01/05/2005. Contributed by Phil Jones
pub: Orbit. 340 page paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 1-84149-420-8.
check out website: www.orbitbooks.co.uk and www.microsoft.com
Most people will be familiar with Halo, developed by Bungie for the Xbox, Mac and PC. If you are unfamiliar, it is basically a first person shoot-'em-up based around the discovery of a huge space ring that humans find in the middle of the war with the Covenant, an alien race hell bent on the destruction of human kind.
The main character, Master Chief, discovers that the Covenant are keen to get to the bottom of what kind of weapon Halo is. Master Chief discovers there is a lot more to Halo and those who inhabit the ring and the Covenant who wants to gain control.
This book is a prequel to the first game. It covers the basic background of the major characters within the first game. We get to follow Master Chief, John, as he is selected at the age of five, taken away from his home and his parents to joins a secret project to develop augmented super-soldiers know as SPARTANs.
We follow Captain Keyes from his initial involvement with the inception of the SPARTAN project and his and the humans first contact with the Covenant. The only message the humans receive from the Covenant is that they wish to totally eradicate the human race, genocide on a huge scale. No mercy, just wipe human colonies clean.
They change tactics at Sigma Octanus IV, dropping landing ships on the planet surface and withdrawing the rest of their ships from the system. They are searching for something. The SPARTANs are sent into to rescue civilians and recover control but discover the Covenant are looking for something, a mineral sample with encoded information encrypted into its mineral structure. A ship intercepts the subsequent transmission of the mineral's structure and the naval 'Spooks', a covert body of secretive agents within the navy, are hard pressed to translate it into anything meaningful.
The book builds up to the events that are the starting point of the first game. Reach the humans and the naval headquarters location is found by the covenant and they attack in force. The SPARTAN soldiers are all killed bar John who is left on the ship with Captain Keyes and AI Cortana.
Most media spin-offs on the whole tends to be 'search for more cash' type material devoid of content or integrity. There are of course, a few exceptions. 'Halo' as a first person shoot-'em-up is slightly unusual as it is quite heavily story driven and not just reliant on set pieces or action alone. This has obviously helped authors who have taken on these spin-off books as they have quite a lot to go on.
The book introduces all the characters that are familiar to any player of the 'Halo' games. It mainly revolves around John (Master Chief) as he grows up and is trained. There is plenty of action, but these scenes, especially at the start of the book, feel a bit flat and it's not until the last quarter of the book these really come to life. I'm all for saving the best till last, but this I feel leaves the start of the book a bit of a missed opportunity. The background of familiar characters is dealt within a workman-like fashion. Character development is left a little bit on the backburner, along with the moral dilemmas these characters face. I think more could have been made of these. Dr. Halsey's struggle with kidnapping young children and carrying out biological, genetic and augmentation experiments on them could have been broadened out without affecting the book's pace and added more depth.
John (Master Chief) is described as intelligent both in this book and also comes across in the games but quite a few times in the story he is portrayed as being a bit slow and a bit of a military grunt/meathead. OK, he grew up in a militaristic society but give the man a bit of room to grow. Eric Nylund does allow John to question events and chain of command, but this is thrown into confusion sometimes by John's basically dumb behaviour.
This book I will agree is not a social or political commentary, but it would have been good to see the characters breath, live and think a bit more. Overall, though, it's a reasonable book. It does the job it's supposed to. Introduce the world of Halo and its characters and how they reached the event horizon that is the start of the game 'Halo'. I did enjoy it and it's an easy read. If you're a fan of 'Halo' then give this go but even if you have never heard of 'Halo', you find enough to get you into this world and should derive enough enjoyment to keep you coming back for more.
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