Mission Title: The Silent Cartographer (Halo: Combat Evolved)
P.O.V. Character: Master Chief
Stage Number: 14/52
The Covenant are looking for Halo's control room, and if the ring truly is a weapon, we need to be sure to find the control room before they do. Something called the Silent Cartographer, a map room located somewhere on a nearby island, holds the coordinates of the control room. Two Pelicans drop us and a group of marines off on the island, and we storm the beach.
Once we control the landing zone, Foehammer drops off a Warthog and we pile into it with a couple marines and begin our driving tour of the island. It's not that big and we can drive completely around it, noting a few significant locations:
1) A large building that Cortana's analysis reveals should contain the map room. However, once we get inside the facility, the Covenant manage to lock the door leading deeper inside.
2) A sloping path that leads into the island's interior.
3) A security substation, where we should be able to unlock the sealed door in the main facility. However, since it's built high up in the cliffs it's not accessible from the level of the beach. We need to follow the sloping path to reach the entrance.
We can save a small amount of time by going to the security substation before entering the main facility. If we do, the dialogue is slightly different, and we're disabling the Covenant's ability to lock the doors, rather than unlocking the door they locked. It's a small difference, but it's neat that Bungie accounted for it.
Once we get past the locked or lockable door in the main facility, it's down down down to the Silent Cartographer. Each of the levels we've seen so far in Chronological Halo are divided into smaller named sections, and occasionally they can be pretty funny. As we encounter a giant shaft leading deep into the ring, we start one such area.
Cortana: Analyzing... Halo's control center is located there. That structure appears to be some sort of temple or shrine, if I've interpreted this correctly. Interesting. A shrine is an unlikely place to put such a significant installation.
The Halo theme kicks in and we fight our way back up up up to the surface, where we rejoin Foehammer and prepare to travel to the control room. Cortana activates a giant plate in the surface of the ring, which opens to reveal a tunnel. As Foehammer carefully negotiates the entrance and her Pelican descends into the darkness, we get one of the great Halo exchanges:
Foehammer: I hope your analysis is on-the-money, Cortana. This Pelican won't turn on a dime.
Cortana: Look on the bright side, Foehammer. The last thing the Covenant will expect is an aerial insertion... from underground.
The lady has a point!
I didn't play Halo: Combat Evolved when it was released into the wild as a launch game for the original Xbox. I had been a Mac fan during my college years, and Bungie was the company making the Mac exclusives that really mattered: the Marathon series was a favorite, and its netplay saw a great deal of use on the college network, but Myth: The Fallen Lords was another standout, held back by the fact that only Krikor down the hall had a computer powerful enough to run it with the knobs turned all the way up; that just added to its mystique.
Bungie's acquisition by Microsoft and the subsequent change of the already-announced Halo from a Mac exclusive to an Xbox console game was a shattering event. I couldn't believe this was a real thing, and I couldn't believe that Apple was just going to let their preeminent games studio (as far as I was concerned) just slip away like that. And to make console games! And not just console games, but THIS console game, Halo, that was going to be the latest salvo in the war between Macs and PCs for the hearts and minds of gamers.
Well, Halo was being repositioned to fight a different war: the Console War. I was done with Bungie, for the moment. I had no plans to get an Xbox, and none of the launch titles (excepting Halo) had any appeal for me at the time. I read the glowing reviews of Halo: Combat Evolved, heard how it was a Must-Own game, heard that it was so good it was reason enough to buy an Xbox. It would be a long, long time before I would finally get to play Halo, and when I eventually did it would be the PC port.
A PC demo was released, containing a single level: 'The Silent Cartographer.' I bought the full game the next day. The level is just that good, a complete demonstration of the Halo experience: an exciting beach assault alongside marines, fantastic AI for both enemies and friendlies, vehicle driving sections in wide-open environments and corridor-shooting in underground facilities, with most of the weapons and all of the enemies (you care about) in a Halo game.
And when the rock-and-roll Halo theme kicks in as you prepare to escape from the underground? You know it's time to kick some ass!
I'm thinking about running another series on this blog of mine sometime in the future covering the Great Levels in videogames, past and present. 'The Silent Cartographer' belongs on that list. If you can only play a single level of the Halo series and want to know what it's all about, this is the level to play.
Five Spartan helmets out of five.