Halo 4: Combat Evolved or Intelligent Design?
No doubt the multitudes who live and breathe “OMG Teh Haloz!” have already pre-ordered their copies of Halo 4, bitch-slapped the single-player campaign, and quickly jumped into the frag-frenzied quagmire that is online play with nary a thought for what enriching experiences they’ve shot through at breakneck speed in their underfull skulls. Writing a review for their benefit would be well after the fact—and writing one for yours would be equally asinine in the face of gameplay which is uncannily identical to its predecessor, Halo: Reach.
So, what I’d like to do, even though I know this will not likely be popular since it seeks to evoke free thought, is to look at the story Halo 4 presents—its nuances, its tropes, its plotholes, and the simultaneously laughable and almost impressive fact that it’s composed entirely of other stories.
To critique the story and expose roots going back centuries requires that I divulge the story, and for that reason I must warn you: Abandon hope, all ye who abstain from spoilers.
Following your near suicidal war with the ancient species known as the Forerunners, whom the Covenant worshipped as gods, Master Chief was left on the remains of the crippled frigate Forward Unto Dawn. Religion. With rescue unlikely, most of the frigate depressurized, and no chance of more hospitable accomodations, Chief allows himself to be put into cryogenic sleep, telling his trusty AI, Cortana, to “Wake me when I’m needed.” This presented developers with the opportunity to shoehorn another story into the Halo series should they decide that Halo 3 was not enough and be incapable of producing new intellectual property. Suspended Animation.
- Religion: What can I say? The Covenant are a race of warmongering fanatics dying and murdering in droves in the name of beings they don’t understand who care nothing for them. Seems like allegorical commentary to me.
- Suspended Animation: James Cameron has got this one sewn up tight. It’s a standard of science fiction and has been since the ‘20s.
When you awake at the beginning of Halo 4, four years have passed and the Forward Unto Dawn is currently being boarded by Covenent. Cortana initially assumes it’s a salvage crew considering the fact that you’re out in the ass end of space, but you soon learn your crippled vessel is being mauled by what appears to be an entire Covenent fleet whilst being pulled toward a mysterious planet composed entirely of metal.
The sidestory that immediately appears is that Cortana is past her sell by date (and her new model really needs the gap between her teeth fixed). Apparently AIs only live for seven years before suffering from Rampancy, a condition in which the amount of data an AI has absorbed over its lifespan reaches a threshold and causes the AI’s personality to replicate until its consciousness is ripped apart. Kind of like a computer with too much porn in it. This of course immediately begs the question of why Cortana didn’t enter stasis much like Master Chief in order to reduce the amount of information she was processing over her four listless years waiting for Chief to awaken.
I’m actually reminded of the entire Machinima series Red Vs. Blue, in which AIs, their creation, and subsequent decline into insanity features heavily. It also predates Halo 4, begging the question of where Halo 4’s writers got their lynchpin idea. I do believe a lawsuit may be in the offing. AI.
- AI: It stands to reason that if the brain is an engine for performing complex calculations, then something along the same lines can be replicated with a sufficiently complex computer. In its earliest form, the AI concept was a positronic computer used to operate robots whose functions were watched closely for aberrations or bits of random code that resulted in something along the lines of a human intelligence. In this case, human intelligence was dangerous because it was unstable. But once writers realized a legitimate disembodied voice in the main character’s head was useful for dialogue and developing a plot quickly, they immediately made AIs benevolent servants and friends of humanity, which seems to me to be an excellent example of man’s simultaneous xenophobia and willingness to accept something new if it looks like it will involve less work.