The Deeper End of the Military Sci-Fi Pool
When I first entered the world of Halo, Eric Nylund’s graphic war stories from this amazing universe were part of the welcoming party. They were gritty, brutal, and (most importantly) human. They helped to solidify the idea that this war was real… that this was not just some action game, but that every life spent in pursuit of a goal was a real human, trying to survive. In the books engagements were chaotic and frightening, with soldiers fearing for their lives at every second; how combat should be portrayed. In the games, things were different. You could laugh and smile as you jumped around, smashing the enemies before you with your Spartan might. It never got anywhere near the level of vulnerability that a war game should – in my opinion – portray.
Since the first time I entered, I was immersed. 100%. There was never a moment where I didn’t feel on some level as if I were actually there, going through the same trials as Chief. This is namely because of one important thing, which happens to be Halo’s strong openings. Every game has had amazingly immersive introductory gameplay, trying to place the brief tutorial within the bounds of the fiction. From Chief’s awakening from cryo to his revival in the deep jungles of Africa, every tutorial and intro has helped to immerse you in the world and situation more and more.
ODST was no different. In fact, I believe ODST has one of the strongest openings of any Halo game, really giving you a glimpse into what it would be like to drop into combat from the outer atmosphere. It’s terrifying, yet empowering, to plummet towards the battlefield, ready to land and burst from your suborbital cocoon, to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting enemy.
And yet this is when ODST takes a turn for the different. As the Carrier makes a slipspace jump inside the city and the shock wave smashes into your pod, the Rookie blacks out, likely from the gravitational effects of an incorrectly oriented entry. When you awake, it is six hours later, and your squad is nowhere to be found. You are stranded, alone in a hostile city, and most importantly – you aren’t a Spartan. You are vulnerable.
This vulnerability was one of the defining points of ODST, creating a much different playing experience than any other Halo game so far. The rifles, and especially the silenced M7 submachine gun are visibly held to the shoulder, tucked up close to the Rookie’s face for quick and accurate shots. It feels much more tactical, like this is actually a highly trained spec ops soldier, and he knows he’s alone and in an environment where enemies lurk around every corner. He’s alert and ready for a firefight at any moment.
When crouched, the camera will bob up and down realistically with each step the Rookie takes, further emphasizing the fact that you are not a Spartan. You are not equipped with Mjolnir armor, and are not trained to be anything more than human. While a Spartan could walk with smooth, streamlined efficiency, the ODST is still held back by those basic functions which the rest of us humans can’t overcome.
Reach met ODST halfway, presenting a more vulnerable Spartan, but with all the capabilities of their older brethren. To date, Reach and ODST are the most realistic Halo experiences we have had, but the possibilities don’t end there. The Halo universe is full of interesting stories and perspectives on war, just ripe for the picking.
Imagine a Halo game designed to present the Halo universe as it actually is. No stylization, no pleasantries. Just pure, unadulterated war. We’ve seen this take on Halo before, in the amazing works of Neil Blomkamp and Rupert Sanders.
Not unlike WWII in the nineteen forties, this war had a great effect on not just the men and women who served, but society as a whole. It greatly impacted humanity’s outlook on life in general, as seen visually in Sanders’ BELIEVE campaign.
Don’t you think it’s about time we got to see the war that these men experienced? Not some stylized, brightly colored romp through alien vistas, but a dark, gritty, humbling experience? Not unlike what we were shown in Reach, but from the perspective of those that truly had little to no hope.
The Halo sandbox is already beautifully set up for an installment such as this. All human weapons possess an extraordinary amount of detail and realism, with features such as rail mounts, attachments, and beautifully sculpted iron sites that would be a blast to experience from a more realistic perspective, scoping in by pulling the weapon up to your eye, instead of digitally zooming the battlefield through a smart-linked scope.
However, this doesn’t exclude a HUD in all situations, as we know that this technology wasn’t limited to Spartans; the Marines possessed such technology as well. However, what if instead of either permanently having or not having your helmet on, it was able to be knocked off in the heat of battle, requiring you to pick it up much like armor abilities in the Reach campaign. It would add another level of realism, and a lot of variety to combat scenarios.
Grunts, Jackals, and Drones would become your equals, while Brutes and Elites would be the dominant players on the battlefield, much more like Hunter encounters are currently.
And when a Mgalekgolo finally did make its way onto the battlefield… you should leave that battle with mental trauma.
Cover would become an essential mechanic, as energy shielding and stamina would be out in all but perhaps some unique sequences (much like Vergil’s overshielding in ODST). Weapons fire could do much more realistic damage on both ends, with plasma shots boiling away armor and flesh, while ballistic ammunition realistically tears through the enemy’s body.
If stamina were to be included, it would be as part of an endurance system where your level of endurance effects your sprinting speed, your jump height, and your weapon accuracy (much like limb damage effects your accuracy in Fallout: New Vegas), heightening the sense of immersion and reality tenfold.
This game would also give 343 the opportunity to really show off its talent when it comes to graphics. While many disagree with Call of Duty’s approach to building games, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would say with a sincere face that the game isn’t visually stunning. The opening level from Modern Warfare 2 is what immediately comes to mind.
Although it’s a tutorial for the game’s basic controls, there is activity all around you. Troops relax by playing a game of basketball, men argue about water consumption, and mechanics work on vehicles. There is no point to this level of detail, other than to get the player more immersed in the world they have created, to breath life into it and make it real. Halo has immersion nailed, but I for one would love to see the series delve into a higher level of detail than it ever has before, rivaling, if not surpassing those games which are known for their extreme thoroughness. We as Halo fans know that the designers can take the time to hide the most minute details inside of these worlds that we love. Now it may be time for them to step it up to the next level and apply that attention to detail to all areas of the game.
Feel free to check out older Beyond the Frontline entries here.