Here it begins, a review of the story of the Halo trilogy. To reiterate points made in the inquiry thread, this will only cover what is contained in the original three games, and will be as critical as I can be. I’ll go level by level through each individual game, updating probably once a week, though don’t hold me to that come finals week.
We begin our examination of this story with Halo CE, released November 15, 2001. This game has a very sacred place among fanboys, even though the only saint-worthy thing it did was save the Xbox from launch damnation. Then again, I wouldn’t be here today saying this if that hadn’t happened, so it is pretty important. You could say that the multiplayer aspect of this game is what helped make it a killer app, but we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to look at the campaign, the story mode, the vehicle for the multi-player to exist.
The first level, The Pillar of Autumn, begins with a cutscene:
So, in four minutes we learn pretty much everything we need to know about the backstory in order to follow this game. I’ll explain how that is in a moment.
The opening shot of the game, with the Pillar of Autumn coming down over the camera, is reminiscent of the openings of the original Star Wars movies. This helps to create a feeling of familiarity with the setting already. This is going to be science fiction, no doubt about it. As a result, I highly doubt that this similarity is unintentional.
The dialogue between Captain Keyes and Cortana is what we call exposition, revealing story details to the audience. I consider this a decent example of it. Exposition-revealing dialogue is another staple of science fiction, though usually a bad one. However, this one only takes about a minute or two, so I’m going to let it slide. But from it we learn:
The Pillar of Autumn is on the run.
They are under attack by a superior force.
They don’t know where they really are.
This is literally all we need to know of the backstory. Good stories in other works have worked with backstory just as sparse as this. The Divine Comedy’s sole backstory in the beginning is that Dante is middle-aged and lost in the woods. We’ll undoubtedly learn more as we go along, but this isn’t too shabby for a start.
As a genius bonus, the name Cortana is a reference to Curtana, the sword of Ogier the Dane, a character from the epic poem The Song of Roland. Upon that sword was inscribed: My name is Cortana, of the same steel and temper as Joyeuse and Durendal. This last name is significant, as Durandal was the name of an AI from the Marathon series, another Bungie product. The parallels here will become evident later. And, as some of you are probably aware, this is not the only time that the Marathon series is referenced in Halo.
The next part of the opening cutscene showcases the forces that are within the Pillar of Autumn. We see marines*, dropships*, and various land vehicles. It’s a pretty sizable force, appearance wise. Sergeant Johnson’s bombastic speech helps give the impression that this is a group ready to fight against the Covenant. All in all, it helps situate us with the universe even better. This single cutscene sets the scene for the entire game remarkably well.
Now we see the player character being taken out of cryo. From this we can probably infer that he is important. You don’t seal up just anyone like this. Almost immediately after being unsealed, the observation deck above is infiltrated by Covenant. This shows us how efficient and superior they are, as they were able to reach even you, tucked away in the bowels of the Autumn.
We follow the remaining technician for a short time, until an explosion takes him from us. Proceeding on our own, we see the crew fighting against the Covenant boarders, and through this we see the reality of the situation, how well humanity usually fares against these hostile aliens.
Gradually, we make it to the bridge, where we are treated to another cutscene:
And now we learn the title of our player character, the Master Chief. He doesn’t really speak much, though in this cutscene that’s not a bad thing as it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot he can contribute. Since he speaks to Cortana the most, and does so in a more informal manner, we can infer that the two of them have a decent working relationship. They fit together well. We also get the sense that Cortana takes pride in what she does, via her relaying of the battle going on outside, and that she doesn’t like to just leave her work unfinished, via being hesitant about leaving and giving Keyes a plan for landing the Autumn. This is also the first time that the characters acknowledge the presence of a large, unknown object in space in front of them. Wonder is put aside in favor of survival. Another example of how dire the situation is.
We leave the bridge now, Cortana in tow, and begin to actually fight the Covenant. Blowing through group after group of extraterrestrials, we see now the importance of the Master Chief. His equipment and his skills provide a leverage point against the Covenant in infantry engagements such as this. Marines rally about you as you charge on towards the escape pods, showing that this advantage is also a psychological one. Your presence encourages the troops to fight and press onward. This is important for understanding the Chief’s role in the story.
We also continue to see how the Covenant dominate humanity in battle. They use the lifeboat airlocks to secure their boarding craft, meaning that every lifeboat launched is another entry point for them. We see an Elites strike down a lone, defenseless crew member, as well as the lifeboats being blown up as soon as they are launched from the ship. These both show the ruthless nature in which the Covenant is pursuing this war, and through being shown small scale engagements like this we are, in a sense, told that the annihilation of humanity is very systematic.
Eventually we reach a lifeboat, and are treated to the level’s final cutscene:
From this video we learn that lifeboats apparently need pilots. I don’t really understand this. I mean, what happens if the pilot of the lifeboat you ride in dies before they get there? Does that mean that you’re pretty much out of luck as far as escaping from the ship goes? I mean, yeah it’s in space so someone needs to drive it, but why not make the controls simple enough so that just the highest-ranking officer could drive it? This would set up the beginning of the next level a tad better, but I’ll get to that when the time comes.
Here we see more evidence of how much of a psychological aid the Chief is, via the soldier asking him if they will make it, and a simple pat on the shoulder from the Chief being enough to quiet him. We also find out that our dropship pilot wears the weirdest helmet ever. I mean, seriously. How does one see out of that thing?
On a more serious note, we also see the Autumn heading in towards the ring. The lack of Covenant ships in the shot itself seem to imply that they can strike from a distance and still inflict great damage, yet another sign of their superiority.
And, with the Chief violating all seat belt laws, the level comes to an end.
As a whole, this level does a good job of setting the scene. We learn our position, what the stakes are, how things have been going up to this point, and we get an idea of how the story will probably progress. It’s a really general feel, but that’s all you need sometimes.
I may try to compress the next two levels into one post, simply because not a lot story-wise happens in the second level.
*insert images of the equivalent things from the Aliens movie here, as this forum won’t let you imbed images, apparently.