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.