Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chronological Halo, 1/52: Winter Contingency

Chronological Halo, Mission 1/52. It begins!

Mission Title: Winter Contingency (Halo: Reach)
P.O.V. Character: Noble Six
Stage Number: 1/52
We begin with some absolutely gorgeous shots of the planet Reach, and as we get closer it becomes apparent that something terrible happened here. It's a desolate wasteland, and a Spartan helmet is abandoned on the ground. Fade to white, and we're now in first-person: we're holding that same helmet in our hands, we bring it up to our face and put it on. It's July 24, 2552, and we're a passenger in a Warthog being driven to a military post.
When we get there, we're briefed on the situation: contact with Visegrad Communications Relay has been lost, and it's believed that the local insurrection is to blame. The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) thinks that sending in a Spartan team is 'a gross misallocation of valuable resources,' but Colonel Holland disagrees. He's sending in Noble Team to check it out, and to report on the whereabouts of the missing troopers he sent in first.

We're Noble Six, the newest member of the team, and a replacement for the previous Noble Six, who died in action. Carter is Noble One, the team's commanding officer, and as everybody piles into a Falcon to fly to Visegrad, he tells you that he's read your entire file -- even the parts that were blacked out by the ONI censors -- and he's glad to have your skillset on the team. Intriguing! He emphasizes, however, that Noble is a team; 'That Lone Wolf stuff stays behind,' he says.

En route to Visegrad something begins jamming our communications, so we'll have no contact with Command for the duration. They detect a distress beacon and land the Falcons, but there's no sign of the troopers. In a nearby building, the team finds a number of farmers. They speak Hungarian, and one of them tells Jorge, Noble Five, that something in the fields killed the farmer's son.

Don't shoot them -- they'll shoot back!
Further on, the team finds two of the missing troopers. They are dead, and have obviously been interrogated. Just then, the source of the trouble reveals itself: the Covenant are on Reach! One of the Falcons lands to bring Emile and Kat to Visegrad Relay so they can get communications back to warn Command. Meanwhile, the rest of us go to recon the next valley to determine the scope of the Covenant force. We commandeer a civilian vehicle, and Jorge stands on the back, wielding his minigun like a turret.

A little hard to see in this shot, but check out Jorge on the back
We drive through the agricultural region on Reach, clearing out Covenant forces, until we find the rest of the missing troopers. Noble Team protects them from Phantom dropships long enough for their evac to arrive, and then we jump in Falcons and are flown to the Visegrad Relay to rendezvous with Kat and Emile. As the Falcon comes in for a landing, Carter tells us, 'Six. Break's over.'


Kat is trying to get the door to the Relay open, so we protect her from Covenant attacks. Finally she cuts through, and everybody runs in. It's dark inside, so we have to use our Night Vision. Inside there's a body, and also a wounded trooper. While Carter arranges medical attention for the trooper, we find a data module on the body. Kat picks it up. Jorge finds another survivor, but before he can learn anything from her, the team is attacked by an Elite squad! After the Elites are dealt with, Kat manages to use her Whatever Technology to patch through a connection to Command. Meanwhile, Jorge learns that the survivor is the daughter of the dead man.

Carter uses the comms signal to inform Col. Holland that the Covenant are on Reach. It's the 'Winter Contingency.'

Halo: Reach is the most recently-released Halo game, but its storyline is the earliest in the timeline. That gives it a unique atmosphere, since anyone who has played the other games in the series already knows what happened to the planet Reach: it was invaded by the Covenant, and it's during the escape from the planet that the first Halo is discovered.

That's not true when played in sequence, though! For us, we don't know what's going to happen to Reach. So when the game opens with the shot of Noble Six's helmet lying abandoned in the middle of a scorched wasteland, it's entirely possible that Noble Six took the helmet off, or lost it, or something. We aren't surrounded by the same aura of dread we are if we know that Reach is going to fall.

A note about that abandoned helmet. In Halo: Reach you can select the gender and armor of your own personal Noble Six, and since I chose a manly pink for the armor with a Scuba-style breather on the helmet, it's extremely clear that the helmet does in fact belong to our character. It's less obvious if you leave it at the default, but how awesome is it that the helmet changes based on your setup?

The cutscene that precedes this mission means to introduce us to Noble Team, but it's a confusing whirl of names and designations: Carter, Kat, Two, Five, Holland. We'll come to know these characters pretty well over the course of the game, but the introductions don't stick. Only Carter makes much of an impression, and that's because he seems to know something about us that the rest of the team doesn't.

If you didn't see any of the pre-release videos or read the instruction manual, then you won't know what 'skillset' Carter is so pleased to have on the team. I won't spoil it until we get there.

When I first played through Halo: Reach (this being my fifth or sixth time through), I was a little disappointed that the Covenant were a known quantity. Since I'm pretty unfamiliar with anything Halo-related outside the games themselves, I had expected the invasion of Reach to be humanity's first contact with the Covenant. It's not. It's a surprise that the Covenant are on Reach, but the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) know what the Covenant are and believe that they're prepared to deal with them. The name of the mission, 'Winter Contingency' refers to an emergency procedure that's supposed to be followed whenever the Covenant discover a colony world. That isn't really explained in the mission, but Holland's closing words convey what a bad thing it is for the Covenant to have found Reach:

'May God help us all.'

The slow burn up to the first reveal of the Covenant is solid, and interacting with civilians is surprising and well-done; I like that Jorge is the only one who can speak to them. The initial firefights with the Covenant are exciting, and the showdown with the Sword-wielding Elite at the end is genuinely tense. I dock a Spartan Helmet for breezing past important exposition, especially the introductions for the members of Noble Team.

Four Spartan helmets out of Five

No comments:

Post a Comment