Friday, April 29, 2011

Chronological Halo, 12/52: Halo

Previously on Chronological Halo: Covenant forces attacked and boarded the Pillar of Autumn after it dropped out of slipspace. Master Chief was woken from cryosleep and charged with keeping Cortana out of Covenant hands: from her they could learn the location of Earth. Master Chief's escape pod headed toward a mysterious ring-like object even as Keyes attempted to manually land the disabled Autumn on its surface.

Mission Title: Halo (Halo: Combat Evolved)
P.O.V. Character: Master Chief
Stage Number: 12/52

At the end of the previous mission, we gave a scared Marine a reassuring pat on the shoulder as he exclaimed that he didn't want to die. Things don't look good as this mission begins, though: our escape pod loses its air brakes too quickly as we near the surface of the ring, and sure enough, we're the only survivor of the ensuing crash.

We don't have time to mourn for the lost marines or the female pilot with the sexy accent. Cortana, speaking from her new residence inside our head, tells us that multiple Covenant drop-ships are approaching our location. If we're lucky, they'll think everyone on board the lifeboat died in the crash.

The surface of the ring at this location is green and lush. If it weren't for the vista of the other side of the ring rising into the sky on the horizon, this would feel like a proper planet. Cortana detects a lifeboat emergency beacon over the next hill, and we tangle with Grunts on the ground and evade Banshees flying overhead as we move to investigate.

There's a small group of marines near the crashed escape pod, among them Sergeant Johnson. He tells us that there are survivors scattered all over the valley, and Covenant pickets are seeking to wipe them out. After a small skirmish, we're contacted by a UNSC Pelican, designation Echo 419, whose pilot is code-named Foehammer. Cortana requests that she disengage her Warthog, and then it's off to the races. With a marine in the side seat and one manning the gun, we drive down a slope and into a clearly artificial tunnel.

Cortana: This cave is not a natural formation. Someone built it, so it must lead somewhere.

Cortana, AI Master of the Obvious
It's apparently Forerunner in origin, since it shares geometric similarities with the artifact Dr. Halsey was studying. It becomes even more apparent that this is alien technology when we find and activate a mysterious light-bridge that lets us cross a gaping chasm.

As we drive towards the cavern's exit, Cortana picks up a lot of chatter on the Covenant battlenet. Many more marines made it off the Autumn than she initially thought, and she decides that if we can rendezvous with them and find Captain Keyes, we could mount an effective resistance.

Once more on the surface, Cortana detects three lifeboat beacons. We can go to investigate them in any order, and at each location we rescue a group of marines from Covenant forces. Once all three groups are safe (or killed in the firefights), we meet up with Foehammer's Pelican and prepare to fly to our next location: a desert plateau 300 kilometers up-spin, where a Covenant cruiser has touched down. Cortana detects that Captain Keyes and the entire surviving command crew have been brought to that cruiser, the 'Truth and Reconciliation.'

Like 'ONI - Sword Base' before it, this mission has a set of non-linear objectives: you can rescue the three groups of marines in any order you like, and the dialogue changes depending on the sequence in which you find them. A classic strategy for this level: pick up a Sniper Rifle, trade it to a marine, and have that marine follow hop in the side seat of your Warthog. He'll become a highly-accurate death-dealing machine. Probably not that necessary on Normal, which I'm playing on, but on higher difficulties that guy could save your life.

The ring-like object is covered in mysterious Forerunner buildings and artifacts
There are a lot of marines on this level, which means that we get a good look at a phenomenon we experienced occasionally with Noble Team, but is much more prevalent with the Master Chief: he's a figure UNSC troops hold in awe.

Marine: Thank god you're here, Master Chief! I thought we were in real trouble!
Marine: You're a sight for sore eyes, Chief! We're in a bad way.

This adds to the Master Chief's mystique, as it tells us that his adventures are known to the rest of the troops. He's new to us, but clearly he's seen combat and has already pulled off some some exploits. The Master Chief showing up is enough to fill the marines with relief.

The non-linear mission structure, the many marines you can fight alongside, and the Warthog driving all add up to make this an enjoyable mission. It's a little light on story, but the information we do learn about the whereabouts of Captain Keyes set up the next mission nicely.

Four Spartan helmets out of five.


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