Halo: Nightfall is a live-action, half-hour webseries that represents Microsoft’s effort at multimedia storytelling that will actively lead into the story for their star gaming franchise’s next major release, 2015’s Halo 5: Guardians on Xbox One. Touted as being executive produced by Ridley Scott and in association with his production company, Nightfall‘s first episode has been released via Xbox Live to owners of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. After watching the first episode, I can say this for sure: it’s beautiful and visually very impressive, the leading man is a solid actor and easy to empathize with and get behind, and it helps to provide a unique and interesting look at the Halo universe in a way that we’ve not seen before.
Unfortunately, though, this first episode just wasn’t very good.
As the second live-action narrative Halo experience after 2012’s Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, Nightfall picks up after the events of Halo 4 and concerns a new elemental threat to humanity that seems to originate from Installation 04, the very first Halo superweapon that was encountered and destroyed by Master Chief in the original game Halo: Combat Evolved. Nightfall‘s first episode is all setup: we meet the main character and his supporting cast, have the necessary events lined up to explore in future episodes, and are given a solid and expansive perspective about the world that we’ll be journeying through over the course of the next five weeks.
What’s good in Nightfall is actually very good. The visual effects and production design are top-notch, evoking the games in all the right places (the props and weapons, and Covenant beings and ships), but it also makes a concerted effort to stay at the ground level so that you feel like you might be able to go on the adventure yourself. Most of the more imaginative environments will hopefully come later, though, since the first episode was limited to just one rather Earth-like locale. The main character, Jameson Locke, is an officer with the Office of Naval Intelligence (or ONI, basically like the DHS and CIA combined, but in the future), will be a playable character in next year’s Halo 5, and the primary goal of this series is to give us his origin story. He’s played by actor Mike Colter, who definitely has the air of a commanding leader with a great deal of wisdom and patience. I’ll be interested to learn more about him.
All of the other narrative elements that surround him, though, just aren’t up to par with either his character or the lavishly designed production that they occupy. The vast majority of performances are flat and unconvincing, and the writing itself feels hammy, while also being devoid of any easily connected emotion. There’s a tragic moment that happens to one of the characters that is both set up in the opening minutes and carried out in the closing segment, and it just didn’t seem to have any substantive punch to it. While casting could likely have been a bit better, the largest culprit here seems to be the writing, which attempts to be accessible, but is both too caught up in its own lore and fails to flesh out any character well enough for us to truly care about this journey that these people are going on.
As a huge Halo fan, I hate to say that I’m so disappointed by this first episode of Nightfall. While it seems like the elements are there for an interesting action-adventure set in space and in a universe with engrossing mythology, Nightfall has failed to take advantage of any of that in its first outing. Here’s hoping that future episodes can bring some necessary emotion and compelling drama forward so that franchise fans don’t have a sour taste in our mouths as we await next year’s story in Halo 5. With four more episodes to go there’s time to pull it off, and we should certainly hope that they do. 5/10
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