Videogames and books don’t match. There’s a lot of easy jokes you could make about the lack of intelligence and your average public gaming deathmatch, but when it comes down to it most gamers I’ve met are far from braindead. A lot of them are avid readers, and still somehow, most of them don’t seem to mix the two interests by reading gaming books.
Neither did I.
Now I’m pretty sure that a large part of the gaming crowd that does read gaming books are the exact types you see in the public matchmaking. The books I read aren’t particularly bad, but they’re not exactly good either. Even in comparison to the games, their writing is subpar. Which really goes to show that different platforms require a completely different aproach.
I started with Halo – The Fall of Reach. Never having been much of a Halo fan, but having really enjoyed Halo Reach, I thought it might be a good idea to go check this out.
Back when it was released, Fall of Reach helped flesh out the Halo universe. It set down a lot of the standards for the games that came after, and helped bring along the change in direction the second game took.
And then the games outgrew the books. With Halo ODST, and Halo Reach, they figured out how to handle storytelling in games. Where the old Halo games survived purely on their multiplayer and co-op, ODST and Reach managed to produce an excellent single player experience.
Explosions in space. That pretty much sums up the entirety of the book.
The ground Spartans are stepping on explodes. Space ships explode. Vehicles explore. Body armor explodes. And John gets excited at any mention of battle. John’s adrenaline shoots up at the thought of battle. All he wants to do is fight. All he lives for is to fight. Somehow, these quick views into his mind made him more human compared to the first Halo game.
Despite being called The Fall of Reach, the book only covers the actual falling of Reach in the last 80 pages or so. The rest of the novel chronicles the Spartan program, and the start of the war against the Covenant, without really detailing much of it.
What also doesn’t help the book much is that the information from it has dated. Halo Reach retconned the start of the Covenant war. In the book, the war doesn’t last over a week, and is ended in about two waves of Covenant attacks. In the game, the fight took several months, with massive waves of constant Covenant attacks. The active Spartan team weren’t aware of the Covenant threat in Halo Reach, while in the book they were sent down after the fight had started.
It’s hard to demand a part of the extended universe be completely in line with future works within the series, but for a tie-in novel that mostly plays alongside the game universe as narrowly as this does, it hurts it.
Mass Effect – Revelation was a massive step up, and even that didn’t make it that much better. Written by the original lead writer for the first two Mass Effect games, Drew Karpyshyn, it follows Anderson during his first encounter with Saren.
The plot is pretty much delivered in the straightforward way the Mass Effect games work, which brings forward the most painful problem from the games in this form: information dumping. The second a new character is introduced, we get a quick information dump on who they are, where they’re from, what they believe in… And none of this really gets used.
It’s the exact same pacing problem that the games suffered from. In the first game, you could talk at lengths to NPCs about who they are, their background, and why they are where they’re at in life at the moment. In most cases, as interesting as it is, it felt unnatural for these people to tell Commander Shepard about all these problems out of nowhere. But if you wanted all the extra info, it was there.
This doesn’t work out that well in the books. An action-driven 300 page contained novel doesn’t do well with pointless image dumps.
As much as that period in Anderson’s life sounds interesting, it really just fell flat for me. The story would have worked as a half-hour Mass Effect 1 add-one, with how systematically the book is structured. In fact, the only interesting parts of it have actually been told in Anderson’s conversation with Shepard in the game itself.
It’s a shame. Both books could’ve been a lot more. But as they are, they feel like pointless fluff bound together. I still have an Assassin’s Creed book lying around too. Not looking forward to diving into that one.