There is no denying that the Halo series has become a video game cultural phenomenon that has helped define an entire generation of life-long gamers. Because of this, Microsoft has never been content to keep the Halo brand contained within the confines of just gaming. They have branched out, creating everything from toys, to clothing, books, and even their own line of Mountain Dew drinks.
It’s only natural then that their next big venture would be to bring the series to the small screen, in the form of a collection of seven animated short stories called Halo Legends. Created by five of the top animation studios in Japan, this collection provides a glimpse into the Halo universe as never experienced before.
The question is, does Halo Legends compliment the games in a way that warrants it being in every Halo fan’s collection, or is it simply another attempt to milk the brand?
I should preface this review by stating that I’ve never really been a huge Halo fan. I’ve played the three of the four games in the series, and I’ve spent some time with the multiplayer, but it’s never captured my attention the way other first-person shooters have. I’ve most definitely never been interested in the story, so when I sat down to watch Halo Legends, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
To my surprise, I discovered that I not only enjoyed most of the short stories, but they left me wanting more. I actually walked away from my experience with a desire to dive deeper into the mythos of the Halo universe to uncover all of its hidden secrets. This is probably because the stories are not the shallow, dumbed-down, action oriented anime I was expecting.
There are actually deeper messages to be found in each of these quick glimpses into the life of a people who are fighting every single day to survive. Layered on top of that is some incredible animation, mixed with spot on sound effects from the game, and action sequences that are well worth the price of admission.
Instead of describing the entire collection in general terms, I’ve decided to individually examine each of the seven stories, in order to help you better understand why you should, or shouldn’t, give Halo Legends a chance to win you over.
Origins I and II
Every great story must have a beginning, and in Halo Legends that beginning is told in Origins, a two-part short story that attempts to tell the entire history of the Halo universe in under 30 minutes. The entire sequence is narrated by Cortana as she sits stranded aboard the ship Forward Unto Dawn following the events of Halo 3.
Origins I ventures back 100,000 years into the past and tells the story of the Forerunners and how they created the Halos to battle and destroy the Flood once and for all. Origins II focuses more on human civilization, and how our entire history has been filled with War and bloodshed. Even when we traveled to the stars and colonized other worlds, our thirst for war followed us until eventually we were forced to unite together to stand against a common foe: the Covenant.
While Origins does a good job of filling in some of the backstory of the Halo universe, it suffers from the fact it only has 30 minutes to tell 100,000 years of history. Cortana’s narration never gives any real specifics about the events that occur, always stating that things happened, instead of why they happened. It’s mainly a lot of quick glimpses here and there, which always leaves you wanting more.
Origins could have easily been turned into a two-hour history documentary, and it still wouldn’t have been enough time to do it justice. Halo fans who are really into the universe won’t get much out of this, but for the rest of us, it’s a nice way to catch up with everything that’s led up to the events of the Halo trilogy.
The rank of Arbiter wasn’t always a mark of shame. It used to be a great honor given to only the most respected member of the Covenant Elite. The Duel tells the story of Fal, the last Arbiter to ever hold that title in a respected capacity. Refusing to believe in the religious ways of the Covenant, Fal is marked as a heretic and traitor, resulting in the murder of his wife. Seeking revenge, he sets out to kill those responsible, including anyone else who might stand in his way.
Of all the Halo Legends stories, The Duel is the one that really stands out in my mind, thanks to its beautiful artistic style and epic action sequences. The animators essentially took CGI renderings and painted over them using water colors. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and the result is absolutely spectacular. Mix that with a compelling story, believable characters, and top notch action sequences, and you have a story that every Halo fan should see.
While Master Chief is the most well known of the Spartan II recruits, not much else is known about the other 74 people who were forced, against their will, to join the program. Homecoming takes a closer look into the lives and psyche of some of those individuals, to help us better understand what they’ve gone through to protect the rest of humanity from utter annihilation.
This is probably the most powerful and moving of the Halo Legends stories, showing just how far a desperate military was willing to go to create the perfect super soldier. It also provides the first glimpse of a female Spartan II in combat, demonstrating how graceful and dangerous they can be. After viewing it, you’ll probably have a much deeper respect for these lonely individuals who want nothing more than to live the normal lives they’ll never get back.
Odd Man Out
The minute you start Odd Man Out, you’ll feel like you’re watching a cheesy anime short. This is because it’s actually a spoof of the Halo universe, going out of its way to be completely over-the-top in everything it does. At times I couldn’t tell if I had accidentally stumbled onto a lost episode of Dragon Ball Z.
The story centers around Spartan 1337, who has fallen out of a transport and become stuck on a remote planet in the Unicorn system. If the humor of that previous statement goes right over your head, you probably shouldn’t even be watching Halo Legends.
Odd Man Out feels completely out of place on this DVD. It’s filled with weird kids dressed like cavemen, dinosaurs, an evil ape, and rainbows. You’ll have to decide if that’s a good or a bad thing, but I recommend steering clear of this one. The humor might sit well with others, but it just left a bad taste in my mouth.
The one thing that video games have never been able to get across is the mental strain war puts on soldiers. Prototype is the story of one such soldier, codenamed Ghost, who’s earned that title due to a loss of conscience which resulted after losing his entire squad during a mission.
The story begins on the planet Angolis, where Ghost has been ordered to destroy a secret prototype weapon suit at all costs, ensuring it doesn’t fall into the hands of the invading Covenant forces. Just when it looks like Ghost’s entire team is going to perish in the fight, he takes control of the suit in a suicidal attempt to fend off the enemy combatants.
Prototype tries hard to deliver a message about what it means to be human, but I feel like that message is bogged down by an action-heavy exterior. Don’t get me wrong, the action sequences are some of the best Halo Legends has to offer, but it takes away from the true point of this short. I really believe that this story could have been incredibly moving, but instead it just feels shallow.
There are two unique traits that single The Babysitter out from the rest of the short stories in Halo Legends. It’s the only one that includes the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers of Halo: ODST fame, and it’s the only one that examines how the rest of the military views the Spartan II’s.
Up until this point, the Spartans were always perceived as being renowned and loved by the rest of humanity. They have this almost god-like aura surrounding them, as if everyone believes they are invincible. The reality though is that some people are jealous of them, and some even think of them as abominations, which leads to fear and distrust.
This distrust is the center piece of a story that revolves around a unit of ODSTs escorting a Spartan II who’s been ordered to assassinate a Covenant Prophet. It’s another great example of how Halo Legends is not the shallow action-filled romp I thought it would be. It instead provides a deeper look into the lives of a people who have to depend on and trust each other, or die alone.
The Package represents what every single Halo fan has been dreaming about since they first picked up a controller and stepped into the shoes of Master Chief: a chance to see the famed Spartan II kicking tons of Covenant ass in full, beautiful CGI. What makes it so great is that it feels like someone took a level straight out of the game and turned it into a short action movie, complete with The Matrix-style slow motion effects.
I would say more about the story itself, but I don’t want to ruin it. Suffice it to say, if you have ever played a Halo game and enjoyed it, you owe it to yourself to watch The Package and bask in all its amazing glory. The action is top notch, the CGI is gorgeously rendered, and it even includes a special FPS section that will put a smile on every Halo fan’s face. Stop reading this and go watch it right now. You won’t regret it.
Where Halo Legends triumphs is in its ability to truly dig deeper into the Halo mythos, peeling back layers and unveiling intimate stories into the lives of the people who inhabit the game’s universe. Recommending it to Halo fans is a no-brainer, as they are the ones who are really going to enjoy it, and get the most out of it. There’s still a lot for newcomers like myself though, who are looking for a reason to fall in love with the series that has changed the landscape of video games forever.