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

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     “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.

 

Pacific Rim Uprising (2018): The Great Old With the Bland New

I’m a fan of the “Pacific Rim” universe. I also think the last film was perfect for what it was, and didn’t need a sequel. Now that a sequel has been made… I enjoyed it. But, this is a very flawed film brought down by child actors that can’t act; contrasted with some beautiful action, expansion of the “Pacific Rim” universe in intriguing ways and solid leads. I wouldn’t call it good, but if you are looking for an escape, my thoughts are, it is worth checking out.

This was a film that had a lot of people involved in its creation, with Steven S. DeKnight directing the film and being one of the 4 writers. Guillermo del Toro and John Boyega were producers, along with 5 other people. On paper, this looks like a film designed by committee.

The story picks up 10 years after the end of the first film. Jake Pentecost (Stacker Pentecost’s son, played by John Boyega) is living as a scavenger until he is picked up, and forced back into being a Jaeger Ranger. He must train new recruits as the world prepares for the return of Kaiju. All is not as it appears to be, though, as a new drone program is implemented, and a mysterious Jaeger arrives. The new Jaeger starts attacking people rather than protecting them.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – I love this universe. Since middle school I’ve been a fan of monsters and mechs. The world del Toro realized is so rich in character and mythology. The mythology this time around doesn’t disappoint. We get solid world building, as we learn more about the Kaiju, The Precursors, and how humanity has changed after the Battle of the Breach that ended the first film.

The Jaegers and Kaiju – The Jaegers and Kaiju look great, as always, and the introduction of drones, which are later shown to be Jaeger/Kaiju hybrids, are a treat that add a lot the action. These two things, along with del Toro, are what drew me to the first film, and it was the mechs and monsters that kept my interest through the times where this film fell short. As both their creative designs and action scenes brought to life the world when the characters weren’t up to it.

Jake Pentecost and Nate Lambert – The main character drama is between Jake Pentecost and Nate Lambert. Jake is the party boy who becomes responsible after facing his trauma. Nate is the one who has to trust Jake, once again, if they are going win. Boyega’s charisma continues to make his character intriguing, even if the script doesn’t always help. Nate Lambert is a battle hardened veteran who was shaped by the war in such a way, he has trouble connecting to people. It gives him a level of mystery, as if he is holding onto some past trauma, which gives him a way to relate to Jake. It is their core relationship that kept the film going for me, as each of them grew over the course of the film, and it was a genuine challenge for them learning to trust one another.

Newt and the Kaiju – The main antagonist is Newt, who is being controlled by The Precursors, that also control the Kaiju. We discover he kept the Kaiju brain at the end of the last film, and it has corrupted him. Charlie Day hams the hell out of it, and is enjoyable to watch in his madness. He nearly wins on multiple occasions, and I can’t wait to see where they take his story.

Dr. Hermann and Liwen Shao – The two support characters who really drive the story are Dr. Hermann (he was around in the first film too), and Liwen Shao, owner of the drone program. Together they are able to save the world from the Kaiju, as each of their skills complement the surviving Jaegers and help them defeat the Giant Kaiju in its final assault on Tokyo. Which felt like a brilliant salute to all the mech and monster films that made this genre possible.

The Cons:

The New Recruits – These kids can’t act. I didn’t care about their story, each line of dialogue felt forced, and fake. These kids made the film feel like an episode of Power Rangers. If I had to describe them…it’d be difficult. We are shown how each of them are (the nervous one, the angry one, the inventor), but there isn’t enough there for them to be compelling. They brought the film down, and even making one of them a main character, in the inventor Amara, wasn’t enough to make me care about their story. 

The Death of Mako Mori – Mako Mori deserved better. She is killed by a rogue Jaeger, and it ends up being anti-climatic. She already existed primarily to give us plot (a disservice to the character), and even her great scenes with Boyega can’t change the fact that her death wasn’t dying in a fight against the monsters…it was in a copter crash. She never got that “moment of awesome” Stacker got, and there was so much more development she could have received with the re-establishing her relationship with Jake. Besides the child actors this was the worst part of the film.

Love Interest Woman – There is a woman named Jewel. Both Jake and Nate have a crush on her. She is an object in a contrived love triangle object. I couldn’t tell you her personality, her aims, or what she wants. She exists purely as “love interest girl” and is the worst part of the script. She wasn’t needed.

In the end, what holds up this film and keeps it from sucking are: the old characters and those tied to the old characters from the first film, Newt and Hermann were wonderful, Pentecost and Lambert had a great relationship, and Liwen Shao (the new character) shakes the story up in ways that only enrich this universe. I loved her character arc, and hope that she is a major part if they make a third film. This is a film that largely exists because of success in the international box office, specifically China. In the end I’m glad it was made.

Final Score: 7.7 / 10

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing – Season 1, Episode 18 – “Tallgeese Destroyed” – Of Treize and Zechs

msgw18

 

Treize continues to show us that he is more complicated than just the man pulling strings behind the scenes. This episode really shows just how deeply he cares for Zechs as well as what he values in an army and people. This episode also reveals how much Zechs has changed, he’s my favorite character on the show right now.

‘Tallgeese Destroyed” was directed by Yasunao Aoki and Nobuyoshi Nishimura and written by Toshifumi Kawase.

The episode begins with Treize’s plans to give Zechs a noble death since Zechs is being court martialed by OZ. The plan is for Zechs to attack a large attack force of Alliance forces and to die leaving him the legacy of a hero of OZ. Around the same time the Romafeller Foundation is trying out more remote controlled weapons which Treize challenges himself against and Quatre is floating to the colonies and the scientists must find a way to rescue him as Lady Une attempts to force them to make the most powerful Gundam.

The Pros: Lady Une – Lady Une is smart. When she realizes that the Gundam Pilot Quatre is heading to Alliance space she sends a huge attack force after his shuttle which forces the scientists to give in and make her a Gundam. She knows they value the life of the pilots above their own.

The Alliance – The Alliance rescues the Gundam pilot Quatre and we see the good of in them as they are all soldiers just fighting for their belief in the Alliance. At this point the Colonies are becoming like the Alliance and are getting militarized like OZ, this is one thing that the scientists realize, which is why they are happy that the Alliance saves Quatre.

The Romafeller Foundation – Doesn’t care about people beyond using them as tools and Zechs was never their tool, which is why they tried to kill him. Treize holds one of their members hostage after he destroys their automated Gundams and tells them he will not follow anyone who doesn’t use soldiers since soldiers can learn and keep war from becoming a game. Whether the Romafeller Foundation understands remains to be seen.

Treize – Treize cares about people though he still using people for an unknown purpose and working with a questionable organization in the Romafeller Foundation. The  great thing is his relationship with Zechs though. Zechs lives and survives each battle because he is the best soldier with the best Gundam which is what Treize seems to value. What he wants in the end remains to be seen though.

Heero – Heero is undercover as Duo in the Colonies and makes a speech to his classmates for the soldiers and how the soldiers change things because they remember the price of war and that the automation of Gundams that the colonies are doing is just what OZ and the Alliance did and that is wrong and continuing the cycle. It was a great speech.

Zechs – Finds value in the fight against the Gundams and believes in the liberation of all colonies. He ends up surviging the last fight and his friendship with Treize ends there as he realizes he can no longer make sacrifices for him anymore. This is when Zechs becomes his own man and though it has Tallgeese collapsed at the end, it never shows that Zechs is dead. He went from the soldier seeking revenge and liberation of his Kingdom to the soldier fighting for the sake of fighting to the believer again who is some measure of whole.

This was the perfect “Mobile Suit Gundam Wing” episode and I highly recommend it. Treize and Zechs episodes are great because they are are more complicated than the Gundam pilots and getting to know their motivations more is one thing I always liked about this show. How things unfold from there remains to be seen, but Lady Une is getting the Ultimate Gundam to face the remaining Gundams on the colonies.

Final Score: 10 / 10