Late to the Party: Halo 3 (Part IV)

So I may have suffered a minor episode of psychotic rage last time in light of the fact that one of my favorite actors was brutally killed. The same thing happened when I was forced to kill him in Jade Empire. But I’m better now and we can proceed to the next plot point.

As you can probably guess by now, I had a few reservations about this. Remember, I was nigh-convinced that Cortana was an antagonistic force at this point. She’d previously been deliberately deceitful, possibly traitorous, and just kind of bitchy at times. Add to that the fact that she just showed up onboard a Flood ship and has been spending the game thus far doing her best impression of internet popup spam and I’m not particularly eager to go “rescue” her.

Besides that, I really think we have more pressing matters to attend to right now. Y’know, like how the Flood are now on Earth and killing everyone in sight. And seeing as how we had to blow up a Halo installation to get rid of them last time (and that didn’t even work) we should probably be thinking about how to stop these guys, not recover a possibly traitorous AI. Even if she’s not working with the Flood then what does she actually offer to us at this point? I mean, I’m assuming humanity has other AIs at its disposal, seeing as how they have protocols in place regarding their handling, Cortana has already served her plot relevance by helping us destroy the first Halo and then allowing us to escape High Charity, and the Chief has apparently been doing just fine without her up to this point in the game. The way I see it, she probably should have had her heroic sacrifice moment at the end of Halo 2, and right now the only compelling reason we have to go and rescue her (at great risk to ourselves) is that she’s one of the only established characters this franchise has.

Of course, if that’s the point then it would have been a really great opportunity for Chief to finally show some character: he could have defied the orders of his superiors and done the heroic thing, going into the hornet’s nest to rescue his partner, because she’d do the same for him. But instead the UNSC brass order us to go in and we oblige without a word because it seems that’s the only way we can ever move these games forward.

Seriously, this chapter title is laughably bad. Maybe it’s a reference to something, but if it is then it’s nothing I’ve ever heard of and as it stands it legitimately makes me feel embarrassed for Bungie. The only thing that could make this more lame is if it had the word “xtreme” attached to it.

Previously the Cortana visions had been irritating, but manageable. Now that we’re in close proximity to the little purple program, they’re coming every other minute and they’re not being supplemented by visions of the Gravemind as well. So now I guess I have to dismiss my hope that the visions were just remnants of Cortana’s code inside my helmet and accept the fact that the Halo universe now contains magic.

I guess it was inevitable that the little floating lightbulb was gonna show up in this game, I was just really hoping that he wouldn’t. We know that his sole purpose in life is to ensure the activation of the Halo rings, which would kill everybody, yet we still keep him around. He’s basically Joseph Stalin in the form of a time bomb: sure, he might lend a helping hand now and again when it suits his purposes but at some point in the future he’s gonna starve half of Ukraine to death.

And as if realizing 343 is still around isn’t disappointing enough, we find out that the thing we got off the crashed Flood ship wasn’t even Cortana: it was just a recorded message from her, telling us that some kind of anti-Flood plot device is on the other side of the portal that Truth opened up here on Earth. How very convenient for us. The UNSC brass seem to be just as distrustful of her as I am, but the Chief stands by her and says that he trusts that she’s telling the truth.

See, this good: based on the supposed relationship that Chief and Cortana have this should be exactly what he should be saying right now. Sure, I don’t trust her much at all, but she did just help him escape High Charity and return to Earth when normally he would have been Flood food, so I can understand why he’d be a bit more inclined to take her word for things. It’s only about one or two lines of dialogue, but really this is the only time I can think of in which Master Chief acts like an actual heroic character: whereas previously he’s just been some grunt following orders, now he’s actually taking initiative and doing what he thinks is right. He’s finally acting like a protagonist, which is good seeing as how we’ve probably only got four or five more hours of gameplay left before the series ends.

So we gather everybody together, link up with the Covenant Separatist fleet above the planet and proceed on to our next objective.

Oh, and on the way out we casually blow up Africa with laser guns.

If that sounds slightly flippant to you then that just means you’re a reasonable person, but the characters in this game seem to respond to this little tidbit the same way you would if you found out somebody scratched your car. About two lines of dialogue in which we hear that the Separatists “glassed half a continent” (direct quote) is all the attention this cataclysmic event is given. This is the same thing that happened in the opening to Halo 2, when Earth got invaded and everybody acted like it was just another Thursday. These are really, really big, traumatic events that are happening here and I’m kinda frustrated that the characters don’t seem to care too much.

So, leaving a devastated sub-Saharan Africa in our wake, we fly through the portal and find ourselves on the Ark. For real this time, this is definitely the Ark as opposed to just some thing that the UNSC calls the Ark without any kind of evidence whatsoever. It’s huge, several orders of magnitude larger than any of the Halo rings, and judging from the skybox above us and on the horizon it appears to be located outside of the Milky Way galaxy. This looks really cool for a moment or two until you notice something very disconcerting indeed:

Quick physics lesson: the speed of light is a universal constant, being the maximum speed that energy can travel within a vacuum. A light-year is a unit of distance derived from this constant, representing the distance that light can travel at light speed during the course of one Julian year. Our galaxy is estimated to have a diameter of approximately 100-120 light years, meaning that a light source on one end of the galaxy would not be observed on the other side of the galaxy until 100 years after it was initially activated. And of course, this would need to be a suitably massive light source in order to be observed with the naked eye.

Now, with this in mind, let’s think for a moment about what we’re seeing in our galaxy as we stand on the Ark. We see, all over this galaxy, a large number of explosions, presumably representing the scope of the battle being waged between Flood, Covenant, Covenant Separatists, and humans. There are two very immediately identifiable problems here. 1.) If we can see these explosions from this distance, then they are ridiculously massive in scale. An explosion big enough to be observed from where we are would not only destroy Earth, but probably a pretty good sized chunk of the Solar System. So even if we succeed here on the Ark, everyone back home is already dead. And 2.) It really doesn’t matter if we succeed here because physics dictates that what we’re seeing in our galaxy happened at the very least 100 years ago, very likely more. Congrats, Chief, that portal apparently moved you in both space and time and now it’s a little late to do anything to save the day.

Yes, this is a pretty intense case of nit-picking, I’ll agree to that. But it is nonetheless violating some very basic principles of physics. Look at it this way: if characters suddenly started flying we would understandably have a problem believing that because it violates our understanding of how the universe works without explanation. I’m just applying the same concept here, albeit in regard to what are perhaps some less commonly-understood laws.

All that being said, my second thought was “man, that does look pretty cool, though” so I guess it accomplished its mission there.

So we make our way across the surface of the Ark, trying to find the control room before the Covenant in a repetition of the same objective we’ve had in the last two games. We fight a bunch of Brutes, steal their vehicles, and eventually get some backup and armor support delivered from the Forward Unto Dawn, our accompanying grandiosely-named UNSC frigate for this mission.

We eventually have to dismount our tank and continue inside one of the Ark’s structures on foot, only to come across our allies not two minutes later driving their motorcade along easy as you please. I’m sure they just used a different entrance (that we somehow couldn’t) but it still kinda bugs me when NPCs get some kind of unexplained special privileges when the players have to do all the heavy lifting. We do get our tank back soon enough, it’s true, but…

I said this sarcastically at the time, but thinking about it now, it actually makes a fair amount of sense. A giant scorpion-shaped mass of fire-belching metal is probably going to draw a bit more fire than a foot soldier, even if that foot soldier is seven feet tall and dual-wielding plasma rifles. Furthermore there’s a very good reason why modern militaries don’t like moving tanks into urban environments: they’ve got no room to maneuver. This part of the game takes place in fairly narrow corridor-like environments, and your tank doesn’t have the long sight lines and open terrain that it’s best suited for. Bad guys can stroll up practically right next to you and unload a whole collection of rockets into your rear armor before you have a chance to react, putting a pretty quick halt to that sense of superiority you got when you first hopped in the thing (admit it, you felt it too). So I guess good job Halo 3 for giving your tanks real-world weaknesses.

Even if it did get me killed three times.

Already discussed this in detail so I won’t get into it now, but the short version is that at this point this is confirmed to be the Ark, and this is where all the problems I mentioned before actually arise. I just got over-excited at the time and didn’t want to wait until now to start complaining. Plus this section would be freaking huge if I piled it all in here at once and we’re almost out of time as it is.

It’s hardly an exact comparison, but I can’t be the only one who thought this:

Coincidentally, if you imagine that the Grunts are actually all Ferengi during this part of the game it makes everything way more entertaining.


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