November 26, 2012
Halo 4 And Why I No Longer Care About the Future of the Halo Franchise
I’m going to get this out of the way early, and despite my best efforts, I still feel this will fall on deaf ears due to my greater point, but I’ll try anyways: I am a Halo fanatic. Not a fan, a fanatic. I’ve been in love with this franchise since the beginning, and devoted every single day of my life through middle school on Halo 2. I was there, in line, for the midnight releases. I got the legendary edition (and helmet) for Halo 3, I was blown away by Firefight in ODST, and I also loved Reach. The lore, the gameplay, the music, the simplicity and the mystery, almost everything about the Halo universe has intrigued me and hooked me, and I really didn’t know for sure how to feel about another studios taking over a part of my life (much like a recent film franchise purchased by a corporation). And after completing the campaign, and Spartan Ops, and everything multiplayer has to offer, I have finally found some peace and can openly express my inner thoughts and hesitant fears.
I no longer care about the fate of the Halo franchise.
I don’t care anymore. I’ve moved on. It’s over. I have completely lost interest, and have learned to listen to my instincts instead of grasping for my nostalgia and lost childhood. For as hard as 343 industries tried, and how much money Microsoft threw at it, Halo 4 is just an okay game. It’s good. It’s not great, it’s not amazing, and it’s not genre defying or ground breaking. I wasn’t expecting it to be, and frankly I’m not surprised it turned out that way. And while it feels like Halo, plays like Halo, and holds onto previous traditions and customs (not always for the best), the finished product is just too inconsistent of a game to spend any more time with. For everything 343 does right, they do two things wrong. It’s this constant up and down of emotions for me that killed it, and having to analyze and debate every decision the studios made is excruciating and moot; too moot to spend playing a game that I don’t feel any affinity for, and too moot to remember in the years to come.
I feel like the months leading up to the release, there were more questions than they had answers for, and all of the previews and walkthroughs and pitches in the world convinced me of nothing. I knew I had to get my hands on it before I came to any conclusions. And I gave it a fair shake, but ultimately I came away not only disappointed in the end result, but with the direction the franchise was going. I’m sure no big corporate decisions are made nowadays without thinking about trilogies in mind to keep the producers happy. My biggest grip is just how large the divide is between the things they kept around and the things they changed. It seemed they were at war with what to keep in and what to toss out, and many of the new “improvements” are not really improvements, but simply experiments that didn’t pan out.
The campaign is brutally short, and devoid of any real memorable moments or creative gameplay design. Many of the levels seem like they were ripped out of previous games, and it didn’t feel as familiar as it felt plagiaristic. The gondola segment from the Halo 2 level ‘Regret’ is present here again. Much of the interiors of the Forerunner planet were reminiscent of the design and layouts from Halo 1. Master Chief runs through a similar forest ala Halo 3, and there is a blatant attempt to copy the ‘New Alexandria’ flying mission. Hell, there’s even a Star Fox segment, and it isn’t that much fun, and I would complain about it being frustrating and not responsive, but it’s over all too soon. I mean, if you are going to steal from the best, at least put in a barrel roll. Sure, it’s a funny reference, but it actually makes sense when flying a plane into a tight corridor where things are moving.
The story, maybe the worst part of my experience with it, will be something I argue over for the rest of my life, and I’m not happy about this fact folks, trust me. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but I will say there is a lot of unexplained nonsense being thrown around, a TON of button pushing animations, and some Prometheus type stuff going on with the narrative. I bring that film up not only for the connections plot wise but plot-hole wise too. The whole brouhaha of it being Master Chief’s story was a total lie, and the ending leaves much to be desired. While there has never been a true antagonist in Halo games before, the one introduced here doesn’t impress. He shows up once, looks like Sloth from the Goonies, and then a scene from Thor happens on a bridge, including multiple clones of a character trying to psyche someone out. The TV ads foretold that we would awake an ancient evil. Really, he was just groggy and takes off the whole game in an unexplained flying ball thing. Even the new enemies are given a cliché story. Once you find out what they used to be, you’ll roll your eyes.
Spartan Ops, to me, are extra missions repackaged. There’s no telling what the future will have in store for that, but I prefer to play Borderlands 2 DLC packs for $10 a pop every month. And finally multiplayer, the thing I’ve spent the most time on in my life with Halo, is hit and miss. The new modes are good, it plays fine, and the control scheme works to incorporate sprinting. But the maps are generally bad, and why in Martin O’Donnell’s name would they remake Valhalla, of all maps? There was a clear choice to try and emulate the patented COD formula, and many of the changes that were inspired by the success of the original Modern Warfare are weak attempts to play catch up with the ever changing landscape and tastes of the general gaming population. It took them how long to let people join games mid match? That wasn’t even Halo 4’s fault, that’s just Bungie’s.
The fact that you have to spend points to unlock the guns and perks is just plain stupid. In an attempt to ‘balance’ the game by forcing people to choose wisely and not experiment, you suggest they should stick to the overpowered guns and perks in the meantime. And there aren’t enough guns and perks and abilities to justify the COD progression system at all. Storm rifle? Please, that gun is garbage. So is the suppressor. The only thing worth using is the DMR, and I don’t want to be pigeonholed to use it because the maps don’t cater to all types of weapons.
I could go on and on, and I’ve essentially written a long rant about the game, but I just had to vent. The hype behind this game, the years of waiting and rumors and pre-order exclusive skins and armor suits that grant powers (ugh), it all leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Sure, you can spend millions on marketing, and Doritos and Mountain Dew, and especially on graphics and cut scenes (they are GORGEOUS), but that all amounts to nothing if I don’t want to play your game. At all. Now I don’t want to get into a flame war about another big FPS that just came out, so I’ll just say that compared to the improvements and humor and lasting power Borderlands 2 provides, WITHOUT multiplayer mind you, it’s an easy choice for what to recommend for the holidays. And shooter of the year. Halo 4 broke my heart, and makes me want to write a Halo 2 retrospective now. Damn you to hell Bungie for letting go of your baby.