Monday, April 25, 2011

Chronological Halo, 8/52: The Package

Previously on Chronological Halo: Noble Team took to the rainy night-time skies of New Alexandria in order to destroy a series of Covenant jammers and reestablish communications with the UNSC. As the Covenant began glassing the city and Noble suffered another casualty, new orders came in: a torch-and-burn op in the ruins of Sword Base.

Mission Title: The Package (Halo: Reach)
P.O.V. Character: Noble Six
Stage Number: 8/52

The city of New Alexandria is finished, bombarded by plasma beams from Covenant Corvettes, its surface turned to glass. There's nothing left for us there, and some would say there's nothing left for us on Reach; the Covenant have won. Colonel Holland gives Noble Team one last mission to do, but it's a torch-and-burn op: we're to go to the ruins of Sword Base, now completely under Covenant control, and demolish it. Holland doesn't want any of Dr. Halsey's research falling into the enemy's hands.

And so it is that we're dropped off near Farragut Station, not far from Sword Base. Since we last saw this area in the 'ONI: Sword Base' mission, it's been overrun by the Covenant and is now home to deployable lookout towers and Shade turrets. Since the Covenant are defending against a major strike, they're not as prepared for a small-group infiltration. That will work to our advantage if we keep a low profile.

Farragut Station, partially-flooded and well-nigh unrecognizable
Further on, there's a still-functional Scorpion tank that makes the business of mopping up Covenant forces much easier. Arriving at Airview Base, we tackle the two Tyrant AA Guns there, which allows UNSC Falcons into local airspace to deal with the Banshees overhead. This stretch of territory is hard-fought (so hard-fought that there's even an Achievement for reaching the gate to Sword Base with the Scorpion tank still intact on Legendary difficulty), but eventually we gain entrance to the courtyard of the base.

Tank beats everything.
Elevators are out inside Sword Base, so we take a series of maintenance passages to reach a set of 'prearranged coordinates' sent to us by Auntie Dot. She doesn't seem to know much about them, other than they're the coordinates she was sent by ONI. When we get to that location, a nondescript room in Sword Base... there's nothing there, just the corpses of defenders.

Jun: Looks like they got themselves cornered.
Carter: Or were committed to the position.
Jun: I'm going with cornered. There's nothing here.

But just then, Auntie Dot gets an update: a new set of coordinates, a click and a half distant, and two thousand feet underground. When we ask where they came from, she has a puzzling response:
Auntie Dot: By an AI of unknown origin, whose clearance is well above mine.

As Noble Team discusses this, and whether the coordinates are junk, a wall in the empty room slides open, revealing a passage into darkness. On the other side is a tram, and once everyone is onboard and it's underway, a monitor on the tram activates to reveal the image of Dr. Halsey!

She was believed to be dead, killed during the Covenant occupation, but instead she's alive, hiding in a massive excavation beneath Sword Base. She tells us that the data module we delivered to her did indeed contain a 'latchkey' discovery, and it has almost unlocked the secrets of the vast Forerunner installation that is the subject of the excavation, and her research. She says that we need to safeguard her research.

Carter objects, saying that Noble Team's mission is to destroy Sword Base. Dr. Halsey says that our orders were a pretext to bring us to her, and we now belong to ONI. The Covenant begin blasting holes into the excavation, dropping troops and equipment into the cave complex, and it's up to Noble Team to defend the entrance to Dr. Halsey's lab while the final decryption of the data completes. Why is this data so important?

Dr. Halsey: The decrypting data is still underway...
Carter: I don't think you understand. We're out of time. If it isn't portable when we reach you, it's gonna get buried.
Dr. Halsey: Bury any of it, and you bury mankind's best chance of survival! Commander, you've been wondering what your Spartans died for? They died for this. Please. Buy me all the time you can.

The massive Forerunner artifact Dr. Halsey has been studying.

With the help of four Wolf Spider defensive turrets, we prevent the Covenant from gaining access to the lab. Inside, the decryption of the data from the Forerunner installation is completed, and we have our first encounter with the AI that gave Auntie Dot the coordinates that brought us here. Dr. Halsey says that this AI is the custodian of the excavation's knowledge, and she has chosen us, Noble Six, to be her carrier. Our mission is to bring her to the ship-breaking yards in Aszod, where a Halcyon-class cruiser waits to bring this AI off-planet with the critical information she now holds. The name of the cruiser? Pillar of Autumn.

We bid farewell to Jun in this mission as well. While the rest of Noble Team will undertake to bring the AI to the Pillar of Autumn, Jun's task is to escort Dr. Halsey to Castle Base. The implication of Carter's parting words to him, 'make sure *nothing* falls into enemy hands,' is that Jun may be required to kill Dr. Halsey if the Covenant get too close. We won't see either of them again.

This mission is an interesting one because it takes us back to the environs of Sword Base, which we saw in a previous mission; this time it's Covenant-controlled and in ruins. There's a very different feel to the level on this visit, so much so that until this playthrough I didn't recognize either Farragut Station or Airview Base. Driving the Scorpion tank is a lot of fun, and there are plenty of targets on which to use its main cannon, especially the Revenants and Ghosts.

Inside Sword Base itself, the focus is on the mystery of the strange coordinates. Meeting Dr. Halsey again gives us the shape of Halo: Reach's endgame: to escort Dr. Halsey's AI to the Pillar of Autumn for escape off-planet. And of course, for players of the series, this AI is known to us, though we're not told her name in this mission. She'll be a major player in the levels to come.

Dr. Halsey's AI, the caretaker of the Forerunner knowledge gleaned from this site.
So what is the information that Halsey's AI has gotten from the Forerunner installation buried beneath Sword Base? We're not told in this mission, and in fact it's never completely explained to us, but for now we just know that this AI has some information concerning Forerunner technology. Since the Forerunners were an advanced and ancient alien race whose installations can be found throughout the galaxy, if anything can help humanity against the Covenant, this may be it.

This mission is a reprise of 'ONI: Sword Base,' but it doesn't feel like a rehash, thanks to the very different atmosphere and level of resistance, as well as the use of a Scorpion tank, which we didn't have last time. The pitched battle at the end is an exciting skirmish, and the use of the defensive turrets makes for an interesting wrinkle. For Halo fans, the piano cue at the reveal of Dr. Halsey's AI is as emotionally-charged as any music in the series. A solid level that sets up the endgame of Halo: Reach.

Four Spartan helmets out of five. 

No comments:

Post a Comment