You know, I never expected to be here. To at this moment be writing another review of a Halo booking going, “You know what, it was pretty alright.”. As hardly the biggest fan of the Chief and the franchise as a whole, I wasn’t expecting the books to do much for me. Sure, I enjoy decent sci-fi as much as the next guy but I think we can all agree that Halo is adequate sci-fi even at the best of times? So what is it that convinced me I needed a novelisation of the first Halo game, and why you should give it a shot as well.
Alright, we first need to get the obvious out of the way. This book is based on the original Halo game and in a lot of ways this limitation is felt. It can’t expand greatly on those events and you really ‘feel’ the video game-y-ness in a lot of the action scenes. However, if you came here looking for deep characters, award-winning literature or anything other than a cool retelling of a Halo game with some neat extras, then read a different book. If you like the idea of reading (or listening in my case) about Master Chief and pals shooty bang adventures, then you are in the right place.
Halo: The Flood is more or less a beat by beat retelling and as somebody who boldly claimed to have no idea about the original Halo story in a previous article, it turns out when you listen to a retelling, you remember more than you thought. Turns out the first Halo game was more than driving a warthog through a tunnel, shocking right?
Anyway, the story picks up right after The Fall of Reach book and there are references to the events from that book that were not in the original game (I checked). This is a nice touch if you are reading the books as well as playing the games and it serves to tie the whole Halo universe together. Our main point of view is the Master Chief himself and the book really, really tries to make him have a character this time around. I mean, in The Fall of Reach because there were so many other points of view characters, it mattered less that Master Chief is just Mr Shooty Bang and nothing else, but in The Flood, we mostly follow his path through the events of the original game. This means that we need a little more from him than his usual stoicism and while the book tries it ultimately fails.
There is some ‘banter’ between the Chief and Cortana with the Master Chief coming across a little cheeky and tongue in cheek occasionally. Honestly, I get what they were going for but it comes across more like ‘soldier man with nagging woman’ than any kind of interesting dynamic relationship, which is boring and trite. If you have read The Fall of Reach, then this change in John’s character doesn’t really fit. He is always the professional soldier and isn’t the ‘joker’ that this book half-heartedly tries to make him. I don’t know how much of this kind of humour is present in the original game but each time it happened all it got from me was an eye roll.
Outside of the Master Chief, we also get some human soldiers to follow around as they come to grips with survival on the Halo ring and their ongoing conflicts with The Covenant. This serves as the second most interesting parts of the book as while you don’t spend a massive amount of time getting to know these characters, you do see them as individuals and feel their deaths and struggles. At the end of the day though, they are fairly standard and there is some pretty troubling prisoner of war parts where the book addresses that this is bad and then swiftly uses them. I feel it needed to pick a side. Either go with humans are above this kind of thing or go down the route of they hate them for what they have done to their worlds, friends etc. This middle line dilutes all the characters involved and leaves a worse taste in my mouth than either of the other two extremes.
Moving onto The Covenant, this is where this book shines. Watching Master Chief shooty bang his way across each ‘level’ is certainly fun but it is seeing how aliens operate that is interesting. Their hierarchy and politics are unlike the way the humans operate and it gives you peek behind who they are and why this war has happened. They also have the most interesting characters and portray the Grunts as not really wanting to fight but having no other choice within their society. There is also the ongoing sub-plot of an Elite seeking revenge on Master Chief over a previous scuffle. The single-minded way in which this Elite pursues him, against many of the orders of his superiors, presents one of the few bits of character development within this book.
And that brings us back to our boy, Mr Big Guns himself, Master Chief. There is a certain amount of enjoyable novelty to see him pick ammo and weapons in the same way he does in the games. He also gets to use some Covenant weapons on occasion as well and this serves to further enrich the video game-y-ness of the book. However, it does sometimes go too far in that direction as sections of the book feel like Master Chief is fighting waves of enemies, ala a video game. In a game, this is fine and works within the context or a gameplay loop. However, in a book, it feels like padding. And I can understand it, the story for the original Halo is somewhat thin and to give the Chief a bit more page time, he should totally take down a wave or two. My issue is that the Master Chief bits are the worsed parts of this book. He is boring and occasionally irritating. Instead, we should spend more time with the other humans or, better yet, The Covenant. Or, and this might sound like a crazy idea, have a shorter book?
I get that Master Chief is the focus of the games and books but he is so unbelievably boring it feels like a shame. As a vector for a player to inhabit while they shooty bang across the galaxy, he is fine. I hope further books develop him into something a little more interesting but I’m not holding out too much hope.
Oh and I never mentioned it but The Flood appears in this book. They are fine but Master Chief is in most of their scenes and as such are far from the most interesting parts. However, this book is alright. I enjoyed it. The action scenes are fun, The Covenant bits are great and whenever an explosion happens in the audiobook the narrator shouts BANG or BOOM. If you like Halo, then this is an enriched retelling you’ll probably enjoy. If you don’t like Halo, then you might still enjoy this book and it might give you that itch to play the game again – that’s what it did to me.
Thank you for reading, if you want to see my thoughts on the previous book, The Fall of Reach, head over here or perhaps you are interested in its film adaptation, if so go here. For more general video games, why not read about map reading in Hollow Knight.
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