It’s no secret that I’m not a major fan of Halo 5’s campaign. However, I’ve seen various fans give their two cents on the campaign to varying degrees of success, in my opinion. I thought I’d give a deeper look at one of the more popular critiques I’ve seen on YouTube from the user known as Act Man to see how effective it really is. The first video I’ll be talking about can be seen here.
To start, he brings up a series of ideas on why he felt the final product for Halo 5 did not turn out so well. The first boils down to the writers and people involved in the story and campaign not knowing what they were doing and/or lacked the ability to write a good story. The second is intervention from Microsoft, though he thinks it could be a mixture of the two. I think such a mindset isn’t all that logical. If one were to see the other stories 343 Industries has put out, they can clearly tell a good story. Even the lead writer for Halo 5, and community scapegoat, Brian Reed can as evident by Issue #7 of Halo: Escalation and his short story (Halsey bashing notwithstanding, but that’s just a nitpick) Rossbach’s World for Halo: Fractures. I can accept that perhaps their plan was not as well-conceived as they initially thought, I mean I don’t buy that they knew Cortana would survive before they knew Halo 4 was done being made for example. But to say 343 doesn’t have good writers is false. I’m also weary of Microsoft being the source of issues since it lends itself to more conspiratorial thinking. There simply doesn’t seem to be a real reason for them to come in and demand the story to be rewritten, but then again corporations can make illogical decisions seemingly out of the blue.
Moving on to the next major argument Act Man brings forth, the marketing. I’ll be honest, I agree with pretty much everything he says here. A lot of people who defend Halo 5 try to say that the marketing for all of the Halo games were hardly reflective of the final product. That’s true to an extent, but 343 made the mistake of directly linking Hunt the Truth and at least the Hunter+Hunted trailers and Bullet teaser along with other major media released prior to Halo 5. You can see this in this infographic, here. It is hard to not feel lied to in this case given all of the marketing hinted at some significant conflicts and changes coming to the Halo universe. I mean, why hint at ONI so much in Hunt the Truth, specifically mentioning their politics in the infographic, if that was not going to be important? Instead, ONI’s involvement only extended to a vague prologue and the second mission before being forgotten by Pheonix’s Cortana’s arrival.
Act Man’s next point brings up the idea that the expanded universe material are essential to the story and get in the way of the story. He laments that people have to know everything in the comics, books, shows, and more before they can begin to make sense of Halo 5’s story. At one point, he even says that story appeals to people who have done all of their homework. I disagree with his assessment here because of the fact I did invest in all of this material and I still thought the story wasn’t good. I’d even question his statement that this material was essential. I think the background material helps, but you aren’t disadvantaged for not knowing it. Is Locke’s background as an ONI agent as seen in Halo: Nightfall necessary to know? Not really. It only makes a difference when the Arbiter mentions his past, but it comes and goes so quickly that it may as well have not been mentioned. How about Tanaka, Vale, and Buck’s presences? Tanaka mentions her past on Minab during Halo 5 and sheds light on how the Meridian colonists are likely to treat Osiris because of the affiliation to the UNSC. Is her past as a Marine engineer must needed info? Not really. What about Vale? Her ability to understand and speak Sangheili are what the story stress and she informs the group how she developed that skill. I would have liked to see that expanded upon more during the gameplay and story, but her mission to the Ark in Halo: Hunters in the Dark never becomes relevant during Halo 5’s story. Knowing about it neither rewards or punishes you. Buck? To be honest, most people seem to have adapted to his presence just fine despite the claim you NEED Halo: New Blood to get why he is in Halo 5.
That said, Blue Team’s addition is not quite as smooth. These characters have been lurking in the expanded universe for years and 343 drops them into Halo 5. Further, while this isn’t 343’s fault, a lot of fans still buy into the idea of Chief being the last Spartan-II, so I can see where this confusion comes from. So I’d be inclined to give the Act Man credit here at least with Blue Team and the expanded universe being needed to know who the heck they are. Yet even with that knowledge, they were still a shadow of their former selves. While this may just be the immediate cast of characters we play as it demonstrates a flaw in the idea that players need to delve into the lore to understand Halo 5’s story. Trust me, knowing all that stuff doesn’t help make Halo 5’s story anymore coherent. If anything, Halo 5’s lack of connection to the rest of Halo is what hurts it. After all, for example, the last Halo game ended with Spartan Ops and the revelation of the Janus Key as a map of all known Forerunner technology and the Absolute Record being a major game-changer. Halo: Escalation handled that story (badly) and Halo 5 only gives a slight mention to it in a piece of Intel that mentions the Key and Jul ‘Mdama being a fool because he trusted Halsey and the Key. Knowing how the Absolute Record arc went isn’t required given that Halo 5 barely acknowledges its existence in the first place. Either way, I’m not convinced by this line of reasoning from Act Man.
Act Man’s final argument centers on the introduction of Halo 5. I agree with him that the Halsey prologue is really out of place. When connected with ONI’s schemes from Hunt the Truth and their role in the marketing, this seems like it’d fit when Halsey mentions that Locke will be ordered to kill her (though I’m not sure his interpretation of “kill us both” involves Halsey and Cortana, I lean towards Halsey and Locke, but it isn’t important). Yet this plot point is never addressed again. Act Man then brings up a valid point about exposition, but only to an extent. On one hand, showing the destruction of the Guardians would be more effective than Lasky and Palmer talking about it. Yet calling Lasky and Palmer unintroduced characters is a rather odd thing to do when they were introduced in the last game. Besides, with Lasky being the UNSC Infinity’s captain (where Osiris is stationed) and Palmer being the Spartan Commander on the Infinity, who else would brief them on their mission? He makes this same mistake with Jul ‘Mdama (again a character introduced in Halo 4). I don’t understand why he feels confusion over Kamchatka as a location. It’s easy to guess that it is another planet, just use common sense. For someone criticizing 343 for not living up to the mantra of “show, don’t tell”, it seems like Act Man does need things told to him rather than just use some common sense.
This continues when he expresses how bad it is for Fireteam Osiris to not all have their introductions squared away in what amounts to like the first two minutes of the game. There are 6 to 8 hours left, just let the game start. Honestly, none of this is any more egregious than Halo: Combat Evolved dropping places and terms out of nowhere (What is Reach? Who are the Covenant? Is that guy the captain? Who is that sergeant guy? What’s up with the guy in the green armor?) Yet these questions get answered soon enough or are easy to suss out with a bit of common sense. He then goes on a bit of a rant about Buck’s line, “I figure if God can hear how scared I am, so can everyone else.” Maybe I’m just odd, but he could be joking as Buck is want to do. It just feels like a weird thing to get hung up on and seems to only exist as a means to take a pot-shot at Brian Reed.
I will say that the intro is a little on the heavy side with the action, but his argument about the hook seems arbitrary. I agree that Halo 5’s opening isn’t as strong as previous games, but like I said above with Halo: Combat Evolved that same criticism can be leveled at the “good” Halo games just as easily. It’s a subjective point and I’m sure people can argue that the other games work because they instill more of an inherent interest, but at this point, it’d sound like special pleading to me.
And that does it for Part 1 of this series of Act Man’s videos. Altogether, it isn’t a bad start. The things he nails, namely the marketing being deceptive and the introduction not being a solid foundation for the story, he really nails. Yet the kind of comments he makes about the expanded universe and “hook” come off as too exaggerated or arbitrary. I’ll see how the remaining parts of his series fare in future posts, but I feel this is a decent start.
“When the game is over, the king and the pawn go back in the same box.”