Halo Mega Bloks: Infinity Armour Bay – A Review

121110megabloksHalo isn’t for everyone. There I said it. It isn’t for everyone because some people don’t like sci-fi. And some are more interested in bullet porn than plot. I am not one of those people. I love sci-fi. I love a game driven by a story – a story, I might add, I’ve invested more than a decade following – and I love Halo.

I mention this because I’ve played the Halo 4 campaign start to finish a lot. And every time the story drives me to do better. To make more efficient kills, to move faster, be better. To be more…Chief. I’ve raced to the top of the tower to warn the UNSC Infinity about approaching the Forerunner planet, secretly hoping that if I’m just that little bit faster I’ll catch it in time. And every time I get to the end a part of me always hopes that I can somehow change the outcome. So by the time we see the Chief on the armour deck it’s a solemn and lonely moment for the Chief. Amongst a deck of supermen the Chief is a giant. Alone in a room full of equals. It’s a very powerful scene.

It also aptly demonstrates how far the UNSC had come in the years between Halo 3 & 4. The deck and the armour bays are a testament to the size of the Infinity, the number of Spartan IV’s at its disposal, the disparity between them and the Chief, and the sophistication of the UNSC war machine.

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The Amrour Bay kit is for the fan and for the collector. It’s not for the kiddies or the idle kit builder. It’s for those that look upon that moment in the game and marvel.

It’s a very cleverly designed kit. It does a good job of conveying functional aspects of a warship and the next-gen armour removal system. The kit is also a pain in the bum. The hateful flat black used in the manuals making some of the parts indistinguishable and one part I had to rebuild three times before I was using the right parts. Now, I’m a pretty bright guy so I know it’s not a general lack of mental acuity. A fractionally lighter shade would make all the difference.

The kit is also beyond fiddly for the first few steps and doesn’t gain any stability until the deck plates are down. If you build it on anything other than a table it’ll fall apart more times than an Oscar Winner giving a speech. However, once the deck plates are down the kit comes together very rapidly. The whole thing was done, with the Spartan in place, within 40 minutes or so. Which is odd considering how much back and forth there was.

The armour bay is way cool though. It’s a sizeable and substantial kit and the concessions made for the limitations of the figures are nicely done and don’t draw attention to themselves. The articulated arms are really well done: they look the part and with a little adjustment all fit around the Spartan in the harness. The little touches make for an authentic feeling kit. The readouts are reflective of the game and the use of the weapons locker allows for two stories to be told. Liberal use of the round transparent ‘lights’ helps give the impression of energy and action. Considering what the set depicts, there’s a lot of movement to it. It feels urgent and solid. It, basically, feels like an armour bay. And how cool would two or three look next to each other?

I would have liked the Chief to be in the kit and I’d also have liked the accompanying technician be to scale, but I suspect it’s more of a case of the Spartan’s being too small than the technician being too big. But it’s a minor gripe and a child certainly wouldn’t care even if they noticed.

Compared to the Warthog kit it’s more time-consuming for its size and, arguably, it’s less fun for the kiddies but for fans of the Universe and Halo 4 it’s just as satisfying. Again, it feels like it belongs. Mega Bloks didn’t take too many liberties with the composition or the look. And considering the target age there aren’t too many bright and cheerful colours.

Most importantly of all, it feels like a part of the Infinity and Halo. And for what it is, that’s pretty special.
The UNSC Infinity Armour Bay is available from Amazon priced £19.99.

Spartan Ops Episodes 6 & 7

After a brief hiatus, Spartan Ops is back. I’ve been a bit slow off the mark putting up the two new episodes partly because I’ve been working on The Shell Case Shorts Anthology and partly because I’ve been slogging my way through the Spartan Ops missions that can be found as part of the Halo 4 offering.

It’s a brilliant way of fleshing out the Halo Universe 4 years on from Halo 3 as much has changed within the UNSC both politically and technologically, but also expanding the sub plot without detracting from the main storyline. And it probably means I’m going to have to play through the campaign again just so I’m clear in my mind how everything fits together.

But anyway, without further yapping from me, here’s episodes 6 and 7 of Spartan Ops. There is more shooty boomness and shit gets slightly real.

Where Halo Goes From Here


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Followers on Twitter will know that having completed Halo 4 I decided to replay the entire Halo series starting with Halo: Reach and working my way through. This was as much to do with getting the full story in my mind as anything else.

Whilst playing Halo 2 I realised something. It sucks. Out loud. It received a lot of criticism at original release and at the time I didn’t understand why – although I knew it wasn’t as good as the first – but with this recent replaying I’ve figured it out.

It isn’t the fact that the game jumps from one perspective to another, although it is annoying, it’s the fact that the story is just messy and rushed. It feels like Bungie were trying to cram an awful lot of plot developments into Halo 2 to allow for the Halo 3 to conclude the Flood story arc. I suspect this was as much to do with Bungie already deciding that they wanted to go in a different direction to Microsoft Game Studios. Even if that isn’t the case the statement still stands: Halo 2 is just too fussy. The civil war within the Covenant just escalates far too quickly and becomes a fleet scale war in no time at all.

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And it all happens with far too many gaps. In a way Halo 2 was a proper stab at making a game a movie with multiple protagonists with the story developing along converging plot lines. It was ambitious but, sadly, rubbish. I also suspect one of the main reasons the story suffered was that an awful lot of time, effort and, therefore, money went into the multiplayer part of the game. According to an interview on the bonus disc it was a last-minute decision to leave the multiplayer in at the expense of some of the campaign because there wasn’t enough space on the disc. On the one hand I’m glad they did as Halo multiplayer is ace, but I play for the campaign so I’m never going to be entirely happy that thecompromise had to be made.

It’s made worse by the Retcon. In Halo 2 the Brutes were new additions to the Covenant but they feature in Halo Reach. Admittedly the events of Halo 2 aren’t that much later than Reach but enough that it doesn’t make sense.

Granted much of the reasoning is explained in the subtext of Halo 3: ODST but that came out in 2009 and Halo 2 in 2004. That’s a long time to wait to fill in plot holes and it’s not really good enough. ODST is a fine game in its own right – an elegant film noir that fleshes out the Halo universe – but it was as much about patching over the cracks as anything else.

There has been talk of Halo 2 Anniversary. A similar deal to Halo Anniversary in which a second game engine runs along side the original one making it look all pretty. At first I thought this would be a good thing but I honestly don’t think it’s the way to go. Halo 2 Anniversary should be a rebuild. The plot needs tightening up, the timeline straightened out and some of the more pointless parts of levels taken out or improved. Either way it shouldn’t be a straight reskin. They could even go all out and have Halo 2 & ODST Anniversary as a double pack.

Indications are Halo 2 Anniversary, if it goes ahead, will be out in 2014 and Halo 5 in 2015.

And what of Halo 5? By the way this’ll contain spoilers if you haven’t completed the game yet and intend to.

With Cortana dead and the Chief finally back on Earth he’ll face not only having reintegrate with a world he’s never+the Chief will be confronted with his humanity more than ever, forced to deal with loss, the fact that he is now not only removed from humanity but removed from other Spartans.

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Halo 4 was all about revelations and loss. Halo 5 will, I suspect, see the Chief paired with a new AI being forced to adjust to a new personality that doesn’t have the history that he and Cortana had, and all the while having to deal with the death of Cortana and the realisation that he is not only removed from humanity but from his fellow Spartans too being the last of the MkIIs and the MkIVs being augmented adults without the psycho indoctrination although lacking none of the bravado of the Mk IIIs.

Of course the real question is who will the Chief be facing? The Didact is dead and the Promethean Knights left behind on the Shield World. The Covenant is all but disbanded and an uneasy truce exists between its members races and humanity. But clearly something is about to get real as it’s called the Reclaimer arc for a reason.

Whatever the foe I can’t wait to find out what awaits the Chief.

Thoughts on Halo 4

WARNING – CONTAINS SPOILERS! If you haven’t completed the campaign for Halo 4 and intend to then please don’t read on because I’m going to ruin things for you.

The other day whilst recording the intro end close to Of Dice & Men Adam asked me which I preferred Spartans or Space Marines. As those that know me will testify, I never have a straight forward answer for anything. I very rarely just state a preference or an opinion because there’s a lot of thought that goes into things and I like to share those thoughts whether the person on the receiving end likes it or not.

My answer was this;

If we’re talking generally than Space Marines because Space Marines are awesome, I’ve been collecting them 20 years and they’re ace. If we’re talking purely in the video game arena then Spartans because Space Marine, although good, had some pretty glaring deficiencies which, having replayed it recently, explains why there won’t be a sequel. If, however, the question was; which do I prefer the Master Chief or Space Marines then I have to say the Master Chief.

Now, before people start writing rage mail or leaving me condescending comments – because we all know how I love those – let me just say it’s a preference. A simple choice based on a set of criteria important to me.

For me what makes the Halo Universe and the Master Chief so compelling is that it’s a tale of tragedy. Not just the Chief’s tale but one of humanity as a whole. Our expansion into the heavens led to a war with an advanced alien race that almost led to our extinction and even then left our colonies barren and Earth wounded.

Humanity was saved by the sacrifice of the Spartans. I won’t go into too much detail about the process but the important thing to remember that the Spartan IIs were abducted children, (the later Spartan IIIs war orphans). They were abducted and put through extraordinary levels of physical and psychological conditioning so by the time the Master Chief first experienced combat at 16 he and his fellow surviving Spartans were as far removed from humanity as, arguably, the Adeptus Astartes in 40k. Not in the same way perhaps but the point stands.

John 117′s life from the age of 6 has been one of loss. Loss of family, loss of self then later the loss of his friends during the process that turned them into Spartans. Throughout the war he had to deal with the loss of his fellow Spartans, the loss of men and women and the loss of worlds. And still he fought on, any small victory being seized upon and exploited to the full for the betterment of humanity all the while not convinced of his place in humanity when the fighting was done.

And were this tragedy not enough he was charged with looking after the AI Cortana; the greatest and most sophisticated AI every created, an AI that held the secrets of the Forerunners and the Halo rings. The Chief and Cortana had met before and both were impressed with each other. The Chief had clarity of thought, brave and strong. Cortana was wise yet sensitive and reminded the Chief of the humanity, ironically, that he fought to protect and deep down still possessed.

Their connection was deep and far-reaching. They were as in love as a Spartan and an AI were capable of feeling those emotions. And from the Halo Incident they protected each other. When John-117 was forced to leave Cortana on High Charity he felt the loss acutely and his journey was as much about getting Cortana back as it was to defeat the Covenant.

In Halo 4 yet another tragedy befell the pair and that was Cortana’s descent into rampancy. In a nutshell, an AI only lives for 7 years before they start to think themselves to death. And despite Cortana’s descent into madness and their desperation to return home and see if her creator could do something to help, they put the safety of the UNSC Infinity and that of humanity first. And ultimately it cost Cortana her life. If you’re reading this and you haven’t finished Halo 4 then you’re a damn fool. But anyway…

For all his super human strength and no matter how hard he fought he couldn’t save Cortana. The funny thing was, as he faced down the fact that he was most likely going to sacrifice himself I don’t think it ever occurred to him that Cortana wouldn’t survive. With the loss of Cortana the Chief is forced to look at the world with his own eyes, finding his own humanity rather than relying on Cortana’s.

Halo 4 ended a bitter-sweet love story with tragedy pushing the chief ever closer to an edge he can’t return from as he tries to understand what it means to be human having had his humanity drummed out of him as a boy. John-117 never considered the loss of  because he’d always keep Cortana safe, no matter the personal cost. And now the Chief is left alone, no one he knew before the war left alive. Only Lasky, who he had met at the start of the Covenant War is the only vaguely familiar face.

Halo 5, I suspect will focus an awful lot on the Chief’s search for his sense of self. I also suspect that he won’t be paired with another AI and without the moral compass to guide him he’ll start to alienate himself from his fellow soldiers. Especially the Spartan IVs who are augmented adults. I also suspect that he’ll be haunted by ghosts of Cortana within his armour’s systems forcing him to experience a real and lasting sense of loss and grief rather than the stoic acceptance with which he’d met the loss of comrades in the past.

Halo 4 is not only the beginning of the Reclaimer arc but also the rediscovery of John-117′s humanity. And I can’t wait.