With tomorrow comes the release of Bungie’s final Halo game. But instead of trying to ‘Remember Reach’, let us remember some of the greatest moments of Bungie’s Halo campaigns past…
Oh, what, you want me to type them up into some sort of list? Fine!
Halo: Combat Evolved
First setting foot on Halo
After fighting down the corridors of the Pillar of Autumn and finding an escape pod, you crash land onto the ringworld, ‘Halo’ (not knowing other such structures exist, at that time). In stark contrast to the claustrophobic passageways of the spaceship, here you are in an open valley. As the only survivor, the voice in your head (OK, it’s Cortana) encourages you to quickly leave the area, while high-pitched strings on the soundtrack heighten the tension. In the air, you can see Banshees circling and taking aim as you fight your way up a hill. Then you take a moment to look around and you can actually see the rest of the Halo stretched out across the horizon and into the sky above. It’s when you make it through to the next section that you find an even wider open area and enemies dropping in from multiple sides. This is combat evolved (or something).
At the time, perhaps what stood out most about Halo was its large-scale conflicts, and this is best demonstrated in its longest level: ‘Assault On The Control Room’. After getting outside and being greeted by a shift in weather to a snowy landscape, you meet up with a squad of marines. From here, you can see what Bungie refers to as ‘sandbox gameplay’; first off, you have a selection of vehicles. You can use a Warthog, a Scorpion tank or even a Ghost, if you manage to kill the pilot without destroying it (but take the tank, seriously). Then the level opens out into larger environments with multiple enemies scattered all around. As well as having to deal with ground troops, you have Banshees in the air, Wraiths bombarding you, Ghosts rushing you, and turrets perched atop hills and cliffs. And you don’t have to stay in one vehicle, or even any vehicle, either. In various locations, there are weapon supplies containing rocket launchers and sniper rifles, if you prefer hanging back and picking enemies off; in fact, the level contains every weapon in the game, bar the shotgun. Towards the end, it is even possible to fly a Banshee, if you’re quick enough in grabbing it; if you’re not, you just have to fight your way down through another building. Dare I say, the sheer size of the level is still mind-blowing.
First encounter with the Flood
The first time something happens is usually a memorable moment, so you’re going to see a lot of firsts. This is not the first. Deal with it!
After reaching the control room, Cortana warns you of something the Covenant have uncovered; something that has them scared. You’re then urged to rush after Captain Keyes, with a ‘No time to explain!’ from Cortana. Proceedings open with a fight against a few Grunts and Jackals through an eerie swamp (when are swamps not eerie?). So far, so routine. As you progress you start to see ‘friendlies’ pop up on the motion tracker, who run off before you can get a good look at them. It’s when you finally approach a structure that you see a fight up ahead, assault rifle fire appears to be coming from the building while Covenant flee the vicinity, ignoring you as they go. Something definitely has them spooked.
It’s only once you’re deep inside the building where you find a dead marine and play back the recording from his helmet-cam that you discover just what happened. Next thing you know, your motion tracker goes crazy with red dots and the Flood are upon you.
The arrival of the Flood was a major surprise on the game’s release. As well as drastically changing how it played, it put the player into an even larger conflict than anticipated. You’re not just at war with an alliance of alien races; you’ve got the whole galaxy at stake.
(It’s also quite funny, given that marines had taunted dead Covenant, ‘Get up, so I can kill you again’).
The truth about Halo
After fighting your way through the worst library ever (even if it had books, how are you supposed to read in there, huh?) to obtain the ‘Index’, you’re teleported to the control room. Your little, floating AI buddy, 343 Guilty Spark, has brought you here in order to activate Halo, which you believe will destroy the Flood. You start the process, but then it suddenly stops. Cortana appears, looking pissed off.
“I’ve spent the last 12 hours cooped up in here, watching you toady about, helping that thing get set to slit our throats!”
She goes on to explain:
“You have no idea how this ring works, do you? Why the Forerunners built it? Halo doesn’t kill Flood, it kills their food. Humans, Covenant, whatever. We’re all equally edible. The only way to stop the Flood is to starve them to death. And that’s exactly what Halo is designed to do: wipe the galaxy clean of all sentient life. You don’t believe me? Ask him!”
Lo and behold, although 343 Guilty Spark may have assumed you were aware of the consequences, he had still been less than forthright, and happily led you on. It gets worse when your refusal to trigger the installation angers him and he sets its defence systems against you. You now have to contend with Covenant, Flood and Sentinels.
This is something that will probably hold fond memories for a lot of people (unless you really hate the Warthog). Inside the crashed Pillar of Autumn (‘The ship you rode in on’), with a timer set to detonate the fusion generators and trigger a gigantic explosion you have to get out of there. This is because cool guys don’t look at explosions, they blow things up and then walk away. Also, the explosion will completely destroy Halo and that’s not something you want to get caught in (apparently, a temperature of around 100,000,000 degrees is quite uncomfortable, too).
With less time than initially anticipated, you call for an airlift from inside the battleship (so much for walking away). Cue a mad dash on a Warthog towards your good old friend, Foe Hammer, coming to pick you up in Pelican ‘Echo 419’. Sadly, your campaign-long ally is shot down by Banshees, which also forces you to find an alternate escape route.
This tense run for your life is the perfect end to a game already full of surprises.
Halo 2 has so many great moments across the introductory section I have made a list inside a list. Don’t like it? Sue me. Actually, there might be Americans reading this…
– Getting fitted with and testing the new Mark VI armour (it recharges much faster, hurray!)
– Looking out into space through the station’s massive windows and being able to see other space stations and ships.
– Master Chief receiving his medal for what transpired during Halo: Combat Evolved juxtaposed with scenes of the Covenant shipmaster, an Elite known as Thel ‘Vadamee (soon to become ‘The Arbiter’), being punished for allowing the Halo to be destroyed.
– Hearing the marines believe they’ve won, after seeing the Covenant fleeing, only to then witness the nearby Malta defence platform blow up (Athens also goes kaplooey). The Covenant have been planting bombs and then retreating, and it’s your job to find the one on Cairo Station.
– Fighting your way back into the armoury where you received your new armour only to arrive just too late to save the soldier who helped you test it.
– Heading outside the station and fighting across part of the colossal MAC gun as it continues to fire.
The end of the mission is its crowning moment. Having secured the Covenant bomb, Master Chief has a plan…
“Sir, permission to leave the station?”
“For what purpose, Master Chief?”
“To give the Covenant back their bomb”
After more classic cheesy action film dialogue, he then proceeds to open a hangar bay door and cling onto the bomb as it is sucked out into space. With no control over its course, he relies on his trademark luck. And it pulls through. After narrowly missing a massive energy blast from a Covenant carrier and then drifting through the exploding UNSC cruiser it hit, a couple of UNSC fighters blast a hole in the hull of the enemy ship at the last second.
Possibly the most epic ‘return to sender’ ever.
Tanks for the memories
Chasing the Scarab that shot your Pelican down, you’ve already had to fight through the Mombasa outskirts as well take on Ghosts, Wraiths and Shadows in around the coastal highways. It’s when you reach the city that the tables drastically turn. Sergeant Johnson drops off a Scorpion for you; which can also escort the nearby marines, one of which happens to be carrying a rocket launcher.
You then get to roll your gigantic death machine along a bridge, laying waste to Ghosts, Wraiths and Banshees as you go. You can even shoot back at passing Phantoms, destroying their turrets.
Introducing the Arbiter
Some might compare it to the surprise switch to Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2, but the fact is the inclusion of the Arbiter, while kept a secret (much like the Flood in the first game), helped broaden the scope of the Halo story as well as give a greater understanding of the Covenant. It’s from this perspective that you witness the events leading up to the ‘Great Schism’, when the Elites (and some Grunts) split from the Covenant and wound up joining humans in their fight to stop the Prophets activating the Halos. Being instructed to find the Index in order to activate the newly found Halo puts you in an interesting (if controversial) position. Many consider ‘The Library’ Halo’s lowest point, and you’re certain to run into the Flood, who now have the ability to reanimate fresh corpses and drive vehicles (as well as letting out horrifying screeches); while, at the same time, finding the Index is another step towards the complete annihilation of everyone involved.
The switch also offers a nice, little story arc for the Arbiter in contrast to Master Chief’s bombastic action hero tale. With his fall from grace, the Arbiter does not even value his own life for failing the Covenant, but with the Prophets’ betrayal and discovery of what activating the Halos will really do, he finds a new greater purpose.
Stabbed in the back (with a grav hammer)
If anyone instructs you to fetch the Index in order to activate a Halo: don’t do it. There’s a good chance they’ll betray you. After doing all the hard work (much like Master Chief before him), the Arbiter is met by the Brute Chieftain, Tartarus, who informs him that the Prophets have ordered a purge of the Elites from the Covenant ranks; something the Brute is only too happy to execute.
Things just got personal.
As Master Chief, teleported aboard the Covenant’s capital city: a large mobile space station known as High Charity, you face Brutes as an enemy for the first time. You also get to witness the Covenant Civil War kicking off as the other factions attempt to eradicate the Elites (with the Flood crashing the party in a UNSC Frigate later on).
The most memorable moment occurs when you enter the Mausoleum of The Arbiter (first seen during the earlier cutscenes with the Arbiter) and Cortana suggests you might want to ‘sit out’ the fight between Covenant factions only for a rock song (an instrumental version of Blow Me Away by Breaking Benjamin) to arrive on the soundtrack and get your blood pumping.
An alliance is formed, tables are turned.
Now that the Arbiter is aware that Tartarus must be stopped, his quest for vengeance must make room for allies. Fortunately, it’s at this point that Sergeant Johnson appears, piloting a Scarab. This collection of marines and Elites fights its way to inside the control room and, even then, as the Arbiter first tries to reason with Tartarus face to face, the Sergeant is watching his back.
It’s a testament to the writing in Halo 2 that you now see the Arbiter trying to enlighten Tartarus much like the ‘Heretic’ you had been sent to (successfully) eliminate earlier in the game. It’s also unfortunate that, like before, the plea falls on deaf ears as Tartarus, either through suspecting foul play or sheer stubbornness, decides to trigger the ring.
Lucky son of a gun
As Cortana’s voice-over explains, the main reason Master Chief survives his massive fall into the jungle is luck. I’m imagining a super suit of armour does considerably tip the odds in his favour. That he ‘surfed’ part of the way on a hatch door off the Forerunner ship is just cool.
Tank vs. The World
Whenever a tank is first encountered in a Halo game, it is always a memorable one. Here, you even get Alan Tudyk (Wash from Firefly and, later, Mickey in ODST) as a marine riding along, commenting as you defeat various Covenant vehicles and troops:
“Tank beats Ghost!”
“Tank beats Hunter!”
“Tank beats everything! Oh, man! I could do this all day!”
The Covenant’s Last Stand
If Halo’s large battles were already pretty spectacular then the third game’s tops them all. Harking back to ‘Assault On The Control Room’, ‘The Covenant’ spans a large distance while encompassing all manner of vehicles and enemies, which culminates in a spectacular finale.
If you thought Scarabs were starting to become a bit routine by now, then try facing two, accompanied by everything the Covenant has left to throw at you. This final confrontation involves almost every vehicle in the game. In addition to the Scarabs, are Banshees, Ghosts and Prowlers; while the UNSC sends in Hornets, Scorpions, Warthogs and, even, Mongooses.
If you look closely, you can even make out Brutes atop one of the fully-boardable Scarabs
The Arbiter also gets his moment of revenge on the Prophets; driving an energy sword through Truth so that he may be ‘silenced’.
Having said goodbye to Cortana at the end of Halo 2 (“Don’t make a girl a promise…if you know you can’t keep it”), her absence is sorely felt (if only because she helped explain what was going on). Haunted by telepathic messages received sporadically throughout the campaign, Master Chief knows he has to find her. This leads him to the Flood-infested High Charity, where she had remained as a last resort, vowing to blow up the space station in order to stop the Flood spreading; something the Gravemind had clearly stopped her achieving.
Eventually, they have their touching reunion; their conversation referencing the earlier journeys they’d shared.
“You found me. But so much of me is wrong…out of place. You might be too late…”
“You know me. When I make a promise…”
“You…keep it. I do know how to pick ’em.”
“Lucky me. Do you still have it?”
“The Activation Index from the first Halo ring. A little souvenir I hung onto…just in case. Got an escape plan?”
“Thought I’d try shooting my way out: mix things up a little.”
“Just keep your head down. There’s two of us in here now, remember.”
Run for your life!
With Cortana and the Arbiter’s help, the unfinished Halo has been activated and, like the first game, you’ve got to high-tail it out of there. Fortunately, (the late) Sergeant Johnson had brought a Warthog. With no time to waste, you’re speeding off.
This time, however, the landscape is a little more unpredictable as parts fall of the level are collapsing accompanied by the Flood and Sentinels out to get you. It certainly makes for an interesting ride.
Halo 3: ODST
Prepare to drop
What is a game without an impressive opening? Once again, Bungie delivers. Put into the role of an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper during the beginning of the Covenant’s invasion seen in Halo 2, it appears your mission is to infiltrate the Prophet of Regret’s Assault Carrier.
Once inside your SOEIV (Single Occupant Exoatmospheric Insertion Vehicle), your view switches to a first person perspective and you have a little control over what you can see; experiencing exactly what an ODST does during launch. You’re then ejected from the underside of the cruiser with the Covenant ship visible below; everything seems to be going as expected but Captain Dare suddenly instructs you to alter your trajectory, missing it. Moments later, Regret’s carrier opens a slip-space rupture and disappears through it; the resulting shockwave and EMP hurling the squad about, helpless. Another pod collides with yours and sends it spinning, red warning lights visible everywhere. Then the screen goes black.
New Mombasa Night-life
Exiting your pod as the Rookie for the first time, and seeing the streets of New Mombasa is a welcome change to Halos before. Not only are you navigating the darkness with the help of your VISR, you also have the ‘Superintendent’ on your side. An AI with control over part of the city’s systems, it can light up signs or use recorded phrases on machines as warnings or directions. This aid is particularly useful for sneaking past enemy patrols and avoiding confrontation since, as an ODST, you’re quite vulnerable, and getting hold of ammo can be quite tricky at some points.
Rumble up top
Halo 3: ODST serves as a ‘greatest hits’ compilation in some ways, but the battle atop New Mombasa Police Department Headquarters is perhaps the most memorable. By this point, the squad has reunited (bar the Rookie) and is comfortably seeing off dozens of Banshees and Phantoms, with Brutes occasionally dropping in as well. It’s when a Brute Chieftain with a grav hammer shows up that things get worrying. It manages to seriously wound Romeo, and it takes a knife to the neck, plus the rest of the ODSTs tackling it to put it down. Spartan super-soldiers, ODSTs are not. The funniest moment of the game occurs straight after when Buck, stuck underneath the creature’s large corpse calls out: “Get. This. Thing. Off. Of. Me.”
ODST’s Firefight mode was a fantastic addition to the series and it’s in the last moments of the campaign that players actually experience the basic premise. Holed up outside the entrance to the Uplift Nature Reserve after making it down the coastal highway, you have to repel Covenant forces while you wait for the rest of the squad to come collect you, Buck, Dare and Vergil in a Phantom. And like Firefight, your enemies appear in waves, gradually getting tougher. Fortunately, your ticket out of the city arrives just in time and you fly off, mission complete (Firefight never ends as happily).
Well, that’s your lot, folks! I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did. Special thanks go to the Halo Wiki, Halopedia, as well as my fellow PXoDitors (I am calling them that; try and stop me) for their suggestions (especially Ethan, for his kickass Halo 3 screenshot with the two Scarabs). And, of course, a great big thanks to Bungie for the wonderful series.
Any moments you felt were missing? Any of these choices you disagree with? Want to call me an idiot or Halo fanboy? You’re in luck! Feel free to comment below.