After seeing the first episode of Halo, I’m totally on board. I’m a Halo lore hobbyist, meaning that while I’ve enthusiastically experienced the campaigns of Halo’s Combat Evolved through Guardians, go on regular Halopedia wiki dives, and own a well-loved copy of Eric Nylund’s The Fall Of Reach, I haven’t consumed everything the Halo universe has to offer. (Ghosts of Onyx, I swear I’ll get to you one day.) But based on the Halo stories I do know, I think Paramount Plus’ series offers a far more compelling look at the Master Chief than anything the games have done so far.
In 2005, four years after its launch, my parents got me an XBox. My father told me he would buy me two games. I had played Halo:CE one time at a friends house, and loved it, but Halo 2 had already launched. I didn’t want both games to be the same type, so I decided I was going to get Ninja Gaiden Black, and one of the Halos.
However, I faced a dilemma. I wasn’t sure if I should skip the first one and go straight for the second. After all, the first one starts the story, but the second one is surely better, right?
For story reasons I picked up Halo:CE, and to this day it remains my favourite single player game of all time. Just before the launch of Halo 3, I picked up Halo 2, and absolutely hated the singleplayer campaign for a long variety of reasons. Not least of which being the insta-kill sniper jackals.
Yes, one of the worst game design decisions I think I have ever seen. They put these little fucks everywhere on Legendary, and there’s no way to get past them without dying to them, memorizing where they are, and then powering through the area. They don’t telegraph their attacks, maybe with some sort of laser, so you go from full health to dead instantly.
I don’t play many video games these days, but oh my god is the Halo 2 singleplayer poorly designed. Instakill sniper jackals might be the worst, but they also increased the fire speed of plasma projectiles which makes dodging them incredibly difficult. And then they added the “I hope you can stick the plasma grenades from 10,000 yards you fucking faggot,” enemy, the Brutes, which are basically only defeatable on legendary through pure cheese and sacrificing a goat to the RNG gods.
Getting back to the sniper jackals, seriously WTF? Occasionally the RNG will roll in your favour and they’ll miss you as a courtesy. That’s your only chance to win without pure memorization, and it’s effectively still not possible. Who thought this was fun? It’s like the guys at Bungie thought that recreating the experience of literally getting sniped to death on the battlefield made for fun gameplay. “Hey guys, wouldn’t it be hilarious for the player to just fucking die for no preventable reason constantly?”
This is a game where you can die in the cutscenes FFS. Where, as others have shown, on Legendary difficulty you are literally the weakest thing on the battlefield, despite supposedly being some sort of supersoldier with shields. Marines can take two jackal sniper shots. Grunts can take two. Brutes can take like 47. Some elites require like multiple entire beam rifle batteries to take down. Only the bitchmade Master Chief goes down in a single hit.
The gameplay difficulty and design being utter bullshit is only half of the reason why I hated Halo 2’s campaign so much. The other reason, frankly, the main reason, was just how stupid the story was. So first of all, for those who don’t remember, the thrilling final level of Halo:CE sees our hero, Master Chief, and Cortana causing the Pillar of Autumn’s engines to go critical, and commandeering a longsword fighter before escaping the soon to be destroyed Halo in the nick of time.
Master Chief: Did anyone else make it?
Cortana: Scanning, just dust and echoes. We are all that’s left. We did… what we had to do, for Earth. An entire Covenant Armada obliterated and the flood… We had no choice. Halo, it’s finished.
MC: No, I think we’re just getting started.
Master Chief takes off his helmet as Martin O’Donnel’s beautiful score swells, an ethereal and somber monk chant that signals the bittersweet nature of our victory. We have defeated the Covenant, for now, and destroyed the flood, but our heroes, Cortana and Master Chief are adrift in space. We power down the engines tens, if not hundreds of thousands of lightyears from earth, with no way to get home.
As we reflect upon the events of Halo, and speculate for what the future has in store for our dear protagonist, the camera pans up from the fighter to a gorgeous shot of a spiral galaxy in the distance as the chanting of the monks is replaced with the understated swelling of strings. I have always loved this shot, even if I can’t perfectly explain it. It reminds me how small and insignificant we and our protagonists are. How unlikely it is that they will ever get home. How very alone we are in the Universe.
Even seeing this video, so many years later, and I have to admit, I am moved. It’s manages to resolve the story completely, while setting up many possible continuations. Maybe the Master Chief will get picked up by some Earth bound rescue operation. Maybe he’ll have to disguise his way onto a Covenant ship and fight his way through them. Maybe 343 Guilty Spark will have something to do with this. Who knows?
But the shot of the galaxy lends a certain poignancy to this ending that I can’t quite put my finger on. It establishes the world not just as physically large, but as a real place, with real rules. The majesty of the universe serves as the backdrop for our next installment, what will no doubt be Master Chief’s epic journey home.
So Halo 2 opens up with Master Chief on Earth, preparing to defend against a Covenant invasion.
The fuck? Did I miss something here? This guy was onboard a longsword fighter with no ability to traverse long distances. How the hell did he get all the way home?
Well, anticipating this question, the hack writers have a bit of dialogue between Sgt. Johnson and some technician that explains everything.
Technician: So Johnson, when you gonna tell me how you made it back home?
Sgt. Johnson: Sorry Gaunce, it’s classified.
Wow writers, you’re so clever. You see you don’t need to explain how Master Chief, let alone Sgt. Johnson, somehow made his way through time and space to get back to earth. Just have two characters say “that’s classified,” and the audience can go dip their balls in hot lava because it’s technically no longer a plot hole.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the writers saw fit to give us some poorly lit scenes of the Covenant quasi-theocracy doing what appears to be some sort of military tribunal. So in the first two minutes of Halo 2, the writers have totally destroyed any immersion in the world by having Master Chief teleport back to earth, along with Sgt. Johnson. Then, they decided to remove all the mystery, intrigue, and seriousness of the Covenant by having them all start speaking English and act extremely humanlike. What was once a terrifying alien threat is reduced to a bunch of political backstabbing doofuses enacting an episode of Mean Girls in Space.
First of all, in 2003 Eric Nylund wrote the novel “Halo: First Strike,” which explains how Master Chief and Cortana get back to Earth. The long and short of it is that a Covenant Armada went to investigate the wreckage of Halo, and Chief managed to slip his way onboard. He then has to fight through a series of ships as he fights off this new Covenant threat, makes a crucial detour on Reach, and finally makes his way back to Earth.
Now you might be thinking:
Wait, isn’t that like, way more interesting than just having him teleport back on Earth? Like, even if you got over the teleportation part, why would anyone skip over that part of the story, it sounds really good. Also, having lots of combat taking place on a ship seems like it would translate really well to a video game, with far less bullshit level design constraints as fighting on Earth. So there seems to be literally no reason to do this.
I have to say, your thoughts here mirror mine exactly. Amazing how that works.
However, as dumb as the writing has been thus far, it somehow manages to get worse. You see, the Covenant’s plan to blow up the Orbital Magnetic Acceleration Cannon (MAC) is to sneak infantry onto them. But also those infantry have a bomb, pictured above. So they’re going to blow the MAC by sneaking infantry onto it with a bomb.
To explain how retarded this plan is, that would be like you want to destroy an aircraft carrier. But instead of hitting it with bombs, missiles, torpedoes, or what have you, you sneak some infantry onto it. In and of itself, this would be fine. Maybe you want them to capture the ship. Or maybe you can only sneak a few guys onboard, so all you can give them is rifles. Except that also, they have a big fucking nuclear bomb with them.
So instead of just hitting it with a bomb, you sneak a bomb onto there, which is way harder. You also put a bunch of infantry on there, so that when the bomb goes off it kills them all. Because why blow up an aircraft carrier from a distance, when you could go through a horribly convoluted and much more difficult plan to sneak infantry on there for no reason, all so that you have a lower percentage chance of destroying the AC, while also needlessly getting your infantry killed for no apparent reason.
Except that the Covenant Infantry didn’t even bother setting off the bomb. So they snuck a bomb onto the MAC, and then just sat around playing cards while being really intimidating, thus allowing Master Chief to kill them all. He then uses this bomb to float downwards (how?) onto another Covenant ship.
Boy it sure was a good thing that this ship didn’t bother to do any course changes in the entire 10 second long downward flight of Chief’s. It’s also great that he just happened to jump out at exactly the right time, with exactly the right velocity so as to land on top of the ship. Considering that his only propulsive force was the wind rushing out of the airlock I have to say, this is quite impressive.
But of course, landing on top of the ship would be too plausible, so instead he perfectly lands, like, in the interior of the ship, and then pushes off the bomb. Master Chief doesn’t skip leg day, so it’s natural that he creates enough acceleration to propel him downwards again at a few thousand kilometers per second.
He then goes slamming into the top of a United Earth Government Frigate that just so happens to also have Sgt. Johnson on board, somehow, at about Mach 2. I am not kidding when I say that he is traveling at speeds of hundreds, if not thousands of kilometers per hour. I mean his whole journey takes about 20 seconds, so even if he only had to travel 20 kilometers, that’s a solid 3600 kmph. This would be about Mach 3 inside the atmosphere, if you’re curious.
Luckily, in a nod to plausibility this kills him, and he rips a hole through the ship, which causes everyone on board to die.
Just kidding. Sgt. Johnson makes a shitty little quip, and we’re on to the next level.
This entire introductory sequence is like a museum of stupidity. A monument to idiocy. A verifiable treasure trove of dumbassery. It’s dumb at whichever level you look at it, from the second to second stupidity to the overall absurdity.
All of this retarded nonsense was created just so that they didn’t have to… do the compelling and tailored for video games story of how Master Chief got back to Earth by fighting on Covenant spaceships.
The first few minutes of Halo 2 absolutely destroyed the investment I had in this Franchise. At the end of Halo:CE, the Halo Universe seemed like this real place. Dangerous, hostile, but ultimately interesting and compelling. It had a unique feel to it, not being the grimdark of Warhammer nor the psuedo-intellectual dipshittery of Star Trek or Doctor Who. It wasn’t the pretend Sci-Fi of Star Wars, nor was it the pure horror of Alien. It was fantastical, yet grounded. Comical, yet serious. Science Fiction-y, yet plausible.
So of course the writers had to utterly destroy the almost limitless potential of the original world in the first 10 minutes. How else would they tell a more illogical and less compelling story?
I’m not even going to get into how dumb the story and universe end up getting, even just in Halo 2. Elites are misunderstood good guys. The Monkey-Dudes, the Brutes, are like Native American Space Shock Troops. The Flood has this leader figure called the Gravemind that’s underneath the lake of this random planet for no reason.
It’s fucking retarded. But it’s not like it’s retarded, but good in some other way. It’s not like they sacrificed logic, to increase the mystery of the world. No one needed to know what controlled the flood, they were way scarier before we knew. But the developers just had to make sure that we know that it’s this weird tentacle monster guy who speaks really ostentatiously about how he’s a “monument to all your sins,” or whatever. So they in exchange for destroying your ability to think about the universe for longer than 5 seconds, they also ruin the evocative mystery of said universe, all to play some cringe-inducingly terrible dialogue.
Let’s take a look at how Halo:CE opened up, shall we?
If you’re wondering why the Covenant are boarding the Pillar of Autumn, when I just explained that you would never do that if you are just going to be blowing the ship up, they were trying to get Cortana, and the coordinates of Earth, which they could get from the ship and Captain Keyes specifically. Halo:CE never had a story that an autist couldn’t take apart, but it certainly wasn’t this stupid garbage.
The showrunners were absolutely correct in their choice to “not look at the games.” The result is a story that asks us to grapple with the very reason Spartans were created: as weapons for the suppression, repression, and subjugation of humanity — a premise the games have almost never asked us to interrogate. Spartans have always been these superhuman human-killing machines devoid of emotion, but we have never had the chance to see how the Spartans themselves feel about that. That’s the promise of this show, and I’m super invested in the conclusions it’ll draw.
I think it’s almost a good thing that I am completely uninvested in this once great franchise, because seeing what little of value remains getting butchered like this would be hard to watch.