Late to the Party: Halo 2 (Part VIII)

Alright, so last time we left off in the midst of a large-scale Flood attack on the Covenant homeworld (or station, I really have no idea what that giant planetoid thing is supposed to be) and they’re pretty much wrecking stuff all over the place. We’re fighting our way through everything to get to the two remaining prophets to stop them from blowing up the galaxy. So we finally reach them, one of ’em allows the other to be mobbed by Flood and then implies that he’s heading back to Earth to finish what he started, a threat that seems a bit odd seeing as how his supposed goal is to activate the Halo array, but Earth is most definitely not one of those arrays so… yeah, I’m not really sure what’s up.And besides that:
I mean, this is how we started the game, isn’t it? With the Covenant attacking Earth? How is going back to that exact same plot point a climax? Hell, we found out recently that the Covenant’s religious structure makes them hell-bent on destroying all life in the galaxy, so isn’t that a far more important development? This might be the only story I’ve heard of where we actually downgrade the threat at the end. This is not what “falling action” means, and it seems like Halo 2 may have fallen into the trap that a lot of other science fiction stories do: they assumed that focusing the threat on Earth would automatically make for the most dramatic scenario, simply because we the audience of course only know Earth as our home. Only it doesn’t work like that. We haven’t really seen much on Earth during any of the games, and the only time we do spend there it’s just another battleground with no civilians or anything. See, in a story we only care about that which we’ve grown to care about through the narrative, not necessarily that which we would care about externally. This is all the more an obvious problem in science fiction when we might not see or recognize our traditional homes so many years in the future but have seen colonies on Mars that we’re far more attached to within the confines of the story. Mass Effect 3 had this problem: we’d spent two games exploring the vast reaches of the galaxy and learning its intricacies but when the finale comes… it’s on Earth, which we never set foot on or even talked about before. We don’t care about Earth, not in Mass Effect and not in Halo, because we haven’t been given any reason to.

I could talk for ages on this topic and provide countless examples but I might save that for another post. There’s too much there to cover right now.But setting that aside, we run into more of a technical problem in this next bit.

So we have to go after the Prophet of Truth because he’s being a dick and wants to set Earth on fire or something. The only way to pursue him is in a forerunner vessel, and I guess it needs to be receiving data or something from back on the Covenant ship-planet in order to safely reach its destination. Of course nobody’s really stepping forward to offer Chief a helping hand with that so his only option is to leave Cortana behind and have her take over the flight navigation or whatever it is of the ship to ensure that we can get to Earth and save the day, Big Damn Heroes style.

Only… Cortana’s an AI, right? Meaning a program, not an object? I’m no computer scientist, but I think there’s a big difference between saying “hey, I’ll give you a copy of that Daft Punk album” and saying “I guess I’ll just leave my laptop here until you’re done listening to it”. I really see no reason why Chief couldn’t just ctrl+c, ctrl+v the little purple chick onto the computer there, have her do her thing, and still bring along the original copy no harm done. Sure there’s the “don’t let an AI get captured” bit, but the city’s crawling with Flood, I think the Covenant have other worries. And it seems like it’d be a simple matter to just set a self-erase protocol in there somewhere. I don’t know, it just seems like this was a really forced dramatic setpiece to give us a plot string to resolve in the third game.
Anyway, as Chief flies off in pursuit of Truth we transition back to the Arbiter who’s trying to stop the Brutes from setting off Halo from the control room. As we move towards said control room we see a rather obvious tease of what’s about to come.
We’ve seen Scarabs earlier in the game, but something about how this one is staged just really seems to imply that we’re gonna get to wrest hold of it and go to town. This is an exciting prospect.
It is, however, dashed when Black R. Lee Ermey swoops in and steals it before we get a chance. You ever played Battlefield and have some jerk steal the helicopter right out from in front of you without even waiting to pick up a gunner? That’s what this felt like. And really, this thing is a huge, probably tremendously complex walking mech. Why would you not let the guy who’s probably familiar with the inner workings of this technology pilot it and instead give it to the guy who’s entire life has been dedicated to blowing up said technology. Doesn’t make a lot of sense.
But at least we’re not forced to hoof it and we’re provided with a Banshee to fly around in. Our job in this section is to fly cover for the walking mech, blowing up tanks and other Banshees as our friend below works his way through a narrow canyon. I can’t tell you how many levels of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron play out exactly like this. Don’t believe me? Go pick up a copy of the original N64 game. Not only will you see what I mean, but it’s also all kinds of fun. That tangential nostalgia alone made this part of the game pretty entertaining (even if that jerk did steal my Scarab).
So the Scarab blows the doors of the control room open and we fight our way inside. There, we run into the head Brute who’s trying to force Keyes to activate Halo. 343 is also there because yeah. Here, Arbiter displays the profound stupidity that Chief displayed in the first game in a very concise manner.
This is exactly what I was talking about in Combat Evolved. The Arbiter asks a simple question about the Halo installation and 343 cheerfully answers that the rings will kill everybody ever. If Chief had taken the time to do this in the original game then that near-crisis and all the ham-fisted drama that it presented would have been avoided. I’m not sure if it’s better or worse that Bungie seems to address how easy this was here, but hey it just goes to show you again how much better Arby is than the Chief.
But apparently it doesn’t matter much to the Brutes as they’re determined to go through with setting off the rings anyway, and the big one forces Keyes to insert the Index and activate the installation.
Okay, so… let’s just take a step back here. The Brutes are trying to make Keyes activate the rings, thus ending all life in the galaxy. Only I’m not really sure why they seem to need Keyes. They have the Index, they’re in the control room, they’re good to go. Why not just turn it yourselves? Is there some kind of other sci-fi faux pas, the “humans are special” plot device at play here? If so, then what is it exactly? How come we’ve never heard about this before? The Covenant didn’t seem too concerned about not having a human around to activate the rings in the first game, so what was different there? I guess 343 does call Chief a “Reclaimer” a few times, but we’re never given context for what that means so that doesn’t really explain anything. And if humans really are the only ones that can activate Halo then how the hell does that make any sense? Humans wouldn’t even have existed at the time the rings were activated last time so how could anyone possibly account for this in the future? Nothing here makes any sense whatsoever, and it’s all compounded by the fact that in this moment of dramatic confrontation, the Brutes quite literally force Keyes’ hand and activate the rings that way. This means that they would have been sitting in this control room, possibly for hours, attempting to light these things off, and this option was never explored? What the hell were they doing before now?
Brute: “Hey, you think you could activate the rings?”
Keyes: “No.”
Brute: “Oh. Uh… please?”
Keyes: “Hell no.”
Brute: “Alright, now don’t make me raise my voice.”
This is just such an incredibly forced moment that it’s painfully stupid to watch. I refuse to believe that the giant ape-like aliens were unable to physically force a small human woman to turn a key in the time before we arrived in the control room. It’s just ridiculous.
Fortunately we do get to follow this up by fighting these morons. Only…
I’ll say it again: if you’re going to make your antagonists immune to damage then do not put us in the same room with them. Resident Evil has this problem all the time, where the heroes come face to face with the bad guy but never pull the trigger. Only that’s due to cutscene incompetence, not a bullshit in-game barrier preventing us from doing damage to the villain of the story. It’s just… ugh. It’s bad. It’s really bad. I would have accepted some kind of advanced energy shield, a floating armored platform, or something that would have feasibly protected him from harm apart from the game just saying “no, you can’t hurt him right now because I said so”. While I’ve complained about a lot of stuff in these games this is one of the only things so far that has managed to legitimately make me mad. It’s terrible game design and whoever’s doing this should be ashamed.
Fortunately, Donkey Kong does become vulnerable after we take down his minions and I stick him full of more holes than this game’s plot. Only there’s still one small problem:
See, Keyes did wind up activating Halo (under duress, but I don’t think the firing mechanism cares much about that) and the thing is gearing up to fire. So that’s an issue. Luckily:
Keyes literally runs up to the console and yanks the Index out. I guess this is enough to abort the firing sequence, only now that action has somehow managed to prime every relay in the galaxy to be fired from one central location called “The Ark”, a place which we don’t get to hear about because the game conveniently cuts right before an explanation is given.
Still though, this is the equivalent of aborting a nuclear launch, disallowing that facility from launching again, and then linking all strike bases, submarines, and bombers to a single control panel somewhere in Alaska. It just doesn’t sound like anything resembling sane operating procedure. But then neither has anything else so far so I guess we’re par for the course.
We cut back to Master Chief entering Earth’s orbit as a massive battle unfolds between the UNSC and the Covenant. When asked what he’s doing there he once again proves capable only of speaking in one-liners and claims that he’s “Finishing this fight” (hooray easy tagline for the marketing guys). And then…
…the game ends.
No, seriously, that’s it. Right as we’re gearing up to something that probably should be the game’s climax after that kind of mediocre downgrade a while ago, the credits start to roll and we’re done. I really don’t like cliffhangers. Not because they supposedly leave you in suspense but because they’re cheap, lazy, and a really poor means of letting your story unfold. Even in trilogies, every part should have it’s own internalized arc that point towards what will happen next, providing genuine anticipation for future entries. But Halo 2 doesn’t end so much as it just… stops. It’s pretty unsatisfying.
Not actually being sarcastic here, for all of you that followed the franchise as it was released that really would have sucked. I feel for you.
The little after-the-credits blurb showcases the Gravemind asking Cortana for answers (about what, I’m not sure) and she seemingly cooperating without question. Nothing about this bodes well. I’m not sure if this was the intent or not but I pretty much considered Cortana my enemy at this point. After lying to our own forces in the last game and now teaming up with a tentacle monster I figured she was definitely bad news and our next meeting would involve me blasting her virtual ass into actual dust (as a very angry Krogan in the first Mass Effect would say). In any event, Halo 2 left me feeling very confused about a lot of things, and not in a genuine curiosity kind of way. But I guess that was how they tried to keep people salivating for Halo 3, right?
Anyway, that’s the end of Halo 2. I’m gonna take a short break for a bit (all these posts are actually pretty damn draining to write up) and then we’ll jump into the final entry. Keep your eyes on our Twitter Feed for the #Halo3 hashtag and we’ll bring this to a close and move on to stuff that hopefully won’t be so… well, whiny. See you next time.
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