Late to the Party: Halo (Part VII)

So here we are at the endgame, and funnily enough it’s exactly where we started: on the UNSC frigate Pillar of Autumn. 

We get a pretty nice panoramic aerial shot of the crashed ship while some of Halo’s pretty great soundtrack plays over it all, obviously trying to evoke a nostalgic response from players with this bit of bookending. The only thing is, we were only on that ship for about 10 minutes before it crashed and in all that time we never really got to look around it, talk to the crew, really develop that sense of pride that many real sailors develop through knowing “this is our ship”. The Autumn was obviously meant to be a proud ship with a good crew and a better CO, but we never really get to experience it because the game wanted us to get to the action as fast as possible. If we’d had just a few extra minutes to really explore the ship and get a feel for her then maybe this would have been a more powerful shot. But as it stands, she’s no Enterprise, no Serenity, no Millenium Falcon.

Maybe someone can help me out here but I really had no idea why anyone was on this ship. Unless they were trying to salvage something we never see from the wreckage or if they somehow magically figured out our plan there was no reason for anyone to be here. I understand if they thought we needed some last big bit of combat for the finale but I would have liked a justification for why these targets were occupying this busted hulk.

When we make it to the bridge we use the Captain’s codes to set the engines for overload and Cortana tells us that we’ll have five minutes to make it out. Fighting your way out of an enemy-infested structure before it explodes brings back very tense, very stressful memories from the end of Ocarina of Time and I wasn’t eager to relive those again. But luckily…

343 miraculously shows up and somehow stops the countdown. I guess I don’t have to hurry as much anymore, but how did he know to come here, how did he access our ship’s systems, and how can I kill him for being a smug, obnoxious bastard?

So now we’ve got to work our way down to the engine room and break things the old fashioned way: with explosive projectile weapons.

We run into a few skirmishes along the way:

Encounter a couple more variations of Flood:

(Seriously these guys escalate their power level like they’re in Gurren Lagann or something.)

And finally we reach the ship’s engines. This section is kind of a large-scale combat puzzle, as the engine room is absolutely overrun by Flood who as far as I can tell infinitely respawn, and while fighting them off your primary objective is to activate a series of panels that open up corresponding engine core coverings which you must then blow up in order to cause a chain reaction that will then detonate the whole ship and hopefully destroy Halo. This is a large, multi-level affair of running, jumping and shooting, all of which must be timed appropriately. 343 is also down there, buzzing around above your head and muttering crazily to himself while you fight for your life, and if you try to take a few potshots at him:

This was just downright mean. 343 Guilty Spark is made out to be the principle antagonist of this game after the little incident in the control room: the whole reason you’re in this engine room trying to destroy Halo is so he can’t eventually activate it (with keeping the Flood at bay also a reasonably large concern). To put him in the same room as you at this point and then make him completely immune to all damage is pretty much a direct insult to the player.

I’ve been playing D&D for years, and one of the easiest ways to identify a bad Dungeon Master is that he’ll create a favorite little pet project of a villain. This villain will antagonize and often mock the player characters throughout the entire campaign and if this villain ever, even for a split second, ends up in any kind of proximity to the players they will immediately attempt to murder him six ways from Sunday, as they should what with him being the villain and all. But then the DM will come up with some contrivance that means he’ll avoid the players’ totally legitimate lethal attacks: “he’s wearing an amulet that grants him immunity to fireballs”, “He was anticipating your attack and gets a dodge bonus to avoid it”, “A gelatinous cube falls from the sky and consumes your weapons”. Anything to keep those pesky players from harming his oh-so-important antagonist can and will be pulled out of his ass.

That’s what this felt like. Some jackass writer was too proud of his little floating ball of a villain to have someone as trivial as the player kill it, so he just told the programmers to make it invincible. That’s cheap, lazy, and insulting to dangle this prick right in front of our faces and then prohibit us from killing him. If that was going to be the case then it would have been a much wiser decision not to have him there at all.

But after you’ve wasted a few mags (or rockets) on the little douche you finally get the picture and move on to destroying the engines. You set them on a one-way course for detonation and then it’s time to get the hell out of dodge. As you make your way to the extraction point and call frantically for pickup, something odd happens:

Cortana tells the shuttle pilot that “something” must have caused the engines on the Autumn to overload and it’s due to explode.

What?

“Something” didn’t cause the engines to overload: we did. And for very, very good reasons, too. If we hadn’t done so, then the Flood would have found some way off of Halo and potentially killed us all. I think the brass will understand that, so what reason is there to lie? Are we just not going to tell them about the Flood either? Because that seems pretty damn important. This really threw me for a loop and basically told me that I couldn’t trust Cortana: if she would directly lie to the people on our side for no good reason then I had to believe that she was up to something and could potentially lie to me in the future.

It’s just really immersion-breaking to suddenly have a stopwatch appear onscreen telling you exactly how long you have left to play the game. I’m not suggesting that we just don’t impose time limits on players, but I have to believe there’s a better, more seamless way to do so.

And after all that, our transport ship finally gets shot down. Right when we really, really needed it. Now who could have predicted that?

I’m once again going to have to question the thought process that went into designing the naval vessels in this universe. At this point in the game I’m driving a Warthog frantically through an exploding ship trying to reach a shuttle that can get me off of Halo. This Warthog has a more or less unobstructed road directly to the hangar bays. This road is wide, incredibly tall in indoor areas, populated with random ramps and pipes, and occasionally makes 45 degree turns back and forth inside the ship.

What possible purpose could any of this serve? 

There was absolutely no reason for something this size to be built into the hull of a frigate. It’s a colossal waste of space, which is incredibly valuable on ships, and furthermore doesn’t appear to actually be doing anything with any of that space. Environments that exist only so you can fight (or in this case, drive) in them really take me out of a game and this was the most ridiculous one I’d seen yet.

But whatever. We finally make it to the shuttle and blast off just as the Autumn lights up like a Michael Bay movie. As we float through space, Cortana remarks that it’s finally over. To which Chief gives the ever-so-fresh response of “it’s only just beginning”.

And that’s all she wrote. That’s Halo: Combat Evolved as told in 87 tweets. I recognize that I may have been a little hard on the game, but as I said when I started these are just my impressions as a newcomer. Whether that says more about me or the franchise is open to debate of course, but that’s what it is for now.

We’ll continue to look at the Halo franchise and how it’s grown from game to game next time, as we take on Halo 2.

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