The Halo franchise is owned by Xbox Game Studios
On the day of its release, Halo 2 solve over five hundred thousand copies and would go on to sell over eight million copies by the end of 2008; making it the biggest game to ever get released on the original Xbox. If it wasn’t clear already by the swaths of dedicated nerds sitting by payphones to get cryptic clues only tangentially related to the franchise, this cemented Halo as a HUGE franchise with a powerful presence in the video game industry. We already talked about Red vs Blue season 3 which was the first to use the Halo 2 engine and today we’ll be looking at the fourth season as well as another noticeable fan made project that came out in the wake of the sequels’ overwhelming success. Let’s get started!!
Red vs Blue Season 4 – 2005-2006
Red vs Blue is owned by Rooster Teeth
Going into this season I had a few ideas about it based on my half-remembered recent viewing; at least the show is going on an adventure for part of it, but it’s disappointing that we’re back at Blood Gulch with the Reds. Watching it again, I kind of felt the opposite as the Reds are pretty darn funny despite having no direction and literally going back to where they started, and the Blue team is honestly kind of dreadful despite the attempts to do something new. The addition of Andy the Bomb in particular just drags all the humor down to the gutter where we’re back to pointlessly sniping at each other and throwing off lazy offensive barbs. It’s such a shame because the status quo change in the third season could have really led this series into a new direction, but it’s just more of the same and frankly a bit backwards on top of it. Thankfully the Reds don’t rely as much on that and they have some genuinely fun and silly story arcs; the big one being Simmons who got driven out of Red Team and joins up with Sheila at the abandoned Blue Base to mount a panicked revenge scheme against his former allies. They have a lot of fun with Simmons’s sense of confidence and emotional security getting shattered by Sarge firing him, and Sheila makes a great foil as she’s a constant threat throughout the season; just one bad comment or one ill-timed scheme away from ending this conflict in a bloody blaze of glory. It’s definitely going back to the series’ roots after taking such a long detour and for the most part they succeed even if it all feels a bit too familiar. They at least have GENUINELY good material to work with instead of the Blues who are just getting on each other’s nerves Even Donut’s character is somewhere better as he’s a bit toned down. It’s far less innuendo and girly behavior than it is naiveté and exuberance which I found much funnier, though they can’t help themselves from pushing it a bit too far and knocking you over the head with his sexuality in a mocking manner.
The Blues on the other hand have to deal with the alien that showed up at the end of the last season who speaks entirely in “blarg” language, and it’s decided that they have to go on a quest to save his civilization. Apparently when Tucker got the sword, it bound him to some sort of duty to fulfill the prophecy and if he refuses the alien will beat him to death, so Tucker, Caboose, and Tex join the alien (with Andy the Bomb who translates for them) to do… something. It’s kind of the point that it all comes to a screeching halt and one big dead end, but it’s really not funny enough to justify doing it as they trek across various areas to find little of note. They eventually do get to something big where Tex has a pretty solid action scene, but as soon as the dust settles the whole thing comes to a screeching halt when the alien is unceremonious killed by Wyoming; another mercenary that Tex has a past with and who showed up for a bit in season three. The whole quest storyline ends without any fanfare and without accomplishing anything significant as we don’t know what the alien was REALLY after and the Blues just trudge back to Blood Gulch while Tex goes off to do her own thing for a bit. It’s really disappointing considering how much the third season put into its more adventurous aspects and now it just feels half-assed.
Things settle even more into the classic routine once all the Blues are back in Blood Gulch. There’s a convoluted plan involving secret orders in the disembodied head of Lopez and a new crisis with Tucker having gotten sick on his journey which means Doc/O’Malley come back into a picture and all of it is perfectly fine and pretty fun to watch (less so Tucker’s illness as its made clear the alien had forcefully impregnated him) but it feels like we’re taking a huge step back right into our comfort zone because things didn’t work out well after we left. Thankfully they continue to refine the formula and the production is only getting stronger with each passing season, so while some of it feels repetitive it feels more polished and skillfully cobbled together.
For the most part I’d definitely put it alongside seasons two and three as generally GOOD, but Blood Gulch is starting to run its course. I wasn’t expecting to like the Red Team stuff as much as I did because of how swiftly they went right back to the same old formula, but it’s what kept me going through the less interesting and much more obnoxious Blue story which feels like it’s TRYING to go in the right direction but Rooster Teeth is still unsure of how to get there. They’ll make it eventually once they actually do start getting out of Blood Gulch, but I found the season entertaining enough to sit through again despite the cracks in the formula becoming more and more apparent.
Halo Zero – 2005
Developed by Dobermann Studios
There really aren’t that many fan games of Halo, are there? Compared to franchise like Mario and Sonic which have a near infinite amount of flash games, rom hacks, and brilliantly realized experiences, you’d think that something that hit as hard as it did for the sixth gaming generation would have engendered a bit more interest, but perhaps it being a first person shooter and relying more heavily on big budget 3D environments has made it hard for fans to recreate the experience with their own twist on it. That’s probably why this is one of the only ones to have gotten a released as it’s a straightforward side-scroller not trying to recreate the majesty of the actual games. Does it work? Well… I’ll give a solid A for effort but I didn’t particularly enjoy my time with Halo Zero. It’s very patchwork in where it decided to polish things up which are primarily the animations and audio; both of which are darn good. Apparently the sprites are from another studio that was working on their own fan game that never came out, but the look good for the time the game was made and faithfully recreate the look and feel of the franchise; albeit in a reduced form. Sadly the gameplay is lacking significantly as the most effective strategy is to either jump over all the enemies or stand just far enough back that they are off screen for your shields to recharge; neither of which are particularly compelling. The two Warthog segments in particular are on total autopilot where you can gun it for ten seconds, stop, shoot a few guys, sit there for the shields to recharge, and then gun it for another ten seconds to finish the stage, and there’s just no depth or variation to the formula to make it feel like more than a conveyor belt. There’s one or two stages that toy with verticality and having you go up and down certain areas, but it’s still effectively a straight line with little strategy beyond being patience and recharging your shields. Seeing as it’s a fan game I’m going to leave it there and say that it’s an entertaining little distraction and a fun time capsule for a few minutes, but it only takes about twenty minutes to beat and thankfully didn’t go a minute longer. The studio is still around in some capacity as they’ve since made two mobile games with similar mechanics, but what’s weird is that they’re still using the Halo aesthetic despite these mobile games not being officially licensed. Worse yet, they JUST released one of them on steam at the end of 2020 with names, designs, and even MUSIC straight up lifted from the Halo games.
I guess there’s no point in singling out one company for making bootleg games on the Wild West Wasteland that is the mobile market and then taking that brazen attitude to bowels of the Steam catalog, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. I was going into this hoping that the developers of Halo Zero would have gone on to be a part of some awesome game years later that I can tell you all about, and while Spartan Firefight is competently made the developers are still just wadding in the same pool they started in over a decade ago; only now with much more dubious ethics involved*.
So that’ll do it for these fan made pieces of our ongoing story of the Halo franchise! Halo 3 is still a ways off so get ready to discuss of the franchise’s very confusing lore as we discuss the Halo Graphic Novel as well as the fourth novel Ghost of Onyx in our next recap!
*In the game’s credits, they say the game was created under Microsoft’s “Game Content Usage Rules”. Nothing I’ve read about these usage rules indicates that a developer can take assets from one of their IPs and make a commercial game out of it as it seems to mostly be in place for YouTube and Twitch purposes, but for perhaps they saw something in the fine print that I didn’t.