I was ten years late to the Halo party. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, I avoided the Halo franchise like the plague, until I was assigned to review Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. That instigated some insane Halo fan within, and I not only played the other Halo games, I started to read the Halo novels. I read Eric Nylund’s novels—Fall of Reach, First Strike, and Ghosts of Onyx—before I played Halo: Reach, and as a result, I came away from Halo: Reach scratching my head in utter confusion. Too much from the game clashed with the information contained in the novels, particularly when it came to the Spartan-IIIs of Noble team and their interactions with Dr. Catherine Halsey; or to be more precise, their lack of interactions with Dr. Halsey. After poring over the books once again, replaying those scenes with Dr. Halsey, and examining her Journal contained in the Collector’s Edition of Halo: Reach, it still doesn’t add up. The people at Bungie and Frank O’Connor, the series’ Franchise Development Director, may have tried to connect the dots with Halsey’s Journal, but it’s an obvious cover-up job, and it still does not explain the various inconsistencies between the lore and the game. In particular, the inconsistencies regarding the Spartan-IIIs are nearly painful to experience.
Dr. Catherine Halsey is the woman behind the Spartan program. She developed the surgical procedures the Spartans would have to undergo, she handpicked all of the original Spartans, she had a hand in kidnapping all of them when they were children, she designed their MJOLNIR armor, etc. etc. etc. Our beloved Master Chief, a/k/a Spartan-117 a/k/a John (yes, he had a name once), was part of her original Spartan program, which was called the Spartan-II program. The original purpose behind creating these human weapons was to stop the insurrection with the human colonies against the main UNSC on Earth. When the UNSC discovered the Covenant, it suddenly became rather convenient that they already had Spartan-IIs in the military. They were secret, to be sure, but they were still present and still incredibly convenient. Most humans, including most other members in the military, believed that the Spartan-IIs were developed as part of the defense against the Covenant, since that is when they technically became public knowledge.
Dr. Halsey was not exactly liked by other members of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), especially by Colonel James Ackerson and Admiral Margaret Parangosky. Ackerson and Parangosky teamed up to circumvent Dr. Halsey and create their own battalion of Spartans. They stole some of her research, kidnapped a Spartan-II (Spartan-051 a/k/a Kurt) to train the new Spartans, and set up a secret facility on the planet Onyx for Kurt and his former training officer, Chief Petty Officer Mendez, to develop the new human weapons—called Spartan-IIIs.
The purpose of the Spartan-IIIs was to take on suicide missions that regular military men couldn’t handle, even in droves. Since Spartans are super-soldiers, sacrificing a team of six was better than losing hundreds of other men. Since this was kind of immoral, the Spartan-III program was strictly kept confidential. All of the Spartan-II sacrifices were publicly memorialized, but there was “not one public mention of their sacrifices. And there never would be, either” (Ghosts of Onyx, 139).
So naturally, Dr. Halsey was never aware of the Spartan-III program (confirmed in the Halo Encyclopedia, page 86) until she started poke around in Ackerson’s secret files. According to Dr. Halsey’s Journal, on July 24, 2552, she learned of a unit called “Noble Team” sent in to find out what happened to a lost communications hub. She made note to look into what Noble team could mean, and on July 26, 2552, she confirmed that Noble team was made of Spartans that were not hers except for one—Jorge. She notes that she doesn’t know where they came from and that she will have to look into it. Everything was solidified for her in September 2552, when she found Ackerson’s files that mentioned the Spartan-III program (Ghosts of Onyx, 149).
So with Halsey being who Halsey is, which includes the inability to let anything (and I mean anything go), why didn’t she question who the Spartans were and where they came from when she met them in Halo: Reach? She instead greets them as if she’s known them all this time, and even personally says hello to Jorge, who removes his helmet so she can recognize him. If players hadn’t read the books, they never would have guessed that Halsey didn’t know anything about them at all. If you did read the books, you were extremely confused at this point. I had honestly thought I misheard everyone this whole time that this team consisted of Spartans—what else would make sense? Maybe they were Spartan-IIs? That would have been a plausible explanation if the Halo Encyclopedia didn’t confirm that Noble team was a squad of Spartan-IIIs (114-115).
One could argue that they’re in the middle of a war, and at this point in the game, Noble team has not confirmed Covenant troops on Reach, so there was no time to really get into a debate about the existence of these Spartans with Halsey. However, that’s never really been Halsey’s style, especially since she knew Jorge—his presence there alone would have triggered a barrage of questions from her. For example, when she came across Team Saber (one of the squads of the third class of Spartan-IIIs, Gamma Company) in Onyx with Kurt, her questioning began almost immediately, and they were in the middle of fighting hordes of Sentinels (Ghosts of Onyx, 172). Just a few chapters later, she was interrogating Kurt once more about the augmentations performed on the Spartan-IIIs while they were being overrun by Covenant on Onyx (Ghosts of Onyx, 339). The middle of battle means little to Halsey when she wants to know something.
Even if she chose to not question Jorge and Noble team when she first meets them, then she definitely would have when she had some considerable time alone with the team later on in the game. But no, no questioning at this point either. It would have broken up the action in the game and would have made this section potentially quite boring, so it had to continue to appear that Halsey always knew of these Spartans, no matter how great the inconsistency is now between the books and game in regards to the Spartan-IIIs.
Of course, the inconsistencies only grow at this point, since Noble team is able to escort Halsey to her ship to evacuate Reach when she actually remained on Reach, hidden in her lab (First Strike, 147). Additionally, she entrusted Noble Six to transport Cortana to the Pillar of Autumn in Halo: Reach, when in fact, Cortana was already on board the Pillar of Autumn the entire time the battle for Reach was taking place (Fall of Reach). Furthermore, it was Master Chief who brought Cortana to the Pillar of Autumn in the first place, after Cortana had already selected him to be her interfacing Spartan (Fall of Reach, 307).
The argument often is that we should take what the games present as canon and the books as extraneous lore; therefore, if there are any discrepancies like the ones clearly presented in Halo: Reach, then the canon [games] will overrule the extra lore. This is sloppy reasoning and excuses the mistakes that the Halo: Reach team obviously made when framing the story. Upon realizing these mistakes, they then brought in the author of the preceding novels, Nylund, and commissioned him to create the Journal for the Collector’s Edition of the game to fill in the plot holes the best they could with the Spartan-IIIs. (Apparently they didn’t want to try to explain the other inconsistencies, such as how Halsey left Reach and then was found holed up in her lab to be found by Spartan-IIs in First Strike or the inconsistency of when Cortana was sent to the Pillar of Autumn.) On the surface, they covered their tracks with the Journal. Frank O’Connor even admits that’s pretty much what it was in his introduction to the 2010 printing of First Strike. It was a good attempt, but anyone who has read the Halo novels—in particular, Ghosts of Onyx—and is very familiar with Halsey’s demeanor will see right through it and walk away with even more questions.