Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halo 4: Triumph or Fail?

Halo 4 will be released on November 6th. With over 1 million pre orders, gamers are expecting the best Halo yet. This will be the first non-Bungie Halo game. Can Microsoft's designated successor, 343 Industries, deliver the experience that made the Halo franchise so successful?

The Case for Fail

A New Team or Studio. Whenever a successful franchise is turned over to a new company or even a new team, the potential to screw it up is high. The video game industry is littered with sequels of games that failed. Perfect Dark: Zero, Lost Planet 2 and every Sonic game, just to name a few. A search of "video game sequels that failed" will turn up 2 million hits.It's hard to make a sequel. Expectations are high and longtime fans can be picky. 

Loss of a Key Team Member. September 2011, Ryan Payton, the creative director of Halo 4, quits the project. Anytime a key member of a team leaves a project, it could be a signal of problems. Although Payton says all the right things on leaving, such as he does not think Halo 4 will be a bad game (not really a ringing endorsement), he is quoted as saying "...I want to make a game that one billion people play at once, and it's something that hits them harder than a great book or film". Can you think of any project in the next few years that is more likely to meet that goal than Halo 4? Neither can I.

The Case for Triumph

It's Halo. It will sell millions of copies, but will it be good? The formula is pretty straightforward and Halo fans are looking for more of the same. They have had 6 games to get it right, and although not every one has lived up to the original, they all have been good. Of course, this is from the guy who broke his no pre order rule to order Mass Effect 3. I was so sure they could not screw that up that I bought stock in EA prior to release, sure that it would go up. Full disclosure: My stock has lost a third of its value since then.

A New Team or Studio - Counterargument. 343 Industries may be a different studio than Halo's originator, Bungie, but its not like they were parachuted in to make Halo 4. They have been working on Halo projects for years. They are responsible for Halo Waypoint. They sat looking over Bungie's shoulder during Halo: Reach. They made the well received Defiant Map Pack for Reach. They did the Halo CE Anniversary Edition. If they cannot get this right, they should pack it in as a developer.

Loss of a Key Team Member - Counterargument. Ryan Payton stated "The Halo I wanted to build was fundamentally different and I don't think I had built enough credibility to see such a crazy endeavor through. It sounds like Payton wanted to take Halo 4 in a different direction, something that may have broken from the tried and true formula. Sure, it's bad to lose a team member, but they have hundreds of employees. Frank O'Connor, the Franchise Development Director, remains and he is the key guy ensuring Halo remains Halo. He came over from Bungie. His job is to ensure that continuity, so the chances are it will be there.

Will Halo 4 exceed those that came before it, like Portal 2, or end up ruining the franchise, like Mass Effect 3. We will know soon enough.

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