Friday, April 15, 2011

Chronological Halo, 4/52: Tip of the Spear

Previously on Chronological Halo: Under cover of night, Noble Team infiltrated the Covenant 'dark zone,' an area impervious to electronic surveillance, and discovered the landing area for an invading army. Recon teams were called back to base to prepare for a major offensive to take place at dawn.

Mission Title: Tip of the Spear (Halo: Reach)
P.O.V. Character: Noble Six
Stage Number: 4/52
This is it! Finally, the UNSC counter-attack begins. Warthogs tear across a plain toward the Covenant landing zone, and above them Falcons provide air support. The Stealth Pylon we found the previous night is detonated remotely, and then banshees scream out of the sky. Wraith tanks bombard the onrushing UNSC force, and a mortar round demolishes the bridge Kat is driving toward! We make the jump, barely, but the Warthog wrecks on the other side; another Warthog tries to clear the gap and isn't so lucky.

Poor dudes.
The slope is hard-fought. Banshees and Shade turrets guard the rise. Once it's clear, Carter calls from his airborne Falcon with new targets: there are two hostile anti-air guns not far from our location. A Pelican drops off a Missile Hog, a powerful vehicle, and we all hop in to drive to the first AA gun.

A huge battle rages in the valley below, but until the AA is down the UNSC frigate Grafton is stuck out of range. We fight inside the AA gun and destroy the core. Once it's gone, the Grafton lumbers into view overhead and absolutely demolishes the Covenant forces in the valley, including numerous Scarab tanks. One more AA gun to go, but the bridge is out!

Pelican, bridge-layer edition
There's a mining facility between our current location and the second AA gun, and once we're inside, Auntie Dot informs us that a high-value target has been detected: an Elite Zealot. Carter doesn't want us to forget our primary goal, but if we can defeat the Zealot while passing through the mining facility, we definitely should. If we're interested in Achievements (which we are!) we'll want to defeat the Zealot on one playthrough, at least.

Beyond the mining facility, I jump on a Ghost and cruise to the location of the next AA gun. This one is heavily defended: a pair of Hunters, two Wraiths, and a large number of Covenant troops. The power core of the AA gun is as fragile as the first, once we're inside, and soon air superiority is restored to this area as well.

A Falcon lands with Jorge on it, and we clamber aboard. The plan is for us to fly the rest of the way to the Spires that Command wants scouted. We man the guns on the Falcon as we're flown down the canyon, past Covenant ground forces, but as we enter the energy field being generated by Spire One, the Falcon loses power! The ensuing wreck kills the crew, and it's up to Jorge and Noble Six to move on to the Spire, which ONI believes to be a teleportation device linked to... something. The Grafton can take out the Spire, but first we'll need to disable the Spire's control room. And that calls for Jetpacks!

Once the energy shield is down, the frigate Grafton arrives on the scene and demolishes Spire One, but the celebration doesn't last long: a Covenant Supercarrier appears and the Grafton is shot from the sky.

The cutscene that starts this mission is fantastic: the UNSC counter-attack, in all its glory. Dozens of Warthogs racing across the plain, everyone is excited, there's a feeling of 'hoo-rah!' flag-waving to the whole proceeding... and then things go bad and your Warthog blows up and you're flat on your belly, charged with taking an enemy-held slope. It evokes every World War II movie you've ever seen, and it's phenomenal.

Special mention to the doomed 'hog-load of soldiers that don't make it across the bridge. It's a brilliant 'oh crap' moment, and it's the best transition from cutscene to first-person gameplay so far (and, as far as I can remember, in the entire series).

This is as good a time as any to talk about Auntie Dot, who communicates with Noble Team during missions and keeps them connected with each other when they are separated by distance. She's an AI construct that monitors the situation on the ground by tapping into security cameras, and her representation (as a series of blinking lines) appears during loading screens. Carter communicates with her directly, and uses her information to plan missions for Noble Team. In Chronological Halo, she's the first AI construct we encounter, and she'll seem pretty limited compared to the others we'll meet, but Auntie Dot is a good baseline as our first.

The first appearance of Jetpacks is a lot of fun. They're not strictly necessary to get to the Spire's control room, but it's definitely entertaining to fly around the giant structure.

The UNSC frigate Grafton takes charge
I also appreciate how early in the mission, you're shown the tremendous destructive power of the frigate Grafton, and maybe you start to think that the UNSC has a chance... but at the end of the mission they take that away with the reveal of the Covenant Supercarrier. We'll get a chance to tackle with that in the next mission. Oh yes.

When Halo: Reach was first announced, this is the mission everyone expected: a huge battle during wartime, with tons of targets and things exploding everywhere, Warthog shootouts, Banshees screaming overhead, Wraith tanks firing blue plasma, huge structures exploding. The battles are huge, and the Spire at the end of the mission is even bigger.
Five Spartan helmets out of five.

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