Updated: Jan 24
This article was originally created for Exclusively Games. Unfortunately, the site went on hiatus before it could be published, therefore I am publishing it here on Nomad’s Reviews.
To the best of my knowledge, the article was correct at the time of writing - pre-May 2020 - however, additional Halo-themed books may have been written since then. I have elected not to rewrite the article at this time, since I feel 29 books is more than enough for a single article already. (I didn’t realise there was this many Halo books when I started researching the article - oops! #hindsightisalwaystwentytwenty.)
Books Based on Games?
In a pair of recent articles, Top 5 Games Based on Books and its follow up Nine MORE Games Based on Books – as Chosen by the Community, we looked at games based on books. We saw that there are a surprisingly large number of them, especially if you count the unofficial games which were *ahem* ‘inspired’ by certain books. Some of these games are amongst the finest video games created to date.
But is the reverse true? Are there books based on games? If so, are they any good? Since I have been a bookworm and a gamer in equal measure for about 35* years I feel I’m well placed to answer both of these questions;
1) Are there books based on games?
Yes, lots of them.
2) Are they any good?
Some of them are, some less so. Personal preference plays a large part in this.
I should clarify what I am referring to as a ‘book’. In this instance, I am referring only to novels, novellas, and short stories. Game manuals, strategy guides, and ‘the making of’ books, such as The Art of Halo: Creating a Virtual Masterpiece or Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar are not included here - they can be investigated separately in a future article. The same goes for comic books, graphic novels, audiobooks and radio dramas - these too deserve articles all their own.
I am also excluding fan-fiction stories since there are simply too many of them to cover. To give you an idea of the numbers involved there are over 100,000 fan fiction stories about video games on fanfiction.net alone - 98,400 of which appear to be about Pokémon?!?
I’m guessing you would like some examples of official story books/novels to back up my answers? No problem, we will investigate many of the most notable examples in this and subsequent articles. Note that some of these examples will be one-off books, whilst some are examples of an entire book series, whilst one franchise has spawned multiple series of books. And that prolific book spawning franchise is…
The Halo franchise has always been known for its superb storytelling. It is not surprising then that it has spawned an entire multi-media franchise, with multiple games in multiple genres, animated shorts, live-action films, soundtracks, comic books, and multiple series of novels.
According to the font of all wisdom - i.e. Wikipedia - there are twenty-nine (29?!?) Halo novels. They can be broadly broken down into three series or ‘eras’ and an assortment of standalone stories.
The Bungie Era
The first released books depict the events immediately before those in the game Halo Combat Evolved. Halo: Fall of Reach shows the clandestine origins of the SPARTAN-II program, then the Spartan’s training as children, their early exploits against human insurrectionists, their first missions against the Covenant and ultimately their actions during the Covenant’s attack on the UNSC’s base world – Reach. It also shows that the Pillar of Autumn exiting from hyperspace right next to the first discovered Halo ring was no mere coincidence.
Halo: Fall of Reach
Halo: The Flood
Halo: First Strike
Halo: Ghosts of Onyx introduces the SPARTAN III project. The SPARTAN IIIs will later appear prominently in the game Halo: Reach.
Halo: Ghosts of Onyx
Halo: Contact Harvest steps back in time to show the first contact between humans and The Covenant from the perspectives of both sides.
Halo: Contact Harvest
This was followed by Halo: The Cole Protocol, which sees Navy Lieutenant Jacob Keys sent on a clandestine mission behind enemy lines to erase navigational data which could lead the Covenant to Earth.
Halo: The Cole Protocol
This was followed by the short story collection Halo: Evolutions - Essential Tales of the Halo Universe
Collectively these books and the games Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Halo: Reach, and Halo Wars (plus some of the other multimedia entries) can be broadly categorized as ‘The Bungie Era’. These novels were well received and many became best sellers.
They did not add to or alter the established canon of the games to any great extent. What they did - and did quite well - was bridge the gap between some of the games, or expand upon events that in-game were merely mentioned or implied.
My two cents: I have read most of these and quite enjoyed them. Like many novelizations - be they of games, films, or TV shows - they were relatively simplistic - and thus accessible - in their writing style and the language used. You will find no ‘purple prose’ in these novels.
These novels were never going to win any literary awards, but they were entertaining light reading. They are a good starting place for gamers - Halo fans especially - who are not yet avid readers but wish to pick up the reading habit.
The Forerunner Saga
The next series of Halo books were created after 343 Industries took over the Halo franchise. These three stories by Hugo and Nebula award-winning sci-fi author Greg Bear, Halo: Cryptum, Halo: Primordium, and Halo: Silentium are collectively known as the ‘Forerunner Saga’. The saga is set approximately 100,000 years before Halo: Combat Evolved and depicts the Forerunner empire, the Forerunner’s relation to the Precursors, Ancient Humanity and the Flood, and the catastrophic events of the Forerunner-Flood war.
Halo: Cryptum, Halo: Primordium and Halo: Silentium
Allegedly, Bear was given a largely free reign in depicting this epoch of history, and this resulted in some quite drastic additions to the established canon. These revelations led to the events and enemies in Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians, such as the Ur-Didact and his Promethean Knights.
These revelations and additions to the canon were met with mixed feelings by the established fan-base. Some praised its expansive space-opera themes, whilst others felt the changes were too drastic making the willing suspension of disbelief a challenge.