The Drawing Board: Halo
I don't usually do stuff like this, but I think I need an outlet so let's give it a shot.
These days, I cant help but notice that there are some big names in the video game industry that are too afraid to stray away from previous entries. Long lasting franchises like Pokemon,Starcraft, Resident Evil, The Legend of Zelda, and many others seem uninterested in adding new elements or perspectives. I love some of these games, and its because I love them so much that I'm going to say what I'm really thinking: you aren't that person anymore.
These beloved games become stagnant as they endure, and it isn't because they're bad, its because a lot of them set out to accomplish a specific goal and did it to the best of their ability at that given point in time. After years and years of further development however, many of these games do not progress naturally towards trying to instill that same specific goal at the standard of present time. I've decided to look into some of these franchises, and pitch my ideas of how to reinvigorate some of these famous games for future installments.
Today, I'd like to talk about the game that really got me into first person shooters. Halo: Combat Evolved was arguably the first truly great console based first person shooter. There was always Golden-Eye and Doom for the N64, but Halo was the first game that made shooting a gun with a controller in your hand feel marvelous. It marked the beginning of the golden age of first person shooters, and soon after it's release other developers would try their hand at console based shooters.
Halo is about a war taking place five hundred years in the future, where mankind is losing to a powerful alien alliance called the Covenant. You play as the Master Chief, who is supposed to be the last of a rare super-soldier group known as the Spartan II program. There are guns, tanks, alien artifacts, and lots of fire-fights. The writing is great and holds up against a lot of modern shooters. So whats very very wrong with this juggernaut?
The Chief has a pretty big assortment of weapons at his disposal. It gets changed from game to game and we see new toys every time, but for the most part every game plays exactly the same. He jumps pretty high, he doesn't aim down the sights of his rifle, and the butt of a pistol is stronger than the bullets it shoots. This is all well and good for a game that made its debut in 2001, but you can make that comparison to 343 Industry's Halo 4 and it still holds true.
Returning to my previous statement about games not striving towards their original goal and building on a replica of the game they made the year before, lets talk about what Halo set out to do. The Master Chief is supposed to be an expert on all military equipment, which is shown through his capacity to just pick up alien weapons that look like staplers or hop into the driver seat of a tank. But a big part of the plot has to do with him being more than just an expert, he's a genetically enhanced superhuman with the most advanced suit of armor our government could make. As any player of this game can attest, its fun to play, but it doesn't really make me feel superhuman.
So where can it go? In my opinion, Halo could take some notes from the guys at Crytek. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of reasons I think that the Crysis games are flawed, but where they succeed is in making the player feel like he's more than just a guy with a gun. The nano-suit lets you kick cars at people, toss soldiers around like rag dolls, dance around your enemies at super speeds, or absorb incoming fire like a walking tank. You feel powerful, and it doesn't diminish the awesome gun-play and graphics that Crysis is known for. If the nano-suit can do it, why couldn't the chief? I'm a little tired of seeing little cut-scenes where they show off how strong you are by dragging around huge objects, or tearing open steel doors only to re-enter game play and find that the same arms that can lift cars cant just tear an elite's head off, or pick up some rubble and toss it into a crowd of grunts. If anything you would think that the most expensive piece of equipment ever would protect him from more than six bullets from a standard issue semi-automatic rifle, but sadly that's not the case.
Halo should celebrate being as bad ass as all the lore indicates the Master Chief is, but instead he seems to be burdened with limitation after limitation. Is it too much to ask that when my super-soldier sprints, he runs for a little longer than four seconds? Why would someone punching the back of my billion dollar helmet even hurt me let alone kill me? Why cant I fire my weapons more accurately? And before everyone starts the whole "Hes a super soldier, he wouldn't need to use iron-sights" argument, if that were the case I wouldn't feel recoil from any of the weapons he shoots. A guy that flips several ton tanks as casually as I do a light switch cant hold a shotgun or a rifle still?
Obviously they would need to adjust some things accordingly to make you feel like you're actually accomplishing epic feats. Destructible environments could add some tactical leverage for a super-soldier; instead of rushing head on to fight that elite hiding behind a pillar, wouldn't it be bad-ass to just push over the pillar? Or how about tackling your way through walls to flank enemies in cover?
There could be more infantry enemies so that combat could last more than ten seconds, and less allied marines helping you out in the large scale battles so taking down that scarab would require some real thinking. I think that would lend to the setting which really tries to emphasize that aside from Spartans, humans tend to get their asses kicked by the covenant.
Oh yeah, I'd also add more objectives to the game. Run from point A to point B and press the button, rinse, repeat isn't an outline for an entire game (I'm looking at you Halo 4). This isn't something we had a problem with until 343 took up the franchise, but really something needs to be done about it. If you're going to give me a mission where I can designate targets for a three story tall tank, why not just make the mission so that I'm the one driving it through a big environment instead of putting it on-rails through a narrow canyon pass? If I'm piloting a big-ass drop ship with an assortment of weapons, why are there only five enemies I get to actually fight with it? Why not make a game where Halo follows through on letting you play as a bad-ass in bad-ass situations?
It seems a tremendous effort is being made to let the player know they are taking the role of the strongest, most efficient, best equipped soldier in the galaxy.
He just likes to pretend he's one of us for the entirety of the series.
Would you change the Halo series? What other game series do you think could use new direction? Comment below and I just might write about your choice next week.