If you've ever read anything I have to say on Halo, it starts with the same disclaimer.
"Halo 1 was one of my favorite games of all time. I bought it, and an xbox, the day they came out, back when nobody had any idea what they were. I played the campaign no less than 20 times as everyone in my dorm stopped by to see what this "xbox" thing was and nobody played Halo just once. They played all the way through to the end and I was glad to do it with them, every single time."
But, when Halo 2 came out, I fell out of love fast. I felt that the brilliant and clean design of the first game had been ruined by featurecreep. I felt that things meant as fixes, like the Chiefs new floaty jumping, ruined the experience I had with the first game. But more than any of those, I felt that the story became achingly self-serious. I summed up Halo 1 and the offense of Halo 2 one time to a friend, saying that Halo was the story of a giant lime green robot who singlehandedly fights off and murders thousands of muppety aliens whose millitary color is hot pink. It was fine for Halo 1, because the tone of Halo 1 was that of a slightly more literate than average saturday morning cartoon. With Halo 2, suddenly the tone became... something else. WIth it's throaty faux shakespearian voice actors and script dense with every type of conflict the writers could crib from "Screenwriting for dummies" , it tried hard to be MORE than what Halo 1 was. But it STILL had the lime green robot and it STILL had the muppety aliens and it was STILL... JUST Halo. It even culminated with a confrontation between our beloved robot and an evil talking fungus who spoke in rhyme.
I halfheartedly played through Halo 3 just to see if they redeemed themselves and... they didn't. It was still a child trying to act like how it thought a grownup should behave. Trying to be "badass" and embarassing itself along the way.
And then comes Halo 4, and I'm left wondering how to digest it.
See, my problem with Halo 2 and 3 is a problem with tone. Tone is one of the most difficult things to come to grips with, as a writer. Tone sets the boundaries for what a writer can and cannot do, even as the master of their universe. In my opinion, all the swelling epic music was amazing, but ultimately it was meant to make you feel like something IMPORTANT was happening, when what you were watching on the screen was a robot have a conversation with rhyming fungus. It wasn't affecting, it was laughable. The mismatch of tone is the uncanny valley of storytelling. Watching the UNSC soldiers grow fouler and fouler mouths while gunning down aliens who talk one of Elmo's friends never had the intended effect on me. I don't even know what the intended effect was supposed to be.
In playing through Halo 4, I could never quite decide how I felt about the game.
If you haven't played the game yet, the gameplay is absolutely phenomenal. It's the best Halo gameplay since Halo 1, and if I took off my nostalgia glasses for a moment, I would probably say it's the best Halo gameplay of all time.
But more interesting to me is the way that 343 took it upon themselves to completely adjust the tone of the series. In playing through the game with my brother, I lost track of his Chief only to notice that he no longer sticks out as a lime green robot. In fact, in most scenes he looks black rather than green. A lot of this is due to his costume redesign that really DOES have more black than it used to and the fact that they made his costume far more matte and a darker shade of green. Similarly, the Covenant forces no longer look muppety, even if they still look appropriately alien. Several times I had trouble finding ghosts due to the fact that their once hot pink vehicles are now a much darker color and more matte, like Cheif's suit. I never heard the covenant forces rattling off ridiculous catch phrases and i never heard the UNSC forces rattling off frat boy one liners.
In short, 343 Industries made Halo grow up. I no longer felt like the tone that they were trying to portray was in direct contrast with the game I was actually playing.
Halo 4 is a fantastic game and one of my favorites on the 360.
But my problem in digesting the game is this: Can they DO that?
When the game starts up, we meet a Cortana who is moody, mopey and overcome with a womanly infatuation for The Master Cheif. Chief, for his part, is insanely chatty, making one liners and retorts when necessary and when completely un-necessary. These are completely different characters than the ones we left in Halo 3. And not just them, the way the UNSC operates, the way the game world looks and operates, are completely different than what we have seen previously.
Can a game sequel completely change the tone of a series? I mean, I know they CAN because they DID, but is it right for them to do so? Afterall, the cowboy nature of the UNSC forces, the cartoon-like and clownish nature of the covenant, the colorful super-saturated environment of the Halo ringworld, and the silent protagonist figure of the master chief were all bullet point reasons why gamers and critics loved Halo 1. Is it wrong to throw that away and do something entirely different?
I'm glad 343 did what they did, because they finally justified the change in tone Halo underwent between Halo 1 and 2, but is it right to make that kind of shift to begin wtih?
What would happen if the next Mario game featured Bowser invading New York and eating New Yorkers by the armload? What would happen if Link ran away when Ganon was rising and only 10 years later, after Hyrule was in ruins, he decided to do what he was always supposed to do and start his quest?
Can games change tone? and if so, is it changed forever? Can it change back? SHOULD games change tone? What are the effects of a game changing tone?
(For reference, other games that I believe changed tone are Metroid Other M, Prince Of Persia Warrior Within, and Jak 2)