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Essays 28 March 2022, 21:00

Fans Divided Over New Halo Show, but What Exactly Were They Expecting?

The series based on the famous video game, Halo, has proven to be quite controversial. It's interesting because most of the allegations concern the storyline - which has never been a prominent feature in the Halo series.

The new Halo series premiered on Paramount+ on Friday and 24-hours after debuting it had already smashed viewing records for the streaming service. According to Deadline, the first episode of Halo "set a new record as the service's most-watched series premiere globally in its first 24 hours." And while there are no official numbers yet, this is estimated to be north of the previous record of 4.9 million viewers for the first episode of the Yellowstone prequel, 1883.

But depending on where you look, there’s a particularly angry and vocal chorus of fans dragging the show through mud for everything – from some sloppy CGI to Master Chief removing his helmet – something he’s yet to do in the game. I’ve sampled a heavy dose of the negative criticism of the show, and I want to ask anyone unhappy with it: What exactly were you expecting?

Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t find the first episode a particularly compelling watch, but let’s be real – it wasn’t the worst thing ever made. Have you ever tried watching Batwoman? I’m not going to defend the show for its obvious faults, but let’s not pretend that this is the worst thing to be levied onto humanity since God invented hangovers and toothache.

Source: Paramount.

By any measure, Halo had a very mediocre debut. But if you go back and look at the stories from the games, you’ll find that there wasn’t much to work with. Forgive me if the Halo books are riveting literature (I haven’t read them), but the games are all basically the same. Let’s do a little thought experiment, ok?

Master Chief: “Cortana, where are we?”

Cortana: “Not sure, I’m still scanning. It looks like that portal took us to another part of the ring.”

Master Chief: “Any Covenant signals?”

Cortana: “Are you big and green?”

Master Chief: “Let’s get to work.”

That dialogue would work in literally any game besides Halo 3: ODST. All of Master Chief’s adventures are extremely similar because… if ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The original game is just a rip-off of Aliens anyway, and in subsequent games there isn’t much in the way of lore to absorb. I’ve played every Halo and I still don’t know who the forerunners were, why humanity is called “reclaimer,” and absolutely no clue as to what the Gravemind is. 

But that doesn’t hold the series back from being great games because the original broke the mold of the traditional FPS. When games were stuck in the “you-can-carry-100-guns” style of design, Halo came along and made players switch up their weapons, learn what loadout gave them tactical advantage, and how they needed to play if they wanted to only pack their favorites. Storytelling was just a way to shuttle players from place to place

Source: Paramount.

Which is why all the extremely harsh criticism seems so strange (again, not saying the show is good – it’s okay at best), when the games were never about super deep storytelling. Again, what do fans want out of this show, actually? An origin story for the Chief? The ins and outs of UNSC politics? Deep Covenant lore? None of this is articulated in the feedback, it’s all just “I hate this, this is awful, this is garbage.”

To get technical, there isn’t anything particularly egregious I could hone in on while watching the episode. If anything, they went very far to nail the looks of the spartans and even the way they fight. Master Chief uses his mobility to get right into the faces of the Covenant, wear down their shields, and deliver the killing blows. It’s exactly like in the game. 

They even took a bit of a different route with the violence by turning the gore up to 11. A covenant plasma blast removes the top half of a woman's body in a violent flash, splattering another character with blood. Another is launched into a tree by the impact of a shot, their body crumpling lifelessly to the ground. Yet another has their legs vaporized out from under them as they try to run; a second and final shot causes what’s left of their body to explode.

This is very unusual for Halo because the games have always been softly marketed to kids since you don’t kill human enemies and you certainly never dismember any of your alien foes. I can’t help but feel this is a bit of a nod to games like Doom Eternal, as if they’re saying, “the world of Halo can be dark and brutal too!”

Source: Paramount.

Halo storytelling peaked with Halo 3: ODST. If you haven’t played it, stop reading this and go play it. It’s simply a masterpiece as a game. Told from multiple perspectives, you learn the fate of the doomed city of New Mombasa as Covenant forces invade and lay waste to humanity. It’s strange that the best Halo story isn’t even about Master Chief.

Maybe people are upset that Chief isn’t exactly the main character. The story focuses on Kwan – a young rebel, who falls in with the Chief after her people are slaughtered by the Covenant. I’ll defend the writers here because it’s a very normal storytelling tactic to bring a young, inexperienced character and have them set out on an adventure into a new world. There’s a reason Star Wars: A New Hope is about Luke and not Obi-Wan. 

From what I’ve gathered online here are the top five elements people are upset about:

  1. Chief takes off his helmet and shows face
  2. Kwan has a really stupid haircut
  3. The creators of the show said they didn’t play the games
  4. There is some lousy CGI
  5. The live-action Cortana looks awful

Okay that last one is a fair point. It does look horrible. 

Source: Paramount.

To tell a story that strictly focuses on the Chief would be a tall order, though. He doesn’t really have a personality. His story is the soldier’s story – the man who gives up his life to become a weapon and defend his civilization. It’s a story as old as time.

Warriors as characters can be very, very simple, and on a certain level, people enjoy and appreciate such simplicity. The Halo show is not high art, it’s basically a more polished Sci-Fi channel original series. For some reason, however, the expectations are very high among Halo fans. And it may well be because they’ve never gotten a good story about the Chief from the games.

Without getting into spoilers, I will say that some things do take shape in the first episode that will have me keeping one eye on how it shakes out. There’s a mysterious Forerunner artifact that needs investigating, Covenant and UNSC political intrigue to play out, and plenty more battles for Chief to wade through. Though the CGI misses the mark in places, I liked the fights for the most part and hope to get a weekly fix of live-action Master Chief badassery.

At the risk of drawing the ire of hardcore Halo fans, I’ll paraphrase Shakespeare and close by saying “The fans doth protest too much.”

Alexander Eriksen | Gamepressure.com

Alexander Eriksen

Alexander Eriksen

Alex is a gaming industry veteran of institutions like GameSpot and Twitch. His work has been published on GameCrate, Yahoo News, and The Wall Street Journal. Twitter: @Alexplaysvg


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