Saturday, February 16, 2013

Halo 4: Mechanical Design Devolved

The Halo franchise is much beloved by a rather large group of people, and it has some prime real estate in my heart.  There have been scientific studies done in the past that have concluded that everyone digs giant robots, especially chicks.
Omni Consumer Products latest Detroit clean-up mech

It would then stand to reason that the inclusion of mechs in Halo 4 should be like chocolate and peanut butter.  Alas the concoction is more akin to turkey gravy and whole peanuts.  Sure you can mix them, but the end result is a gritty brown mess.  Halo 4's primary antagonist is one of the worst character designs I've ever had had the displeasure to lay eyes on, but my main complaint here is that Halo 4's Mantis is a poor design.

The Mantis is just wrong on so many levels.  The proportions are all sorts of wonky. The legs are ridiculously long to a degree that Hajime Katoki can only dream about.  For fear that I could spend an entire post nitpicking the leg design, nothing will be said about the reverse joints.  The arms serve absolutely no purpose.  There is nothing that hard-mounting the guns to girders sticking out of a poor excuse for a torso accomplishes.  Functionally it doesn't improve the fire arc of the weapons since the arms barely move, and design-wise it looks like a half finished afterthought.  I'm not going off on some campaign against weapon arms, because I can be okay with them even if they barely move, as long as they serve a purpose.  A purpose, like I don't know "the excuse to throw even more guns on a mech."  But compared to other mechs the Mantis is downright inadequate.
Poor little Halo mech

Lest you think my harsh criticism is unevenly and unfairly applied since I've only offered other similarly designed mechs (of the reverse joint walking turret type) as comparison. The Mantis' design might be more palatable if it wasn't played so straight. It looks as if someone was tasked with developing a caricature of the "Western aesthetic real robot."  Not all designs of Western origin adhere to this broad generalization, nor is this to be misconstrued that Eastern mechanical designers cannot work within that paradigm.
But let's be honest. Halo isn't concerned with dwelling within the realm of hard science (energy shields, FTL, and the Scarab, and it has no problem with hyper-stylized things either (energy swords and gravity hammers).  Thus it confounds me as to why 343 Industries decided to play it conservatively with a very rudimentary moving turret. When you get down to the nuts and bolts of it the Mantis is just a moving turret, a shameful waste of giant robotics in my book.  The saddest part of this type of mech in a game like Halo is that this role is already filled by the myriad of other vehicles in the hangar.  You can argue that the Warthog  is still a transport with a gun attached, but the Mongoose  now fills the transport role.  Leaving the Warthog to join the Scorpion as a moving gun emplacement.  The most pressing question I am left with is: how would the Mantis have changed if it was going to be a Covenant vehicle and given a name like Yokai?  I'm not saying it would have a big ass energy sword, but it'd have big ass energy swords.

This, or a bigger version of it, would've been fine in my book
My complaint can be summarized twofold: first, the Mantis is a failure at being a good "gritty and realistic" design, and second, attempting a design of this type was foolish as a more stylized and over-the-top mech would have yielded better results.  The Mantis just falls flat (damn tow cables). The designer was perhaps hoping that means of locomotion would be enough of a change and called it a day, yet its effects are unfelt, and as lead art director,  Kenneth Scott that is your cross to bear.  'Twas a noble idea in the early stages; hell, the Halo Legends anime's take on "power armor for power armor" by Shiho Takeuchi was pretty nifty and progress should've remained along those lines.  An inkling of a good idea isn't enough though, because otherwise every slouch like me would be churning out hits.

Okay, fine, you got me.  I just wanted to use a Scopedog in Halo


  1. You make some fair points. Personally, the only issue I take with the Mantis' design is that the "waist" connection between the head and chassis just looks far, far to skinny to actually support the upper half of the mech. I'm fine with it having arms, though I agree that they should've been bulked up a bit.

    I think the Mantis may have originally been meant to do more than what made it into the finished game. The Mantis clearly has jump-jets on the chassis and legs, and it always bothered me that we never got to use that function. I think the Mantis would have done well to have an "energy bar" mechanic (similar to the "boost bar" on covenant vehicles): jumping, sprinting, and stomping would all deplete a gradually regenerating bar.

    I'd say the Mantis is a good design on the whole, but that it was mishandled from a gameplay standpoint.

  2. The waist does seem to be a glaring issue, almost to the point where shots landing there should do critical damage. The spindly upper body just doesn't sit right to me.

    I like the idea of an energy bar. Perhaps if they would've toned down the armor and firepower but upped the mobility of the Mantis it would've fared better. It could then go places that regular vehicles couldn't or it'd at least be more evasive.

    I'd still have issues aesthetically with it, but that's just like my opinion man. So to each their own.