Wednesday, February 10, 2010


It's hard to believe that Halo has been with us for less than ten years. Halo: Combat Evolved was first released for the original Xbox system back in 2001 and quickly became that system's killer ap, a must-own game that helped Microsoft's console compete with the established systems from Nintendo and Sony. The original Halo game told the story of a military confrontation between humanity and a collection of alien races known as the Covenant from the point of view of the Master Chief, the last of a breed of augmented supersoldiers. In Halo: CE, the Master Chief and a group of marines evade the Covenant on a mysterious ring world built by a long-gone civilization, the Forerunners, to contain a race of parasites known as the Flood. Aside from being a tight and intense first person shooter, the game was supported by a satisfying science fiction story.

Since then, there have been two direct sequels, a side-story game, an RTS game, an aborted attempt at a movie, a toyline, and a whole series of novels. Halo Legends is the newest entry into the rapidly-expanding Halo universe. This eclectic collection of seven animated short films is new to DVD and Bluray in a format which will be familiar to anyone who has picked up The Animatrix or Gotham Knight; it is an anime-infused take on a familiar Western property.

The great thing about Halo Legends is that it shines some light on some unexplored corners of the Halo world. The first two pieces, "Origins I" and "Origns II," begin after Halo 3 as the AI, Cortana, basically recounts the long and epic history of the Halo Universe to the sleeping Master Chief. This is a story that players of the game have heard in bits and pieces over the course of the games but here it is recounted in its entirety and represented with breathtaking visuals. While we've seen plenty of their monolithic constructions, this is the first time we've seen the Forerunner race depicted visually in any Halo media. Here we see their initial encounters with the Flood and their construction of the Halo rings. These first two pieces dig deeply into Halo's rich and epic backstory.

Another standout piece is "The Duel," which explores the world of the Elite race, which has played a huge part in Halo from the very first game. For the first time, we see their world and their very Japanese-inspired culture. Halo fans have been wondering about the mysterious Arbiter since the role was introduced in Halo 2 and here we get a real explanation as to how that title came to be as well as how the Elites joined the Covenant. This piece gave me a new appreciation for the Arbiter missions in Halo 2.

As most of these pieces are set before Halo: Combat Evolved, we get to see the Spartan supersoldiers in their prime, well before most of them were killed off and the results are somewhat mixed. A running joke in the Halo games was that Master Chief was never shown without his helmet, so it was a little jarring to see so many Spartans whipping of their helmets revealing very normal or even model-like faces. I had always pictured them looking pale and hairless after all of their surgeries and physical augmentations. The Spartans are also shown doing all kinds of acrobatics which is very at odds with the very tank-like Master Chief. The single worst piece in the collection is "Odd One Out," which features a very hyperbolic Saturday morning cartoon style that is very much at odds with the normally somber tone of Halo.

In "Homecoming" we get a glimpse of Spartan psychology as a candidate tries to run away from the training facility only to encounter a clone living in her home and having taken her place. In "The Babysitter," we see the interactions between a Spartan and a group of ODST, with whom she is assigned. These two pieces take a very nuanced view to the Spartan experience and do not shy away from the great price that these characters have paid to become Spartans.

While the first six pieces are traditionally animated the very last piece, "The Package," is beautifully animated in full CGI and actually features Master Chief himself on a daring mission to reclaim an important item from a Covenant ship. MC and his squad of Spartans use ridiculously stripped down fighters to infiltrate a Covenant blockade and board the capital ship, in a sequence straight out of a Star Wars movie. This is a fun entry and shows us something unexpected from Halo, which has not featured any real space combat before. Once on the ship, there is a ton of Spartan action, which is still quite fresh as most of the games have featured only one Spartan, so seeing a squad of them is very novel.

Halo Legends is a must have for any fan of Halo. Aside from the rather annoying "Odd One Out" and the slowness of a couple of the other entries, the only gripe I have with the collection is that the exaggerated Japanese style is not a great match for Halo. It is a little disconcerting to see a heavily armored super-soldier take of its helmet to reveal a pair of enormous Anime eyes and a full head of luxurious hair. That basic criticism aside, these short films are a great supplement to the games and novels that have already been released and should hold people over until the Halo movie gets made.

Patrick Garone
Senior Reviewer

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