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The ‘Halo’ Series Is A New Direction For Master Chief And His Fans – Review

The adaptation of the mega-hit video game Halo solidifies the arrival of high-profile games on TV. There are a number of big-budget adaptations coming to various platforms in the near future, such as; Fallout, God of War, Mass Effect, and Last of Us. Of course, Hollywood isn’t stopping at the small screen, with films adaptations of BioShock, Mega Man, Ghost of Tsushima, Mario, and Borderlands in the works. To put things plainly, video game adaptations are some of the hottest IPs on the planet right now.

When it comes to Halo, our first question is why is this a series and not a movie? Recently one of Sony’s crowning jewels, Uncharted, received a financially successful blockbuster adaption. Curiously, Microsoft’s biggest franchise is making its debut on a newer streaming service instead. 

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Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief, Natasha Culzac as Riz and Kate Kennedy as Kai in Halo. (Courtesy of Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+)

Paramount+ is entering its second year of existence boasting a growing library of great titles, a ton of Star Trek, and the extremely popular Yellowstone TV universe. Another positive sign is their new Halo series receiving the green light for a second season ahead of the series premiere on March 24. John-117 a.k.a. Master Chief’s cinematic debut has been long in development. Movie adaptation plans began as early as 2005 with an Alex Garland script and later progressed with Neill Blomkamp attached to direct. The first murmurs of a Spartan series came about in 2018 when it was set to arrive in 2021 on Showtime. It’s been a long road, but Halo’s story may be better suited for long-form episodic telling than a feature. 

Our second question is a little harder to answer. Is the Halo series good? The response could hinge on your connection to the source material and how well you deal with considerable change. Paramount+ has created a new direction for Halo. Yes, just like the games the show is still set in the 2550s. As expected we see the early heights of the Human-Covenant conflict, but that’s where much of the traditional threads start to splinter. 

Those familiar with the first game’s core story will be treated to bold new ideas in what the creators have dubbed “The Silver Timeline”. The show is an alternate telling of events. Another part of the multiverse and not connected to the core Halo canon. Yes, familiar names and locations appear; Reach, High Charity, Dr Halsey, the Keyes, and Mercy all play a part. Not exactly as we knew them, and well before the Pillar of Autumn opens the games series.

Olive Gray as Miranda Keyes and Danny Sapani as Captain Jacob Keyes in Halo. (Courtesy of Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+)

So far the most intriguing characters are Danny Sapani’s Captain Keyes and Natascha McElhone’s Dr Halsey. In the series’ first two episodes, they each bring a nuanced take to characters that are well known to the Halo faithful. Bokeem Woodbine’s Soren is also at the top of interest charts. Soren-066 may be new to players of the game but has solid roots in the Halo novels. Bokeem’s character brings the least baggage and a role you might not expect. 

Now let’s talk world-building. For the most part, the creators got things right. From the Pelicans to the Warthogs to the AR to the Condor. This series looks and sounds extremely Halo. The Energy Sword is sick and they nailed the Heads Up Display. It’s objectively cool to hear shield regeneration sounds and active camo activation noises. Easter eggs are all over the place. It’s easy to call out the HUD iconography matching the games. The grenade tracker and DMR ammo icons are spot on. Any time the show swaps to a first-person perspective, a feeling of joy will slide up your spine. 

What I didn’t expect was how antagonistic the story is to the UNSC and Spartan program. Long-time Halo fans know the questionable lengths Dr Halsey went to create her super-soldiers. From the jump, the series is a little rude (in a good way) to the mere existence of the Spartans. It’s no secret that atrocities happened to create humanity’s best hope. This is not a show that paints John or the rest of the Silver Team as infallible heroes. That’s refreshing. The only item that was unclear from the trailers is just how violent the show is. Halo the series is levels above the gore seen in the games. That fact might surprise fans of the game.

CG-wise some of the characters look great and others feel a bit clunky. Design issues could go away over time as we all adjust to seeing familiar enemies in a new medium. As a first impression, the Elites are a bit wide/chunky. They look good up close, but in the larger action scenes, they come across as toadlike. The next critique is around the Spartans and their movements. To me, Silver Team’s armour is a tad clunky. It might be too big on the actors and the size causes their fast motions to distract during action sequences.  

One hunch for the discomfort is the height of the characters on screen. Sangheili (Elites) are generally between 7.4 to 8.6 feet tall with Spartan II’s around 7.2 feet tall. In the series that difference looks much larger. It’s not this series’s fault, but The Mandalorian has eaten a lot of their lunch when it comes to defining what awesome, armour-wearing, space warriors are. If you’re looking for an assessment of the first few action sequences; both the Human and Covenant sides look good but not great. 

Bokeem Woodbine as Soren in Halo. (Courtesy of Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+)

You’ve read this far and the next paragraph may be the only one that matters. How is Master Chief in the series? That’s complicated. Barrier one: No Steve Downes. Arguably the best-known game voice sans Super Mario. It will take you some time to get used to Pablo Schreiber as John. His cadence is slightly more sombre than Downes’s take. When you’re just about there, acclimating to the voice, the show drops another bomb. The fork in the road moment for Halo is how viewers deal with Master Chief being unmasked. 

From what we can tell and from the details the creators have shared in interviews. It seems like the helmet will be off a fair amount. If you can roll with that, you will probably like the rest of the Halo adjacent set dressings enough to continue watching. If the thought of an armorless John makes you weep… this might not be your show bro. 

Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief in Halo. (Courtesy of Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+)

There is no denying that Chief’s armour looks amazing. Hats off to the design, production, and CG team, because holy hell, 117 looks good. Besides his armour, the highest praise we can give the creators is the boldness to make their own thing within this universe. The series has many ideas that heavily diverge from game canon. If you came in expecting to see the game’s story adapted 1 for 1 this ain’t that but there is some fresh lore to love.  

Here are some closing questions. Does the Master Chief have to be the centre of this tale? Not necessarily. The most interesting parts of the show happen when 117 is off-screen. The show could have gotten by with the Halo setting and a mix of other unknown Spartans. Is this show interesting? If you’re a fan of the games there are enough new ideas here to justify your viewing. Is this series essential? From the first two episodes, it’s hard to tell if the show will be a smash hit at the level of Netflix’s The Witcher. Where Halo will succeed or fail is the writing, portrayal, and humanity of an unmasked Master Chief and how that evolves throughout the season. While I’m not ready to get down on one knee and offer the Halo series a “sacred ring”, I can commit to checking out more episodes as their fresh ideas unfold.

Halo premieres on Paramount+ on March 24, new episodes will be added every Thursday.

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