Saturday, December 28, 2013

Halo 4's Biggest Design Problems

This article will probably be of no interest to you if you are not an avid fan of the Halo series. I'd probably be willing to bet that unless you're on r/halo, you probably won't understand or care about this article. There will be spoilers of the previous Halo games and some severe 'nerding out' as some may call it. If you're not a Halo fan, or you are and haven't played some previous games, click away from this article.

***Alright, Let's Go***

I'm in the minority here, but I actually really liked Halo 4. It wasn't quite on par with the rest of the series, but it was an amazing game for a studio that had never made a game before. The gameplay was pretty nice, though a little clunky, the soundtrack was decent, and the multiplayer was a nice change of pace although I'll admit it could have been better. The story, I felt was Halo 4's strongest asset. It was awesomely constructed and surprisingly powerful. However, it was not without fault. 

I will address the biggest problems of Halo 4's campaign. By addressing these issues, we will know exactly what we want from the next Halo game.

Quicktime Events

To the credit of 343i, the use of quicktime events in Halo 4 was fairly limited, but I still don't think it was necessary. There's a belief in the game industry that quicktime events serve to immerse the player in the game because it allows the player to take part in cinematic events that couldn't be achieved through the basic skeleton of the main game design. When we see button prompts on screen during a dramatic scene, we're not focusing on what's happening. Instead we are focussing on the buttons. This works well for DDR or guitar Guitar Hero because music is sequential and it doesn't tell a narrative or pull you into action scenes. With FPS games, it just takes you out of the game. In the beginning of Halo 4 there's a section where you climb an elevator shaft and when you reach the top, an Elite grabs you. The game tells you "Press RB to kill Elite." The problem with this scene is that it's awkward and out of place. Climbing the elevator shaft is extremely clunky and awkward and the struggle isn't satisfying. 

In Halo: Reach, Bungie had a similar scene in which a Zealot Class Elite get's the jump on Noble Team. The difference here is that the scene isn't interrupted by button prompts. It's not a quicktime event, it's a cutscene that allows you to fully appreciate the sequence and it flows seamlessly back into gameplay.

The same goes for the end of Halo 4 in which Master Chief defeats the Didact solely in a quicktime event. It's not satisfying and it feels disconnected. Imagine the Warthog run at the end of Halo 3 being a quicktime event instead of an in game play space. It wouldn't be nearly as satisfying. Part of what makes games great is our ability to directly participate in these epic scenarios. Taking down Scarabs in Halo 2 and Halo 3 were fun and satisfying because we could do it ourselves using the tools the game's sandbox gives us or whatever tools we choose to use. 

We could use the Hornets to fly above the Scarab to board it or drive off a natural ridge onto the top. Maybe use a rocket launcher or a Gauss Hog to take out the limbs so we can get in on foot. We have all these choices that are eliminated in quicktime events. Just press RB and watch the same scene every time.

This sequence is so fun, I play it more than GTA V.

We need variety not only in gameplay, but in choices. When we play Halo 5 there needs to be a variety of different ways to achieve one goal, several different paths. Halo 4 did this okay throughout the game, but we need more and we need to get rid of quicktime events. They don't serve a purpose that benefits the game. If 343 finds a way to utilize quicktime events in a unique way, by all means try it, but at least give it to us in a beta where we can decide wether or not it's actually beneficial. 


Forerunner architecture in the Halo universe is usually symmetrical. I understand that, but there needs to be some variation. There were so many points in Halo 4 where I felt like they made half a level and mirrored it. The levels, particularly the Forerunner sections felt very ... designed. In the previous Halo games, Forerunner architecture was symmetrical in their base form, but often added asymmetrical elements to design. 

Construct, a multiplayer map from Halo 3.

Construct from Halo 3's Multiplayer mode was a Forerunner map and was largely symmetrical, but offered distinct discrepancies to give the illusion of symmetry while also offering the variety of asymmetric level design. 

The component of asymmetrical/symmetrical symbiosis was entirely missing from Halo 4 in both Campaign and Multiplayer. Maps were either entirely asymmetrical or completely mirrored and it lead to an unintentional feeling dread whenever players would enter a Forerunner space because they knew it was going to be another boring level. And ironically enough, even the asymmetrical levels were often used twice and to make them feel like separate places they added an air vehicle in one of them.

Leave the rampant level prefabrication out of Halo 5. We don't want to play in the same spaces over and over again. We want new spaces to explore and we certainly don't want to explore the same place twice in the same game unless there are differences that effect the game in a beneficial way. It can be done well. Take the Storm and Floodgate from Halo 3.

The Storm


These are two separate levels in Halo 3, but both levels take place in the same environment. You probably wouldn't even notice that they are the same place unless you're paying attention, but that's the point. We shouldn't be obviously aware of the corners you're cutting. 


There are more buttons in this game than in the entirety of the series before it. Buttons aren't necessarily a band thing, but when combined with RAMPANT LEVEL PREFABRICATION it becomes a nuisance. Having to press a button on two sides of a symmetrical room basically means we have to play through the same sequence twice when once would have made enough sense. There are many times where you'll need to press buttons multiple times, but what's weird about it is that it's not always consistent. In the older Halo games, pressing a button just meant you pressed a button and the door would open or the bridge would activate, but in Halo 4 there's an animation for Master Chief actually pushing the button ... but only sometimes. Some buttons I guess aren't important enough to warrant animations. It's a weird inconsistency. The buttons wouldn't even be so bad if they just didn't duplicate them and make us sit through an animation. It's the tediousness of it that makes it annoying. These decisions are obviously made to pad out the run time of the game, but consequently, it only prolongs the least interesting parts of the game.

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