An Open Letter to the Halo Series
[Full disclosure: This article has been written with no gaming experience of Halo 4, just observation of the increasingly ludicrous trailers and stunts]
Oh Halo, I love you, but I want to smother you with a pillow and feel the life drain out of you. I enjoy your games, but I feel more ashamed admitting to buying you than I do Pokémon Black 2 or Dance Central 3. So why is this? Why do I feel horror, nausea and shame whenever you’re mentioned?
First, I want to mention the good times. Because it’s not all bad. You’re a simple first person shooter, with a lot of functionality. Your multiplayer is one of the few I can still do with my friends in four-player split-screen mode. When some of my gaming group were late, we’d play Halo Reach multiplayer, and it was fun. We’d experiment with different game modes and make our own. When I was at my father’s, he and I would drink whisky and play Firefight long into the night. I regularly had “FPSaturday” with a friend to split-screen games like Left4Dead, Dynasty Warriors and your many, many offerings. We’d blast some music or listen to podcasts, then play you. Times were good.
As a man who’s not great at first person shooters, you were kind. You were a fun series where we could bomb around in a jeep shooting aliens. We could even customise our characters and instead of having statistical bumps for playing, it was simply modifications to the armour. New or inept players weren’t punished for coming to the game late.
There are problems. Too many to go unnoticed, and I think it’s time we had words.
You’ll notice that I complimented you on your contributions to split-screen gaming. There’s a reason my friends and I only play with you offline or in private groups. A lot of your players are the worst. Not all, but a good amount are simply jerks. Between this community and Call of Duty Modern Warfare, I only bothered to play online properly this year with Mass Effect 3 and Borderlands 2. My online efforts with you mainly consisted of team games because cooperation is awesome. But the jerks still ruled supreme, and woe betide you if you had the headset on. I’m not sure if Halo was the first online player base as simultaneously childish and hideously foul-mouthed, but it’s definitely one of the first.
Another issue, a linked one, I feel, is tone. Tone is an important thing for any piece of media. For a game about brightly-coloured space soldiers jumping really high and shooting comedy aliens with laser guns, all on a giant plastic-looking spider, you take yourself waaaaay too seriously. From the orchestral scores to the advertising spiel, the serious trailers, the webseries and now decorating Gutenberg Castle. The quality is unquestionably high, but it all feels unnecessary, like you’re overcompensating for something. For the brilliance of the brightly-coloured madness and the weird concepts. I know we’re in an age where manshoots are the order of the day, with muscled men killing foreigners in grey/brown settings. Still, you can be better. You’re science fiction, which is a start at avoiding the homogenised murder of the CoDs. Adding concepts like jetpacks and giant purple spider vehicles really help to create a unique sense of what kind of shootybang you are.
I follow some of your films, your trailers. The Halo 3 trailer with an old man getting weepy at a museum’s wardollies was laughable. Forward Unto Dawn carries on with perpetuating the notion that you’re taking a lot from the film Starship Troopers without knowing what it was actually about. So you’re tonally like Starship Troopers 2 & 3 in that respect. I admire your effort, but you’re trying too hard to be really serious and it’s not working. In fact, I’d put forward the idea that this ‘hardcore’ and ’serious’ attitude helps to create the idea to mouthy teenage idiots that they’re important and mature.
I’ve played games like TF2 and Mariokart online, where you get some serious people, but most players are having a fun time. Winning isn’t as important as getting to muck about with friends and foes alike.
But don’t worry, Halo. I know I seem like I’ve got a lot of problems, but I still love you, and that’s why I’ve got a solution which would work for me, and possibly other people, too.
Be more like Saints Row.
I know, I know, it sounds drastic, but you’re so close, and it would help you endlessly. Here are a few ways.
First, Saints Row started off like you, too. The first game was all po-faced, “thug life” and such, trying way too hard to be gangsta. If it was trying to be a parody, then it definitely didn’t show. Players made it stupid and fun, making brightly-coloured cars, customising characters into strange, silly designs and having a hoot. The series changed to accommodate where the fun was acquired, making Saints Row 2 a perfect mix between emergent chaos and planned fun. Saints Row 3 went a bit further with the planned fun, but was still magnificent. The advertising got everyone’s attention and the most they shelled out for either game was probably paying for Gary Busey. They knew where the value-add was for the game and catered to it. Red vs Blue is not only a closer representation of the mindsets in Halo than Forward Unto Dawn, but it’s beloved by people who don’t even like Halo. That’s way more of a value-add than tossing off your existing fanbase by telling them that they’re so very hardcore.
And that’s where the tone conflict comes in with you. By allowing yourself to go off the rails, you’ll fit the daftness of the audience. Allow them to let their freak flag fly and they’ll calm down. With the defence of being ‘hardcore’, they seem to lock themselves into a bizarre clique of superiority and juvenalia. This dark mirror shone on them can only help at this point.
There. I know it’s been hard to hear this talk, but I believe that with these steps, you can save money, make an audience you won’t be ashamed of, bring in new people and encourage your own creativity.
And, if you can’t bring yourself to be Saints Row, at least be Borderlands.
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