Halo 4 Vs Curiosity: Which will we remember in 10 years time?
Halo 4 is the newest instalment in a gaming franchise that has spawned toys, books and will inevitably spawn a Hollywood movie eventually. It’s as big as big games get. It’s also a platform exclusive and as such, couldn’t be more controversial. The last numbered instalment of the game was one of the most debated games ever and spawned the meme “better than Halo” following its generally positive (but occasionally lukewarm) reception. Halo 3 was one of the biggest entertainment launches of any entertainment-thing ever. It was such a big deal they talked about it on the mainstream news where they seemed completely baffled by why a game that involved shooting aliens and looked exactly like every other game (to them) was such a big deal.
So why was it such a big deal? Looking back, it’s hard to say. Certainly Halo 1 was a big deal. In a very real way that game changed console gaming forever. After Halo, FPS games, formerly the sole reserve of the PC, were now viable on console. Bungie got the controls right for the first time, and crucially the game was such a big success that it convinced other developers that FPS titles COULD work on console. Its hard to describe to someone who didn’t play console FPS’s before Halo, but they really didn’t get the controls right at all. Before Halo, console FPS’s with a controller were as unpalatable as fighting games on a keyboard. After Halo, they became the norm.
You could go further with this argument on the import of Halo 1. FPS’s were (and still are) the most popular genre of game. As they became feasible on console, it could be argued that the PC suffered. The PC’s decline as a gaming machine and the consoles ascendancy could certainly be attributed, at least in part, to Halo. The PC may be coming back the last few years, but console FPS’s continue to outsell their PC counterparts by a wide margin.
So Halo 1 was a big deal. It changed games. That’s without even looking at the other gameplay features it pioneered and other games adopted. Recharging health. Co-op campaigns. And of course, competitive multiplayer. In Halo 2 we finally saw what the point of XBox Live was. It defined multiplayer console gaming.
But that was Halo 2. What did Halo 3 bring? Well, it was on 360. It improved the multiplayer. It looked better…. kinda….. but…. Was it such a big deal? Probably not. Call of Duty 4 stole its thunder in the multiplayer arena and while it was close for a while, Activision’s behemoth proved to be more revolutionary and addictive and it’s now the title that all others developers look to. It’s all perks and kill streaks now.
And there were more Halo’s. Good games? Yeah, pretty much. But not revolutionary. Not IMPORTANT. And neither is Halo 4. Its an anachronism. A game that sells itself on Halo nostalgia as much as new ideas or gameplay. We are a generation of nostalgia-addicts; we fetishize the past, even the very recent past, and relive happy memories in tandem with forming new ones to enhance our experiences. We also almost never realise the IMPORTANT games at the time. Halo 4 is not important. It’s more of what we like in a package that we know.
Curiosity is important. Why you ask? Isn’t it a wanky art game? Yes, yes it is. Is it even a game? Probably not. Will you play it for hours? Well you might but I won’t.
In Curiosity you chip away at a block. You break off little blocks on this huge cube by tapping on them. It has the same tactile satisfaction as breaking things in Minecraft. Once a whole layer is broken up you get a reward. Or, more accurately, you might get a reward. There’s more to Curiosity than you realise at first, and everything that’s interesting about it is tied into its approach to DLC….
In ten years though, will you remember Curiosity? I think you will. When I say “you”, I refer to a gestalt figure: The Games Industry. This figure will have no knowledge of Halo 4. It’s just another game in a long series. It’s the first in a trilogy. It’s a game that’s been curatorially incubated by 343 as they attempt to preserve everything about a series they are nervous about taking custody of. From what I hear its very good. Maybe its even great. Will we remember it in ten years though? Or will Halo 5 be the one we remember? Or Halo: Covert Operations, Halo: Covenant Crazy Karting or Super Halo Fighter 6 Turbo? No. Of course not.
And Curiosity? Well we may well remember it as a wanky art game, but it at least has something to say, and games that make us think tend to linger in our memories. It’s talking about the games industry, about DLC, about our own nature as gamers, and about the prices we are willing to pay for things that exist only in an imaginary world we immerse ourselves in every night: the game world.
Peter Molyneux is a madman, and we need him. We need people like him with big, often stupid (but sometimes brilliant) ideas. He’s got the industry clout to try things no one else can, to experiment and to fuck with us and to make a point. Sure, he gets things wrong, but that’s what happens when you take risks. For Molyneux the ridicule is probably something he welcomes. He’s getting a reaction. Stirring something in us. So many games lead us into a soporific state of low brain activity where we consume gaming sludge with no lumps.
Halo 4 will entertain, but it will do no more than this. It is a guttural shout, demanding attention, loud but conveying no new information. Curiosity is a whisper. You need to listen closely to hear what its saying, but its saying something. It’s saying something…