Halo: Reach – A Fantastic Exploration of the Cost of War

Buy Halo - REACH - Microsoft Store

     “Halo: Reach” is easily the best “Halo” game of the Franchise. This is a story with stakes and consequences and some phenomenal character development. This was the first time the UNSC characters are truly compelling and humanity is complex and nuanced. This is something the core games of the Franchise don’t really give us. They give us human archetypes but not nuance and complexity (at least in Halo 1-3 (haven’t played ODST or 5). This is also a game with a ton of mission variety and does the rising stakes really well, nearly as well as the original game.

The game was developed by Bungie and produced by Microsoft Studios.

The story follows a group of 5 Spartans called Noble Team when Noble Six joins their team as they investigate what the Covenant is doing on the planet of Reach.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – This game continues the quality soundtrack from past games and does a wonderful job playing on the heart strings when we experience character deaths or moments of heroism. Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori continue their amazing work.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is the height of “Halo” as we get the greatest variety of missions and the levels get progressively harder. You get the great ground vehicle combat of the later Halo games (2 and 3 specifically) some amazing space combat that I haven’t seen in any other Halo game and the greatest variety covenant foes as you face both Elites and Brutes along with the standard variety of Grunts, Jackals, Drones and Hunters. I had so much fun beating this game and playing the missions again with a friend.

Dr. Halsey – Dr. Halsey created the Spartan program and because of this it is hard to call her good. The Spartans we meet were child soldiers and not all of them survived when they were turned into Super Soldiers. To them she admits care and keeps distance between and feels angry when they question her judgment and calls. She is a wonderfully complex character and I wish the Franchise as a whole could have given us more nuanced humans like her. She also created Cortana and it is up to your team to get Cortana to The Pillar of Autumn.

Noble Team – I love Noble Team. Noble Six (the player character) is the heroic rookie who always has his teammates back and is inspired by their actions. You have the reserved leader Carter who is easily the most balanced of them. He sacrifices his life to stop a giant Covenant Scarab Tank from killing you and Emile. You have Jun the thoughtful sniper and one survivor the the Fall of Reach. You have Kat who is Carter’s second-in-command the one willing to take risks to learn truth or complete the mission who is sadly killed by a sniper when evacuating civilians. There is Emile who is the hardened soldier who warms to you over time (wears a skull painting over his helmet) and dies from an Elite’s sword and there is Jorge. Jorge is the only Spartan-II on the Team and risks his life to defeat the Covenant cruiser above Reach. He is the first to inspire Noble Six and his death is felt by the team as each of them probably knows that his end will most likely be their end as well. This element of tragedy and getting to know your team is what I wish “Rogue One” could have been. This is the suicide mission done right.

The Ending and Fall of Reach – This game is the story of how Reach fell to the Covenant and even you as a Spartan Super Soldier is unable to change that. What the game does well though is that you rescue tons of civilians and in the end deliver Cortana to The Pillar of Autumn which saves humanity in the long run. This is all expressed in the Epilogue which has power behind it as you see nearly every member of Noble Team die except for Jun who survives. This is one of the few games where you lose and in turn it does a fantastic job of giving the player the cost of war.

The Cost of War – This game shows us the cost of war both in the lost of civilians and soldiers and how no matter how heroic a person is, sometimes you die in battle. This is told through the loss of the majority of Noble Team and the events they witness as they attempt to save as many lives as possible.

This is the best of the “Halo” Franchise and I hope if they continue to make “Halo” games that they will learn from this one. It is possible to tell a complete and contained story that has stakes without the need for it to be apocalyptic and world ending. This game is the story on a personal level and is elevated all the more because of it. I wish humans had been written this well in the other games as this game truly shows the potential and amazingness of the Halo Universe.

Final Score: 10 / 10 The perfect “Halo” Game.

 

The Invisible Man (2020): A Powerful Exploration of Abuse

The Invisible Man | Universal Pictures

      “The Invisible Man” is a great film that explores what it is like to live with an abusive partner. Blumhouse seems to be the type of Studio that either puts out powerful films (like this and “Get Out”) or Redbox level forgettable crap (“Split,” etc.). Suffice to say this is a film well worth your time and worth checking out if you are a horror fan. I’m glad that Universal got away from the Dark Universe Franchise after the failure of “The Mummy” as the original film for this had Johnny Depp as the “Invisible Man” and hero. Instead we are given an amazing heroine and a story that makes a larger point.

The film was written and directed by Leigh Whannell.

The story follows Cecilia Cass as she escapes from her abusive and wealthy boyfriend. After it is believed he killed himself she finds herself haunted when mysterious occurrences happen around her sister’s house.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise is intriguing as you have a woman escaping abuse and her boyfriend was CEO of an advanced tech. company and it is from this that the idea of the “Invisible Man” is born. From this premise the horrifying nature of psychological abuse is explored as well as privacy being touched upon too as some of the film viewed through the lense of a video camera.

The Horror and Exploration of Abuse – The horror aspect is handled really well as her boyfriend uses his invisibility suit to drug her so she loses memory (and a job interview). He hacks her computer and has her send a horrible email to her sister and at one point slaps her sister’s child making it look like Cecilia did it. This comes to a height when he kills her sister in a public place and puts the knife in her hand, making it look like Cecilia did it. The horror through the loss of control she has over her life, when she had so little to begin with living with him (he told her what to wear and how to act) is done really well and is what makes the film work. Like other survivors of abuse, she doesn’t know who she can trust and is left questioning every truth she discovers as even her boyfriend in “death” tries to control her life.

Cecilia Cass – Elisabeth Moss does such a powerful job in this role. She gives Cecilia strength and resolve as well as capturing the desperation she feels in her escape from abusive boyfriend and as her life crumbles around her. This arc is completed after she is framed for her sister’s murder and she brings the fight to her boyfriend as we learn her boyfriend’s brother was working with him and is stopped from murdering her niece and brother-in-law. It is as this point she begins to take control and confronts her now discovered boyfriend and frees herself from his abuse and control.

The Ending – In the end Cecilia finally gets revenge. She uses her boyfriend’s technology against him and makes it look like he killed himself. After this her cop brother-in-law covers it up for her and she is finally free from the man who had made her a prisoner.

Okay:

The Supporting Cast – The supporting cast is pretty unmemorable. I’m not putting them as a con as the performances aren’t bad…I just couldn’t tell you what the motivations were beyond base greed and control in regards to the antagonists. Her sister, her brother-in-law and the niece are all caring people but I don’t know what they do and what motivates their day to day. If this had been fleshed out it would have boosted this film higher in score.

The Cons:

The Tech. Company and Larger World – This is a film that misses a lot of details that would have made it a favorite film if they’d been explored better. We learn her boyfriend is CEO of a tech. company but we never see how the company makes so much money. It exists and is used like a prop when it could have been so much more and fleshed out who the character of her boyfriend and his brother were further.

If you are looking for a great horror film during this time of Covid-19 and quarantine I would highly recommend this one. It doesn’t feel long, it has a powerful message against abuse and Elisabeth Moss’s performance carries this film. I hope we see Blumhouse put out more films of this quality and that the other former Dark Universe films will realize how well this works and continue the trend of individual films that are complete on their own and not part of an extended universe. Any great story can stand on it’s own and doesn’t need to be part of a franchise.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Halo 2: Anniversary – Great Lore Caught in the Center of a Trilogy

Halo 2: Anniversary PC | Halo: The Master Chief Collection - YouTube

  “Halo 2” is another of the “Halo Series” I played back in High School but didn’t have the chance to beat until I bought the “Master Chief Collection” when it came out for PC. This game improves on the gameplay from the first game and adds a ton of lore (a lot of which is to explain the events of the first game) and overall it is good. The things that bring it down are some of the cliche story elements, some of the added story from “Halo 5” and the fact that it is clearly the middle of a Trilogy storywise so the ending isn’t as complete as it could be. Either way, if you enjoyed the first game and are invested in the lore like me this one is well worth your time.

The game was Published by Microsoft Studios and developed by Bungie, Blur Studio and Certain Affinity.

The story follows Master Chief who has returned to Earth when the Prophet of Regret of the Covenant attacks Earth. At the same time Thel ‘Vadam the Elite Commander who failed to stop Master Chief from destroying the Halo is made into the Arbiter as he begins to learn more about the internal politics of the Covenant and the truth behind the faith they follow.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematics – Blur Studio has created some of the best looking cinematics I have seen in any game. The Anniversary edition gives us movie level quality between missions and crafts some fantastic drama that fully captures the unique design of the Covenant species, the epicness of the ships and the personalities within the individual characters on screen.

The Soundtrack – The Soundtrack once again captures the epic nature of the events you are taking place in. This time it does some in a hard rock fashion, which I thought would be distracting but still work really well and gave an apocalyptic feel to some of the scenes. The sounds from Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori from the original game with Kazuma Jinnouchi using it in the new edition is simply handled beautifully.

The Gameplay – The gameplay does nothing but improve upon the first game. Vehicles are easier and actually fun to control. You can dual wield guns and you have the energy sword that is absolutely deadly, fantastic and fun.

The Covenant – The Covenant story is the most compelling part of “Halo 2.” Within the game we get to see the power struggle between the Prophets (Regret attacks Earth early in order to bring about the Great Journey and become a God) ends in failure and Truth lets Mercy be devoured by the Flood on their Capital of High Charity when the Flood invade. He also starts the Civil War by blaming the Elite’s for Regret’s death and being a major reason for the Brutes ascending to Honor Guards. This Civil War is what dominates the narrative and the historical records we get from the Terminals are fascinating as the Prophets go into how they came to dominate different species and brought them into the Covenant.

Tartarus and the Brutes -Tartarus and the Brutes are the new antagonist in the game as we see them become the new Honor Guard in the Covenant. They are large, gorilla-like aliens that take a lot of hits and can go into Berserk mode when enraged. Their leader Tartarus is clever too as he uses the Arbiter to get Guilty Spark to the Prophets and nearly succeeds in achieving Truth’s goals. They are a fantastic threat and were really fun to fight. After “Halo Wars 2” and the Banished faction it was really cool to see their origin in the Covenant and the Brute’s rise to power in this game.

The Prophets – The Prophets are one of the fascinating antagonists of the game. Regret acts quickly and ends up defeated by Master Chief and consumed by Gravemind and the Flood. Mercy is attempting to keep Harmony among the different species that make up the Covenant and Truth is ego and power and only sees others as means to an end. In the end he outmaneuvers the others, causes a Covenant Civil War and is on his way to Earth to activate the Ark and bring about “The Great Journey” which he believes will bring about his ascension to Godhood. This game made me appreciate the Prophets as antagonists.

File:H2A - Gravemind.png

Gravemind and the Flood – Gravemind is this lovecraftian horror made up of all the minds it has consumed. It is ancient and extremely intelligent as it uses Master Chief and the Arbiter as weapons against High Charity to weaken it’s defenses enough for it to invade. At the end of the game he has control over Cortana as well giving him control of the Forerunner technology, the Covenant (The Prophet Regret and probably Mercy at this point) and Cortana for humanity. It is extremely creepy and scary and the design for this being is nightmare fuel.

Attack on High Charity – One of the funnest parts of the game is the Attack on High Charity. Gravemind warps the two of them to the Capitol City of the Covenant as they seek to stop Tartarus from activating the Halo Ring and the Prophet of Truth from reaching the Ark. Tartarus is stopped but the Prophet of Truth escapes and in the chaos and destabilization of the Capitol City the Flood take hold and you witness their consuming of the installation over the course of both missions. It is horrifying as you witness a Civil War in real time when Truth blames the Elites for Regret’s death and call for their annihilation and of course the horror as the Flood arrive and consume. This whole segment is really fun to play and keeps the stakes high in a way the original game kept consistent throughout.

Betrayals – This is a game full of betrayals. Regret betrays Truth and Mercy when he attacks earth Early who in turn betray him. Tartarus and the Prophets betray the Arbiter have her gets them Guilty Spark and the Prophets betrays the Elites. On top of this Gravemind uses and betrays the Arbiter and Master Chief, though I doubt they ever trusted the creature at any point.

Thel ‘Vadam the Arbiter – Keith David is absolutely amazing voice the Arbiter Thel ‘Vadam. Vadam was the Elite who failed to stop Master Chief from destroying the Halo in the first game and is punished for it, being made the Arbiter which the Covenant have turned into their enforcer to send on impossible missions. His arc is realizing that all he learned about was a lie and in turn becomes a leader among his people when the Covenant turns on them. He is also the first to reach out to humanity after he defeats Tartarus and prevents the newly discovered Halo from being activated. This a character with self-hatred who finds his dignity once more and never stops fighting or caring about his people.

File:H2A-Arbiter&Co.jpg

Okay:

Master Chief and Cortana – Master Chief and Cortana are at the point where they can nearly predict what the other will do. They are the perfect fighting team so this game works hard to seperate them as in the end the only way to save the world is for Master Chief to get onto the Prophet of Truth’s ship while Cortana stays behind on the Covenant homeworld of High Charity as it is consumed by the Flood and she is captured by Gravemind.

Sargent Avery Johnson and Commander Miranda Keyes – Sargent Johnson and Commander Keyes are alright. Sargent Johnson has the “devil may care’ attitude and somehow survived the first game (2 only addresses as classified, which is lazy). Commander Keyes’s father Captain Keyes is the Captain consumed by the Flood in the first game and here she carries on his legacy in the fight against the Flood and Covenant. Like Cortana and Master Chief they never get out of the tropes but they were compelling enough to keep me involved.

The Cons:

Damsels to be Saved – Commander Avery is captured by the Brute leader Tartarus and it is up to Master Chief and Sargent Johnson to save her. Cortana is captured by Gravemind at the end of the game too. This is a shame as before this both characters have a lot of agency and drive the action. It is only turned around at the end the Bowser equivalents of the game capture them.

A Story Caught in the Middle of a Series – One of the biggest things that goes against the narrative and wonderful story we are given is the fact that it ends on a Cliffhanger so things can be concluded in “Halo 3.” Gravemind has captured Cortana and High Charity, The Prophet of Truth is going to the Ark on Earth (with Master Chief on board) and plans to activate the Halos to end the Universe and the Arbiter teams up with Johnson and Keyes. These are huge hanging threads which leaves the game feeling incomplete, unlike the first “Halo.”

The Added Content from “Halo 5” – There is an added scene at the beginning of the Arbiter talking to new Spartan who is hunting for Master Chief and it sets up the game as him recounting the story. I wasn’t a big fan of this as it took away of the stakes of the narrative of any major character being at risk. At this point the Arbiter and Master Chief are both confirmed alive at the beginning of the game. This hurt the stakes immediately.

Master Chief Rides a Bomb – Master Chief becomes God Level at this point and I was no longer afraid of him ever being truly at risk. He rode a disarmed bomb and destoryed a Covenant carrier and landed safely on an UNSC. The first “Halo” had nothing like this so within the game it still felt like Master Chief could get hurt or experience pain. After this act of insanity that he walks away from untouched he ceased having any kind of vulnerability.

The greatest parts of this game are the stories that come out of the Covenant. The Civil War that arises where we have Arbiter and the Elites with Hunters and Grunts on their side facing against the Prophets, Brutes, Jackals and Drones. The politics and how compalling Thel ‘Vadam’s arc is is what made the story work. The human story when Master Chief isn’t doing the impossible is fine but it never elevates itself. The characters are never as complex as the heroes and villains that make up the races of the Covenant and that is why I can’t rate the game higher. As an experience it is very well done and I still highly recommend it, especially the “Anniversary Edition.” This is a beautiful, fun and compelling game and I look forward to when “Halo 3” is released on PC within the “Mater Chief Collection.”

Final Score: 8.6 / 10 The human story never reaches the height of the Covenant story and the fact that it ends on a cliffhanger setting up “Halo 3” and the Trilogy of the war against the Covenant brings it down from feeling complete and from being rated higher.

“Watchmen” Season 1 – A Solid Sequel That Speaks to Oppression and Justice

Amazon.com: Watch Watchmen - Season 1 | Prime Video

    “Watchmen” is one of my favorite comics of all time. It is a complete story that I’ve gone back and re-read multiple times and each time I notice more details or layers in the story. Alan Moore is truly a genius warlock. “Watchmen” was always going to have more stories come out of it though. Alan Moore never owned it so DC incorporated the characters into the rest of the DC Universe and did a whole “Before Watchmen” series that I have yet to read. So knowing this I was curious to see what Lindelof and HBO would do. Suffice to say, overall I think they did a good job. “Watchmen” never needed a sequel or prequel but this at least tells a story that matters.

This is a flawed and really good series. Like the original “Watchmen” it tackles matters of oppression and power of the past and present and gives us the evil and insidiousness of white supremacy as well as exploring how we face and deal with trauma. Without getting into spoilers this is a show I would recommend. The main parts where it falls is when it tries to incorporate too much from the original comics and where it stands strongest is where it tells it’s own powerful story.

The series was created by Damon Lindelof and produced by HBO.

The story follows Angela Abar / Sister Night (Regina King) as she works to uncover and stop a white supremacist organization known as the Seventh Kavalry who take their inspiration from Rorschach.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and an amazing job on this soundtrack. They give this series a dark and fantastic feel to it and it was part of what kept me involved in the story through all the different events that happen. The music is intense and blends so well with the events that take place.

The Universe – This is the Universe of “Watchmen” a world of superheroes, high technology and that reflects the problems of our own world. Like the original comic this is a world meant to reflect the oppression in our own and this show’s universe captures that beautifully.

Wade Tillman / Looking Glass – Wade Tillman was a Jehovah’s Witness who was there during the event of the Giant Squid that stopped the Doomsday clock. After he is conned and left naked in a carnival he leaves the hall of mirrors to the apocalypse from the event. This changes everything about his character and he becomes a person seeking truth as part of the police force and becoming the vigilante Looking Glass who wears a tin foil mask (and has it in his hats) to protect from psychic attacks. He is played so well by Tim Blake Nelson and seeing his arc payoff as he takes off the mask as he confronts his trauma and film is powerfully executed in the narrative.

Will Reeves / Hooded Justice – Will Reeves’s story is the main overarching narrative and the strongest arc in the show. Will’s family was killed by Klan during the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 where white supremacists burned Black Wall Street to the ground and massacred the residents living there. Will and a baby he rescues are some of few survivors of the event. After this he becomes a cop in New York City and attempts to take on the Ku Klux Klan as a cop but due to systemic racism and white supremacists on the police force he is nearly lynched and adopts the identity Hooded Justice to fight against them. Eventually this costumed identity and his own repressed sexuality lead to his relationship ending between his wife and son (He has a relationship with Captain Metropolis like in the comics) and he stops being Hooded Justice until Dr. Manhattan pulls him back into the story in order to protect his Granddaughter from the Klan who are active in Tulsa. During his time as Hooded Justice he also has to pretend to be white under the mask due the racism and prejudice of those around him with Captain Metropolis being the only one who knows his true identity. 3 different actors portray Will Reeves and each of them do a fantastic job. Louis Gossett Jr. plays him when he is 100, Jovan Adepo plays him during his time in the Minutemen and

The Pasts Revealed – The strongest parts of the story are the backstories of the characters. I loved getting Angela Abar’s backstory growing up in Vietnam and how the murder of her parents inspired her to be a cop. Looking Glass’s story as a victim of the psychic attack on New York with the giant Squid was fantastic too as was Will Reeves’s story. These stories are all told in flashback and are the strongest narratives in the show as a whole.

Systemic Oppression – Systemic Oppression through white supremacism and colonialism are major themes in the show. The story begins with Will surviving the massacre of Tulsa by the Klan and we see how entrenched racism is within the police force and politics of the United States as he grows up. In each part of his life it is revealed in a different way. From the cops being members of the KKK and protecting the KKK, from having to pretend to be white among the Minutemen and the Police Chief and Senator from Tulsa also being members of the KKK and his working with Lady Trieu to stop them from getting Dr. Manhattan’s power. Will Reeves and Angela Abar reveal these stories. We also see colonialism in the death of Angela’s parents as Vietnam is made the 51st state and it is a man fighting for Vietnamese Independence who kills them by setting off a bomb. I wish the colonial narrative had been explored further but how it explores systemic racism and white supremacy in the United States is done extremely well.

Tulsa, Oklahoma – The greatest stories in this show are the ones that tackle the oppression in the past and present. We start with the Tulsa Massacre and how that shapes Will Reeves and see that oppression in White Night when white supremacists attack Angela Abar and her family. Tulsa holds the history of so much oppression in the United States and the show doesn’t shy away from that reality as well as also giving us the story of African-Americans who fought to stay against racism and oppression and make a life after it was taken away from them and their ancestors. Tulsa is the heart of the show as all the events of the show transpire here and the ways it explores oppression and justice are part of what lends so much power to the story.

Okay:

Trieu Industries – Trieu Industries is one of my the major players of the story as Lady Trieu is trying to capture the power of Dr. Manhattan and is the one pulling the strings behind many of the events of the story. She is daughter of Adrian Veidt and wants to use the power of Dr. Manhattan to end injustice. We get some of her motivation in her mother’s story Bian, who was a Vietnamese immigrant who was a cleaning lady who worked for Veidt and stole a semen sample to get back at him. From this we can see her aims and she wipes out the Klan who are under the guise of Cyclops and the Seventh Kavalry but we don’t get more beyond this. I hated the fact that they made her Veidt daughter as she didn’t need that “Watchmen” connection to be a compelling character and it made the world of the show so small as everyone was connected to a member of the Watchmen in some way which limited the original stories that were being told. Trieu Industries wasn’t bad but there was so much unused potential and Lady Trieu’s desire to become a God needed much more exploration.

The Cons:

Dr. Manhattan and His Use – Dr. Manhattan functions as a McGuffin in the story whose very prescence ruins the stakes. He causes a paradox when his conversations with Angela Abar cause events to happen that already happened and the fact that he is only defined as those wanting his power causes him to be ildefined. We get to see him become a God and create a civilization on the moon Europa but that doesn’t go anywhere beyond getting Adrian Veidt out of the story for a bit until he can be there to save the day and be held accountable for the original Psychic Squid attack. Dr. Manhattan’s only purpose seems to be to connect characters together (Will and Angela) and to be the McGuffin all the enemies want. This is a shame as the time he is the human Cal are quite compelling. It is once he becomes a God again that things fall apart and in turn reveal the weakness in the plot.

The Final – The final ends with Adrian Veidt returning back to Earth after his daughter rescues him from his asked for exile on Europa (where he simply entertains himself until being rescued). He stops his daughter with the squids as he freezes them and breaks Lady Trieu’s machine, keeping her from ascending to godhood. After that he is taken in by Laurie Blake and Wade Tillman to stand crimes for the 3 million he killed with the psychic squid attack on New York and we get the suggestion that Angela, who was in a relationship with Dr. Manhattan may have inherited his power. Given how his power was useless for saving people so much of the time I wonder if this is really a rewarding ending. Being Dr. Manhattan is a curse and this show does little to show that it would not be the case for whomever became him next. Veidt being brought to justice and killing his daughter felt tacked on and as great as Jeremy Irons is as Veidt, his story was the weakest.

This is a series that isn’t perfect and I think telling it an anthological way would lend to the strengths inherent in the writing. This is Angela Abar and Will Reeves’s story is the best part of the show and speaks to oppression in the past and present. It is the times that it gets cosmic with Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandius that it really falls apart. This is a show I would still highly recommend. HBO made it free to watch over Juneteenth to educate people about the Tulsa Massacre and to remind people of the ongoing oppression of African-Americans here in the United States as well as the impacts of colonialism in the world. This is a powerful show that is well worth your time. I hope it inspires action as the fight for equity and justice is ongoing and it is only through action and work that anything will change.

8.6 / 10 The ending issues bring down the solid character narratives.

In the ongoing fight for justice and equality here is the Tulsa Justice Fund.

https://www.tulsajusticefund.com/

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary – Still A Great Space Opera and Introduction to an Awesome Universe

Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary HD Wallpaper | Combat evolved ...

“Halo” is a game that I played multiple times growing up, but never had the chance to complete until now. I remember playing it at friend’s houses in High School and College and each time found myself fully drawn and involved in whatever mission we’d do or if we’d start from the beginning. This is game is an epic space opera and the simple mystery and story serves it so well. The gameplay also holds up after all these years and the A.I. being strategic leads to some wonderful challenges during the missions. Without going into spoilers, this is a game that has been out for years and is one I highly recommend. I bought the “Master Chief Collection” on Steam and the Anniversary version of “Halo” gives you the fascinating option of tabbing between the original graphics that look like they are from an N64 in quality to the more beautiful modern graphics today. If you are a fan of shooters and science fiction games I’d say this one is well worth a buy.

The original “Halo” was made in 2001 with Microsoft releasing the “Anniversary” version in 2011. The “Anniversary edition was developed by 343 Industries and Saberinteractive, with Bungie, Gearbox Interactive and Westlake Interactive developing the original game with the publisher being Microsoft Studious and Macsoft.

The story follows Master Chief when he is awoken from cryosleep when the retreating United Nations Space Command (UNSC) ship Pillar of Autumn stumbles upon a mysterious Halo. From here Master Chief and Cortana must uncover the mysteries surrounding the Halo and what the enemy Covenant forces are seeking upon it.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Gameplay – The gameplay still holds up to this day. The enemies react and think strategically, with Elites jumping and dodging and the grunts who follow them panicking. There are also the Hunters who can only be hurt by being shot in the back and Flood who have multiple weapons and attack in hordes. You can use Covenant weapons and vehicles and the play very different from UNSC vehicles and weapons. The mission progression forces you to learn and get good with all of these things and rewards you for well done tactics against them. The game is so much fun.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack one of the best in any videogame. It has this gothic operatic feel to it that gives you the stakes and how epic the war to save humanity is. Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori truly created a beautiful masterpiece. I’ve used this soundtrack in the past for creative writing it inspires so.

The Universe – This a fantastic universe we are introduced to. We have humanity on the run but still fighting against the larger Covenant forces that are seeking to wipe them out. Along with this we get the mystery of the Halo and with it the Forerunners and the Flood and hints at a greater world that we are a part of. I’m a huge fan of this universe and finally finishing the game that started it all showed me where it all began.

The Covenant – The Covenant as they are presented in this game are an Alliance of aliens seeking to annihilate humanity. They have advanced technology and are seeking power to end the war. I loved fighting them. The Elites have cloaked units, can ride vehicles and command Jackels (snipers) and Grunts (the main ground soldiers) against you as well as fielding large creatures called the Hunters who travel in packs of 2. When the Flood are released they are in the same boat as you as the Flood overwhelm both the Human and Covenant forces on the Halo.

The Flood – The Flood are a parasitic species who turn their hosts into zombies and seek to consume all life. They are so creepy and I loved their horror movie introduction and the fact that they send so many at you with such a variety of weapons that you need to always be moving in order not to get overwhelmed. This game is full of apocoylptic threats to Humanity…from the Covenant, to Guilty Spark and the purpose of the Halos and the most horrifying unending Flood.

The Mystery of the Halo – The Halo function a lot like the Reapers in “Mass Effect.” They are there to wipe out all organic life so that the Flood will not win as all it takes is one flood in order to spread and when they spread they cannot stop…so the Forerunner plan was to starve them and ending all life was the way to do so. We see this all through Master Chief and Cortana’s eyes as they learn about the truth of the Halo along with us. This was great storytelling and part of what makes the game work so well.

343 Guilty Spark – Guilty Spark is an A.I. who in has lost all contact with the other Halos. You get the idea it’s gone a little made in the time it has been and all it really has is the program and activating the Halo if the Flood ever becomes free. Guilty Spark is very matter of fact even while doing devastating experiments and even has nostalgia at the time before during the Forerunners, which you can listen to at Terminals. It really is a fascinating character and I liked the twist that in the end it was the main antagonist, not the Flood or Covenant who had been the main threats through most of the game.

The Rising Stakes and Ending – This movie has consistent rising stakes and in the end all the people Master Chief was trying to protect are destroyed by the Covenant, Flood or when Master Chief and Cortana destroy the Halo. The universe is saved but it costs everything. I felt that and the game handles the rising stakes so well. You begin saving squads to bring the fight to the Covenant but then your Squad releases the Flood and eventually they consume your boss Captain Keyes and most of the UNSC forces. Even at the end the dropship coming to save you is shot down by Covenant Banshees leaving you to make a last minute escape out of the Pillar of Autumn before you blow up the core and prevent Guilty Spark from activating the Halo.

Okay:

Master Chief and Cortana – Master Chief is alright. I appreciate how sassy Cortana is to him but I don’t know his motivation beyond the mission or why he was in cryosleep. They care about the crew and their fellow soldiers but I feel like the relationship could have been developed further. These were two minds that needed to depend fully on one another to destroy the Halo and stop Guilty Spark from destroying all life in the Universe. Again, they weren’t bad but the relationship was pretty basic compared to Jack and BT in “Titanfall 2.”

The Cons:

Defining Enemy Leadership – We have the Flood and the Covenant but in the first game we don’t really learn much about who are what they are or who leads them. We know both are aliens and the Flood are all about consuming everything but Guilty Spark has way more definition and clear goals than either forces. I know this gets rectified in 2 but if Halo 2 had never been made and this is how the world had ended the game would feel underwritten here. They all still feel like a threat and the stakes continue to rise, but I wanted more world building in this game. We see everything through Master Chief’s eyes but besides Cortana and Guilty Spark not many people answer his questions or give him information beyond the mission.

This is one of my favorite games and it does still hold up after all these years. If you are a fan of first-person shooters, epic science fiction space operas and want an introduction to one of my favorite science fiction universes you should check out this game. This game is a classic and was Microsoft’s way of selling their game systems for good reason. I look forward to beating the rest of the series.

Final Score: 9 / 10 Solidly great introduction to this fantastic universe.

Titanfall 2 – Mercs, Mechs and a Hero’s Journey

Titanfall 2 - Cover Poster | Sold at Abposters.com

      “Titanfall 2” is one of the best RPGs I have ever played. I have not played the other games in the “Titanfall Franchise” but after this I think I will. I’ve always been a fan of science fiction and mechs. This is a game with rich lore, awesome gameplay and a truly memorable story and multi-player. This is a very beautiful game and the game itself is on par with the cinematics that take place before and after action in the campaign. I’ll get into more details below but this is a game that I highly recommend.

The game was developed by Respawn Entertainment and distributed by Electronic Arts while being directed and written by Steve Fukuda who co-wrote it with Jesse Stern and Manny Hagopian.

The story follows Jack Cooper (Matthew Mercer) as he trains to become a pilot of a Titan when his first mission goes awry leading to him being forced to become a Pilot of a Titan and fulfill the original mission.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Graphics and Cinematics – This is an immersive and beautiful game. Whether it is in-game or the videos between missions and before they start. It pulls you into the world and the life of a Titan pilot.

Frontier Defense – Frontier Defense is one of the multi-player options and it is my favorite multi-player co-op I’ve played in a long time. Frontier Defense has you choose Titans who play different roles as you protect the Harvester from attacks from IMC forces as they attack you in 5 waves. My favorite Titans are Scorch who is a defensive heavy and Ion who is an offensive unit with a fantastic lazer attack as their ultimate. I’ve tried out all the Titans and learning how to play them all and leveling up their skills gives Frontier Defense so much replay value. I’ve been playing it with two of my friends and look forward to doing so once more.

The Campaign – The campaign is solid and is a wonderful hero’s journey. No character is complicated but the simple tropes they represent are given nuance and no character is perfect. The stakes also remain high through the entire narrative as you have to stop the IMC from using a Fold weapon powered by the Ark that they hope to use the destroy the militia homeworld of Harmony. After your mentor is killed he hands over control of his Titan By-7274 to you in order for you to fulfill the mission and stop the IMC and the Apex Predator mercenaries they have sent after you.

A Hero’s Journey and BT-7274 – Jack Cooper’s story is a fairly basic hero’s journey. Jack goes from being a rifleman who is thrust into the role of a Titan Pilot after his mentor is killed. It is at this point that we see him and BT-7274 develop trust and affection for one another. BT is very literal while Jack likes to joke around. I really enjoyed their dynamic and how their relationship is developed as BT learns to understand different expressions of speech and in the end sacrifices his life to save Jack as losing his former pilot forever changed and he would do anything to never lose another pilot. BT is the best character in the game and I felt when he sacrificed himself in the end to save the day.

The Apex Predators – The Apex Predators are the mercenaries sent by IMC to stop the Frontier Militia this game. There are the unhinged members like Kane and Richter. Professionals like  Ash, Viper and Slone and the leader Blisk who respects you so much after defeating his crew that he gives you one of their cards and lets you live. Fighting them once so much fun as each involved different tactics. Viper attacked you from the air and had heavy adds attacking you. Ash was fast and fought melee style in her Titan and Slone attacked with a bunch of different adds, could warp around the area and had a powerful lazer attack. Defeating each of these bosses was part of what made the campaign so much fun and I loved their unique personalities and Titans.

The Cons:

The IMC – The Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC) are the overarching big bad is just an evil corporation trying to wipe out the rebellion (Frontier Militia). The Apex Predators all have unique personalities and drives but the only agenda of the IMC is to wipe out the Frontier Militia. What is the world they imagine and want? We get flashbacks of them in control of the planet but never what their overarching ideology and goals are. This was a shame as they felt wasted as an antagonist.

If you are looking for a game with a fantastic campaign, fun multi-player and intriguing world you should check this game out. I intend to check out the rest of the “Titanfall Franchise.” If the rest of the series is this fun then I can’t wait to explore the wonderful lore and universe of this fantastic sci. fi. series. To anyone looking for a great FPS with an amazing immersive world than this is the game for you.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

To The Moon – A Beautiful Exploration of Trauma, Love and Dreams

Save 75% on To the Moon on Steam

   “To The Moon” is an amazing game and story. It was created by Kan Gao on the RPG Maker XP and gives us a wonderful psychological science fiction story. This is a game that I highly recommend. There is a solid mystery story and the soundtrack draws you into the conflict and world that Kan Gao created. I’ll be getting into the details of what make the game work later on so I want to get the great told up front as the mystery is what drives the story. I did this game as a “Let’s Play” where I played through it with one of my closest friends who introduced me to the game in the first place.

The game was created by Kan Gao and developed and published by Freebird Games.

The story follows Dr. Watts and Dr. Roselane who work for the Sigmund Corporation whose job is to fulfill dying people’s last wish. The two Doctors must fulfill Johnny’s wish by entering his memories and help him get to the Moon.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is absolutely beautiful. It is reminscent of Claude Debussy, specifically “Claire de Lune.” Kan Gao and Laura Shigihara did an absolutely fantastic job on this soundtrack. There is a melancholy feel to the entire soundtrack and it blends in well with the themes of trauma and love that are explored over the course of the game.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is simple but fun. You move around as the Doctors collecting items in the real world and in Johnny’s memoryscape. In his memoryscape you create items tied to memories in order to jump further back into his past and in turn create the program of the wish so that the patient’s last memories will be false ones of their wish coming true. There is also variety too as there are puzzles when you activate an item that lets you jump back in the past, the search for the items themselves and even some simple combat puzzles and even Whac-A-Mole. It is quite fun and I was never bored.

The Story – The story is what drives the game and it is fantastic. Dr. Watts and Roselane have a great dynamic with Watts being a giant nerd who can be a jerk while Roselane is sentimental and acts on the fly. Johnny’s backstory is compelling too as we meet his wife River and explore their relationship and eventually arrive at the moment of trauma that defined his life in his childhood. In all of this is the search for where his wish to go the moon was first born and how Watts and Roselane explore the narrative draws you in.

Dr. Watts and Dr. Roselane – Watts and Roselane have a great dynamic. Watts is a giant nerd who pretends not to be sentimental while Roselane is very sentimental but also can be harsh and by the books. In the end she is the one who takes a huge risk in order to bring about Johnny’s wish once they find why in his old age he’s forgotten about his original dream. Roselane was my favorite character and I loved how much her actions drive the story.

Johnny and River – Johnny and River is the main romance of the story. Johnny is the old man who is dying and we see how much of his life was spent by River and the problems they. River is on the autism spectrum (like myself) and at times they have trouble communicating with one another sometimes but the love is there until the end. They had a fascinating dynamic and in the end the program brings them together again when Roselane changes the program of their original first date. In this we see how much they cared for one another and that it was a love that neither of them was fully able to express in words.

The Moment of Trauma and Consequences – Watts and Roselane come to find that Johnny has blocked out trauma from his childhood, which keeps them from achieving his dream until he and they face it once more. The trauma is that his twin brother Joey was run over by his mother by accident. She was never able to make peace with this and always calls Johnny Joey. It is so sad and is a huge reason that he isn’t able to be fully open with River. The trauma defined him.

The Ending – Roselane changes the past by saving Joey and in Johnny’s last memories he joins NASA and as it turns out River does too. This happens due to their first meeting during the fair where they escape to watch the stars and moon as they don’t want to be around people. It is in this first meeting they say if they ever get separated they’ll meet once more on the moon. It is so sweet and I like that Johnny got to experience a life he never got to live with his brother and have a life still with River. It was perfection and blended with the soundtrack so amazingly.

If you are a fan of RPGs in the style of “Dragon Quest” but are good with a game with very little combat and simple puzzles you should check this game out. I love it and it is easily one of my favorite games. The narrative is tight, the humor is fun and how trauma and relationships are explored is done so well. I loved this game and look forward to playing the sequel. There is an animated film in development by Kan Gao, and when it comes out I will be watching it.

Final Score: 10 / 10

 

Da 5 Bloods (2020): The Intersectionality of Justice

Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods Netflix Movie Gets Colorful New Poster ...

    Before I get into the review itself, I wanted to write about something that would educate and bring awareness to #blacklivesmatter and the ongoing oppression of African-Americans here in the United States. Reviewing “Star Trek” unless it was an episode that would be related would just feel hollow. What is going on right now is far more important and I come from privilege. Spike Lee has once again created it. This is a film that speaks to ongoing oppression on both the United States and global scale and brings it down to a personal level while tying it to the importance of why it matters and is tied to the now. Without giving away any spoilers, this is an amazing drama and Spike Lee has once again directed and co-wrote one of my favorite films. There are layers to this film that can’t be expressed and that I’ll be going into deeper.

The film was directed by Spike Lee who co-wrote the film along with Daniel Bilson, Paul De Meo and Kevin Wilmott.

The story follows the survivors of of their squad from the Vietnam War, seeking buried treasure and facing their demons they left from the Vietnam War.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Presentation – Spike Lee does an amazing job of giving us a few different presentations of the narrative. We get flashbacks filmed like a documentary from Vietnam. We have modern interviews and still images and pictures. This gives a rough and real quality as the times we have it with a more modern cinematic quality is when we are with the Old Bloods. The different ways of filming presentation through the film give the film gravitas and history.

The Characters – The characters are who drive the narrative. We have the surviving Bloods (Paul, Otis, Eddie, and Melvin) who each carry the wounds from the Vietnam and carry their PTSD in different ways that give them depth. We have their guide Vinh whose family are Viet Cong, you have Tiên who is Otis’s former lover who he had a child with and you have Paul’s son David as well as the members of LAMB who are trying to get rid of the landmines from the war.

The Bloods – The Blood are the characters who drive the narrative and they are all fantastic. You have Norman who is Young Blood, their leader who taught about Dr. King and Malcolm X and the history of the United States and the oppression of African-Americans in the United States. All the actors do an amazing job but Chadwick Boseman is absolutely fantastic as Norman. We have Melvin who has a family and can’t see beyond his family but sacrifices himself in the final fight to save Otis from a grenade. We have Eddie who was once wealthy but lost it all and has become an activist and member of the Black Lives Matter movement as he remembers that Norman was the one had taught them activism and history. He is sadly killed by a landmine after they’ve recovered the gold. We have Paul who has become selfish after the war. His wife died at childbirth and he could never bring himself to love his son. He’s also a Trump supporter and the closest thing he has to friends are the Bloods. He also blames himself for killing Norman as he did accidentally kill him from friendly fire during the war and was never able to forgive himself. His arc ends with his accepting his son and forgiving himself before he is killed. Paul’s son David also becomes a member of the Blood as he is the one who helped them find the gold and is the character who never stops loving his dad. There is also the one member of the original members of the Bloods who survives, Otis. Otis rekindles a relationship with the woman he left after the war and they had. It is really well done as we see Otis takes painkillers as a way of dealing with his pain and PTSD and is the kindest member of the group. Otis was my favorite member of the Bloods. Clarke Peters is fantastic in the role as are Delroy Lindo, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Jonathan Majors as the other members of the Bloods.

Vinh – Vinh is the guide for the Bloods and has family who were Viet Cong. He is a generation younger than the Bloods and shows them that the war is over and that it is okay to move on. It is his Uncles who pay for the Bloods drinks at the bar and Vinh plays peacemaker between The Bloods and a few other groups they run into. He is thankfully rewarded with some of the CIA gold at the end as he is the one who helps them get it out of Vietnam and the money he has is used to help his business. He was my favorite character in the film and Johnny Trí Nguyễn was great.

Tiên – Tiên is amazing. She is Otis’s former lover and used to be a prostitute during the war. She owns her own house and works with Desroche to help in international exchange. She went through so much as her half-black daughter was looked down upon by the people in Vietnam and the U.S. troops. She brings this all to Otis’s attention and only lets Otis have a relationship with them when Otis uses his money and time to stay. That he isn’t just going to run away again. It is a powerful story and Lê Y Lan is wonderful in the role.

The Intersectionality of Justice – A major theme of the film is the intersectionality of justice. We see this on the International scale with the United States and France’s relationship to Vietnam and how the Vietnam war came about. We see it in the Bloods. African-American soldiers who fought in a war for a country that didn’t even treat them as full human beings with equal rights and how today that still carries through in the prison industrial complex and the killing of African-Americans by cops who then face no consequences…as well as red lining and where resources and power lie. This exploration of resources and power is the basis of Intersectionality in the film and it is beautifully handled through the Vietnamese people we meet and the memories and relationships the Bloods have with the characters they meet.

Black Lives Matter and Connection to the Present – Black Lives Matter is also central to the film. Eddie plans to donate his share of the gold to the movement as he calls our characters back to the present and “the ongoing oppression of our people.” This is something that the surviving members of the Blood aren’t ready to face until after Eddie’s death by the landmine. Even with Norman’s teachings they still just want to live well and forget. This is where the call to action and the movement comes in and in turns calls on us to fight against injustice and speak. The same fight for equality, equity and justice from the 60’s isn’t over as the mistakes and oppression of the past continues. The film highlights this on multiple occasions and it is part of what lends the narrative so much power.

The Cons:

Pacing – There are a few scenes that could have been made shorter and in turn the pacing would have been improved. Paul’s rant in the jungle is the best example of this. It is his meeting Norman after he is bit by the snake that it starts to flow again. This is the greatest example of the pacing issue the film has but there were others too.

The Villain – The villain is a selfish Frenchman named Desroche. He is greedy and out for the gold that the Bloods are seeking. There was no dimension to him and I didn’t believe that he would have let them live if they’d handed over the gold. This was a shame as him being French added another dimension to Vietnam as a colonizer and his soldiers are all Vietnamese people he’s paying. This should have been explored.

This is easily the best film I’ve seen this year. Not only does it answer the “So what?” of the present it also gives us complex characters who grow and change as they face their inner demons. I can’t wait to see what Spike Lee does next. I loved the depth and intersectionality that this film has and the performances are amazing by all members of the cast. I highly recommend and remembering the film’s call for justice.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 Easily the best movie I’ve seen this year so far.

Here are some resources provided by Black Lives Matter to help restore justice.:

https://blacklivesmatter.com/resources/

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (2020) – So What Happens Now?

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (Video 2020) - IMDb

      This is a film that brings an end to the ongoing films in this Franchise. This is a Franchise that includes all the Batman stories with Damian Wayne, the different Justice League films, the Teen Titans films and Justice League Dark. So, how does it stick to landing? Without going into spoilers I liked a fair amount of the world that we see and the character dynamics but some bad performances and the ending ruin what could have been a dark ending with hope. In the end, this is not a film I’d recommend as I feel the ending cancels out all the choices that were made over the course of the film.

The film was directed by Matt Peters and Christina Sotta and written by Mairghread Scott.

The story follows the Justice League as they plan an attack on Darkseid’s world of Apokolips in order to prevent an invasion of Earth.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Failed Attack on Darkseid – I like how our heroes attacking Darkseid fails and we see through him hacking Cyborg and seeing the invasion plans that it was doomed from the start. The rest of the story is us dealing with the fallout as he dominates Superman and makes the rest of the Justice League he caught into Cyborgs under his control. When Darkseid wins he really wins and the failed invasion sets the tone for the rest of the story. We learn the reason for his victory lies in his Paradooms. Parademons with Superman’s DNA, making them a mixture of Parademon and Doomsday. They are an awesome threat and win any battle they are in.

Earth’s Resistance – Earth’s resistance of Darkseid’s rule includes Lois Lane, Clark Kent and Raven primarily with Etrigan and Constantine until they are pulled in as well. From here we have the League of Shadows and the Suicide Squad join forces and eventually Lex Luthor himself changing sides to fight Darkseid. They are fighting a losing battle on occupied Earth and come up with a last ditch plan to rescue Batman and stop Darkseid. The resistance has a wonderful dynamic to them as the Suicide Squad controls the prison, which is one of the safest places in the world under the occupation and Clark Kent and Raven are the wanderers recruiting the last remaining heroes.

Clark Kent / Superman – Superman is defeated by Darkseid who decides his punishment will be to pump him full of liquid kryptonite, neutralizing him and after returning him to Earth. It is well done as we see that Clark Kent never stops fighting and is willing to risk it all to save the world. His power doesn’t define him, which is the kind of Superman story I enjoy. Besides Constantine and Raven, Clark’s is the main perspective that drives the narrative. The plan is eventually a success and in the Superman fights Darkseid once again after Trigun is purged from his body and in turn the liquid Kryptonite is too.

Lois Lane – Rebecca Romijin (Mystique and Number 1) voices Lois Lane and I got to say I like this version of Lois Lane. She is a military brat who has learned how to fight and clearly trained with Superman. She is the one who defeats Harley Quinn in a brawl that convinces Harley to give them control of the Suicide Squad. She is one of the faces of the resistance and I love how she drives the story. In the end she dies with Lex and the Suicide Squad to prevent the Paradooms from returning to Apokolips.

John Constantine – Matt Ryan continues to be the voice of Constantine and he is great in this. In this film we have a Constantine wracked with guilt as he ran from battle during the assault on Apokolips. His story arc is facing that guilt and loss of his love Zatanna as it is his final acts that help prevent Darkseid’s plans for Earth. We also see his pansexuality as we learn he and King Shark were once together. Sadly though, he is also behind one of the stupidest part of the film as he convinces Barry Allen to reboot this entire universe in another Flashpoint.  We also learn he ran away because Zatanna cast a spell when they talk in heaven together.

Okay:

Damian Wayne – I didn’t hate Damian Wayne in this film. It is still annoying how he doesn’t immediately help Clark Kent and the resistance, but his relationship with Batman is really well done as you see how much they care for each other. It is Damian’s risking of his life that frees him from Batman’s control.

Cons:

Raven – Raven is so bland in this film. She spends most of the story reacting to Trigun wanting to be freed and her only act of agency is bringing Damian back to life after he is killed. She is central to the story but it doesn’t feel that way. Trigun feels like a much bigger part and he is only a voice for the majority of the film.

The Flash – Flash is super bland in this and is captured and used by Darkseid after the failed assault on Apokolips. He reboots this entire film but he isn’t even a POV character all he is a plot device. I wasn’t a fan of the voice acting as he sounded bored and tired. Christopher Gorham was fine in the other animated films so I’m not sure what was going on here. His act of rebooting the universe is the final act of the film and it feels tacked on, like his role in this story.

When in Doubt, Reboot – I hate that this film ends in a reboot. A world rebuilding with cyborg heroes freed from Apokolips seeking to save the world from destruction could still be an awesome story. Instead all the growth and development we get of these heroes means nothing. I’ll still probably watch whatever the reboot is, but the fact that they thought the reboot was how to end this story really shows how little confidence they had in the world they’d made.

This is a film that I’d only recommend to those who have been watching the DC animated films in this continuity up to this point. If you want to see Darkseid as a threat and some good Clark Kent and Constantine work you will find things to enjoy. Sadly you can’t hang a story on that and if you reboot the story the audience is left wondering what the point of telling the story was in the first place. I wouldn’t recommend this film to any fans of the animated films and the ending ruins the potential for a lot of great stories that could have come out of the story this film tells.

Final Score:

6 / 10 Giving some points for telling a story with consequences but penalizing it for the reboot that potentially do away with those consequences.

 

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 3, “Fire” Retrospect – Finding Peace in the Flames of Conflict and an Amazing Ending to one of the Greatest Shows

BOOK 3: FIRE 4: Amazon.co.uk: DVD & Blu-ray

 

        It has been a while since I’ve returned to “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and it was an amazing return to one of my favorite shows after so long and finish up reviewing the Books. Book 3 is the only season I have yet to review. This is easily the best of the 3 Books and there are very few issues I have with the overall execution of the narrative. I’ll get into those problems below but if you need a spoiler free recommendation I highly recommend this show and this is easily the strongest season of them all. Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko truly created an amazing story.

    The premise picks up where we left off, as an injured Aang recovers from his defeat by Azula and Zuko last season. Team Avatar helps Aang recover as they help the rebellion prepare for the invasion of the Fire Nation.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Consequences of “Book 2” – Part of what makes this season work so well is it plays directly off last season. Nothing is retconned and we have the consequences of last season explored. Aang is disconnected from the Avatar state after Azula killed him and the invasion fleet is making their way to the Fire Nation to attack during the Eclipse when Firebending will no longer work. We learn it has been weeks since Aang was brought back by the Moon Spirit Water and Katara and eventually he tries to leave to take on Ozai on his own. He quickly discovers how broken and weak is. This accumulates in events that force Aang to complete his training and learn Firebending as the threat of Ozai and Sozen’s Comet hangs overhead as a ticking clock. It is beautifully done. We have the Fire Nation victorious and our rebels barely holding onto hope.

A Return of Old Allies – This season we see a bunch of old allies return. We have all the Earth Nation folks from the Swampbender Tribe, the wrestlers who Toph defeated, the Southern Water Tribe army, the mechanist and others. Each of them plays a part in the Invasion and we see just how competent the rebellion is. Sadly, what ups the stakes is that all these old allies lose to Ozai and his forces. We also have the return of June the Bounty Hunter and the different Elemental Masters and Suki as the season progresses further. Seeing the return of these old allies in the roles they play against Ozai and is forces is absolutely fantastic.

The Failed Invasion – The Invasion is a brilliant plan. Attack the Fire Nation Capitol and defeat the Fire Lord when his entire nation cannot Firebend for the minutes the Eclipse is active. We know that our allies are strong enough as Team Avatar has taken on powerful foes before and we see the Rebellion use all their tools to defeat Fire Nation forces until their retreat is eventually cut off by the secret Airship Armada that Ozai was holding in reserve. All the men surrender and we have Team Avatar and the kids of the rebels leave together as the original plan is forced to take place. Aang needs to train and become a fully realized Avatar in order to defeat Ozai.

Order of the White Lotus | Avatar Wiki | Fandom

The Order of the White Lotus – This is the season where we finally learn about the Order of the White Lotus. The White Lotus are a secret organization that believes knowledge belongs to all and seek philosophy, beauty and truth. It is this order that Bumi, Iroh, Jeong Jeong, Pakku and Piandao are members of. All are masters within their craft and it they who see their role as the liberation of Ba Sing Se while the Avatar faces Ozai. It is wonderful seeing the return of the masters who taught members of Team Avatar through the series and in turn we get the motivation of why they did this in their role as members of the White Lotus.

Iroh – Iroh is my favorite character in the series and this episode illustrates so many reasons why. He breaks himself out of prison after warning the guard who was kind to him to not be around when he does (he does creating enough heat in his body wreak havoc and defeat the guards and breakout). Once he is out Zuko eventually seeks him out and the resolution of this relationship is so beautiful. He tells Zuko that he never hated him and was only wanted him to find his way. In the end he says he cannot defeat Ozai either as even if he could defeat Ozai it would keep the old system in power and that only the Avatar’s defeat of Ozai gave the possibility for the Fire Nation to change. God, what an amazing character. His logic makes sense and the apolitical goal of the Order of the White Lotus follows this philosophy.

Consequences of the Fire Nation Threat – The Fire Nation victorious is a story of consequences as we learn that Ozai wants to do what Sozen did during the last comet. His goal is extermination as we learn in the Fire Nation War Room that the Fire Nation will need to send far more troops to the Earth Nation in order to sustain the occupation. Azula also controls the Dai Li who help prevent the invasion from becoming successful. The Southern Water Nation loses their entire army during the invasion as well so the only ones standing against Ozai’s extermination are Team Avatar and the Order of the White Lotus. One small note, I wish we could have witnessed more of the occupation. This would have been a great side story to see what the Fire Nation victorious is like. But, we do see a lot of the occupation in the past 2 Books so I get why they focused purely on Team Avatar and the Fire Nation during this Book.

An Exploration of Forgiveness and Justice – One of the most powerful themes of the show is that of forgiveness. Katara near the end of the series goes on a quest with Zuko to find the man who murdered her mother. We see her freely use bloodbending (showing how much she’s changed since learning it) and it is after she sees how pitiful she is that she chooses not to kill. She does not forgive him but she refuses to be changed by him. This was so beautifully done and I love how it isn’t clear cut. She doesn’t forgive the man who murdered her father, but she grows from the experience. The same applies to Zuko when he confronts Ozai and refuses to kill him and calls him out for the scar he gave him. He holds him accountable and says the Avatar will be the one to defeat him after sticking around long enough to show Ozai that he is standing against him in his own way.

Team Avatar – Team Avatar grows this season and is made all the stronger for it. We have Suki after her rescue from “Boiling Rock” and we have Zuko when he leaves the Fire Nation during the eclipse and becomes a friend and mentor to Aang and the Team. Sokka is the glue and it is his plan that initially fails during the Eclipse. He makes up for this though when he, Suki and Toph stop the Fire Nation airships meant to destroy the Earth Kingdom. Katara has one of the best arcs this season as we see her face the loss she’s dealt with as she was Sokka’s mother figure because of the Fire Nation’s killing of her mother and her father leaving to fight the war. This abandonment arc ends with peaceful resolution with her dad and confronting her mother’s killer. Toph is around as the strongest member of the party in battles as she saves our heroes on multiple occasions and also helps characters grow as she is the one who first tells Zuko that Iroh probably doesn’t help him since he’s helping Team Avatar now. We also have Aang who has to finally deal with the fact that he has to face Ozai. This arc of him learning Fire Bending and finding peace within himself is very well done as he finds the strength he needs to confront Ozai and find a way to defeat him without ending his life.

The Final Battles – We have Aang versus Ozai, Katara and Zuko versus Azula (now made Fire Lord when Ozai named himself Phoenix King). the Order of the White Lotus liberating Ba Sing Se, Toph, Suki and Sokka against the Ozai’s fleet and Aang against Ozai. Each of these battles is compelling enough on it’s own and the direction is has them flow together seamlessly. We have consequences from the battle too. Sokka is injured as they take the Fire Nation airships and Zuko is nearly killed by Azula when he saves Katara from Azula’s lightning strike. This is the accumulation of 3 seasons and the end of 4 episodes and the payoff is truly one of the best parts about the show. When we come down from this we have Zuko’s coronation as the new Fire Lord and his call for peace and Iroh’s Tea House where Team Avatar celebrates the end of the war.

The Cons:

Ozai | Avatar Wiki | Fandom

Setting Up Fire Lord Ozai – Fire Lord Ozai is the mastermind between the events of the last few books post. His presentation in the final fight is fantastic. His power and cruelty are fully on display but…we never see him raise the stakes prior to this. All past victories could be attributed to Azula or his troops. Like Palpatine in the original Trilogy of “Star Wars” he doesn’t show up until the end, and it hurts the overall threat of him. This is a shame as Hamill does a great job voicing him but even he gets quickly knocked back when Zuko leaves the Fire Nation to join Team Avatar. We needed more setup to really see that this is a man who can take on the Avatar. We don’t get that, as good as the final battle is. Ozai needed victories he could call in before this as it was Sozen who exterminated the Air Nomads not Ozai.

Deus Ex Dragon Turtle – I get Aang’s moral dilemma of refusing to kill, but we needed setup of Energy Bending prior in the series. Like Ozai the concept of Dragon Turtles and ancient beings with a connection to the Avatar could have saved this out that is given to Aang. The Dragon Turtle even drops him off at the final battle making his role as Deus Ex Machina complete. The Dragon Turtle is a cool concept and has a beautiful design, we just needed to know more of what it could do and it’s existence earlier.

There is so much to explore about this show and I only touched on it. I’ll do a full series overview at some point. This is the kind of show where you’ll notice something new in each rewatch. The characters have amazing arcs, the overarching plot is one of the best and the world is so rich that you could deeply explore any single point of the world. I look forward to returning to this world again and writing the full series overview.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 A near perfect season that only had a few things holding it back.