I like Halo Reach. Some of my fellow gaming brethren may scoff at that fact. So at this juncture I’ll politely wish you fall off that high horse in the worst way. Anyway, the reason why I liked Reach came from Bungie finally taking chances in both the campaign and the multiplayer’s design which were largely positive. The armor abilities, greater storytelling and compelling missions with sharp visuals finally sold me the idea of being a super soldier in a sci-fi adventure rather than a guy in a green suit, rocking a noob-combo like a real bro.
Previews of Halo 4 hit not long ago, so I put the game on my radar. I had to know if the upcoming title would keep going down the unbeaten path or retread to appease the heads who remember Halo 2/3 with rose-tinted Spartan helmets. The new story, enemies, forerunner weapons and Spartan Ops showed potential. Then the reports about the changes to adversarial multiplayer hit, and I raised an eyebrow with concern not just at the game but at how the industry is changing as a whole.
Halo 4 tracks your XP to use towards unlocking weapons and abilities, basically taking a note from the Call of Duties and Battlefields of the world. There hasn’t been much detail about how expansive the additions will be. At any rate, rewarding people with perks that artificially improve them can and often do throw balance out the window. New players get thrown to the wolves online anyway and these systems just exacerbate the problem. Also, your in-game feats such as kills, assists, assassinations and the like get tallied towards incremental boosts like power weapons and advanced abilities, which is somewhat similar to Uncharted 3’s medal system. You have to pick them up on the map so the other team doesn’t steal your prizes. At any rate this program continues to give aid to people who are already good at the game while stragglers get punished.
Halo isn’t just a multiplayer experience as it’s always supported single player and co-op. Letting people shoot each other online and off is easily the franchise’s biggest draw though. The reason why it worked well for so long stems from a quick learning curve while emphasizing skills and teamwork to keep games competitive. When you got killed in Halo, barring online f*ckery, it happened because you got outmatched, careless or simply lost the gun battle. Now you have to deal with people having gifted AND innate advantages from the jump, allowing for more individual domination.
The changes also say a great deal about the franchise and where the industry is going. Make no mistake: Halo is still a huge franchise. It got popular by doing its own thing or, more accurately, making a shooter with roots on the computer work on a console. Nevertheless, gaining influence is inevitable in creating entertainment but this kind of turn takes pages from its direct competition. Having a juggernaut like Halo give a nod to other FPS frontrunners is the latest example of the gaming industry being just like the movie and TV industry for all the wrong reasons.
Every studio, TV network and publisher wants blockbusters on their roster and why wouldn’t they? They make suits lots of money thanks in large part to consumers. You still don’t beat the competition by emulating it. When’s the last time you saw John Carter rival Avatar, The Voice outperform American Idol all season or Homefront challenge Battlefield in any category? You didn’t because swinging for the fences with an also-ran product won’t get that #1 spot. I’ll admit this is 343 Industries’ game to make, and it’s too early to render the next Halo as a lost cause. Nevertheless, its new PVP philosophy doesn’t inspire confidence. If anything it may reinforce the “If you can’t beat ’em, be them” mindset plaguing all of entertainment.