Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chronological Halo, 19/52: Keyes

Previously on Chronological Halo: Cortana learned why the Halo ring was built and how it deals with the Flood threat; not by destroying the Flood forms themselves, but by destroying their food: all sentient life within a radius of 25,000 light years from the ring! While she came up with a plan to destroy Halo, the Master Chief worked to lessen its ability to fire deep into space.

Mission Title: Keyes (Halo: Combat Evolved)
P.O.V. Character: Master Chief
Stage Number: 19/52

Cortana has a plan to destroy the Halo ring. By overloading the fusion core of the Pillar of Autumn, we can cause an explosion large enough to cripple the Halo ring, and end its threat to the galaxy. She knows where the Pillar of Autumn crashed, but it's not enough just to go there and enact the plan; there are too many failsafes on the fusion core, even for her to override. We'll need the codes that only Captain Keyes has in his neural net, but he was captured during the events of the '343 Guilty Spark' mission, and brought to the Truth and Reconciliation. It's time for a rescue!

Cortana tells us that when the Covenant discovered the Flood, they panicked and ordered all their ships to evacuate Halo, but it was too late. The Flood overwhelmed and disabled the Truth and Reconciliation, and now the Covenant are worried that the Flood will repair the ship and use it to escape the ring. They've sent strike teams to the ship to neutralize the Flood and repair the ship to deprive the parasite of its transport. We'll need to deal with both the strike teams and the Flood as we try to find Captain Keyes.

Pools of coolant have spilled out of the Truth and Reconciliation; it's in bad shape
 The good news is that Cortana picks up Keyes's life signs as she teleports us onto the Truth and Reconciliation using Halo's teleportation matrix. The bad news is that the ship is in such bad shape that our progress is blocked by flaming rubble and collapsed passages. We need to drop out of the ship into a pool of leaking coolant, and fight our way through deadly canyons back up to the gravity lift that will take us back into the ship.

As we progress deeper into the ship, we receive communications from Captain Keyes. He sounds very weak, and he's telling us to leave him, and to turn back. As we get closer to his location, Cortana loses his life signs, and the reason becomes clear inside the battlecruiser's control room: Keyes has been turned into some large Flood mass. We do what we have to do: we punch our armored hand into the mass and remove Keyes's neural implants. It's what was necessary; now we have the codes we need to enact Cortana's plan to destroy Halo.

'We salute you, Mr. 'I've Been Absorbed Into the Flood' Guy.' ('Who else is iiiin here?')
 A huge pitched battle begins between a Covenant strike team and the Flood after we seize the implants, and we make our way to the hangar of the ship. We steal a Banshee and fly from the Truth and Reconciliation for the last time.

Most of this mission is reheated 'Truth and Reconciliation,' with a stretch underneath the ship that's both new and very difficult. This level is also kind of a bummer - Captain Keyes was a cool character, and it's sad to see him go out like this.

One of the things I like about this mission, though, is how unsettling it makes the Flood. They were pretty creepy when they were introduced in '343 Guilty Spark,' but the levels that followed demystified them as being, basically, just alien zombies. We get hints in this level that they're actually more complex than that. First of all, the Covenant are afraid that the Flood might repair the ship and use it to leave the ring in search of hosts. This doesn't seem like mindless behavior. Secondly, here's a great line that creeps me out every time.

Cortana: Look, in the corners. The Flood are gathering bodies.

Indeed, the Flood have been dragging corpses from around the ship and piling them in the corners. It's never really made clear in any of the games, but there is a reason for this. We'll talk about it in twenty levels or so. Additionally, the Flood have done something different to Captain Keyes; is it because of his importance? Do they know about the information in his neural implants? If they were able to keep Keyes, would they learn the location of Earth? We don't know everything about the Flood yet, but we know enough to see how bad that would be!

I like the hints in this mission that there's more to the Flood than we've realized to this point, and unlike 'Two Betrayals,' the other Same Place But In Reverse mission, this one has a significant stretch of new material and still manages to be less confusing. The Flood are also revealed to be more dangerous than initially expected. The Flood may be like the Dreamcast: they're thinking!

Three Spartan helmets out of five.

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