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.

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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.

What We Left Behind – Looking Back on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (2019) – The Perfect “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” Documentary

  “Deep Space Nine” is my favorite of the “Star Trek Series.” This is a series that was willing to explore philosophy, religion war and give the minor characters full arcs. It is no wonder Ronald Moore created the rebooted “Battlestar Galactica” from this show, which is also one of my favorite sci. fi. shows. He was on the writing team while Ira Steven Behr was the showrunner. This is easily the best documentary I’ve ever watched. It has comedy, heart, philosophy, depth and explores the relationships and characters who made up the show. My bias being that “Deep Space Nine” is my favorite of the “Star Trek Franchise” and in Sci. fi. shows as a whole. It certainly has flaws and wasn’t perfect and this is a documentary that honestly explores that.

The documentary was directed by Ira Steven Behr and David Zappone, produced by 455 Films and released by Shout! Studios.

The documentary traces the origins of “Deep Space Nine’s” creation, the actors and their thoughts on the show, gives us a hypothetical new season with many of the original writing team and explores the legacy the show left behind.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Into and Ending – The Into and ending were so corny and perfect. “Deep Space Nine” had Vic Fontaine’s Jazz lounge as a major part of the show and the Documentary paid tribute to that by having Max Grodénchik (Rom) kick it off with a corny song about leaving his heart on “Deep Space Nine.” In the end he is joined by Jeffrey Combs (Grunt and Weyoun on Ds9), Casey Biggs (Damar) and Armin Shimermen (Quark) to finish the song. It had so much heart, even if the lyrics don’t always work. The four of them are also great singers.

The Reaction to the Show – Throughout the documentary the cast reads fans letters as Ira Steven Behr interviews them. These are glimpses of history that show just how much the show was hated by some in it’s initial release. People hated that the show was darker and that it wasn’t daily exploration on a ship. The reactions are nuanced (Ira on making sense of how people saw it as a dark show) to funny when Aron Eisenberg (Nog) reads a reaction from someone who hated it. This was one of the aspects that added character to the documentary.

The Making of the Show – Making the show an episodic story beyond single bottle episodes or two-parters was revolutionary. This was a major part of the film, and beyond that how when most fans talked about the show in interviews it was largely about the Dominion War arc. It was the arc that changed everything outside of the arcs of “Babylon 5.” We also got to see the Writers Room when Behr got together with Ronald Moore and some of the other writers from the show to draft a pilot for a new season. It was really neat seeing that as well as the relationship between the showrunner, directors, actors and crew. They also went into the Evolution of the Dominion and how they evolved into a collection of species versus a single one.

The Actors’ Stories – Part of what makes the story so compelling are getting the stories of the actors and the relationships formed over the course of the show. We learn about how Armin Shimerman (Quark) used to host the other actors who played Ferengi at his home to go over the scripts. “Deep Space Nine” was full of Ferengi episodes and seeing how friendships grew out of it was so wonderful. We also got to see that Alaimo (Dukat) had a crush on Nana Visitor (Kira), and Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko) and how to this day he is friends and mentor to his show son Cirroc Lofton. The actors also talked about their characters and created interludes. Andrew Robinson (Garak) appeared early on and later to talk about how when he first played the character he played him as wanting to have sex with Doctor Bashir and how the character relationships evolved into a deep friendship. It was awesome hearing that first hand as Robinson always played Garak as Bisexual and him voicing that made me happy.  They also touched on Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax) leaving the show and the disrespect from the directors as well as when Nicole de Boar (Ezri) took over for the last season of the show. Even with all that happened there are still so many friendships among the cast.

Taking Responsibility and Impact in Social Justice – This was a show that tackled the themes of poverty, race, war, philosophy and Behr took responsibility the fact that they didn’t explore gender and sexuality very well. They recognized the existence sexuality and LGTBTQ rights but didn’t advocate. Behr owned it and it made me respect him a lot. “Star Trek” has always been a progressive show and it has dropped the ball on LGBTQ justice all of this time until “Discovery” really.

The New Season Pilot – One of the arcs through the documentary getting what writers he could together to write a new season of the snow. The new season pilot is awesome. It starts with Captain Nog being attacked and a reunion of all the characters returning to “Deep Space Nine.” Kira is a priestess and the station is a religious site, Worf is in line to takeover after Martok to rule the Empire, Julian Bashir is a captain with Ezri serving together on a ship and O’Brien is a professor at Starfleet academy while Jake is a successful author. From here things unfold as it starts out with Nog being attacked by an unscene show before arriving at the station. From we learn of a Bajor / Jem’Hadar plot that Kira is tied to and the return of Sisko as he reaches out to his children. I would watch it and I wish it would get made. Sadly I doubt it will exist beyond the fandom of this documentary though.

What You’ll Get on the DVD – The documentary ended with Nana Visitor talking to Behr about everything that wasn’t covered. Whether it was her failed marriage to Alexander Siddig (Julian Bashir), her having a baby and how they wrote that into the show, “In the Pale Moonlight” and quite a few other things. Behr said they’d all be on the special features of the dvd and that it was cut for time. Hearing that lead me to pre-order the dvd. I can’t wait to see all of the things that didn’t make it and rewatch this perfect documentary again.

If it wasn’t obvious already, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” is one of my favorite shows of all time. This was the “Star Trek series” I felt was good to great all the way through and explored the themes I love in stories. It gave politics, philosophy, war, identity and history all in deep and respectful ways. If you are a sci. fi. fan I highly recommend this show. This show started so much and any time I have the chance to see these actors and writers if they end up in Portland at a Comic Con, you bet I’ll be there. This was a show funded by the fans and created for them and the time and love put into it made it the perfect documentary and film. I’ll be surprised if any film compares when this year is done.

10 / 10. “Deep Space Nine” is one of my favorite Science Fiction shows of all time and I can’t think of a better way to honor it. The actors in this cast are folks I’d go to comic con for if they make it over my way.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Pilot – Emissary Part 1 and 2 – The Fallout of War and Occupation

Emissary

“Ironic. One who does not wish to be among us is to be the Emissary.” -Kai Opaka

The third week of the Star Trek Pilot Episodes Series brings us to “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” is one of my all time favorite Sci. Fi. shows. The themes it deals with (Religion, War, Occupation and Politics). The Episodes follow Commander Sisko  (the first Captain who doesn’t begin as a Captain) and his arrival at Deep Space Nine after losing his wife to Captain Picard as Locutus in the Battle of Wolf 359, the series was a spinoff of The Next Generation and you can see it with Picard leaving O’Brien behind to be Sisko’s Chief Engineer. We then jump three years forward to Sisko arriving on a broken DS9 and Post-Occupation Bajor, both places are wounded and broken a reflection of Sisko who is feeling the death of his wife that he has refused to face. It is a powerful opening and when Sisko arrives he meets all the players (the Ensemble cast, Dukat and the Bajoran Prophets).

Here is my assessment of the Episode:

The Tone: Unlike “Encounter at Farpoint,” “Emissary” starts with so much at stake. Bajor is at stake and Sisko and many others are in a new place they have no idea how to deal with, they could easily mess things up with Bajor or have another war with Cardassia. You can see this in the broken spaceship and broken Sisko who is still living the Battle of Wolf 359, it isn’t bright and happy…it captures the true realities of what people face, which is important to see so front and center on a show.

The Characters – DS9 is my favorite crew. There is Odo the only of his kind at this point (an alien shape-shifter and security officer), the everyman O’Brien (who has a history of bad blood with Cardassia having fought in the war), Quark (the first 3 Dimensional Ferengi, a practical bar owner), Garak (a former Cardassian spy), Jazdia Dax (the next Dax (Kurzon being Sisko’s former mentor), Bashir (the idealistic Doctor) and Major Kira (the former Bajoran Resistance Fighter) and of course Dukat (the former Prefect of Bajor, the man responsible for the occupation).

The themes: Occupation (a recovering government who is looked down upon by the Federation – Bashir’s “I chose the wilderness,” implying Bajor is the wilderness. Religion (the Bajoran orbs and Sisko being chosen as the one to speak for them (The Prophets are Bajor’s Gods and also Wormhole aliens), Moving on (Sisko facing the death of his wife Jennifer and choosing to live and help heal Bajor and the Station while dealing with his own healing).

The Ensemble cast – Not everyone who is a main cast member is a member of the crew, which you didn’t see in Trek’s up to this point with the exception of Guinan. This was perfect because it showed that the Federation was not perfect by giving those other perspectives. Not to mention that we have children on the station in the role as children (Sisko and Nog as examples). The set up was perfect and they had a great payoff. The Federation is important but not the only players…there are Bajoran, Cardassian, Civilian and Federation players right from the beginning.

Gul Dukat – The best villain in Trek. A complex baddie who is a charming meglomaniac.

Benjamin Sikso – Avery Brooks does a masterful job playing Commander Sisko, from dealing with the post Wolf 359 Trauma of losing his wife, his conflict with Picard and the station’s crew members and with the Prophets (teaching them about corporeal linear life forms and them teaching him how to move forward). There is a reason Captain Sikso (as he would be later) is my favorite of the Captains.

The ending – Sets the stage for later conflicts. Bajor is still going through political and religious strife as well as with the Cardassians and Federation. Sikso also has accepted his place and is able to resolve his differences with Picard on a professional level since he has finally left the ship where his wife died and is ready to command Deep Space Nine.

Okay – Some of the acting. You can tell some of them are new…none of them are as bad as Troi or Wesley though so I won’t put that in the cons. None of the actors are ever painful to watch and there are some good performances, but a lot of okay ones too.

Music – Isn’t memorable. Not bad, but not great. This would be standard Trek since TNG they got rid of their composer, at this point Star Trek only had stock musical varieties to try out that aren’t bad but aren’t good.

“Emissary,” is the best of the pilots. It establishes what the series will cover in full in regards to themes and establishes Dukat as the primary protagonist and the Prophets as one of the main people to shape the series (and even Odo as being the Outsider who was discovered around this area). All of these things that the Pilot establishes have payoff later, even receiving more good from TNG (O’Brien and later Worf), which only adds to the political and philosophical complexity of the show. I highly recommend this show for any lover of political sci. fi…it is here that you see many of the seeds and themes that Ronald Moore would use later in the new Battlestar Galactica. This is a show I’ve enjoyed watching since High School and don’t see ever getting old. “Deep Space Nine,” is the best of the Star Treks.

I would rate “Emissary” as 9 / 10. There are enough great themes, acting and writing to elevate over a simple good episode.

DS9