As a prelude to next year's Halo 5: Guardians Microsoft is releasing a digital video series, Halo: Nightfall executive produced by Ridley Scott. The series will launch next week with Halo: The Master Chief Collection (i.e. you have to have an Xbox to watch this — for now, at least). The Verge had a chance to see the first episode early, and whether or not you're a Halo fan, the outlook's frankly not so good.
Senior Video Director and Halo aficionado
I started playing Halo when the original game came out in 2001 and I've been highly addicted. The universe fascinated me. It was ancient, grand, and epic and the stories being told felt larger than anything I had played previously. That's why, naturally, I was desperately waiting for the inevitable movie or TV show announcement so that the rest of the world could experience this magical place.
When Halo Nightfall was announced with Ridley Scott attached, instant giddiness ensued. It was going to happen this time. Someone as talented as Ridley Scott was bound to get this universe right. After watching the premiere episode, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Halo Nightfall tries to briefly introduce the audience into this world (via text) and then immediately turns into a generic sci-fi show with some of the worst CGI I’ve seen in recent years. It doesn’t feel grand or epic or ancient. One of the main scenes has a Covenant Elite casually stroll into a shopping mall to detonate some form of biological weaponry. Seriously?!?
This show was only green-lit because of the Halo name and it will die after this season because if this pilot is any indication it’s not only a bad Halo adaptation, it’s just a bad show. We now expect brilliance from our television. You can’t ride the Halo brand and expect poor storytelling, bad acting, and horrible CGI to get you anywhere. I want the industry to stop trying to adapt Halo because they’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. Just make an entertaining show and stop destroying my hopes and dreams.
Reporter and science fiction aficionado
Despite my overall love of science fiction shooters, I’ve never really followed Halo’s story — if nothing else, the Endless Capital Letters for non-proper nouns put me off. So I have no investment whatsoever in Nightfall, and if I really want to get up to speed for Halo 5: Guardians, I’ll check Wikipedia. That said, if someone described the theoretical premise of Nightfall to me at a party, I’d probably watch it. "Yeah, it’s like someone set Event Horizon in Battlestar Galactica, except everything’s happening because of Master Chief." The show might be richer for someone who knows the world, but the tropes are universal enough that I doubt it matters much.
Unfortunately, the first episode is neither Event Horizon nor BSG. It’s not even Caprica. I imagine it’s hard to squeeze a whole pilot into 30 minutes, and the building blocks are fine — Mike Colter and Christina Chong are likeable leads, the cinematography has a ‘90s-TV feel but a rich palette — but it’s just so hard for me to care about people I’m barely introduced to, laboring under a comically gruff voice-over about honor in battle, fighting over a world that so far consists of a military base, some trees, and a shopping mall. I might not be able to see the capital letters when characters keep talking about Elite Zealots, but I know they’re there.
I’m holding out hope that Nightfall’s "ancient, hellish artifact" will actually be as creepy or surreal as the showrunners have promised, which could draw me back for at least one more episode. But I’m not optimistic. The pilot feels like my worst stereotypes about the Halo universe and space opera (BSG notwithstanding) in general: a serviceable action story hamstrung by a devotion to bland epic lore-crafting at the expense of character development or unique set pieces that don’t fit some overarching 343 Industries Bible. Wake me up when Master Chief summons Pinhead.
Deputy Editor, likes cars
I am a casual gamer (and that's being generous). I think I've heard of Halo. I may have owned the first Halo for the original Xbox.
Where am I? What's going on? Why does the CGI look like it was pulled out of the bottom of a Cracker Jack box? Why is North Korea's infamous "Tower of Doom," the Ryugyong Hotel, on this space city's skyline? Oh, and spoiler: there's no Halo anymore. I guess it got blown up? I don't know if that's actually a spoiler, maybe that happened in one of the video games already.
Nightfall just doesn't seem accessible in any way to people who aren't up to speed with the franchise — but Halo diehards will probably have a very different experience. I won't be watching again, unless Vin Diesel shows up.
Reporter, succinct reviewer
The emotional depth of the Phantom Menace combined with the production values of a made-for-TV movie. Cool armor, though.
News Editor, PC gaming hypebeast
This show is so bad I'm buying a PS4.
I'm not a Halo fan, I haven't played since the first one or two, so I'm not super well versed in the storyline.
As far as it goes as a show, Nightfall feels like a typical SyFy original, with stilted acting and corny dialog. The CGI was ironically pretty obvious in a lot of places. Still, it kept my attention for the entire episode (not an easy feat!) and I would watch the next episode. It's like a popcorn movie: entertaining enough, but nothing that makes you think. Side note: was Frank Miller involved with this? Felt like I was watching 300 with guns in a lot of places.
Director / Editor, Video
I've played Halo a couple times, I've watched people play it A LOT. I don't know much of the backstory, There is a halo that rotates to create artificial gravity, thats pretty sweet. There are futury laser swords. Master chief; I don't know what his significance is other than he's a chill dude who is in charge in some way…he's like the president? IDK.
The episode was pretty shitty. Typical Syfy shit. Bad Acting, bad script, everything looks artificial, actors are way too handsome/beautiful to be real people, etc etc. The CGI was a little below what one would deem acceptable; i was having flashbacks to 1995's Jumanji. Maybe one of the problems with this adaptation is that Halo is all about action, right? But action is expensive to do, so they have to fill it out with dialogue. But nobody plays Halo for the Dialogue right? it's a gritty space war, and you're in the middle of it. Shoot the bad guys, save the universe, it's pretty simple fun. Take that action away and whats left?
Parts of the premise were fairly interesting. The idea of a unique bacteria existing only on a destroyed 'Halo' (Which I guess was like a super rich human chill zone?? c.c. Elysium). As a person interested in Extraterrestrial life, one of the common topics is microscopic/bacterial life surviving in extreme conditions. Most of the planets in our solar system are unable to harbor life as we know it, so the only way 'aliens' could exists on them is if they could survive these extreme conditions. It's also speculated that such a life form could survive on a meteor and endure lengthy space travel until colliding with a planet. This hypothesis is called Panspermia, and it's one of the best guesses we have for how life started on earth. So in that way, it's some pretty nerdy cool stuff. I just wish the execution was better.
Senior Editor, Pop Culture Whore
I wouldn't put the Nightfall trailer into that category, but I'd definitely say the teaser gave more promise than what was ultimately delivered. It hinted at higher production value and more emotional depth.
I'm not surprised. I'm not mad. I'm just disappointed.
Reporter, fast food staple
[This is too beautiful to copy edit. Leaving this as submitted. Sorry, Ellis! — RM]
hey! so this was really terrible. it reminded me of a low budget SyFy series that i’d never want to watch
the special effects were mortifying, dialogue was almost completely pointless, and the overall affect was that this thing wanted to replicate 300 but with random Halo dudes
it was just so cheesey and bizarre and i could barely get thru it :(
I'm pretty knowledgable about Halo. I’ve played through almost every game, and put what probably adds up to a couple hundred hours into multiplayer (high school Saturday nights were basically Halo 3 marathons). Or, to put it another way, I own and have read at least one Halo book.
As an introduction to both Agent Locke and a new chapter of the Halo universe, Nightfall feels a little underwhelming. Much like its spiritual predecessor produced for Halo 4, Halo: Forward Unto Dawn, it’s still cool to see big budget, live action versions of classic Halo guns, ships and aliens. But the lack of Master Chief (or any Spartans, at least for now — Aiken has been hinted to be revealed later on as one of the iconic super-soldiers) is definitely a mark against it. And Agent Locke, the presumed deuteragonist of Halo 5: Guardians and whose origin story Nightfall intends to tell is still completely a blank slate at this (admittedly early) point. I’d have liked to see more characterization for Locke (who we’ll be spending a large portion of Halo 5 with), even if it meant less time to focus on what was ultimately just a fairly standard set up for Nightfall’s story.
I’ll probably watch more of Nightfall, if only to be caught up for Halo 5 when it launches next year, but I’d like Nightfall to give me a reason to care.
If this is what Microsoft's original programming was going to look like, it's a good thing that Satya Nadella pulled the cord. Halo: Nightfall feels like it's meant for kids, with goofy chase and fight sequences, cheesy effects, and spell-out-every-single-detail-for-you dialog.
I really do think that there's a good sci-fi story inside of Halo — it's basically Lost, but they're in space and discovering weird things about an ancient ring — but none of that is in Nightfall.