For better or for worse, Halo was instrumental in the revitalization of the FPS genre and helped revolutionize the multiplayer experience. It has been nearly a decade since Master Chief was first introduced back in 2003 and with the release of Halo 4, 343 Industries hopes to bring Bungie's critically acclaimed series to new heights. Ten years of Halo is a big deal, and not one, but three upcoming sequels is an even bigger deal. But over the last ten years, the videogame landscape has changed. Where Halo once stood on top of the FPS heap, now resides the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield. Where Master Chief reigned as the top dog in videogame science fiction, has now been dethroned by Commander Shepard. And even now with Mass Effect 3 having an admittedly out of place but strangely addictive multiplayer component, how can Halo 4 hope to be as impactful as the series once was?
343 Industries was created with the sole purpose of developing Halo titles. The name itself is a reference to a beloved (?) character, AI 343 Guilty Spark, and several Bungie alumni have jumped on-board to round out the team. Besides its previously developed Halo: Anniversary – an HD remake of the original Halo, Halo 4 will be the developer's first real foray into the Halo universe. By the looks of it 343 Industries is possibly the most capable of handling the task given its team members and familiarity with the series. But is that really what the Halo franchise needs, more of the same? Since its inception there have been five (not counting of course, Halo Wars) main games in the Halo franchise, and there has been very little in terms of gameplay innovation in the last ten years. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” might have been find and dandy for those earlier titles, but if Halo hopes to keep its formula from becoming stale, it needs some dramatic changes.
Halo has reached a point where it has become difficult to tell the games apart through screenshots alone; that is how little the IP has changed, and how little it will change if the trailers for Halo 4 are to be believed. Slight changes to the HUD and various graphical upgrades notwithstanding, Halo is Halo. The environments aren't exactly anything new and exciting: Jungle? Seen it. Space? Seen that too. Halo works so well because it is built on a foundation of solid gameplay, and there are ways to freshen things up while respecting that foundation. By the looks of it, 343 Industries isn't going to tinker much with a formula that is proven to work so well in the past. But Halo 4 needs to take go beyond where the franchise has already been, and it needs a solid narrative to get there. It would be nice to hear Cortana’s voice once more, but it would be even better to have her affect the game and the story in a real way that doesn’t involve a damsel in distress situation. 343 shouldn't stop at the predictable, it should do all it can take ownership of the Halo series, and create an experience that is going to reinvigorate the franchise, and blow everyone away.
The Halo franchise is riding high on past successes, and it's easy to see why Microsoft and 343 Industries would be hesitant change more than is necessary. Halo is a franchise that deserves more than just a fresh coat a paint. An entire trilogy of Halo games is a lot to ask for from the fans to digest if the changes are only going to be minimal at best. Fans want to be on-board, and want to be excited for what’s to come. Many feel that Mass Effect 3 took a sharp nosedive at the end, but until that point it felt like Shepard was truly fighting for his life. Why should we return to Halo when we have a science fiction franchise that offers a better, more immersive narrative regardless how one feels about the ending? 343 Industries has to earn fans respect the hard way, and the more it shows us of Halo 4, than the less confident I am that it will even try.
Post contributed by Rueben Levine. Questions for the author? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.