Bring back the haunting atmosphere

In Halo CE, there were various parts of each level that were extremely dark, quiet, and atmospheric with very little music. This really helped to drive the mysterious theme of the game. It made wandering through the Forerunner complexes feel like you’re wandering through an ancient catacomb of ghosts and a lost civilization. No other Halo game was able to match it quite like CE except maybe Halo 2.

In Halo CE, these quiet and creepy moments were all throughout the game.

The Piller of Autumn had the section where the intense gunfights suddenly stopped, and you were isolated from your Marine allies to be left wandering through pitch-black maintenance accessways alone with only the Covenant to greet you when you came out. Not only that, but you were wandering through a badly damaged part of the ship.

Then came the second level, Halo, where you are dropped into a bright, open world of nature and strange constructs. After you rescue the first lifeboat, you travel into an extremely dark tunnel which is completely quiet and daunting, after which you discover an underground complex with Covenant vacating. As you walk to the bridge controls, a strange chanting begins playing. When you activate the light bridge, it stops and you’re left in utter silence looking at the light bridge popping out in the darkness.

In the third level, the nighttime level isn’t particularly atmospheric, but inside the ship itself is. The ship is very dimly lit, and the moments when you’re separated from the marines really allows the atmosphere to kick in.

The Silent Cartographer is an interesting level of contrasts. Half of the level you’re exploring the beach and paths of an island, then you wander deep into another dark shaft. The security shaft is of particular note since once you deactivate the security, Lament for PVT Jenkins plays as Bravo-22 radios in that it’s going down from enemy fire. This makes you feel like something bad is about to happen. As you’re about to exit the security shaft, you are attacked by AC Elites, which was particularly unexpected in a time where you’re focused on getting out and helping Bravo-22. The second half of the level is great too. When you come to the “Shafted” chapter, Chief travels into a dark tunnel and peers down a bottomless complex with several floors. The location of the map room was ingeniously designed in its artistry.

Assault on the Control Room was mostly a blow-through type of level with little down time.

343 Guilty Spark however is a masterpiece of game design on all fronts. After the reckless chaos of AotCR, the game’s tone completely shifts. I would conjecture that this level alone does survival horror better than some survival horror games. I could make a thread all its own of all the things 343 Guilty Spark does that not only build up to the Flood, but build such an immersive atmosphere and feeling of ghostly haunting that suck the player in. I won’t cover all the things 343 Guilty Spark did right, but I will point out the main thing in the first half of the level: Silence and level design working together.

When you’re first dropped into the Swamp, it’s mostly quiet except for the track “What was once lost” which sounds like a siren of sorts, emitting the feeling that something has gone horribly wrong (AND if you listen REALLY closely, you can hear flood gurgling noises in the background ambiance of the swamp… not in the Anniversary version though). The level design is also very subtle. If you’re attentive, you can see faint figures of Combat Forms in the fog here and there. (SIDE NOTE if you travel into the structure right up before the discovery of the Flood, then go back outside, you’ll find dead Marine bodies spawned right outside the entrance of the facility.)

When you go into the structure, there is absolutely no music before the discovery of the Flood. You’re left to take out the Grunts and Jackals, and to wander the seemingly abandoned facility as you discover pools of blood, bodies, and the infamous AWOL Marine. (Fun fact: in the narrow square hallways, if you go up to the locked doors a listen, you’ll faintly hear Infections Forms on the other side of the door. The first half traveling the facility is purely haunting, and this is what I’m trying to say.

The rest of the levels in CE are chaotic not in the war-like feeling of the first half, but more of a nightmarish chaos. The second half of the game is the ultimate payoff of the first half’s subtle buildup.

Halo 2 captured the haunting atmosphere of the dark, quiet sections of CE in some places. The one off the top of my head are the facilities under the lake in Regret, which had a good use of darkness and atmospheric silence. And I also feel some parts of Sacred Icon had honorable quiet moments, even though they were more reactive to the nightmare of the Flood in the Sentinel Wall. Same with High Charity.

I believe Reach had a good moment in the level New Alexandria with the Drones hiding inside the building, waiting for Noble Six to take out the jammer. (the place also had an AWOL Marine in it…)

In my opinion, Halo 4 has almost no dark, quiet moments. In fact there’s not a single moment in Halo 4 where I’m not being blinded by a super nova. Every light source in Halo 4 is a super nova. For a game revolving around the long-dead Forerunners, there really is not any dark, mysterious moments that the first Halo achieved so effectively.

A good game should change up the atmosphere every now and then to achieve a dynamic flow of tone. The heavenly white-bright charm of Halo 4 is nice, but it gets a little grating after no change in that tone for the whole game.

EDIT: I do respect Halo 4 for its different art style and tone. The game was about Requiem, a very lively Forerunner construct, so the bright lights and shiny look to every thing fit the story. I especially like the look of the Didact-themed locations. Halo 4 was understandable for its lack of haunting moments. But I feel there could have been more dark atmospheric moments in Dawn. And I have a great idea that should have been implemented in the level Composer. They should have let you keep playing after everybody got composed. They should have let you make your way to the fighter ship without any enemies or music at all; only silence and the smoldering ashes of the composed scientists and security officers. It could have been an amazing moment and would really bring out the emotion and fear in the player, and I think it’s a huge missed opportunity. That could have been the highlight of Halo 4.

100% agree about CE there. I was just having another playthrough today just to re-live the memories again, and i must say, it definitely is the most haunting experience of all the Halo games. Not a single game pulled this off as effectively as CE did. Halo 4 should have done this again, but didn’t. According to 343i, Halo 5 will do that, though.

And man, the first time i played 343i GS, i stayed ages on end avoiding the last 5 levels of the campaign, thats how much the flood scared me. The combat forms, especially the elite ones, were so damn frightening. Especially when you turn around and just see them in your face. shivers

But, i am all grown up now, no lousy mutated runts are going to scare me anymore :stuck_out_tongue:

Off topic: on the subject of CE, the grunts were the most humorous in that game. Joe Staten was just so awesome as a grunt. If only they could speak english again, and re-cast him for the role

CE, 2, 3, and even Reach did a lot of good stuff in terms of setting the mood. Like you said, OP, there were tracts where no music was more effective than including music. Sometimes, less is more. I hope 343 keeps that in mind and applies it properly, because it can be a very powerful tool.

I’m hard pressed to find tensely quiet moments in H4. I keep thinking of the barges in… one of the later forerunner levels, sorry I don’t recall which)… but it ultimately falls short of delivering that foreboding, hair-raising feeling.

But I wills say this - 343 tried a lot of cool stuff with atmospherics. I feel they were hampered by old hardware and maxed out game engine, but I can see they were experimenting with fog, mist, shadows, and other such effects.

So yeah, Halo 4 might be lacking in said moments, but I get a strong impression that 343 never lost sight of them. If Halo 4 is any indication, they’ll have some sweeeet high-res effects to help create those moments we so love and miss.

Halo 4 actually has some atmospheric moments, not on Halo CE’s level of course because the problem is that in Halo 4 we already knew what were up against, even the prometheans were no secret since before we played the campaign we already knew that we were going to fight them. 343i should have kept the knights a secret, the flood was scary in the first game because of that and even the covenant were somewhat intimidating at first in Halo CE but that was because I didn’t know who they were and why they were attacking me. If 343i will bring back the flood in the next Halo, they will have the opportunity to make them scary again, as long as they don’t tell us that they will be in the game before it comes out.

From what I understand, 343i avoided the dark atmosphere with the Forerunners to portray that we were seeing active technology from the peak of the Forerunner civilization as opposed to the inert and abandoned artifacts that we encountered previously.

With Halo 5 likely returning to the Ark, and the heavily foreshadowed return of the Flood, we can expect the dark atmosphere to return.

> From what I understand, 343i avoided the dark atmosphere with the Forerunners to portray that we were seeing active technology from the peak of the Forerunner civilization as opposed to the inert and abandoned artifacts that we encountered previously.
>
> With Halo 5 likely returning to the Ark, and the heavily foreshadowed return of the Flood, we can expect the dark atmosphere to return.

I can understand that. I feel it’s more fitting however, that if we’re going to be wandering through facilities built by a mostly extinct civilization, a lot of it should be dark and haunting. But I can understand why Requiem was so bright and alive; because the Didact, memory of the Librarian, and Prometheans were still there.

I feel like having a darker tone is just being used as a sort selling, like infinity ward saying we doing 60fps which has now sort of caused a war of frames per second…

Halo CE only had a dark atmosphere when they introduced you to the space zombies but then quickly pull you out of it after you kill keys. Which is a good thing because when a game which tries to have a dark tone it ends up having a predictable plot and will try to have some twist which will try to shock you.

Halo reach for example had a dark tone and tried to maintain this but killing off noble team one by one in a predictable manner apart from kat but that wasn’t enough shock value to make me care. I still like reach’s story btw

Dead rising 3 tried to do this and that became a brown mess since all the colour, fun moments were drain out of it, to try to go with this darker story writing trend.

Bioshock managed to do this well in my opinion and one of the reasons why it did this so well was that it wasn’t a sequel, bioshock 2 sucked because it tried to be darker and infinite fixed all this. Elizabeth alone created some really happy moments which were more memorable than most moments in the first Bioshock(but that twist though, would you kindly).

Halo odst had the right idea were you start off alone isolated then you meet a cool simple A.I and then find more evidence to find your squad, then meet one of the cutest aliens ever and finally then see the greatest moment ever were Vergil lights john’s cigar. Odst took away that dark setting at the start and then made it more uplifting as the story progressed.

The Mombassa Streets sections of ODST were very haunting. Just you, your SMG, and the packs of marauding alien monsters in the darkness of a dead city.

> The Mombassa Streets sections of ODST were very haunting. Just you, your SMG, and the packs of marauding alien monsters in the darkness of a dead city.

I didn’t find it haunting I thought it was more of a sort of beautiful neon city but I guess it’s different for everyone :slight_smile:

Three words 343

The Flood’s introduction.

You should be good at this considering the level bears the same name your company does…

> The Mombassa Streets sections of ODST were very haunting. Just you, your SMG, and the packs of marauding alien monsters in the darkness of a dead city.

Ah of course! I guess I didn’t include it because it’s so fundamentally different from the main series. That said, ODST’s atmosphere is breathtaking. I could walk around the Mombasa Streets for hours discovering new secrets everywhere.

> > The Mombassa Streets sections of ODST were very haunting. Just you, your SMG, and the packs of marauding alien monsters in the darkness of a dead city.
>
> I didn’t find it haunting I thought it was more of a sort of beautiful neon city but I guess it’s different for everyone :slight_smile:

Well the perception is highly influenced by the music. There some parts where the music is somber and sad, and other parts where there are atmospheric pieces, or simply no music at all.

I think about this often, and I agree 100%. Halo 4 had so many chances to do this but it sorta fell flat. No matter, the sequels will be better.

I would love for the dark atmosphere to return. I always like those setting makes the game feel scary and keeps you on your toes.

Halo needs this back!!!, think having a darker or a horror atmosphere would make the game more intense, Now that Chief has no Cortana and he’s going it alone This is a perfect time to bring back the Flood and make these sections scary as hell!

> > The Mombassa Streets sections of ODST were very haunting. Just you, your SMG, and the packs of marauding alien monsters in the darkness of a dead city.
>
> I didn’t find it haunting I thought it was more of a sort of beautiful neon city but I guess it’s different for everyone :slight_smile:

Did you ever go inside the buildings? That was some dark stuff.

Agreed OP.

You just nailed a part of why the 3 games you mentioned are in my opinion the best Halo games: they’re dark, moody, serious.
Although I must say you should’ve included ODST in the list as well. If there is one game in the series that was moody and atmospheric to the max, it was ODST. From desolate and empty streets in the dark, to the UNSC having to fall back on every stand they make, to for the first and only time seeing Earth being f-ed badly with a giant invasion. That game was oozing with depressive atmosphere.

A major part of my dislike for H3 for instance comes from it’s out of place slapstick humor and colorscheme that looks like a bunch of kindergarten kids were tasked to color everything in with their crayons.

H4 lacked that same sense of mystery that CE had. It felt too familiar to really make an impact. Only the first and “Composer” missions were moody. Hopefully H5 will have more of that gritty tone CE/H2 and ODST/Reach had. Bringing back the Flood would certainly help with that!

Don’t worry, Halo 5 will be the darkest Halo game yet. :slight_smile:

No love for ODST? :frowning:

Perfect. Thank you, that’s exactly what I want them to do with the atmosphere. No more of the over the top brightly lit colours that ruin the atmosphere (Halo CEA).

There should still be some colourfull parts though, but only when you come across something beautiful, instead of something mysterious.