Famously, video game adaptations have fared poorly on the big screen, with the medium of film unable to condense what makes such an engaging, interactive medium fun into a passive experience.
The realm of TV has had marginally more success in recent years, with show’s like Netflix’s The Witcher taking on the might of Game of Thrones (it’s currently in production for its third series, and is branching out with all sorts of animated spin-offs to become its own multimedia powerhouse).
Riding that wave of momentum, Halo hopes to be the next gaming behemoth to come to the small screen and deliver. But can one of the tentpole offerings from Paramount+ - recently launched in the UK - stand out in the crowd.
Here’s what we thought.
Gaming’s equivalent to Star Wars
Halo has always been one of this writer’s favourite gaming franchises.
Early memories of the long-running space opera series of sci-fi games involved booting up 2001’s Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox console after an unusually bountiful Christmas, and being sucked in by its universe.
It was unlike anything I’d ever played - though that’s not an impressive feat for a naive 12-year old - and I was drawn in by its world, and the squaddie camerarery that evoked Vietnam classics like Full Metal Jacked (I wasn’t your usual 12-year-old).
Being a big Star Wars fan since an early age, Halo continues to grip me 20 years later, each new game adding new layers and context to a lore-rich narrative tapestry.
The comparisons between the two are obvious on a base level. Clearly defined morality structures (Humans/Covenant replace Jedi/Sith), planet hopping, iconic spacecraft and weaponry - all are found here.
The franchise has continually pumped out new stories in other mediums too, and though Halo’s library of spin-off novels and live action shorts cannot rival Star Wars’ decades-spanning archive of canon, it’s perhaps the gaming series that comes closest.
In short, the Halo TV series has a little pressure on it.
Forward Unto Dawn
The first episode opens strong enough.
We’re immediately introduced to a brand new story in the Halo universe, as we open on Madrigal, an Outer Colony world and part of the UNSC (United Nations Space Command), and one that’s received only passing mentions in the games before.
It seeks independence from humanity’s ruling body - episode 1 is sprinkled with a political division subtext not seen since The Phantom Menace’s trade route taxation - and it’s here that we meet rebellious teenager Kwan Ha, who has a Skywalker-esque desire to see the galaxy.
When the Covenant attack, a team of elite ‘Spartan’ soldiers led by the near-mythical Master Chief (Pablso Schreiber) are dispatched to take care of business.
It’s the first visually impressive battle of the new series, and when Kwan Ha’s the only survivor, she’s taken in by Chief.
Before they leave the planet though, he stumbles upon a mysterious ‘Forerunner’ artefact that unlocks memories from his youth.
Back in the comfort of the UNSC, Chief is ordered to execute Kwan Ha when she refuses to comply with officials’ anti-insurrectionist lines of enquiry - Chief breaks ranks to protect her, and the series’ narrative is set into motion.
The Great Journey
It’s a strong enough opening, and although its front-loads its action and tails off into the relative banality of character introductions in the second half, long-time TV fans will know that judging a series on its first episode is often a mistake.
And sure enough, in the second instalment, things get a little more... interesting.
It quickly becomes apparent that the Halo TV series non-canon approach will take some getting used to for long-time fans.
Not only is this a new tale, it’s one that handpicks choice pillars of the original games’ arcs, and repurposes them for a new structure.
Get ready to see established Halo tropes skewed in awkward ways, rearranged and remoulded, and forced back into the plot.
A fresh take isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in the age of Star Wars’ expanded Disney+ offerings - which tell fresh stories while providing intriguing links to the tales we already know and love - Halo could easily have followed this formula.
It also falls short to Disney in terms of production quality. Props in particular look weightless (one particularly egregious error spotted by fans in the opening is a fantastical alien weapon that the art department has seemingly forgotten to paint, leaving it a stark, polystyrene white), and Master Chief’s imposing ‘Mjolnir’ armour doesn’t look like the hulking piece of space-age metal it should, rather a man playing dress-up in a TV show.
Halo the series isn’t a bad show, far from it. It provides a solid sci-fi tale that takes place with characters and themes that Halo fans will recognise.
New fans especially will get the biggest kicks out of this, and perhaps my opinion is skewered through my love of the original series of games leading me to overthink the show’s biggest, daring decisions.
It’s worth giving this one at least two or three episodes of your time to see if it clicks for you.
When can I watch it?
Paramount+ will launch in the UK on 22 June, so the series will be available to stream for British viewers from that date.
Channel 5, which is also owned by Paramount, is joining the festivities by offering everyone in the United Kingdom a free sample of Halo.
The first episode will air on Channel 5 on Wednesday 22 June 2at 10pm as a “Paramount+ Presents” preview showing.
Halo’s first episode will not be accessible for catch-up on My5 after the ‘live’ broadcast, and will only be available to stream on Paramount+.
You’ll need a Paramount+ subscription if you want to see the future episodes of Halo.