Halo 4 E3 2012 Trailer Analysis and Impressions

Halo 4 is one of those games I’m cautiously optimistic about.  I’ve always had a soft spot for this military sci-fi shooter, and it’s the only FPS series I really pay attention to anymore these days.  I was annoyed with Halo 3‘s cliff hanger ending (with regards to Master Chief and Cortana) when we were suppose to be “Finishing the Fight.”  Give him a happy ending, kill him off, I didn’t care; I just wanted resolution and for the series to come to a close.  There were lots of reasons why this never happened, and the short version is that’s simply not what we got.

I figured this day was coming ever since when asked at a Comic Con panel about whether or not the Chief would come back, Frank O’Connor said: “We’d have to be the biggest @$$holes not to pick up that story again,” or something to that effect.  So when they showed the very first teaser at E3 2011, this was my reaction:

Yay! I finally get my resolution!  Now they can properly en–oh wait… it’s a new trilogy… lovely…

Also, the fact that it’s called “Halo 4” is rather “meh”, but I suppose that’s a nitpick.  One of the things that did pique my interest, however, was that 343 Industries talked about how they wanted to make Master Chief more of a three-dimensional character, as well as expand upon his relationship with Cortana as she slowly begins to go insane via Rampancy, and also bring the Forerunners to center stage.  In theory, I am TOTALLY behind the Chief actually becoming a character, I just really hope they don’t muck it up in practice like Nintendo did with Samus in Metroid: Other M.  I like that they’re being consistent with Cortana’s mental state, and I’ve always been a fan of the Forerunners as well, so yeah! more Forerunner stuff!  But as I said, I’m cautiously optimistic.

So without further ado, let’s see what 343 Industries has for us in these new trailers

In retrospect, I kinda respect Halo’s marketing.  Sometimes it can be goofy, yes, but it’s rarely ever dumb–it’s not exactly highbrow, but it’s never been dumb, or overly dumb and gratuitous; not like the stupid, brainless, childishness that was Mass Effect 3’s marketing.  That was awful.

Live Action Trailer

So, I don’t have much to say about the live action trailer.  I like it.  I thought it was interesting with what appears to be a Forerunner AI taking over the ship.  At the start of the vid, and repeated later on, I found the comment made by the speech-giver, where he says the ship was “not meant for war but peace,” rather odd.  343i has told us the UNSC Infinity is home to the new Spartan-IV project.  We can logically assume, and also kind of see in the trailer itself, that the Infinity is also home to other military personnel and machines of war.  Heck, I think I automatically assumed it was a warship when I first read about it, though I suppose it could just be like a large mobile base/carrier.  Regardless, the S-IV project alone tells me there can’t be anything about this ship that “peacefully advance[s] the cause of Mankind through the discovery of new worlds.”  Either this is an inconsistency on the part of the trailer, or the speech-giver is lying through his teeth–the Infinity and the S-IV’s were secret projects of the ONI so it’s certainly a possibility.

One thing I was surprised by was seeing the ship crashing on the same world Chief is on; I figured Infinity was going to be a completely separate story, but I’ll get into that a little later on.

The other thing that drove me crazy was the Forerunner symbol we clearly see at the end of both trailers.  I could have sworn that I’d seen it somewhere before.  I consulted all my old Halo and Forerunner material but didn’t find the symbol.  The speculation, and popular theory, seems to be that it actually represents the Didact–the supreme commander of the Forerunner military–who is responsible for ultimately firing the Halo Array and supposedly leaving the galaxy, according to the Halo 3 terminals.  He and his Promethean warriors are also referenced in the Halo Anniversary terminals, and the final terminal in particular.  We know that these terminals are going to factor into Halo 4, or at least the overall trilogy, and the Didact theory is popular enough that it’s made its way on all the Halo Wiki pages.

Original (left) and new (right) Didact emblems alongside each other

There is definitely a similarity between the two, but the latter is red, has a solid center, arms that extend to the inner circle, and it flips upside down.  Now there is a ton of speculation and theories as to why the symbol looks different, or how the Didact is or isn’t going to be the villain, or in the game, or whether or not it’s actually the Didact’s emblem, or whatever.  I started writing about this before stopping myself and realizing that’s a whole other post.  I will say that if the Didact is going to appear in Halo 4 (or 5 or 6 for that matter)–a decent hypothesis at least–I can’t imagine he is this “ancient evil” 343i keeps referring to.  Sure, he’s a crank and doesn’t like humans very much, but anyone who has read Greg Bear’s Forerunner novels can tell you the guy is far from “evil.”

Speaking of which, if an “ancient evil” has just now awakened, then what the heck was the Flood?

So on that note…

Gameplay Trailer

So we see the UNSC Infinity crashing from the Chief’s perspective, then a giant, mysterious Forerunner orb rises up, does what looks like a scan, then bolts towards the downed ship.  Later we see Covenant forces swarming around the crash site in addition to the Forerunner orb overhead.  As Chief is trying to make his way down to the crash site, he is attacked by unknown, AI, bipedal war machines, presumably Forerunner (the weapons are at least).  So we’ve got classic humans, classic aliens, and new, advanced, alien robot dudes.  According to former Bungie employee and Franchise Development Director Frank O’Connor, the events of the trailers are about one third of the way into the campaign.

Now picking back up with what I said I was going to concerning the Infinity (and the Covenant for that matter), I have a small-ish gripe: I understand not wanting to stray too far from Halo’s roots, but I find it annoying that the human and Covenant factions show up so early in the game.  It’s worse in the case of the Covenant because they conveniently show up to attack the ship debris Master Chief is on while he’s crashing onto an unknown planet, which is presumably on the border of the galaxy.  That’s really contrived.  It’s like 343i is afraid to go for one level without combat.  Wouldn’t it be better to actually mix things up once in a while?  That first level where you’re scrambling to get off the ship could potentially be a race against time and/or have physics-based puzzles à la Half-Life 2.  It’s the perfect setup!  It’s a burning wreckage careening towards a planet!  You can get plenty of challenges and obstacles from that!  It’s also a great way to steadily introduce both new and familiar mechanics to players (both familiar and new–especially the latter).  Heaven forbid we don’t shoot anything for ten minutes…

Wouldn’t it be interesting for Chief to be trapped and alone on this world?  I mean, he is, but truly trapped and alone in the sense that there are no UNSC or Covenant–at least, not for the first half or three-fifths of the game?  Having to make do with what he can find and use foreign, new weapons?  Then have the return of old and friends and enemies.  That would be a great moment when you’ve spent at least half the game dealing with strange new threats and surroundings before having that… I’m not sure what else to call it other than “relief” at the site of familiar friends, ships, weapons, etc.  It can allow you develop an appreciation for what what was taken away.  Is it just me?  Okay…

Next, we have the new enemies revealed: the “new defense AI” apparently named Promethean Knights.  The first thought that–WHOA!  A SKULL!!  WHY DOES IT HAVE A SKULL???–Okay so I guess that was the first thought that went through my head.  The second thought, related to the first, was that the thing reminded me of Bill Cosby’s Himself skit–with the chocolate cake–you know the part I’m talking about.  Finally: the overall design?  Generic.  It looks like copy of a Metroid enemy, or maybe this Niskaru demon-thing from Reckoningoh wait, WHAT?!  Sigh.  The point is, it’s an incredibly overused design.  What’s more, there’s nothing about this that looks Forerunner.  Why would they build bipedal automatons when they have various Sentinel classes which are of a much more efficient design?

Anyway, these things are named after the afore mentioned Prometheans–the elite of the Forerunner warriors.  The speculation is that they used to be actual Prometheans that uploaded copies of their consciousness into these things.  And where there are Prometheans it is implied (by Guilty Spark) the Didact is close at hand.  Hm… interesting.

So clocking in around 3:33 in the gameplay trailer, the Chief picks up a new weapon Cortana says is Forerunner.  Oooo… and it… it… well, I guess it folds open or something–it puts itself together–it’s really cool!  Then Master Chief fires the weapon… oh…

The first thing going through my mind when I saw the Light Rifle in action was “uninspired.”  The weapon is essentially the the DMR or the Carbine with a Forerunner skin slapped on.  Then we have the “Scattershot” which is basically the human shotgun.  This is more than a bit frustrating.  We’ve seen this with Halo’s enemy types, and we’ve seen this with its sandbox, like weapons here.  Bungie, and now 343 Industries, has had this sense of “game balance” that hasn’t changed since Halo 2, and they’re clearly afraid of mucking with it and/or pissing off the hardcore multiplayer fans.  As a result, we’ve been stuck with the same enemies, the same weapons, and the same, bloody game engine for close to a decade now.  And our first look of new Forerunner weapons are carbon copies of human ones.  These are the Forerunners we’re talking about!  With technology so advanced it may as well be magic.  They can build entire planets, ring worlds, multidimensional rooms, and micro-Dyson spheres in slipspace!  They can teleport; they can force stars to collapse, and destroy galaxies.  They can preserve people by saving copies of their personality or consciousness onto computers and AIs; they can build armor that sustains the body so that it doesn’t age (or significantly prolong aging at least), need sleep, or food or water–plus other stuff.  These are the guys who build technological wonders (and have light bulbs for crying out loud) that last for hundreds of thousands of years… and ammo is somehow still an issue?  The Sentinel Beam was limited, but that made sense: it was the broken piece of a combat drone you blew up, I can believe it giving out.  There was a wonderful opportunity to do fun, whacky, and interesting things with these weapons.  Let’s hope the other Forerunner weapons are more interesting.

At this point, the most interesting Forerunner doodad in the trailer was the large orb (and the Forerunner emblem), though in all fairness the “Promethean Knights” raise a couple of interesting questions.  One of them being in the gameplay montage at the end.  You see what looks like a white and blue version of the knights. There is speculation that there may be factions amongst these new Forerunner AIs.  Nothing definitive, but we shall see.

One other thing I want to point out from the montage at the end.  Cortana should not be eight years old.  She was commissioned towards the end of 2552.  The war officially ended in March of ’53, and Chief and Cortana have supposedly been floating in space for around four years, so she should be about five years old.  Nevertheless, with her exposure to vast amounts of Forerunner technology and information, as well as being pushed to her limits in Eric Nylund’s First Strike, and finally being tortured by the Gravemind, she was still well on her way to Rampancy.  Why 343i felt the need to retcon her age, I do not understand.

All in all, despite my nitpicks and gripes, 343 Industries has succeeded in piquing my interest in this game.  I’m looking forward to continuing and completing the story of John-117 and Cortana.  They’ve dropped enough hints and clues both here and in other mediums to keep the lore buffs (like me) very busy.

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One Response to Halo 4 E3 2012 Trailer Analysis and Impressions

  1. Pingback: Creative Stagnation - Halo 4 | Mythgamer

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