Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Halo: Contact Harvest Review

Halo: Contact Harvest is the latest novel in the Halo series, released about a month after Halo 3 last year. In a word, Halo: Contact Harvest is excellent.

Written by Joseph Staten, writer of the Halo trilogy, Halo: Contact Harvest is set at the very beginning of the Human-Covenant War, 27 years prior to Halo: Combat Evolved, and roughly 5 years prior to the upcoming RTS, Halo Wars. What makes the tale even more unique is that there are no Spartan-II's, as they're still in training back on Reach. In fact, this is the only Halo novel thus far that doesn't feature a single Spartan.

Who it does feature is everyone's favourite Sergeant Major, Avery J. Johnson; at this point a simple Staff Sergeant. At the beginning of the novel, the UNSC is still dealing with the Insurectionists, groups of humans who want to break away from the UN and strike it out on their own. Johnson, as well as several other Marines, are sent on an anti-terrorist mission, and everything begins to go downhill for A.J. Johnson right from the get-go.

Disgraced and broken, Johnson is re-assigned to the outer-colony world of Harvest along with Staff Sergeant Byrne, a man Johnson has an unpleasent history with, to train several local recruits into a functional militia to further resist any Inserectionist activity. What Johnson, Byrne, and the recruits could never hope to realize is that they'll take part in and bare witness to the birth of the most destructive conflict humanity will ever face.

As any fan of the franchise knows, Harvest is the first human world the Covenant encounters, and they completely destroy the world, claiming we are an afront to their gods. We've all heard this story, summarized in a few simple sentences as it's ancient history by the time of the Halo trilogy, but the events leading up to Harvest's destruction are much more detailed than a simple assault.

For those of you who loved the Arbiter's storyline from Halo 2 and were, like me, disappointed to see it and most of the Covenant politics dropped from Halo 3, you will love Halo: Contact Harvest. Why? Because there's a _lot_ of Covenant politics, and it's written very, very well.

You'll get to read about the Prophets we know from the trilogy before their rise to power, you'll learn more about the tedious relations between the Prophets and the Elites, and how the Brutes fit into the overall plan. Oh yes, the Brutes are part of the Covenant prior to the war, as are Drones, it's just that they didn't exactly have the best standing in the Covenant at the time. In fact, the Brutes feature much more prominently in Halo: Contact Harvest than the Elites, and the way Staten fleshes them out has granted me a whole lot more respect for those space apes.

I'm also happy to say that many of the Covenant background details, cut from the Halo 2 cinematics but glimpsed at in the Halo 2: Limited Edition's bonus disc, are brought to light in Halo: Contact Harvest and add much further detail to the Covenant's political background. And of course, what would Halo be without Grunts? While we don't get Yayap, the lead Grunt everyone loved from Halo: The Flood, we do get Dadab, a very interesting Grunt who's not a soldier. Think of it as a new and unique twist on a classic Halo character.

Simply put, Halo: Contact Harvest is a must read for any fans of the franchise. Not only do we get to see several key characters from the trilogy early on, and I've neglected to mention a few on purpose to leave some surprise, but you get to read how everything started, and how the seeds were planted for many of the major events that bare fruit during the Halo trilogy itself.

This is Joseph Staten's first novel, and I most certainly hope it's not his last.

No comments: