The animated opening to ‘Halo 5: Guardians’, while technically proficient, is mostly sizzle with little drama.
Between 2001 and 2010, the Halo franchise operated under the banner of Bungie Studios. Bungie has since developed Destiny and the mantle of responsibility has fallen on 343 Industries – a studio created for the sole purpose of creating Halo games – to continue handling the franchise for Microsoft. The studio’s notable achievements have been a graphical remaster of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 4, which was lauded by critics but met with a mixed reception by the Halo community. The fallout from that launch leaves little room for debate - the player population for Halo 4 dropped dramatically when compared to its predecessors, indicating that Halo 4 was now the black sheep of the franchise.
Then came the announcement of the Halo: The Master Chief Collection at the Microsoft E3 2014 Press Conference. All numbered titles would be included in one package for $60. The multiplayer would accommodate each version of Halo respectively with approximately 100 maps in total from all four games. The campaigns for the first two games would be remastered with new current graphical presentations and Halo 3 and Halo 4 would be remastered in 1080p and 60 frames per second with a Halo 5 beta provided in the collection as well. Upon its November 2014 release, The Master Chief Collection was broken in nearly every way. The most notable issue was the problem with online servers, which have finally been repaired for the most part eight months after release, with a re-released Halo 3: ODST – a 5 hour intermediary game – and a remastered Halo 2 map provided to users as compensation for the problems.
I prefaced this piece with a brief history of the Halo franchise because it’s necessary to understand 343 Industries’ role moving forward. Case in point: The Halo 5 Opening Cinematic.
The opening to Halo 5: Guardians is technically proficient. Though the way the various Spartans look borderlines on the ludicrous, Nathan Fillion’s character finally looks like his real world counterpart with the spot-on motion and facial capture. The little details on the backgrounds as the team freefalls to the bottom are impressive as lasers and spaceships zoom across the screen. And as soon as they hit the ground, the trailer is one continuous shot of non-stop action that keeps the frames busy with many enemies and monsters for our protagonists to engage and overcome. Animation-wise, the Halo 5: Guardians Cinematic Trailer is an impressive feat and draws even the most casual fan to its dazzling spectacle, much like this long shot from The Avengers (2012).
But by the end of the Halo 5 trailer, you’re not entirely confident about what you saw, other than you saw something. This is because the cinematic lacks any tension or conflict as our protagonists descend effortlessly down the snowy mountain into the raging battlefield of a pre-existing conflict. They perform spectacular acrobatics in and around the alien forces but at no point are they in any danger. No obstacle couldn’t be overcome by the four superheroes and this makes for a lackluster sequence of events. This lack of drama isn’t helped by the fact that three of the characters are dependent on the extended universe of books, graphic novels and even a Halo short film called Halo: Nightfall which Ridley Scott was involved in as executive producer.
The tone of the Halo 5 opening is also unclear. Halo 5: Guardians is meant to be the darkest game in the series, with gaming icon Master Chief going AWOL and potentially risking the safety of the universe that he saved in the earlier titles. Instead of establishing a tone of struggle and adversity, 343 Industries has elected to highlight the new guys and their new abilities and make no mention of any of the aforementioned plot. In contrast, Halo: Reach’s (2010) opening cinematic is slow and methodical about what shots to show the player to convey failure and hardships, with a bullet hole right in the center of your character’s helmet as emphasis. It also presents each team member with distinct traits and physical appearances unlike Halo 5: Guardians, where a mild color change is deemed sufficient enough to differentiate the character’s personalities.
The underlying issue about the Halo 5: Guardians opening cinematic is that it highlights merely superficial aspects of the Halo franchise. Had this been from the mind of a marketing representative, I would’ve stayed mum on it entirely. But this is in the game. This is how 343 Industries has chosen to open up the franchise to both new and older fans of the Halo series. If the opening cinematic is any indicator for the rest of the game, incomprehensible extended universe jargon and sweeping animated effects that lack any tension will continue to be detrimental to game play. No matter how incredible an animated sequence is, video game or not, the basics of storytelling must remain intact.
Spencer Fawcett is a double major in Film and Media Studies and English Literature. He has written for Parade Magazine and The Arizona State University's The State Press. Twitter: Whizbang813