Think they have brought new life and Activision need to realize that going away rethinking something for a few years then bringing us a new game is what works. Not re-hash after re-hash of the same game year in year out. 343 have done a pretty good job. Im sure the next COD will please millions but would please far more if it came out in 3/4 years time not 12 months time
Chris Watters analyzes the storytelling techniques that distinguish the Halo 4 campaign from its predecessors.
Using Every Tool in the Shed
Cortana's struggle with mortality is one of the core conflicts of Halo 4, and the game uses a variety of methods to convey the seriousness of this threat. As the two explore the Forerunner planet Requiem, we see that Cortana's trepidation has not dissipated now that they are taking action. A breathy, reluctant "Okaayy…" in response to Chief's confident reassurances tells us that she is trying to convince herself to believe him, and to have hope for her own future. Her response is almost an afterthought, squeezed out as she struggles to reconcile her fatalism with Chief's determination. It's a brief moment, but it illuminates her fragile emotional state in a way that anyone can understand. It's also a notable departure from the kind of clearly articulated voice acting we are used to hearing from this character, making it especially jarring for those who know Cortana well.
As the campaign continues, Cortana's emotional fluctuations get bigger. At one point, she lashes out at Chief for inquiring how much longer it will take her to open a door. She apologizes, and Chief brushes it off, but she won't let it go so easily ("It's not nothing."). Aboard the Infinity, she has a more serious break in composure when confronted with the obstinate captain, and this manifests as a shouted outburst ("I will not… let you leave…THIS PLANET!"), a flicker of red in her normally bluish-purple coloration, and a pulse of energy sent throughout the command deck. We've seen Cortana get fired up and change color before, but never as dramatically as this. Such visual divergences grow even more severe later in the campaign, as the integrity of her avatar is fragmented even further to show just how far rampancy has encroached.
Cortana's struggle with mortality is one of the core conflicts of Halo 4.
But perhaps no visual manifestation of her decay is as ingenious as the effects manifested on the heads-up display. Aiming reticle, shield meter, radar screen, and various loadout indicators make up this functional, ever-present part of your view. Small, windowed videos of ally communication and red flashes that let you know you're taking damage are about as dynamic as the HUD usually gets, but not in Halo 4.
In a quiet moment early on, the HUD flickers and shorts out for a second. Master Chief's surprise mirrors the your own, and then Cortana explains that she is responsible for the disruption. Wait, that's Cortana too? All of a sudden, the very foundation of your Halo experience is in jeopardy. If you can lose the HUD, what other vital systems could be compromised by Cortana's deteriorating condition? She is wired into your sense of sight, integral to the most important way that human beings experience the world. Forget opening doors and translating alien glyphs; if she goes away, how will you see?
This question cuts right to the core of Master Chief's identity and makes you ponder the depths of this symbiotic relationship. Where does AI end and Spartan begin? What is each without the other? These questions aren't simply left up to you to ask; Cortana herself asks Master Chief to figure out which one of them is the machine. Halo 4 dramatically vivisects the bond between these two in a way no game has previously, leveraging even the most mundane element of the video game experience as a storytelling tool.
Plotting the Trajectory
The rampancy crisis isn't the only danger that Master Chief and Cortana must face. Halo 4 also has a trilogy to launch, and for that, you need antagonists. In another first for the series, Halo 4 introduces a single enemy with plans to destroy humanity and the power to do it. Even from his spherical prison, the Didact is able to manipulate Master Chief into freeing him, and once he does, Chief appears powerless to stop him.
Though regularly confronted with seemingly insurmountable odds, Master Chief has always been the single most powerful being on the battlefield (the formidable Gravemind had his Flood minions do the fighting). His encounters with the Didact make him seem as powerless as Cortana is in the face of her onrushing rampancy. Their mutual weakness binds them closer together, reinforcing their bond and making their struggle more desperate than ever before. Each is individually outmatched, and it is no longer enough for Chief to lean on Cortana or vice versa. They need some serious help.
This help comes in the form of the Librarian. Though both she and the Didact are Forerunners, her smooth skin, flowing garments, and blue color palette contrast starkly with his tortured visage, menacing armor, and orange aura. Her voice is soft, empathetic, and plaintive; his is hard, condescending, and implacable. Here, clearly, are two forces that have opposed each other for centuries, the two sides of the grand battle for humanity's fate in which you are now a pivotal player. In previous Halo games, the Forerunners were mysterious and distant, represented solely by the artifacts they left behind. By bringing them out of the past and into the present, Halo 4 creates strong ties to the previous trilogy while charting the course of a new conflict that doesn't require prior knowledge to appreciate.
Of course, it certainly helps to be familiar with Halo lore. The Librarian rattles off revelations of the past interactions between humans and Forerunners, exposing a fascinating wealth of mythology in one fevered speech. You can get the gist of it, but it's all a bit too much to digest in one cutscene. This fire hose of exposition could have fared better as a more measured flow, and this is one moment when Halo 4's storytelling seems to stumble. The Librarian's history lesson deals with the origins of individual characters and entire races, but it comes and goes in a whirlwind, offering intriguing information but leaving a swath of new questions in its wake.
Thirsting for More
For as much as we love to know things, we also love to be left wondering.
Origin stories are a unique source of fascination, as they promise to reveal the simple beginnings that gave rise to fantastic circumstances. We like knowing the trajectory of things and putting events in a line of causation, perhaps because it lets us more easily imagine our own path to greatness. While previous Halo games have shrouded both the recent and the distant past in mystery, Halo 4 begins to pull back the veil in meaningful ways. At various points throughout the campaign, Halo 4 touches on the origins of Master Chief, Cortana, the Didact, and humanity itself, revealing some truths and some connections, but still leaving much to the imagination.
For as much as we love to know things, we also love to be left wondering, and Halo 4 gives you plenty to think about. The fates of Master Chief, Cortana, and the Didact are natural sources of intrigue, but Halo 4 is careful to plant more seeds for speculation. Who is the audience in the post-credits monologue? What is the Mantle, what powers would it grant humanity, and why do the Forerunners fear it so? Will we see the barrier between the digital and organic realms bridged? And what is the true origin of humankind, if not what we previously believed?
Many Halo games have left you curious to find out what happens next. Halo 4 does this too, but it also cultivates your interest in the mythology of this fictional world by actively engaging with the mysteries of the past and the visions of the future. This is one of the hallmarks of great stories: they inspire us to dream their worlds long after we have disengaged from the source material. They urge us to mull over what we've just experienced and provoke us to ponder what might come next. On an intimate scale and on the grand stage, with elaborate animations and simple visual cues, from before the game begins until after the credits roll, Halo 4 weaves an engrossing, emotional story in a way that outstrips any of its predecessors, and many of its contemporaries. It's a beacon of storytelling in video games, one that will hopefully be used to guide others to create similarly great experiences.
An old succesful series game, a new developer .... Hmm ... So familiar, that 's very much likely with DMC and Capcom 's case. But 343 made Chief looks so much more 'fabulous', not a protagonist with drug addiction figure and smoking problem and they call it cool. Nah. BTW, I am glad Halo 4 is such a success.
Also... another thing... reading through these posts I see a lot of people saying that 343 just stole Bungie's baby. I'm sorry... but in my honest opinion... I feel Bungie was KILLING the series. Halo 2 was an unfinished campaign... Halo 3 was a letdown... and ODST was HORRIBLE and BORING. Reach was the only thing to SORT OF breathe new life into an already dying saga, for example, by FINALLY explaining why the dropships changed from Halo 1 to Halo 2, and tying up some other loose ends from the original trilogy. In my eyes... 343 thankfully called DCS and had Bungie's baby removed from their custody!
Great article... however, with that being said, I do not understand how this game garnered one of the lowest scores the series has ever been given. I am a HUGE fan of this game and the storytelling within it. I actually feel that this is the best game since the original Halo.
For the first time since Combat Evolved, I actually felt like I was fighting for a struggling humanity. Sure, coming back to Earth was nice and fighting for the city was great... but its EARTH... with all its defenses and armaments... I just didn't feel like I was fighting for a losing team. Now on Requiem.. I felt the struggle... I felt the emotion.. of Master Chief, of Cortana, and of the Marines who were desperately vying for survival and fighting for a chance to leave a planet and opponent they knew nothing about!
I agree with the other posts on here about seeing Master Chief's face. I believe it should be something that is left to our own personal imaginations. We've all played him and we've all developed our own personal feelings about the man under the mask. There is no reason to ruin that by unveiling the true image.
Nice. I really enjoyed reading this article. Halo 4 is a fantastic game and the storytelling is absolutely the best the series has ever seen.
Fantastic article! I wish we got to see these kind of in-depth analyses from GameSpot more often! Props to Chris Watters.
And I must say, I agree with the points Chris made completely. The only thing I felt like could have been touched on more was how the terminals played a role in the story. They were the backbone of the Didact's character development. They did an incredible job of portraying the origins of his hate for humanity. He was betrayed by his wife for humanity's interests. His entire species was destroyed, in his mind, because of humanity. And now they threaten to disgrace him by taking the one thing the Forerunners have left: the Mantle.
Incredible storytelling, all around.
@KeeseKiller7 Thanks for the props and for sharing your thoughts on the terminals. I think they do reveal some intriguing info, and they are kind of a neat substitution for the exploring you used to have to do to find skulls.
Curiously, I have known intelligent mature women, with professional careers and extensive educations, who have such a child-like voice. It's very disconcerting.
I honestly don't think anything was wrong with the previous halo game stories. Granted, the story was vastly improved, but Master Chief shouldn't talk so much! Any true halo fan would not complain about a faceless character. That's who MC is! It would hurt the deepness of the game if he was revealed.
He represents the hardships and disturbing reality that humanity had to face in the halo lore. And it wouldn't help the story to develop him further, it would hurt it. Instead, have cortana, or another soldier or spartan be the personality while carrying on the adventures of the Chief.
Anyway, I was more disappointed by the lack of explanation, like no explanation of spartan IVs, they weren't even surprised to see that the MC had survived. And why were you fighting the covenant? Why did the didact hate the humans? What were the prometheans? Granted I know most of the answers from studying the lore, but it would've been nice to hear it from the game. Other than that( and MC talking too much) it was an above par story.
If you actually search out the "terminals" within the game, it helps give the back story. The Didact hates the humans for bringing war upon their planet. Humanity was trying to stop the flood and traced a small bit of it back to their planet. The Admiral of the fleet made the decision to kill the inhabitants of the planet in order to stop the spread of the flood... which of course failed... but also killed millions of the planet's inhabitants. This is why the Didact hates humanity.
@GOGOGOGURT I agree with you completely about not revealing the Chief's face
Not many people seem to know this, but if you beat the game solo on legendary for a split second you actually get to see a close up of the chief's eyes. When i first saw it i was initially very surprised, but also excited that after over a decade i finally got a glimpse of the chief's face.
10 minutes later i regretted ever seeing it.
To put it simply some things are better left to the imagination. Over the years we've all kind of developed our own ideas of what the chief's face looks like, to reveal his face now would not only hurt the character going forward, but it would lessen the experiences we've all had throughout the original trilogy. The helmet is Chief's face, it's the one we've known for years, and it's one of the most recognizable icons not just in Halo, but in the entire gaming industry.
Other than that little reveal i will say 343 did an amazing job with the characters, I can't wait to see where the story goes in halo 5 and 6.
Also, i have to give a proverbial pat on the back to Chris Watters, this was a very well written article, well done sir, well done.
This guy (author of the article) has not read even one of the Halo Universe Books specially those that came out before the game, the Forerunner Saga: Cryptum and Primordium, and there is one more still to come out. Many of the doubs he has are answered in those books. I.e. The physical difference between the Didact and Librarian is because of the role they had in forerunner society; The Didact was a warrior servant and the Librarian was a Life Shaper. If someone dares to call him/her self a Halo Fan, It is for sure they know all there is to know about the Halo Universe (what has been released so far of course). How come someone would dare to write an article about something he knows nothing about?
@klykhorkina If you wanted an article from someone who knows every bit of Halo lore, you shouldn't have read one by a person who writes articles about tons of different games. Not to mention, the article is about how the storytelling is gone about in the game. It would be stupid to not mention a small hole because he already knows the answer from the books. That's not the point of the article.
And being a Halo absolutely does not mean you know everything about Halo. That's just ridiculous and you should get that out of your head.
@klykhorkina because some of us bought a videogame, not a book hobby.
Pretty much agree with everything said here. I was left wanting more and thinking about the questions the end of the story raised. Ive played all Halo games except for Reach and frankly can't recall any story in any of them except maybe ODST (which had more to do with the voice actors than anything else). As my Gamer\tag motto now states Halo4>Halo3. Just copy that and replace Halo3 with every other Halo game.
Wow, that prologue is CGI? I thought the interview was live action. Now that's good graphics! I am no film critic, but presentation aside, there is nothing remarkable about the content of the prologue. I assumed all Spartans were engineered from the first 5 minutes of the original Halo, though to be fair I assumed he was genetically engineered. Engineering, mental and physical conditioning included, is the new sci-fi cliche. At least there is no scene with a fat kid getting shot because he couldn't keep up in the marathon.
I was a lot more interested in the interviewer. What's his angle? A mere crusader for morality would be so boring, but the doc suspected he was after other information by coming at her sideways. Now I am hooked. I must learn if he plays a greater role in the game.
Very well written article, being a die hard fan of Halo since the begining, it's nice to see Halo 4's story being credited as setting a new bar for story telling. Each Halo game keeps revolutionizing video games. From defining FPS shooter games on consoles, to defining Xbox Live, and now re-inventing the way stories are told. Halo will always live as the greatest game franchise in history. Bungie started this incredible world and 343 was given the torch. Can't wait for more Halo, starting with Halo 5!
SPOILER : Am rooting to see arbiter back in Halo 5, though not as a playable character the way Halo 2 did it but as a sidekick that helps in combat the way Halo 3 did. I like the arbiter :)
@fourclawrider I would like to see a side story like "Halo: ODST" was.
@fourclawrider SPOILER: In the anime series Halo:Legend, Arbiter is dead in a duel. But that might not be part of the canon though.
That's not the same Arbiter as in Halo 2 and 3. The Halo Legends Arbiter's name was Fal 'Chavamee. Arbiter from Halo 2 and 3 is named Thel 'Vadam. Arbiter is a title. When one dies or is killed the title is given to another.
A new life, more like crush me and made me cry like a little child. The ending was so fitting but damn, I'm sad!
Very interesting article and well written Chris, though I can't help but take issue with the fact that you give 343 the credit when Bungie has clearly set the stage for the opening prologue of Halo 4. For those who have extensively followed the Halo canon you would be aware the Bungie took great care to establish these "shades of grey" pertaining to Dr. Halsey and the Spartan program. In fact Dr. Halsey's journal (included in the collectors edition of Halo 3) goes into pain staking detail with regards to just that.
I would argue that the intro to Halo 4 is more the remnants of Bungie's baby than 343's.
As for the rest of Halo 4 the narrative really falls apart. The Didact is introduced to us as just some pissed off Forerunner whose aggression towards humanity boils down to no more than "my civilization could beat up your civilization!" Even the terminals found through out the game do a very poor job of explaining why, after a hundred thousand years, he wants to imprison the human race. In fact his sole reason for doing so would have been to stop the flood... who have already been stopped. Overall he is no more than an excuse to shoot guns in space, as the real story told is that of the Master Chief and Cortana. Which quite frankly could have been told without any shooting in space at all, but that would not have made a very good FPS.
343 through a pretty cutscene just regurgitated the characterization of Dr. Halsey that Bungie had already established and then ran out of ideas.
@Tetsuro343 I don't see how 343 "regurgitated" Halsey's characterization. They portrayed Halsey's 50 shades in ways that haven't been done before. Yes you've read it, but the incredible CGI doesn't just make it look pretty. It lets you learn everything about her 50 shades-ness just by looking at her face. Also, keep in mind that not everyone read the journal.
I also felt like the terminals did quite a good job of explaining the campaign events. Especially the Didact. They portray why he hates humanity. He believes they are the sole cause for his species' death. He feels that it's his responsibility to destroy humanity. He's not just a schoolyard bully. In his mind, he practically HAS to destroy them.
@Tetsuro343 I'm glad you enjoyed the article, and I appreciate you chiming in here! It's interesting to consider how much of Halo 4's story is just 343 reaping what Bungie sowed, but I think the way they told it reflects a level of storytelling that Bungie never really achieved. I really like the more complex, more personal tack that Bungie took in ODST and Reach, and I think 343 ran with that theme and took it to new heights.
@Tetsuro343 I'm pretty sure that it was Microsoft who got the ball rolling for the Halo books to be made in the first place. Not to mention Bungie kind of sh** all over the established cannon with Reach.One of Bungie's failings, at least in my opinion, is that they never really delved into material from the books (with the only real exception being Cortana's dialogue in 3). As for the Didact, he does not want to relinquish the Mantle of responsibility for the galaxy. He cannot accept that the time of the Forerunners has ended.
@gutsallover @Tetsuro343 Not to mention the Didact wife betrayed him for humanity's sake. it can also be said that the opening cut-scene was a nod to Bungie and the established lore and for all we know the Didact wasn't aware that the flood is gone or if they are truly gone it could have come from another galaxy.
@Tetsuro343 343 is composed of quite a few ex Bungie employees, as well as some new faces, and that's an accurate summation fo the prologue, core priniciples taken in new and interesting directions (i was just glad all the Spartans in the cutscene were wearing identical armour, it was an important theme in the book, as well as tying into the cult of the chief as it were)
Fantastic article. I've always felt that the Halo games were a step above all other first-person shooters in terms of story, but Halo 4 was just something else. It told a story on multiple levels and made great use of foreshadowing and juxtaposition, far more so than any of its predecessors and competitors. The only Halo game which really competes in the ambition of its story is Halo 2 with the humanization of the Covenant and the introduction of the Arbiter, but Halo 2 lacked narrative closure and there was no personal level to the story being told.
I want to see an article here that compares the work of 343 to that of Bungie. Bungie needs to be knocked off their high horse.
@Vodoo too early for that......bungie created 6 successful halo games while 343 have made only halo 4
Halo Wars were developed by the now defunct Ensemble Studio, not Bungie. Get your facts right Chris.
@Grimkillah Whoops! Good call, and thanks for pointing that out. I think I just got caught up in describing all the intro cutscenes, but should've just stuck with the first-person shooters, it seems.
I think everybody is just in awe because it's the first time since Halo: CE that the storytelling and writing in the series have been generally good. Not only that but the gameplay has improved moderately too.
The Halo series has never failed to impress me, although the game play was somewhat repetitive in the past games the story telling was always excellent always leaving us gamers very emotional. But Halo 4 was beyond that. By the end of the game I was so emotional the game made me feel different. Usually when I finish a game I such as CoD's story it makes me feel normal and kind of happy that I finished it but not Halo, 343i has done a superb job. Chris, well done with this article. Its quite excellent and insightful. And for all of you who keep saying Halo 4 is like previous games, I guarantee you it is not. I highly suggest you borrow the game from someone and play the story you will be blown away.
A difficult, albeit necessary departure from the Halo we know and love. While the core gameplay is much the same, facets of the game itself make the game vastly different from its predecessors, and the story is one such difference. Am very excited to see more from this developer. Also, a very interesting article, well done.
Halo 4 was a really great game. Nice article too. The Didact was kind of a creepy fellow if you ask me, but he's my new favorite villian!