Halo Review: Reaching for the Stars

Nearly a decade after Steven Spielberg first announced a Halo TV series alongside the unveiling of the Xbox One, the show is finally coming to Paramount+. And despite being in development hell for years, it is apparent from just the first two episodes that it will be an admirable attempt to live up to the franchise's name.

That said, it might take some getting used to for longtime fans. The creators of the show have been clear that Halo isn't canon to the games and instead exists within an offshoot dubbed the "Silver timeline." This allows for major changes to what some might consider to be important aspects of the franchise, like other Spartans existing alongside Pablo Schreiber's Master Chief and the Covenant counting a very special human, Makee, among its ranks. If you're looking for a direct adaptation of the games, this is a far cry from that.

(Photo: Paramount+)

The divergent choices the series has made, however, allow for a fuller, more grounded retelling of the story at the core of Halo. Rather than a focus on mowing down hordes of enemies as a faceless Spartan immediately aboard the mysterious ring, the humanity of Schreiber's Master Chief is at its center. Instead of introducing the eponymous ringed station, the show starts off on a backwater colony called Madrigal currently in rebellion against the UNSC, and while that might make some initially scratch their heads, it's a way to position Spartans as a whole and Master Chief specifically as the ultimate weapons feared by pretty much everyone – humans and aliens alike.

That fear, and seeing him in action against Covenant forces alongside fellow Spartans Riz, Vannak, and Kai, firmly shows just how ruthless, deadly, and calculating the Spartans can be. They've been made into the ultimate weapons, controlled by the UNSC and only the UNSC. The Spartans individually seem to have relatively little overall control of themselves, which makes it all the more interesting when Master Chief starts to express and experience more of his humanity than before, thanks in part to waking up a long-dormant artifact that the Covenant had been seeking.

(Photo: Paramount+)

For anyone familiar with the Halo franchise beyond the series, this is fairly obviously the start of a trail of breadcrumbs that leads up to the discovery of what the show is named after and what the Covenant has been looking for all along. While that might be obvious, the story plays out across various planets and ships as Master Chief deals with his newfound ability to question orders and UNSC deals with a wayward superhuman – all while the Covenant forces begin to work towards recovering the artifact for themselves. Despite the disparate plots in motion, it all feeds back into the central narrative of what it means to be human and how far humanity will go to protect that. Allowing for a human member of the Covenant only makes it that much more complex and interesting.

The storytelling can overall be a bit clunky at times, but it largely hits the mark while nailing the visuals and overall vibe of what it broadly means to be part of the greater Halo franchise. That clunkiness is likely thanks in part to the attempt to crystallize all things Halo into a digestible package for a much broader audience. Not everyone that watches the show will have years of experience with Master Chief, but for those that do, it only makes the moments where Schreiber is fully armored up, taking on Elites with precision that much sweeter.

(Photo: Paramount+)

Maybe this all changes in the following episodes. Maybe Cortana, which has yet to truly be introduced in the episodes that I've seen, looks particularly bad in the show or Makee's whole deal doesn't resolve satisfactorily. But having seen roughly two hours of Halo, I am confident enough in it to say that I will be sticking around to finish the fight.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Halo is set to exclusively debut on Paramount+ on March 24th. You can check out all of our previous coverage of the new series right here.