So, to begin:

halo-4.jpg

7 – Halo 4

I can’t express how hard it is to actually rank Halo 4 as the lowest. I compare ranking Halo games to ranking Doctors from Doctor Who, in that they’re all good in their own way so picking a worst one essentially comes down to picking what everyone else considers the worst one. In ranking the Doctors, this means that Colin Baker usually comes last, and when ranking Halo games, it’s Halo 4. Why? Well, because Halo 4 seemed like the biggest missed opportunity in Halo history. It was a decent game in it’s own right, and the multiplayer was prematurely killed off by rapid release of various DLC until the release of The Master Chief Collection, but what really brought Halo 4 down was the campaign. The story was ultimately quite good if you bothered to read the multitude of deep-lore novels (which the average player does not) but without the added understanding of the in-game terminals and a very acute knowledge of the Halo expanded universe the story was baffling to most players, with the Didact appearing as ‘just some guy’ instead of the threatening villain he was supposed to be. Added to this is Cortana’s death, which in the narrative of the game is a beautiful and emotional ending to a fairly moving (if nonsensical) sci-fi story, but in the wider context of the Halo universe seemed like a cheap ploy to make 343i’s first game somewhat memorable. Added to that is the music, art and sound design radically changing from the previous game, again to make 343i’s games seem more distinct from Bungie’s games, when it really didn’t need to. Why does everything suddenly look totally different from how it did at the end of Halo 3? The Anniversary games showed us that it is possible to update graphics without changing the overall look of a game, so why was this sudden and unexpected change necessary? If anything it only served to distance Bungie fans even more from 343i’s games, which is ultimately what it came down to with Halo 4 – it split the userbase between new and old fans, with a growing number of Halo players backing the ‘it was better how it was’ camp rather than accepting 343i’s takeover of the franchise.

halo-3-odst1-e1523826517331.jpg

6 – Halo 3: ODST

If you haven’t already, be sure to find some way of checking out Firefly, a fantastic Space-Western orientated series that aired on Fox between 2002-2003, it’s an absolutely fantastic show even accounting for the fact that because it was unfairly cancelled the last few episodes of the first season were never made. Some of the cast of Firefly later worked on a game called Halo 3: ODST, including star Nathan Fillion. Like all the Halo games, Halo 3: ODST had an engaging story, interesting characters and a swath of fun gameplay. The problem with Halo 3: ODST is that it is just too short. The campaign consists of Halo’s first (and until now, only) open-world experience, as you awaken in an enemy occupied city and try to figure out what happened to your squadmates by finding and activating certain ‘memories’ related to them, that take the form of flashbacks to your squadmates prior missions in the city. These flashbacks are essentially the levels of the game, but there are not many of them and they are often short compared to normal Halo levels. For some context, in Halo: The Master Chief Collection the par time is used to determine how quickly a Halo level should be finished in, even for someone who isn’t speed-running. Normally, a par time in The MCC is about 10-15 minutes, but many of the Halo 3: ODST levels would struggle to hit 5 minutes. Added to that is the lack of multiplayer, and although ODST does contain the debut of the Firefight mode, Halo: Reach did this much better without sacrificing a multiplayer mode.

halo 5

5 – Halo 5: Guardians

The most recent 343i-made Halo game was not without its fair share of controversy – from microtransactions to updates that really just added in the bits of the game that were missing on release, Halo 5 somewhat divided the Halo community. But, in many ways, it also somewhat united it too, since it added features into a Halo game that the community had never seen before, such as a Custom Games File Browser that allows players to search for player-made games online, and the most advanced Forge system to date that also got its own port on PC. The campaign is what really let this game down, with a story that didn’t live up to the hype that the trailers whipped up around the game, and characters that barely meet the standards for being described as ‘paper-thin’. Other than Buck, who had received development in Halo 3: ODST, practically every squad member – even Master Chief’s Blue Team from the novels – felt under-developed and underused. Overall, if it weren’t for a pretty decent multiplayer (once all the updates were released) and a fancy new engine (that apparently got split-screen removed) Halo 5: Guardians would hardly be worth considering. But with such a strong potential for community-driven direction and a platform for user-created content, Halo 5: Guardians has pushed 343 industries further in the right direction for what to do next with the franchise.

reach

4 – Halo: Reach

The controversial younger cousin of the Bungie games, Halo: Reach has the dubious honor of being the final Bungie game of the series and is therefore seen by many fans as a turning point in the franchise. Despite the inclusion of several questionable additions such as Armor Lock, Halo: Reach stands out as a shooter that has maintained its population for nearly ten years and experienced a renaissance following the release of its backwards-compatibility on the Xbox One. One of the best aspects of Halo: Reach is the campaign, which tells a relatively simple story but in a way that draws the player close to one particular team of Spartan soldiers among hundreds, and depicts their fate with startling stone-cold sincerity as characters that it is easy to feel close to are killed off one by one. Add to this a vast variety of interesting levels that often use in-game events to embellish the melancholy story with visceral detail, such as the destruction of the civilian transport in the level ‘Exodus’ or the annihilation of the frigate Savannah in the level ‘Long Night of Solace’ that add to the sense of helplessness as the player watches the tragic events play out. A lingering standout feature of Halo: Reach is its multiplayer, which served as the epitome of community involvement for the Bungie era, as the heavily modified Forge mode allowed for more intricate map creation. Also, the variety of gamemodes and the ability to customise the character’s armor allowed for a vast freedom that few Halo games before or since ever offered the player.

halo ce

3 – Halo: Combat Evolved

The game that started it all cannot be underestimated, even nearly 20 years after its initial release. The story is intricately woven throughout the campaign levels that are specifically designed to invoke a feeling of wonder and intrigue as the game takes the player on a journey through an ancient and mysterious fortress-world that combines stark, metallic structures and caverns with rolling hills, tall forests, snowy valleys and festering swamps. The campaign is structured so that as the locations advance, so to do the difficulty levels of the enemies, ensuring that a smooth learning curve guides the player through the variety of levels and enemy types. Add to this the incredible music, that served as the inspiration for many tracks on Halo soundtracks afterward, and perfectly sets the tone of every level with a provocative soundtrack that enhances the alien-ness of the setting. The only real drawback to Halo: Combat Evolved is the multiplayer, which was designed for system link and is woefully unbalanced, meaning that online play via The Master Chief Collection is largely pointless. Whilst the MCC does a great job of transitioning the game to the next generation, the best way to experience Halo: Combat Evolved is in its original form, on an original Xbox, and preferably with the original Duke controller that gave everyone RSI.

halo 3

2 – Halo 3

Halo 3 is considered by many to be the definitive Halo experience, and it has definitely earned that title. This game delivered the immense hype that built up prior to its release in 2007, and it rounded off the story of the original Halo trilogy with dignity. The multiplayer was and still is stellar, with a wide variety of maps and modes and even an inclusion of a rudimentary Forge mode, since this game was the initial debut of the mapmaking system that Halo: Reach would eventual expand greatly upon. The greatest thing about Halo 3 is how all the elements come together, both from a production and marketing perspective but also from an in-game story perspective, since this game sees the Master Chief and the Humans in the UNSC side with the Arbiter and the Elites of the former Covenant, which has now been taken over by the Prophet of Truth and his Brutes. The campaign picks up where Halo 2 left off and although it doesn’t quite meet the level and enemy variety that Halo 2 did, Halo 3 still delivers an action-packed campaign in which almost every level is definitive, apart from that one we all hate.

halo 2

1 – Halo 2

Halo is indeed a great series, and Halo 2 is what made it so. Aside from being the biggest video game of all time on its release, Halo 2 gave the first person shooter genre its big break on consoles, with the inclusion of a revolutionary online and matchmaking system that allowed players from all over the world to battle each other online on Xbox almost instantly, and also a ranking system that introduced a competitive side to online play that drove gameplay hours up. Halo 2 also had a much more cinematic campaign experience, with a story that built on what had already been established in Halo: Combat Evolved and pushed Halo further into the grounds of high-concept science fiction whilst keeping the gameplay fun and refreshing. An overhaul of the health system from Halo: Combat Evolved made the gameplay more fast-paced, and Halo 2 saw the inclusion of the most diverse and varied selection of enemies yet, from the Heretics with their Grunt-Needler army, the Sentinels with their massive Enforcers, the Flood with their newfound ability to drive vehicles and the debut of the Brutes who play a vital role in the story. Halo 2 also saw the surprise inclusion of the Arbiter as a playable single-player character, with his own story that runs in tandem to Master Chief’s throughout the game and offers a new insight into the Covenant and their society. Overall, although the game itself has been dwarfed by subsequent releases, the impact of the release of Halo 2 on the gaming market at the time was great, and to this day it remains the greatest Halo game.