Part action, part comedy, all ridiculously flavored machinima. The ninth excursion into a fantastically funny universe based on the Halo franchise is a prequel/sequel mix that tells the tale of Project Freelancer and follows up with all the "regulars" after Revelation. But the prequel action outweighs the comedic narrative thread, and is the real reason this is worth a watch.
This season of the machinima heavyweight intertwines two separate threads of narrative in a "back and forth" chapter style. The more familiar one displays classic characters like Church (Burnie Burns), Sarge (Matt Hullum), Tucker (Jason Saldana), Grif (Geoff Fink), Caboose (Joel Heyman) and others as they return to "The Gulch." But when Church finds himself in a real body again, he starts to suspect something isn't right with what's going on. Particularly strange is the way many folks in the box canyon seem "different" than how they really are. Sarge is a compassionate leaders, Grif is a neat freak, and Lopez hasn't even been built yet. And while the blue "leader" tries to piece all of this wackiness together, and entirely separate story is unfolding.
Tex's (Kathleen Zuelch) origin has always been one shrouded in mystery. Maybe even more important is how she got to be a "gun for hire" in the first place. Enter this season's prequel side in Project Freelancer, a CGI action event that re-introduces us to characters like Tex and Washington (Shannon McCormick) and unveils new warriors in CT (Samantha Ireland), Murphy (Jack Pattillo), York (Sean Duggan), and Carolina (Jen Brown). While taking orders from omniscience leader The Director (John Reed), the team execute spec-ops missions like data retrieval. But when the boss starts feeling the group is becoming complacently sloppy in their latest outing, he decides to bring in a new recruit in the form of Agent Tex. And although her skills are undeniable, the rest of the team don't find her to be apart of "them" which creates quite a bit of tension within the ranks. This, along with the shenanigans going on back in the "canyon," displays a two seem adventure that thrilling on one side, and funny on the other.
I've been a fan of this series since it started. I have, and probably always will be, a Halo fanboy. So when a friend of mine introduced me to the first season, it became a "must" in my normal Internet video rotation. Since these "simple" beginnings, the show has built up from using Scorpion tank barrels as cranes to a legit operation with dedicated animators. I really enjoy the CG stuff thrown in, and season 9 takes the action moments to a new level. The high velocity, bullet spraying, ninja kicking stuff is legitimate in comparison to other "kick ass" computer animation series. Because of this, I felt the "Project" story should have been a much bigger part of the season.
Don't get me wrong, the classic machinima vibe will always be the ticket to RvB success. But this season felt like a forced mash up. The "Gulch" stuff would have benefited from it's own separate, independent showing. I mean, the cast did a great job as usual with line delivery, script, direction, shooting, and so on. But I was so enthralled with the other thread, that this stuff felt kind of "lame." Also, to keep the length of the entire season in step with the others, this side felt rushed and even a little sporadic at times. Efforts to keep a solid narrative and deliver the expected comedy became too "jumbled" in the narrow time frame. This creates a sense of incoherency that isn't typical of RvB. On the flip side, not enough time was allotted for points like: character development, narrative involvement and depth, smooth pacing, ect. Yes, the action is great, but the whole "Project" deal feels like it got cut short. But this side beefed up the presentation to new heights, with really good picture quality for a DVD. And although the audio is just two channel stereo, Dolby Pro Logic II did the trick for fabricating a really nice listening experience.
The Special Features section provides a plethora of solid comedic moments and pretty cool behind- the-scenes stuff that helps to validate purchasing the DVD (as it has for the previous releases)
-"What I Did On My Summer Vacation": Church and Sarge telling what will be awesome about the new season with an unexpected visit from Caboose with his adventures during the break.
-"Gamer Etiquette": A rundown of some simple "protocol" on how to handle yourself with fellow gamers while at a LAN party.
-"Firefight": a "through the visor" perspective of the RvB guys playing the never ending Covie "frag fest" play type.
-"Wootstock": Halo 3 style Church and Sarge on a few quick ways to get out of a dangerous theater during "off the wall" circumstances.
-"Burn Blue": The "Blood Gulch" gang letting us in on the ways Bungie plans to celebrate 20 years in the gaming business and ten years of Halo.
-"Meet Project Freelancer": A chat with the newcomers of the RvB family telling why the "origins" story thread is so important to this season.
-"Back To Blood Gulch: Original Cast": "Burnie" Burns, Matt Hullum, Joel Heyman, and others from the first group answering questions on the past ten years of making the series.
-"RvB Visual Effects": How the true machinima work flows along side the new-er CGI scenes and the way it all "fits" together.
-"Coffee Break": An in-depth look on how one particular animation venture was done to show the progression of how ideas are realized for the series.
There is also Audio Commentary, Outtakes, Deleted Scenes, Season 9 Teaser Trailer.