Review: Halo: Escalation (Volume Two)

Halo: Escalation (Volume 2)Halo: Escalation by Brian Reed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Halo: Escalation series continues to impress. It’s everything a great tie-in graphic novel should be.

While most of volume two continues the adventures of the Spartan-IVs, a section of the book is devoted to a somewhat surprising face: the Master Chief himself and the Spartan-II Blue Team. I mention this as a surprise because it seems like, aside from a few early novels, the Halo universe seems to shy away from depicting the big MC in the expanded universe fiction, preferring instead to save his exploits for the games themselves. It’s nice to see Blue Team show up here, which I recognize is meant to prepare gamers for their appearance in Halo 5, but regardless, it’s still fun.

The Master Chief storyline is a very nice segue between Halo 4 and 5, dealing with the aftermath of Halo 4’s emotional ending. One thing that has continually struck me as odd is the Didact himself, however. Warning: spoilers for the comic and (possibly) Halo 5 to follow.

Still with me?

Halo 4 made it seem like the Didact was going to be a recurring antagonist; he definitely seemed “defeated, but not killed” at the end of that game. Which I’d thought would mean we’d see his big ugly mug again in Halo 5 . . . but Escalation makes it pretty clear that the Didact is done, since in this book, Blue Team hunts him down and kills him, and they kill him pretty decisively. I suppose it’s still possible we’ll see more of the Didact, but . . . it feels unlikely. I wonder if he wasn’t as well received as 343 was hoping and so they steered away from him in favor of other villains in Halo 5.

Back to Escalation itself; although the Master Chief storyline is the standout here, the rest of the book is quite good. There’s a good balance of world building that I enjoy and the work that’s gone into the Spartan-IVs really shows. Ray and Thorne are back and even Palmer’s characterization has smoothed out from her rocky start in a previous graphic novel. Despite how good it was to see the Chief in a book, it also reminds one that the universe is much, much larger than just the Chief. I appreciate that.

Final verdict: good stories, good art, good pick for a Halo fan. I’m happy to recommend this one.

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Review: Halo and Philosophy: Intellect Evolved

Halo and Philosophy: Intellect Evolved
Halo and Philosophy: Intellect Evolved by Luke Cuddy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I knew this one was going to be a pop approach to philosophy, being about an FPS video game franchise like Halo, I was hoping that its discussions would be more focused on the lore behind Halo itself. We are, after all, talking about a franchise that was first introduced in a mysterious email chain that quoted T. S. Eliot. The Halo universe can be pretty mythic and deep when it wants to be.

Although a few of the essays do approach Halo from a lore perspective, the majority are more concerned with the philosophical implications and considerations of the actual Halo gameplay. For me, this was somewhat less riveting. There are a few interesting discussions, but overall, my general feeling towards these sorts of arguments is a sort of inward eye rolling. I’m reminded of my philosophy undergraduate days and how my peers could turn absolutely anything into a philosophical debate, even things that seemed rather pointless. This might be indicative that I wasn’t really cut out to be a philosopher, but as this is my review, I’m free to hold to it. But I digress.

The most redeeming aspect of this book is the fact that it’s indicative of the overall progress video games have made as a medium; that we’d ever have a book discussing Halo and philosophy is a sign of progress. That said, I remain skeptical that one can really glean any deep philosophical insight from playing Halo multiplayer. The attempts to bolt things like Leibniz’s “best of all possible worlds” argument onto a Halo deathmatch feel more like an attempt to play to the reluctant reader category, the sort of person that might be enticed towards philosophy if it comes in a tasty Halo-flavored coating. But even for reluctant readers, there are other books I would recommend instead; “Sophie’s World,” in particular, which was the book that hooked me many years ago.

Overall, we’re left with a somewhat interesting book. It doesn’t do anything wrong, but it also doesn’t manage to really excel. The arguments here aren’t going to surprise a dedicated philosophy reader (some are telegraphed enough that you’ll be able to predict them). And while I did like it enough to finish it, I’m not sure to whom I’d recommend this book. Three stars.

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