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Halo Reviews Are In, See What Critics Are Saying About Paramount+’s Video Game Adaptation

Fans of the video game series Halo are most certainly looking forward to seeing how the upcoming Paramount+ adaptation honors the sci-fi franchise. Ahead of its March 24 premiere, the first two episodes debuted at SXSW Film Festival, and the reviews are in to shed some light on the series that will feature an epic 26th-century conflict between humanity and an alien threat known as the Covenant. 

Pablo Schreiber stars as Master Chief Petty Officer John-117, a genetically-engineered supersoldier, and Jen Taylor reprises her role from the video game as Cortana, an AI construct entrusted to the care of Master Chief. The series is not considered part of the game’s canon, as executive producer Kiki Wolfkill said on Twitter that a separate universe allows the story to evolve individually on each medium. Let’s check out what the critics are saying about Paramount+’s Halo, including how familiar viewers need to be with the game franchise in order to enjoy the series.

Daniel Fienberg of THR says being a fan of the game will likely enhance the viewer’s experience, but non-gamers can watch without being confused. However, without the pre-existing investment in the game, Halo comes off as “a less entertaining version of The Mandalorian”:

Maybe Halo does play as more exciting and specific if you have an internal checklist of game elements — weapon types, helpful acquisitions, character or planetary allusions — you’re looking to have acknowledged. For those of us who don’t necessarily crave or appreciate those things, Halo has a generic story, limitedly engaging characters and a clearly high special-effects budget that yields respectable but unremarkable results. In the absence of prior attachment, that’s insufficient for ongoing interest.

William Hughes of AV Club grades the series a C+ based on its first two episodes, and admits there are some pleasant aspects to Halo, including Master Chief’s hero-sidekick relationship with Yerin Ha’s Kwan Ha Boo, but the plot goes off the rails pretty quickly:

The whole thing is brought down by the writing—which never goes for a second-draft line when a first-draft line will do—and by an abiding and pervasive sense of cheapness. A surprising taste for cruelty isn’t a substitute for adequate use of a budget, and the end result is something that’s going to be at least a little repulsive to both fans of the game series—likely to be turned off by a universe that only sort of looks like the one they’ve spent hundreds of hours blasting their way through—and more general sci-fi fans looking for their next fix.

Ben Travers of IndieWire also gave Halo a C+, saying after two episodes it’s hard to know if the series will evolve past the comparisons it elicits to other shows:

Given all that hype, it should come as little surprise the first two hours (of the nine-hour first season) elicit immediate comparisons to two of TV’s most successful recent programs: ‘Halo’ enlists the stark violence of ‘Game of Thrones,’ while hinting at similar political scheming amid an ongoing war, while its A-plot follows ‘The Mandalorian’ model: a masked, stoic, emotionally stunted warrior questions his creed when asked to sell out an innocent child. Allusions to the video game are layered in for fans, via first-person shooter camera angles and nods to franchise lore, while the visual effects carry the shimmering gleam of big-budget science-fiction.

Caroline Framke of Variety, however, says Halo does an admirable job of creating a universe that’s intriguing, even to people unfamiliar with the video game basics.

‘Halo’ works overtime to broaden out its world and narrative scope beyond the basics of battle. In terms of sheer visuals, the aliens themselves make for the show’s least convincing effect. Otherwise, the series boasts an impressive budget used wisely, with distinct production design distinguishing one planetary location for another and spaceships zipping through endless stars. That alone lets ‘Halo’ keep apace with its contemporaries (in particular ‘Foundation,’ which shares enough aesthetic language with ‘Halo’ to come to mind more than once). What might make or break ‘Halo,’ then, is how it deepens its source material to create characters that feel less like playable robots than real flesh and blood — especially since it’s already been renewed for a second season.

Jesse Schedeen of IGN rates the premiere episode a “Good” 7 out of 10, saying that while the series struggles to capture the action of the games, it builds a compelling narrative to develop:

Given how integral the massive battles between humanity and the Covenant are to the appeal of the Halo franchise, the lackluster action in the Halo premiere is cause for concern. However, the series gets enough else right in its first outing to make up for that shortcoming. As much as the premiere focuses on capturing the iconic weapons and technology from the games, it also shows a willingness to move its story in dramatically different directions. This is hardly a 1:1 adaptation of the games, and that's really the show's biggest selling point right now.

It sounds like viewers don’t have to be fans of the popular video game franchise to enjoy (or at least understand) Halo, but many critics felt the first couple of episodes were comparable to other series already out there in pop culture, so it remains to be seen how the rest of the first season sets it apart. If you’d like to check this series out, Halo premieres March 24 and can be streamed with a Paramount+ subscription. Take a look at some of the other best shows on Paramount+, and also check out our 2022 TV Schedule to find more shows premiering soon.

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.