Apologizes for this piece being as late as it is. I’ve been working on other projects like my new wrestling podcast as well as seeing more movies now that studios are willing to put them out in theaters, so the retrospective fell a bit to the wayside. I’ll try to get it back on track though and we’ve certainly got some interesting things to look forward to now that the original trilogy is over and the series has to find new ways to keep fans invested. To that end, we’ll be looking at two books that were released within months of each other and have some very interesting parallels as both are essentially the same Halo story we’ve seen before; a colony is attacked by The Covenant because there’s some sort of Forerunner artifact or weapon on it that they want, and now the UNSC has to send either a bunch of Spartans or a bunch of ODST to sort it out. What’s perhaps just as interesting is that, at least as far as I can tell, there was no drama or overlong delays in the production of these books, so in a way they are the first of these to come out firing on all cylinders; created as intended with the utmost professionalism, unlike some OTHER books I can mention *COUGH* Halo: Uprising *COUGH*! Which one does it better, and what can we learn from how each tackle this kind of story differently? Let’s find out!
Halo: Helljumper (Comic Book) – 2009
Written by Peter David with art and lettering by Eric Nguyen and Nate Piekos
Our first book follows a group of ODST soldiers as they investigate a colony where everyone has mysteriously disappeared! Said mystery lasts for maybe five pages into the second issue before it’s revealed that The Covenant are up to something and are crawling all over the place, and so it’s up to Dutch and Romeo to find out what’s going on, put an end to The Covenant’s plan, and explore the depth of their bromance in an effort save the galaxy! For a lot of people who were casual fans like myself, I’m sure their first exposure to the concept of ODST was in the game that Bungie put out not long after this comic book was released and I always thought they were more of a stealth unit who cleaned up and reported on things after the fighting already happened. It didn’t take long though for that notion to be dissuaded as even in the very first Halo novel they are portrayed as brash over the top machismo-tastic soldier bros (and bro-ettes) who are basically Spartans without the Super Soldier Serum and with the Walmart brand version of Mjolnir armor. The most obvious comparison are the Colonial Marines in the movie Aliens and the book starts off as brash and obnoxious as they were in that film with the crucial difference being that they are the protagonists here and not someone more relatable like Ripley. When we’re only a few pages in and dudes are getting into fights over nothing, well I don’t consider that much of a good sign.
Bungie and Microsoft seemed to know that Halo was going to be a big thing almost immediately so they got to work right away branching the franchise out into different media with books, comics, and extremely elaborate marketing campaigns, but they never ventured into spin-off territory until this game; eight years after the first Halo was released. Halo Wars is a Real Time Strategy game developed by Ensemble Studios; the big daddy of the genre who made the Age of Empires series which also known as THE BEST REAL TIME STRATEGY SERIES OF ALL TIME! Yes, even better than YOUR games, Blizzard! Sadly this is also the LAST game that Ensemble Studios made as Microsoft shut the company down as this game was nearing its completion and the reasons why are still a bit on the hazy side. Co-founder Bruce Shelly said in 2009 that the company was being poorly managed and relying on crunch while still failing to hit targets, though another co-founder, Tony Goodman, puts it more on Microsoft shoulders. In an interview he gave for the book Gamers at Work (released in 2012), he talks about how Microsoft cancelled the Halo MMO project they were working on at the same time as Halo Wars and that they fully intended to close the studio soon after which is KIND of on Ensemble’s shoulders if you ask me as they hadn’t even gotten approval from Microsoft and diverting resources away from the Halo Wars team to do it, but then again Bungie was being a bit cagey and had final say on ANY story decision so it wasn’t exactly the “fun” project to be working on at the time. Regardless, Microsoft would end up continuing both the Age of Empires and Halo Wars franchises without Ensemble studios, and we’ll make our way to Halo Wars 2 eventually but for now we’re here to talk about this game and what it meant for the Halo franchise as well as the comic book that was released alongside it! Let’s get started!
Halo Wars – 2009
Developed by Ensemble Studios
We’ll start with the narrative and cinematics which honestly, Halo Wars plays out more like a Saturday Morning cartoon compared to the much more serious tone of the main games. The character models look blockier and more exaggerated, the story itself is pretty broad, and they rely much more on over the top dramatics from all the characters. I actually like this aesthetic and I wish that Halo would take itself less seriously more often (*cough* Odd One Out *cough*), but the one thing about the new presentation that hits a sour note for me is the voice acting on the Elites. I mean look, when you get Keith David for the previous games, ANYTHING else is going to feel a bit like a stepdown, but they just sound bad in a way that reminds me of… well, a Saturday morning cartoon! Fair play I suppose, but it’s no less jarring to hear them whenever they show up in the cut scenes.
It’s time once again for the Halo book club, and it seems that Contact Harvest wasn’t a fluke as this is another Halo book set in the universe but far away from ANY of the games! Still, Contact Harvest was one of the better books we’ve read so far (and that’s including the comic books they’ve tried to do), so perhaps this one will also prove to be a solid sci-fi adventure despite not having the Master Chief or Cortana’s marketable faces on the cover. Let’s find out!!
The Cole Protocol – Novel (2008)
The Cole Protocol is written by Tobias Buckell
So it seems that Contact Harvest being a prequel wasn’t a one off for the book series and that we’ll be spending more time AROUND the Halo games than telling stories between. Continuity wise it’s SOMEWHERE in that nebulous space between Contact Harvest and The Fall of Reach, though leans much close to the latter since the Spartans are around and doing their thing for the war effort. This time though things are a lot less IN YOUR FACE BOMBAST as the story feels much closer to a spy thriller with various factions trying to out maneuver everyone else over a colony that shouldn’t even be there. Frankly it’d be more accurate to call this The Rubble instead of The Cole Protocol, but I guess protocol sounds cooler so they went with that. In any case, the story takes place in the secret separatist colony known as The Rubble; one big town hidden amongst a whole bunch of asteroids that are held in place by an AI named Juliana who is VERY invested in keeping this hunk of junk livable. Some of them are Insurrectionists, some are there for the great trading opportunities, and all of them want nothing to do with the UNSC; so much so that they’ve more or less made a peace agreement with the Kig-Yar; the Jackals of The Covenant who are MUCH more interested in finding and trading loot than spreading the world of The Forerunners and blowing up heretics. Sadly, this state of affairs cannot last forever as there appear to groups within The Rubble trying desperately to get their hands on a data chip that has detailed navigational data to Earth which could spell doom for humanity if The Covenant got their hands on it. To make matters worse, both a UNSC ship (eventually commanded by a younger Captain Keyes) as well as an Elite ship manage to come across this unauthorized “peace” which only escalates tensions and forces the hands of those who have sinister plans for all involved. Who is trying to get this data, and what do they plan to do with it? Are the Kig-Yar sincere in their desire to keep this colony out of the greater war, and what consequences could befall them for taking such a stance? And on top of all this there’s a small group of Spartans watching all of this and pushing events towards some sort of end goal that may ultimately be in Earth’s best interest, but is The Rubble and the people who built it just collateral damage? I’m not about to say that the book is evenhanded with its politics as military wisdom and strong leaders tend to fare better than those who follow more democratic ideas, but the fact that we’re bouncing around various stories with characters driven by believable motivation makes this one more genuinely engaging novels in the series so far.
Red vs Blue and all the images you see in this retrospective are owned by Rooster Teeth
The Halo franchise is owned by Xbox Game Studios
It’s probably no coincidence that all things Halo peaked for me while I was in high school with not just Halo 3 being an amazing video game but this season of Red Vs Blue feeling like the evolution that the series needed to go in. I remember finishing my assignments early in some sort of extracurricular drafting class or something and episodes of this season in my free time which in hindsight proved to be a far better use of my time than that class ever was. I mean it’s not like I used any of those skills in any of the jobs I’ve gotten since then, and here I am today telling you all about a web series from the pre-Obama years! Perhaps it’s more of an indictment on our education system than anything else, but we’re not exactly in a position to fix America’s problems today. Instead, let’s see if my favorite season of the show still holds up to this day! Let’s get started!
Red vs Blue: Reconstruction (2008)
Reconstruction was definitely a turning point in the Red Vs Blue franchise even if the next season or two that I saw did go more towards the Blood Gulch Chronicle style of wacky sitcom setups, there was still a stronger emphasis on story and characters that was started here. We pick up about a year after Recovery One and Season 5 where Agent Washington is sitting in on a soldier’s debrief as they describe a harrowing situation at their base. It seems that Tex’s ship didn’t just blow up at the end of Season 5, but was heavily damaged and ended up crashing on another Red Vs Blue training area where the Omega AI (AKA O’Malley) ran roughshod over the troops there; taking over their minds and forcing them to destroy their own equipment so they couldn’t even call for help. Eventually, the monster that attacked Washington in Recovery One, the thing that was stealing Freelancer AIs, arrived and left only one survivor after taking Omega. It’s clear that this monster, which they refer to as The Meta, must be stopped and will no doubt be going after South Dakota for the Delta AI which puts Washington in a unique position to get his revenge on her for betraying him back in Recovery One while doing the Freelancer organization a solid that’ll perhaps put him back in their good graces. Still, before he can effectively track this thing, he needs to learn about the Omega AI that the Meta now has, and there are only a few people in the galaxy who know much about it. Sad to say for Washington, he bites off more than he can chew as the two people he manages to recruit for this operation are Caboose and Church; long separated after Blood Gulch was disbanded and at least one of them is far from happy to be here, but at long as the trail might lead to Tex, then perhaps it’s a journey worth taking.