Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn was a step up from most web series.
To date, this series represented the most money Microsoft has invested in a live-action Halo project. Additionally, Halo 4 is the first game in the iconic franchise to be made by 343 studios instead of fan-favorite Bungie, the studio that first brought the Halo universe to life. The series was commissioned to get fans excited about the new series.
It’s about as high-stakes as a promotional web series can get.
The series was significantly better than most web series. I’ve seen worst from actual for-television series. Within the web-series medium, it really shines.
This series had much to recommend it. Microsoft dumped a lot of money into it, and it shows. The production value is better than any web series I’ve seen. But it’s more than a big pile of money. The writing’s pretty solid. The characters are generally rather well-rounded. They’re not just generic stock characters for the most part. The CGI is usually awesome as well. One thing that I think bares special mention is the sound design. The sound department is the sort of techies who usually go unsung: unless something’s catastrophically wrong, or sea changingly right, people tend to not notice sound design. Forward Unto Dawn’s sound design wasn’t exactly subtle, but definitely well-executed. They used it to make various Covenant monsters seem more menacing, and make the Master Chief larger than life. The sound sold the creepiness of the Jackals, and made the Elites terrifying. After mowing down hundreds of them in various incarnations of Halo, making them scary again is an accomplishment.
The series did have some flaws. For example, clichés peppered the story. For example, by the end of the first episode, you can pretty much tell who’s going to die. It included a lot of tropes that feel kinda familiar if you’ve seen Aliens or Starship Troopers. Additionally, a lot of the military elements felt like they were derived from watching military sci-fi than any sort of actual research into military life or tactics. Additionally, while the CGI was often amazing, there were a few critical scenes where it just failed to live up. The Hunter at the end looked more like something screen capped from the original Halo: Combat Evolved than the sort of higher-quality CGI the web series had used throughout.
The biggest flaw was that the series couldn’t decide if it was episodic or a bigger movie broken up into chunks, giving it weird pacing when you viewed it either as single episodes or in one sitting. It doesn’t quite work either way, but this doesn’t quite torpedo the whole thing.
Overall, it’s pretty good. It’s one of the best YouTube series I’ve watch. However, it’s more competent than groundbreaking. The difference is simple. They almost everything right, but didn’t push the envelope of the medium. It’s certainly watchable, but I’m holding out hope that someone will top it. It’s definitely a fun watch, but it’s nothing revolutionary.