Halo is a media franchise originating from a computer game, which makes it unusual, since most of the best games come from movies or books. The first game was developed by Bungie in 2001 for Xbox, however the full range of games can be played on the Xbox One, as well as many other platforms on the market.
The premise of this first person shooter game is based on a military science fiction concept, using an artificially-enhanced supersoldier, Master Chief John-117 as the primary character around whom the story unfolds. The Master Chief is aided by Cortana, a sarcastic and witty female artificial intelligence unit.
The games were originally produced in a trilogy, relating the epic story of interstellar wars against a race of aliens called the Covenant. The Covenant are religious fundamentalists led by the Prophets. Their doctrine effectively places all other races as enemies to be destroyed, by default. There is also a deadly parasitic infection known as the Flood, which takes over sentient life on a planet and uses its constituent parts to spread even further.
Humans fight the Covenant, who view them as heretics, by trying to destroy their ring-shaped weapons platform (the Halo Array), and try to avoid bringing the Flood to Earth.
Halo has been critically acclaimed as one of the most successful media franchises ever. In the last 20 years, Bungie has released six main games (Halo Infinite being the most recent, 20th anniversary instalment). In order, they are: Halo: Combat Evolved (2001), Halo 2 (2004), Halo 3 (2007), Halo 4 (2012), Halo 5: Guardians (2015), and Halo Infinite (2021). This is a fairly consistent output, and speaks to the game developers’ planning and organisational strategy, as well as creative output.
Bungie also created a number of side-quest games or spin-offs, featuring different approaches such as real-time strategy, an arcade format, and other games which fleshed out the Halo mythos. They are, in order: Halo Wars (2009), Halo 3: ODST (2009), Halo: Reach (2010), Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition (2011), Halo: Spartan Assault (2013), Halo: The Master Chief Collection (2014), Halo: Spartan Strike (2015), Halo Wars 2 (2017), Halo Recruit (2017), Halo: Fireteam Raven (2018).
In a reverse of the norm, the game has spawned a number of very successful novels, written by a number of authors between 2001 and 2021. To date there are 36 published full-length stories and collections of short stories, which include a novelized version of the original game.
Unsurprisingly, the Halo stories have also been told in graphic novel format, with a collection of 13 graphic novels by a number of different authors and artists.
There are two full-length (really full) films, Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn (2012) and Nightfall (2015), which can also be viewed on the Xbox platform. This is also a television series, which is in the very long and obstacle-plagued process of being filmed, and will be released in 2022, if the Forerunners are kind.
One of the best pieces of genius to emerge from the Halo mythos is a cult hit series called Red vs. Blue. This gameplay series, written and directed by Burnie Burns, Matt Hullum, Monty Oum, Miles Luna and Joe Nicolosi, published by Rooster Teeth Productions, uses gameplay footage from Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3 and Halo: Reach.
The plot of this satirical series centers on two small squads of supersoldiers, stuck out on a barren planet, fighting each other in a perpetual civil war. It gives the sense that they have been forgotten by whomever is in charge, and their dialogue, sometimes hilarious and often absurd, also draws parallels with the troops fighting in the Middle East. The subplots and themes often ring with the question “why are we here?” on a number of different levels, and while the viewer becomes drawn into the deeper rabbit-hole of philosophical musings, the characters’ actual gameplay creates a surface level of humor that is hard to ignore.
One might be forgiven for being reminded of the fan film Troops (1997) by Kevin Rubio.
This series was originally available to download from the Rooster Teeth website as individual episodes of roughly five minutes each. The collections comprise The Blood Gulch Chronicles, Recollections Trilogy, Project Freelancer, Chorus Trilogy, an Anthology Season, and the The Shisno Paradox.
For the first-time Halo Infinite players out there, Halo is a universe, with whole worlds’ worth of stories and adventures, crazy combat action and a genuinely (and surprisingly, for a computer game) well-narrated environment. The game itself might be great, but it is one small piece of a larger puzzle that can be reinforced by looking for the rest of the picture. It is totally worth it to investigate every format, and most importantly, never to forget Red vs. Blue.