Out of pure curiosity I (re-)read about 25+ reviews for H4 beginning with the lowest scores (basis: Metacritic).
It was really fascinating to compare past perspectives with today’s discussions in the H5 board.
I would like to take these impressions as a starting point for further discussions: What are the main challenges 343i has to overcome to make H5 another critically acclaimed Halo title?
1.) Too familiar (aka series fatigue)
The overarching point of criticism (found in almost every review) was that H4 felt too similar to previous Halo titles (especially the campaign). The overall consensus was that 343i played it too safe as if they were afraid to alienate the existing fanbase. While most editors had understanding for 343i’s special role it also became apparent that this ‘stagnation’ wouldn’t be tolerated in hindsight to H5.
While campaign was almost universally criticized for not taking any risks it was ironically the changes to the multiplayer portion that got the most praise.
> The good news is Halo 4 is Halo as we know and love it. The not so good news is … Halo 4 is really Halo as we know and love it.
> Rather than re-inventing the series in their image, 343 has treated Halo 4 with kid gloves, settling for familiarity and mimicry of what has gone before. A reassurance to long-term fans, rather than a battle cry that one of gaming’s biggest blockbusters is there for the re-crafting. It’s not an unreasonable approach for your first time out; there are loyalists to appease and concerns to address. Change too much and you can lose the converted, but change too little and you risk being left behind.
> The Guardian
> In games, innovation and pushing the envelope are practically required, as well as expected. So how does a developer put their personal stamp on this kind of game? In other words, how much innovation is there room for in the creative process, when the game one is working on is Halo 4?
What this means for H5: A ‘best of Halo’ won’t cut it for H5’s campaign anymore. H4 got a free card for being 343i’s first game but now the studio must prove that they can really innovate on their own. It’s an uphill battle against an increasing series fatigue as more and more people question the new trilogy’s right to exist. The cry for a ‘fresh experience’ is probably the single most important challenge for H5 – and it isn’t limited to campaign alone.
2.) Refusal to go with the times VS conserving the ‘Halo feeling’
While many reviews emphasized the similarities to ‘modern’ shooters this was deemed (contrary to most of the discussions in this board) a long overdue step by many editors:
> Combined with the long-awaited introduction of sprinting as a permanent ability, and that most new weaponry tends to be rapid-fire in nature, it means that combat generally feels faster-paced and more exciting, yet still offers that distinctive and remarkably tactile Halo feel.
While most editors agreed that it was a good mix of the old Halo formula with ‘modern’ mechanics there were some outlets that felt it didn’t go far enough:
> The addition of sprinting is helpful, but you’ll likely wish it was joined by iron sights, at least for some of the awesome new guns you’ll pick up. It’s not that it’s necessary–far from it–but with so many other elements shifting forward it feels out of place when zooming in on a pistol changes the entire screen.
> These low points are openly exacerbated by the series’ staunch refusal to get with the times when it comes to game mechanics and level design, ignoring obvious enhancements like big-ticket sequences and proper iron-sights mechanics […] it’s a lot to ask of us who play other games in the genre to continue to stomach a core most left behind half a decade ago.
What that means for H5: While many diehard Halo fans might expressly disagree with this notion it’s pretty obvious that there is pressure to ‘modernize’ the franchise not only from ‘casuals’ but from a wider audience of gaming enthusiasts. The underlying problem is that some features (Sprint, ADS) are so common in FPS (there is practically no console FPS left that strays from that) that some people regard these as essential, as a minimum requirement that every shooter has to meet. This is a source of conflict that will accompany us in Halo’s future and it’s a challenge 343i can only ‘solve’ by finding a sensible middle ground that is supported by as many people as possible.
3.) Great narrative approach, so-so execution
Almost all reviews were full of praise fort 343i’s attempt to tell a more mature, multilayered and human story in H5.
> 343 Industries delivers a compelling narrative on both an intimate and a grand scale, with a satisfying conclusion that will make you excited for what’s to come.
> Halo 4 is a striking step up in storytelling for the series
Editors however had mixed feelings towards the execution. While the overall quality of the cut scenes and the improved facial expressions were applauded, there was also criticism for the lacking integration of important information (story videos via Waypoint) and the anticlimactic finale.
What that means for H5: 343i’s eagerness to put Halo’s characters and universe in the spotlight is both a strong growth opportunity for the franchise and an important differentiating factor. 343i would be clever to play by their strengths and learn from their mistakes in H4.
If they manage to pull that off in H5 we’re in for an amazing experience.
4.) Technical prowess
From graphics to sound effects, there was a lot of praise for 343i’s technical skills. Some editors were baffled that such an achievement was even possible on the aging 360-hardware, many pointing out that a Halo studio was finally able to compete with the biggest names in the industry.
What that means for H5: H4’s strong offering is both a reason for hope and a huge liability. Especially in the graphics department there is a room for disappointment as expectations are high especially with the new hardware in mind.