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Review: Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn

"If only all video game-related film projects held the same level of respect for their source material…"

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It might be a long time before we see a proper Halo film at the cinema. But that hasn’t stopped Microsoft, 343 Industries and website Machinima from giving Halo fans the next best thing. Today saw the release of Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn’s final episode online, and having watched the entire series in one sitting, I feel qualified to speak on its qualities as a singular entity.

What’s truly amazing about Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn is that while moviegoers are being fed absolute schlock like Silent Hill: Revelations 3Dthe kind of stuff that makes you question a larger Hollywood conspiracy against video game films – people can instead boot up their computer and watch a web-series like this for free that undeniably pays more respect to the source material with a fraction of the budget. Mind you, Forward Unto Dawn wasn’t cheap – it costs upwards of $10 million to produce – but the end results surely justify the buy in for Microsoft and everyone else concerned with the fate of the company’s premier video game franchise.

For the uneducated, Forward Unto Dawn is basically a primer for 343 Industries’ upcoming blockbuster video game, Halo 4. The plot follows a group of cadets training to be the next elite soldiers in the UNSC, when all of a sudden an enemy makes itself known and all hell breaks loose. Eventually, the young cadets cross paths with the Chief, setting in motion the events that lead to the opening of Halo 4.

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Since this series is a prequel to Halo 4, longtime Halo fans will undeniably get the most out of it. Watching our young heroes getting hunted by an invisible Elite soldier followed by the first appearance of Master Chief rank as some of the series’ highlights and should please franchise fanatics. However, newcomers to the Halo-verse will find an emotional through line to connect to and keep them engaged. Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn isn’t Shakespeare, mind you, but it mines deep enough that you identify and sympathize with the main character’s emotional arc, even if his defining act of heroism is running the other direction. 

It’s also worth pointing out that the special effects of this series are top notch. Microsoft probably dumped more money into this series than the vast majority of funding you’d see for free, online series, but I’m not complaining. The little snippets we see of Covenant forces slaughtering troops look real – well, as real as aliens carrying energy swords can look. And there’s a sequence during the series’ third episode with a crumbling transport bridge that competes with some of the best moments from Michael Bay’s Transformers films as far as raw spectacle is concerned.

The fact of the matter is this: who knows how long it will be before we get to see Master Chief blowing holes through aliens on the big screen, but at least we have Forward Unto Dawn to tide us over. The acting is superb and the story acts as a great prequel to the events of the fantastic Halo 4. If only all video game-related film projects held the same level of respect for their source material as Forward Unto Dawn. Maybe then we wouldn’t have to suffer things like Silent Hill: Revelations 3D, Prince of Persia and… dear god… Super Mario Bros.

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