Video Games

Peter Suderman on Halo Guardians and the Challenges of Interactive Storytelling

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Last week, I played through the single-player story part of Halo Guardians, the latest entry in Microsoft's flagship video game franchise.

Visually, the game, the first in the series for next-generation Xbox One console, is genuinely spectacular. From a narrative perspective, however, it was kind of a mess. 

I wrote about the game and the particular challenges of video game storytelling for Vox this week.

Here's a bit from the intro:

As I worked through the game's single-player storyline last week, I often found myself pausing to gaze out at the spectacular sci-fi vistas these transitional moments provided: The sheer scale of the game's visuals is bigger than that of just about any movie, and the fact that I could choose to slow down and peer at them for as long as I wanted allowed me to appreciate the incredible scope and the massive galactic conflicts they often seemed to suggest.

The game's flawless look and high-tech production values also extend to the cinematic cutscenes that break up the game's missions and deliver its story. The computer-animated characters in these scenes still don't look quite photorealistic, but at times they come scarily close, and the scenes are directed with the commercially stylish intensity of a major summer blockbuster. Indeed, the game's opening cinematic, which ends with the introduction of the main characters in an extended, single-take battle sequence, reminded me more than a little of the similar opening to Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Meanwhile, the game's better-than-average voice acting (thecast includes well-known character actors like Keith David and Nathan Fillion) goes a long way toward keeping the scenes grounded, even when the lines themselves are hokey and ridiculous.

Which, frustratingly, they often are. And that's the biggest problem with the game: The story makes almost no sense.

I'm basically of the opinion that video games are roughly to the this century what movies were to the last, and I suspect that games will undergo a similar sort of evolution, becoming more sophisticted and more self-confident as audience tastes evolve and technology progresses. You can already see this happening, and rapidly advancing new technologies like VR and augmented reality will only make virtual interaction and storytelling stranger and more involving. 

NEXT: Will Houston's Nondiscrimination Law Be Decided by Transgender Bathroom Panic?

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  1. Fallout 4 looms large

    1. I’m a Wanderer.

  2. Games probably will get more sophisticated and take better advantage of the medium, but it’s not like we’re still in the early stage of game development, akin to movies a century ago, when directors were still figuring out what was possible with editing. A lot of big-budget games have a messy or incomprehensible story, just as a lot of big-budget movies do. But plenty of games are very self-confident, with good stories and characters, and incorporate interactivity and choice into the narrative. And this goes back to at least the 90s. Perhaps in 50 years the most common form of entertainment will be playing VR games, which will make Chrono Trigger on the SNES look prehistoric, but things aren’t too shabby right now.

    I finally started playing my copy of MGS V: The Phantom Pain a couple weeks ago. I haven’t been this hooked on a game in a long time. And so far, the story is being handled quite well.

    1. VR games, which will make Chrono Trigger on the SNES look prehistoric

      I’d rather play Chrono Trigger with a simple gamepad. When VR does take off, people will gush over it for awhile and then they will realize that reality is boring and/or exhausting.

        1. Hahahaha I didn’t see that one but some of the clumsy efforts to make gaming seem more “realistic” made me feel exactly like that.

          *I’m looking at you, Wii-mote*

          1. Like GTA San Andreas’s ‘girlfriend’ system?

  3. “debuted to decidedly mediocre reviews and fan disinterest.”

    I’m never thrilled when writers use *disinterest* in this way, but maybe some enlightened altruistic genius will drop by and “educate” me about the marvelous fact if and when enough of us misuse a word, said usage becomes proper.

    1. I would assume relative “disinterest” in a title like this would mean something like, “lower than 8 million unit sales“…

      …or lower/slower early-sales than previous titles, at least.

  4. “”I wrote about the game …for Vox this week”””

    (puts on Corning-resistant-outerwear in preparation for splutter-storm)

  5. I’m basically of the opinion that video games are roughly to the this century what movies were to the last, and I suspect that games will undergo a similar sort of evolution, becoming more sophisticated and more self-confident as audience tastes evolve and technology progresses.

    Have you been to the movies lately? The only studio I’d rate as “sophisticated and self-confident,” and the only one with original stories, is Pixar.

  6. Now you’re just putting up links to your vox garbage?

    What do we have? A month until you’ve been completely subsumed into the idiot collective until we’re rid of you?

  7. Fallout 4 one week, cannot fucking wait

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