Halo Legends is best digested in pieces, not as a two-hour whole. This seven story piece of animation tells some fantastic tales within the Halo universe. Seeing the Covenant Elite Arbiter at home, with a wife discussing his rebellion is a side of this series that remains unseen. These are the stories that develop the deep, rich science fiction that many would wrongly write off as video game fodder.
Near the mid-way point, Daisuke Nishio, known for the Dragonball series, takes over with his spin on the series with Odd Man Out. This is where Legends comes crashing to a halt, with an absurdly ridiculous tale of Spartan 1337 (*groan) fighting a super Brute and a dinosaur (!) along with two kids who are apparently pulled from the Street Fighter series. While the franchise is known for its oddball humor at times, this is so far from home that it comes off as parody, clashing with the otherwise serious style of the other pieces.
Things do eventually come around in segments like The Babysitter, which despite the off-putting animation, tells a wonderful story of the ODST troopers clashing with the newly introduced Spartans. The mixture of animation, ranging from the unique living watercolor of The Duel to the crisp, clean stylings of Homecoming blend surprisingly well, with limited distractions.
It is interesting to see a Halo franchise envisioned by those in another country, especially in one where the first-person shooter series never gained much of a following. That may be Legends strong suit, offering not only different stories beyond those focused on shooting things, but delivering it in a way that can open a gamer’s eyes to the possibilities of this universe.
Never fear though, as Legends contains plenty of action, with the majority saved for the finale. The Package is the most familiar to fans, with fully rendered animation from Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed) that brings Master Chief into the realm of animated film.
The Package contains “that” moment, as if the prior pieces were a tease. Chief, having just blasted a hole in a Covenant space cruiser, lands on the deck with two other Spartans, bubble shield deployed. Enemy troops begin surrounding them as they wait for the shield to drop. When it bursts, Martin O’Donnell’s spectacular theme music blares, the guns fire, headshots are landed, first-person views are common, and it encompasses everything Halo is famous for. It’s a shame Odd Man Out nearly ruins it all. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]
Warner provides a VC-1 encode for Legends, one with problems entirely dependent on the source animation, with the sole exception of some extensive banding in the backgrounds, and a slight stretch to fill a 1.78:1 frame (noticeable whenever planets are on screen). The first two parts, titled Origins, suffer from heavy aliasing and flickering, enough to be a distraction.
Most of the animation contains an intentional bloom effect, likely hiding many of the flaws. However, Homecoming is typically crisp, and the bold, saturated colors are nothing short of beautiful. Few flaws are noted here, in direct contrast to Odd Man Out which suffers extensive aliasing and ringing. The final piece, The Package, seems to have been rendered at a lower resolution than 1920×1080, especially notable on the doctor’s hair and the fine lines on Master Chief’s armor.
At their peak, black levels are superior, adding dimensionality to a traditionally flat animated affair. Colors, where allowed to show through, can carry a jaw-dropping level of vibrancy. Origins contains a war sequence bathed in noise, and the encode handles this intentional effect with no adverse artifacting. Something like this is incredibly difficult to judge, but given the apparent accuracy to the source material, credit is due for this generally fine presentation. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
Warner skimps on the audio, providing only a compressed Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, which oddly begins with a 2.0 musical affair during the opening credits. Sadly, O’Donnell’s awesome score never comes alive as it should, feeling restrained without proper room to breathe. The same goes for the gunfire, which carries a punch, but not one that Blu-ray viewers are now accustomed too.
That said, despite somewhat flat quality the outdated compression method applies, this is an appropriately loud, aggressive mix when it needs to be. Action is permeated with bullets, plasma shots, vehicles tracking all through the sound field, and explosions that catch the subwoofer with a satisfying shot of bass. Cortana’s voice during the opening animation has an immersive, enveloping echo quality in the stereo channels and surrounds.
The Package of course delivers, with a ridiculous level of action, explosions, and cries of pain as Grunts are blasted away by shotguns. The score is lost slightly behind it all, but not enough to ruin the impact. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
A commentary from directors Frank O’Connor and Joseph Chou begin the extras, followed by a fine look at the franchise as a whole in Gaming Evolved. The Story So Far is the entire Halo saga narrated to bring anyone up to speed on the complex backstory. The latter two featurettes run around 22-minutes each.
A making-of is split into eight parts, each focusing on a different story (including an introduction to make it to eight). In total, they run just shy of 55-minutes, covering the basics, influences, and the conceptions of each tale. Trailers, including a teaser for the upcoming final game in the series, Halo Reach, remain. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Extras]