Ranking the Levels – Halo 3

Often stated to be the best out of all the Halo games, Halo 3 has some fantastic levels, continuing the tradition of maintaining open spaces for most encounters and keeping the consistency of on-foot and vehicle sections (for the most part…)

Whilst Halo 3 does not have as many levels as its predecessor, they are all jam-packed with detail and variety, so it can be hard to actually rank them when it gets to comparing the best levels. As for the worst, well, there really is only one option:

10 – Cortana, Mission 9

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Realistically, nobody likes Flood levels. Especially when the only type of enemy in the entire level is Flood, and the level is one long continuous monotonous maze of samey corridors and passageways. Basically, Cortana is the reason why The Library is not the worst Halo level of all time. Make of that what you will.

9 – Arrival, Mission 1

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Again, like Halo 2 with its opening missions The Heretic and The Armory, Arrival is basically just the opening cutscene with a very minute amount of gameplay, basically a recreation of the ‘look up and down at the lights’ segment from Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2. There is a pretty cool cutscene where Chief and the Arbiter meet as allies for the first time, and Sergeant Johnson’s quote changes based on what difficulty you are on or what skulls you have enabled.

8 – Crow’s Nest, Mission 3

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Crow’s Nest suffers from the same problem that Pillar of Autumn had in Halo: Combat Evolved, in that it is all set indoors. One of the greatest strengths of all Halo games is the ability to seamlessly transition between on-foot gameplay and vehicle segments, and levels that lack this ability seem lesser as a result. Nevertheless, Crow’s Nest does offer some interesting encounters, particularly the section in the barracks and the battle with the Brute Chieftain.

7 – Sierra 117, Mission 2

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The opening gameplay mission for Halo 3 broke a few rules, in that it introduced Jackals in the opening level, something that Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 refrained from doing to establish a form of difficulty curve. Sierra 117 throws us right into a lush and dense jungle to battle against Brutes, Jackal Snipers and even Phantoms. Thankfully, we get the Arbiter helping us, which is always a good thing, although this level does start the unfortunate trope of Sergeant Johnson being kidnapped whenever he goes to do anything.

6 – Floodgate, Mission 6

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Floodgate is an exhilarating horror experience, and it does the job of demonstrating the virile and insidious nature of the Flood as it quickly overtakes a graveyard of corpses that you had previously created, quickly overrunning the local town and even the contingent of Elites sent to aid you (for the first of only two instances in the entire game, I might add) to great effect. The music enhances this atmosphere and there are some fantastic details that heighten the shock factor of this level, such as the insane suicidal Marine or the horrific instances in which you fail to save a Marine and he or she is infected and transformed into a combat form before your very eyes.

5 – Tsavo Highway, Mission 4

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This is the first proper vehicle level in the game, and as a result it seems Bungie enhanced the openness factor a bit to make up for the lack of vehicles in the previous two levels. Tsavo Highway pits the player and a band of ragged Marine survivors against a Covenant army, with only a handful of Warthogs to transport your ragtag rabble across the charred Savannah. The imagery of the space elevator’s shattered support rings scattered all over the Savannah shows how the Human-Covenant War is creating such devastation that the very foundation of Human society is beginning to crumble, to the extent that the natural world is now at risk.

4 – The Storm, Mission 5

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When the Scarab was first introduced in this mission the first time I played it, I was in awe. The buildup to the boss fight is to intense, and the best thing about this level is that after you defeat the Scarab, it isn’t even over. This level truly represents a desperate battle to save Earth from the Covenant, as for the first time in the series civilians take up arms to aid the player and the Marines against the invaders. Also, this level first introduced us to the devastating combo that is the Mongoose and a Rocket Launcher Marine, a tool of total destruction that no Covenant vehicle can ever outmanoeuvre.

3 – Halo, Mission 10

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Odd that it is that Bungie decided to call the last level of Halo 3 the same thing as they called the second level of Halo: Combat Evolved, this level lives up to its name. It is, essentially, an essential Halo experience wrapped into one level. The lead up to the boss fight harkens back to the classic large-scale battle layouts of previous Halos, and it is great to finally reunite Chief, Cortana, Arbiter, Johnson and Guilty Spark all in one place for one final effort to save the universe. Needless to say, the final Warthog run is awesome. And trust me, I completed the Vidmaster Challenge: Annual.

2 – The Ark, Mission 7

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Halo 3 does a great job of invoking nostalgia, but not least in its level design. The Ark is loads of other levels wrapped into one, starting out as a sniper section like in Truth and Reconciliation before shifting to a vehicle section like in Delta Halo and then turning into Metropolis for the tank section and finally morphing into The Silent Cartographer as you delve into the Ark’s map room and challenge a Chieftain to honourable combat. The music in this level is particularly spectacular, the entire Farthest Outpost suite is fantastic and the Small Victory section that plays when the Phantom attacks the map room is one of my favourite Halo soundtracks.

1 – The Covenant, Mission 8

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Of course, which other mission could it be? This one has it all – Hornet section, Elite allies, Tank fight, Two Scarabs at once, the Anti-Air Wraith glitch, the list goes on. Not to mention that you have a huge army in this level – dozens of Marines help you fight the Flood, until you actually get the Flood as allies. Truly, no level can even come close to claiming the mantle of Best Halo 3 Level than The Covenant. 

So what are your thoughts? Be sure to like this post if you enjoyed my thoughts on how the Halo 3 levels compare, and be sure to follow Sacred Icon and like us on Facebook for more content like this!

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Top Ten Creepiest Halo Easter Eggs

As any Halo fan will tell you, every Halo game has a lot more to it than just gunfights with aliens. One of the deepest aspects to Halo is its Easter Eggs, and the series has played host to several widely known Easter Eggs, both legendary and infamous. However, there is a specific category of Easter Egg that particularly peaks my interest, and that is creepy Easter Eggs that are there to freak players out. Bungie didn’t hold back when it comes to secrets to hunt down in the Halo campaigns, and thanks to their love of all things mysterious and (at times) bizarre, Halo boasts a wide variety of really weird things to find if you take the time to look hard enough.

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10 – Hidden Marine on 343 Guilty Spark

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If you thought the insane screaming Marine that you find inside the Forerunner structure was bad enough, you are not prepared for this guy. He can be found using a glitch whereby spamming the grenade button at the start of the mission 343 Guilty Spark will prompt Chief to forget to get out of the Pelican, allowing you to ride it outside the level boundaries until it lands in an indent. You can then dismount and after about a minute of walking you will come across this poor soul, with his head planted firmly against a tree. If you aren’t paying attention and then you turn around and see him it can be quite startling. In the classic graphics its even spookier, as the trees are not there and he instead slowly appears out of the shadows as you approach, standing and staring but saying absolutely nothing.

9 – Standoff Dish Operator

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This Easter Egg is so tiny that its almost impossible to notice unless you’re looking for it. But on the map Standoff in Halo 3, if you zoom in really close to the Radio Telescope that is closest to you with a Sniper Rifle or Beam Rifle scope, you can find this man – he cannot be killed, or interacted with in any way, and he is apparently a joke inserted by the programmer who rendered the model for the dish, the Halo wiki rather simply and rather spookily states: “This man is Travis Brady”, whoever he is. The reason why he is particularly creepy is that he just stands there – no matter how long you stand there looking at him, he will stand and stare right back at you. And he doesn’t even have a scope to see you properly, but he knows you’re there.
Interestingly enough, this map has another real person’s face utilised for the skybox texture as the man in the moon, so clearly the designers had quite a bit of fun designing Standoff.

8 – Megg Easter Egg

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Megg is an Easter Egg that involves performing a very specific set of steps on the first mission of Halo: Combat Evolved on Legendary, including jumping on and off a yellow barrel and murdering Captain Keyes. Once you find the Easter Egg however, you will be filled with pride at knowing that you sacrificed humanity’s best hope for survival to get a look at a letter ‘M’ made out of blood splatters and bullet holes. Seriously though, why is this here? It seems very incongruous, and quite creepy if you think about it – perhaps there is a violent murder loose about the Pillar of Autumn, and the letter ‘M’ is his calling card? Who knows…

This Easter Egg is referenced in a similarly complicated trial in Cairo Station, the first mission of Halo 2, as if the player manages to complete the mission without taking a single hit on Legendary, they will unlock a hidden announcement from Lord Hood which mentions the elusive Megg.

7 – Skulls

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Although the concept of Skulls as objectives or gameplay modifiers is now firmly ingrained into the consciousness of the Halo lexicon thanks to Oddball and the inclusion of the Skulls as Easter Eggs, with many players simply seeing the skulls as game modifiers that are implemented in a fun and intriguing way, but if you think about it, the Skulls are creepy in their own way. They are just lying there, scattered around UNSC bases and Forerunner installations and even the African Savannah and the depths of High Charity, but why? Whose skulls are these? Am I thinking to deeply into this?

6 – Why Am I Here? Easter Egg

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It is always fun to find those hidden messages that programmers leave in seemingly random terrain shapes, but this message suggests a deeper meaning that could simply be a Red vs Blue reference but could also be a sign that one of the people working on Halo 2 really didn’t want to be at his desk that day. Considering the nightmare development that Halo 2 had, I don’t blame him, but in-universe this message represents the possible last words of a former occupant of Beaver Creek, who was trapped there and scrawled his last message before his body was consumed by nature.

5 – Cortana on High Ground

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This Easter Egg is prevalent throughout several missions of Halo 3, but is most prominent on the multiplayer map High Ground. If one stares long enough at the live security camera footage of a hangar in Crows Nest that can be found on all portable UNSC computers in Halo 3, eventually an image of Cortana staring blankly at the player will appear for a few seconds. Creepily, if one uses theatre mode to observe a control panel in a game that is in progress, you can see that Cortana does this every so often whether players are looking or not. That means that every time you play Halo 3 near a UNSC computer, Cortana can periodically drop in to take a look at what you’re up to…

4 – Microsoft SAM Easter Egg

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This is a funny but still rather creepy Easter Egg that can be found in The Covenant in Halo 3. To find this Easter Egg, one must start the level on Normal or higher from the beginning and take a Hornet to the end of the outer rail of the Citadel on the left hand side. Going to the right hand side will trigger the song ‘Siege of Madrigal’ to play, a whole different Egg entirely. When you reach the end of the prong, wait about 2 or 3 minutes and eventually, out of nowhere, the voice of Microsoft SAM will breathe down your neck, saying:

Sam: "OMG (Oh My God) this game needs more guitar wank. Am I right?"

Sam: "Happy Easter Marty."

Sam: "I am a monument to all Marty's sins lololol."

Sam: "J and C Paul, you are so totally fired."

3 – Halo: Reach Radio Conversations

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Throughout Halo: Reach, in both campaign and multiplayer, the player constantly encounters these tiny radios that often loop nothing but static – although some of them contain hidden messages or conversations. Most of them are fairly routine, some are calls for help, some are military personnel giving orders, and some are even just casual conversations about zombie plans. What makes this Easter Egg really creepy, though, is the thought that in several hours from when the game is set, every voice you hear on the radio represents the voice of someone who dies on Reach…

2 – The Halo 3 Cavemen

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As strange as it may seem, Halo 3 has a resident population of cavemen. Each of the diminutive monkey people has the face of Marcus R. Lehto, the former Creative Arts Director of Bungie Studios who left in 2012.  This Egg is as confusing as it is disturbing – where did the monkey men come from? Why do they have a bear? Why is the largest member of the family holding the bear, and why is it bigger than the smallest child? Most importantly, in the final cutscene of Halo 3: ODST, why does Edward Buck pick an insect off one of these creatures and eat it before your very eyes?

1 – Reversed Messages in the Soundtrack

We have already published an entire list on how good Halo’s soundtrack is, but one aspect of it that wasn’t mentioned in that list was the Hidden Messages that can be found within certain songs of the soundtrack. Halo 2 has ‘Destroyer’s Invocation’, the first movement of the ‘Mausoleum Suite’ ,which has a very deep and underlying guttural vocal melody that is totally indecipherable unless played backwards. If you are able to listen to the song backwards, the voice is revealed to be possibly that of Mendicant Bias, an A.I. trapped within High Charity. Regardless, the voice says as follows:

“…I have walked among men and angels for three thousand years.

Time has no end… no beginning… no purpose. 

I wander the earth, seeking forgiveness for my horrible crimes against God and man. 

I live to see death and destruction, evil… over the light, but the light cannot be extinguished.

 I live in a prison of my own demise.

I am lost…in time.”

 

Halo 3 has ‘Black Tower’, there is another reversed message that appears to frequently reference T.S. Elliot’s The Hollow Men, which is interesting since several aspects of Halo 3’s marketing campaign also referenced that poem. The backwards messages appear to say:“Eyes from Death’s dream kingdom, Appear as sunlight on a broken column. There in Death’s other kingdom walking alone, Trembling lips form prayers to broken stone.In death’s dream kingdom. These do not appear: There, the eyes are sunlight on a broken column, Waking alone at the hour when we are, Trembling with tenderness, Lips that would kiss, Form prayers to broken stone.”

Finally, ‘Dread Intrusion’ from Halo 3 has perhaps the most interesting reversed message of them all, since this message seems to attempt to give us an insight into what goes on inside the minds of the Flood as they further their onslaught:“Side by side, we march as one, Humans and Elites will die, The Earth will fall if we strike together, So forth shall all of life.”

So what are your thoughts?

What did you think of this list? Do you agree? If you can think of any other spooky Halo Easter Eggs, feel free to leave them in the comments, and look down below for more Halo related content!

Ranking the Levels – Halo 2

Welcome to the next instalment in the ‘Ranking the Levels’ series, in which we will be ranking all the levels of a Halo game. You may want to read Ranking the Levels – Halo: Combat Evolved, which covers the levels in Halo: Combat Evolved. For this instalment, we will be looking at all 15 levels of Halo 2, the longest game in the Halo series in terms of playable levels. Let’s start with everyone’s best guess as to the ‘automatic’ worst level in the game:

15 – The Heretic, Mission 1

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It doesn’t seem fair that the first mission of Halo 2 is ranked as the worst, but don’t be dismayed – the only reason why this level ranks so low is that it isn’t really a level at all. In fact, The Heretic is just one long cutscene. It’s a very good cutscene, the prologue establishes where we are in terms of continuity from Halo: Combat Evolved and also where exactly Halo 2 is based in the timeline, but as there is no gameplay this level cannot rank any higher than 15. In terms of fulfilling its purpose however, this level is an optimal example of a prologue. We know who the Arbiter is and we understand why the Master Chief is where he is (sort of, with help from the manual).

14 – The Armory, Mission 2

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Again, a boring choice – at least you actually get to have some facet of gameplay in this mission, but it isn’t much – there are no enemies, and all you really do is walk around the armory section of Cairo Station in a way reminiscent of the opening section of The Pillar of Autumn from Halo: Combat Evolved, but with better graphics. The highlight of this mission is taking a ride in a lift with Sergeant Johnson while he talks about his time in the corps. There is also a glitch when the Bandanna Skull activated that lets the player throw endless grenades at the Gunnery Sergeant, Johnson and all the Marines in the station with no consequences. Actually, this level should be higher on the list…

13 – The Oracle, Mission 7

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The Oracle introduced players who were already shocked at the development that you would be playing as the Arbiter in the previous level, The Arbiter, to another stunning revelation about this new Halo game: the introduction of boss fights. The Oracle does its boss fight fairly well, involving an airborne Elite with the shield strength of an Ultra, which is already a fairly tough enemy, that also duel wields Plasma Rifles, has two holographic bodyguards and is given the ability to disappear into pipes when damaged in order to regenerate health. That sounds like the perfect Halo boss fight to me, but unfortunately this level falls behind on the list because of several design problems – the tedious laboratory section, the elevator descent into hell that involves the player standing still for minutes on end waiting for enemies to spawn, the premature introduction of the Flood, it all culminates in a fairly dull and tedious experience that is only saved by an interesting final sprint. At least the music is good, although it will become apparent that is a given in Halo 2 as Marty O’ Donnell does a fantastic job with the soundtrack.

12 – Sacred Icon, Mission 10

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Despite the fact that this blog is named after it, the mission Sacred Icon is ranked low on this list. Why? Well, for one, I haven’t really named this blog after the level specifically, although I already explained that in a previous article – and second, the level itself isn’t really that bad – it’s just that all of the levels in Halo 2 are good, and ranking them is only possible based on a scale of relative quality. Overall, Sacred Icon is definitely interesting – it includes the only instance of having Jackals as allies in the entire Halo campaigns, and it introduces the unique varieties of Sentinel that Halo 2 has to offer, the Sentinel Major and the Enforcer. It just involves a lot of tight corridors and Flood encounters, and so like The Oracle it ranks fairly low on this list. There are some positives to this mission, including the atmospheric interior sections and some really great music, but this level is overshadowed by the others in the Halo 2 campaign.

11 – High Charity, Mission 14

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The penultimate level of Halo 2 should have been spectacular, and although High Charity is a fairly entertaining romp through the rapidly Flood-infested Covenant Holy City it suffers from tight corridor syndrome which limits gameplay options. It is the only level in which Flood can be seen using Brute Plasma Rifles, but other than that there’s not much that’s unique about it. There is a strange glitch involving a Brute Chieftain sometimes being seen lying dead in a doorway, although more often than not it is simply an Honour Guard. This glitch was even carried over to the Anniversary version. Interestingly, this level was originally supposed to include a Warthog run through the final section of the Forerunner Dreadnought that would have been reminiscent of the final level of Halo: Combat Evolved. Sadly, this feature was cut, but the Warthog run would return in Halo 3.

10 – Outskirts, Mission 4

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The first level in any Halo game to be set on Earth, Outskirts sets the scene for Halo 2’s desperate struggle against an oncoming Covenant invasion. Some of the best parts of this level are in tight enclosed spaces, because the level uses its tight sections to its advantage with atmospheric music and plenty of cover against the onslaught of Jackal Snipers. There are very few invisible barriers in this mission, so well-timed grenade jumps can allow players to explore a huge area outside the playable area and also fight through the level from the rooftops. If the player saves the Marines throughout the level then the final act of the level in the tunnels of New Mombasa can be completed with the help of a convoy of allied Warthogs. Overall, this level has a great vehicle section but too much emphasis on defence against waves of enemies in the early segments, though this can make for a fun challenge on higher difficulties or with various Skull combinations.

9 – Cairo Station, Mission 3

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The first level of Halo 2 jumps players right in, fending off an invasion from a Covenant boarding party almost as soon as the level begins. The level allows players the choice of starting weapon, unlike Halo: Combat Evolved which forces players to pick up a Magnum and then an Assault Rifle when combat begins. This level also has a fantastic space segment, in which the player fights outside the station in low gravity against Elite Rangers who are attempting to board. The music creates a fantastic atmosphere here, and the final battle with the Elites has music that is timed to the repeated firing of Cairo Station’s Super-MAC that creates excellent ambience when fighting the final squad of Elites. Like Outskirts, wave defence style gameplay lets this level down, other than that, it is very enjoyable. This mission also contains a rare Easter Egg, the elusive Megg, which requires the player to complete the entire mission on Legendary without taking any damage.

8 – The Arbiter, Mission 6

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The Arbiter’s introductory level was controversial back in the day, and few people accepted the level for what it was – a chance to attempt a more stealth-orientated style of gameplay into Halo. In that sense, The Arbiter does a very good job of encouraging players to adapt to this new style of gameplay – rewarding stealth kills by having enemies that notice you spawn more enemies to help them, and by killing them stealthily you prevent them from doing so. The music in this level is fantastic, tracks like ‘Flawed Legacy’ and ‘Follow’ for the Banshee section create the perfect atmosphere for their respective sections. The fact that the player is accompanied by a Covenant Spec Ops squad is also fantastic, as they were the most powerful Covenant units in Halo: Combat Evolved so fighting alongside them in this mission so early in Halo 2 is a great experience.

7 – Quarantine Zone – Mission 11

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This level is interesting in that it is the first and only instance of the Flood using vehicles, making them even more deadly. The addition of the Enforcers and their ability to crush vehicles with their huge arms create some unique encounters between them, the player and the Flood-controlled vehicles. This level also marks one of the few examples of Rtas ‘Vadum aiding the Arbiter for an extended period of time, allowing the player to exploit his invincibility for multiple encounters. The fact that the Flood control vehicles makes for some epic battles between Flood-controlled Wraiths and Scorpions, and the anti-vehicle Enforcers. Blasting through this fray with a Spectre full of powerful Elites is a great feeling.

6 – Regret, Mission 9

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This level is all about atmosphere. From the initial section on the Forerunner ruins to the Gondola segment the music seems to be all about action and dramatic chorus,  when suddenly the player delves into an underwater complex and the tone shifts to be more sombre and delicate, until eventually returning to the surface onto an outdoor grassy section, only to board the final Gondola ride and take on the Prophet of Regret. This level is a whirlwind tour of some of the most idyllic locations on Delta Halo before the climactic final encounter in the temple on the lake. Halo 2’s second boss fight is a little less intuitive than its first, but it is entertaining nonetheless – the Chief boards the Prophet of Regret’s Gravity Throne and beats him to death, made even better by the Prophet Birthday Party Skull which accompanies every whack with Steve Vai power chords. Regret is immune to all other forms of damage and boasts a powerful golden version of the Hunter cannon.

5 – Uprising, Mission 13

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This mission has no objective. Your only objective is to get revenge on the Brutes. After witnessing the betrayal of the Elites from the point of view of the Arbiter, Uprising gives the player a chance to blow off some steam and deal out sweet revenge. The level is made even better by the fact that you can build a small army of Elite supporters as the level progresses, and if you defend them (and help them out of situations in which they might get stuck) your allies will follow you for the entire level. If you’re lucky, some allied Grunts might even survive to the end, where you can give them a Rocket Launcher and watch as they blow themselves up. There are some great fights in indoor and outdoor areas, including a vehicle section that ends with a huge battle in the Bastion of the Brutes.

4 – Metropolis, Mission 5

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The first chance you get to grab a tank is great in Halo 2 because for the first time in Halo history it was actually useful. As powerful as the Halo: Combat Evolved Scorpion was, its main cannon was so inaccurate and the machine gun so wide-spreading that it was sometimes frustrating to use. The Halo 2 Scorpion is much improved, although as we see in this mission it is no match for the Scarab. The Scarab section of this mission is hilariously fun, made even better by the fantastic music. Players can either wait for the Scarab to reach the end of its path before boarding it, or try to climb aboard when it is still in motion, which sometimes ends badly. The Elite Ultra serves as a simple mini-boss fight, and the level lives up to its name – combat among skyscrapers was a new concept to Halo when Halo 2 was released, but it would return to Halo soon enough…

3 – The Great Journey, Mission 15

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Although many were disappointed to discover that The Great Journey was Halo 2’s last level, that was only really because they so desperately wanted to play more of the game. But as it stands, The Great Journey is a pretty good last level. As the Arbiter, the player team up with Hunters, Elite Councillors, Zealots and a Scarab to take down Tartarus, not to mention you ally with Humans as the Arbiter, marking the first time in the history of Halo that Humans and Elites work together. The final boss fight is fairly well executed, although it would have been nice if your Elite allies were actually useful for something. Ultimately the Arbiter requires Johnson to take down Tartarus’ shield which limits the pacing of the boss fight and also renders all of your Elite allies useless in the end, which is unfortunate. Aside from that, The Great Journey is a great final level with a Banshee segment that involves escorting a Scarab and a climactic ending that shows the Humans and Elites finally teaming up.

2 – Gravemind, Mission 12

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This level is damn-near perfect. Aside from the dodgy initial start. But it’s got everything – a grand tour of the inner workings of High Charity, the initial stages of the Covenant Civil War, the first time Master Chief encounters Brutes in the Halo games, and the introduction of the Brute Plasma Rifle and Brute Shot. What makes this level fun is the concept of sneaking around inside this behemoth Covenant space station trying to rescue Marines and track down the Prophet of Truth. There are some incredible musical moments in this mission that synch perfectly with the gorgeous scenery and the tense combat, and over time the Covenant city devolves into a war zone as the two factions engage in open combat. You also get to witness Breaking Benjamin’s Blow Me Away in action during a huge battle between Elite Ultras and Brutes that takes place in the Mausoleum of the Arbiter. Awesome.

1 – Delta Halo, Mission 8

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This level has it all. For a start, the music is perfect. This is almost like a level of Halo 2 Soundtrack’s greatest hits – tense combat music like Peril, the fantastic Heretic, Hero, the remastered return of an old classic in In Amber Clad, and of course the fantastic Delta Halo Suite. But this level’s environments are simply stunning. This level set to top the introduction to the original Halo found in Halo: Combat Evolved and it succeeds. This level also features the debut of the ODSTs, who went on to become a vital staple of the Halo mythos. Moving through the jungle and infiltrating ancient ruins inhabited by Covenant is the quintessential Halo feel, and this level also features the Warthog, the Scorpion tank and a Sniper section, making it the embodiment of the ideal Halo experience. As if that were not enough, Delta Halo is also the only mission in the game where ODSTs fight alongside the Master Chief.

Halo 2 Menu

So that’s all for this week, be sure to check out last week’s ‘Ranking the Levels’ to read my thoughts on Halo: Combat Evolved’s levels, and next week I will of course be uploading my thoughts on Halo 3’s campaign.

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Ranking the Levels – Halo: Combat Evolved

Welcome to a new series, ‘Ranking the Levels’, in which I will list the levels of a game in the order of worst to best, in my opinion. To start with, I have used Halo: Combat Evolved as an example, so let’s get started:

10 – The Library, Mission 7

Library
The Endless Hallways…

Alright, this one is a cheap shot. We’ve all heard about how The Library is the worst level in the history of Halo. And although that is not strictly true, The Library certainly comes bottom of the list for Halo: Combat Evolved levels. See, the original Halo game had its issues, particularly with level design, and whilst most levels in the game broke up the repetitive rooms just enough to make it bearable by including sudden shifts in the variety of terrain, going from tight interior corridor sections to a sudden opened-up vehicle section or even a Banshee segment, The Library commits the cardinal sin of setting an entire level in one long indoor segment. The level is essentially one long slog to get from Point A to Point B while navigating through a vast maze of bland, boring and repetitive corridors, all whilst the Monitor hums and stares down at you as you succumb to wave after wave of Flood forms of all different kinds. The only way in which The Library shakes up the gameplay is when you have to go under the doors via a partially-hidden passageway (which you do very rarely) or if you get a column of Sentinels to help you in certain sections. Overall, the level is boring and only worth playing if you want to endure some kind of gauntlet for personal triumph, not for fun.

9 – Keyes, Mission 9

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Whilst it is by no means a bad thing that the later levels in Halo: Combat Evolved upped the challenge factor even on lower difficulties, this does create some scenarios in which repeated encounters with the various types of enemies become frustrating as you attempt to balance the weapons you have at hand with the limited amount that you can carry whilst also maintaining effectiveness against as many enemies as possible. Keyes represents the culmination of the crescendo of difficulty in terms of new enemy introductions, as it pits the player against the classic Covenant squads, Flood forms of all kinds, Hunters and the newly introduced Covenant SpecOps squads, which are better armed and throw grenades with more vigor. The poor lighting in and around the ship does make many of these encounters unnecessarily difficult, however, and Flood forms can often overwhelm the player with their vast numbers on higher difficulties. Overall, its more varied than The Library, and has some chilling plot developments, but again represents a kind of gauntlet that must be passed.

8 – Halo, Mission 2

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The introduction to the Halo ring itself is fantastic, as you emerge from a tight, enclosed escape pod out into the beautiful open expanse of the inner surface of the Halo ring, complete with waterfalls, forests, canyons and clouds. The detailing on the ring’s environments are most impressive, particularly in the remastered version, and the skybox creates a wonderful feeling of dizzying realisation that you are standing on an artificial world. Once the initial impact of the reveal passes, however, the level becomes slightly less invigorating, since it involves a somewhat tedious rescue mission. In its typical fashion, Halo: Combat Evolved encourages you to see the positives in the less well designed levels, however, as Halo does give the player freedom of exploration, as the checkpoints can be done in any order and must be found. This level is also notable in that it introduces the Needler, the Jackal and the Warthog, three of the most iconic staples of Halo.

7 – 343 Guilty Spark, Mission 6

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The highly atmospheric and suitably chilling delve into the jungles and swamps of the Halo is next on our list of levels, as 343 Guilty Spark involves exploring a swamp area (that resembles more of a jungle in the remastered version) to discover what became of the good Captain Keyes, and instead we uncover a horror story as the Flood are revealed for the first time. Since Halo: Combat Evolved is all about evolving difficulty, the abilities that the Flood possess are programmed to progress as the player moves further into the Forerunner structures to teach the player how to kill the Flood before they become powerful enough to simply overwhelm the player immediately. For a start, your initial encounter with the Flood involves killing infection forms only, as combat forms are not introduced until after you discover the infection form’s behaviour traits. Then, you are taught how to properly dispose of combat forms (including an awareness of their ability to reanimate) before the combat forms are able to hold and use projectile weapons, which only comes in later. Then, as a final hurrah for the Marines, you are taught about the Flood’s virile and parasitic nature when you finally emerge from the Forerunner structure and encounter Marines being torn apart by waves of Flood as you all make a break for the landing zone. Overall, a great mission that serves as the perfect introduction for the Flood.

6 – Pillar of Autumn, Mission 1

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Much as it serves as an excellent introduction to the combat of Halo, Pillar of Autumn holds back on certain revolutionary details of the nature of Halo: Combat Evolved that only really come to bear in the second level, Halo. To be blunt, Pillar of Autumn is basically what Halo: Combat Evolved would be like if it had been made in the same way as every other shooter on the market at that time. It lacked the wide open space, the variability of gameplay with vehicles and turrets, and the variety of enemies to fight. Instead, it restricts the player to fighting Elites and Grunts, somewhat deliberately in order to start off the Halo: Combat Evolved difficulty curve, which creates rather dull and repetitive gameplay on multiple revisiting. However, the level does stand out as an excellent ‘tutorial’ to the mechanics of Halo: Combat Evolved, and teaches the player about weapon combinations, melee and radar tracking.

5 – The Maw, Mission 10

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The Maw is so wonderful, looking back, because it creates a genuine sense of urgency that later Halo games lack, not least due to the fantastic soundtrack but also the inclusion of the countdown during the final run, which neither Halo 2, Halo 3 or Halo 4’s final missions had despite all of them involving a task needing to be completed before something is activated, fired or blown up. As a level, The Maw does a great job of streamlining the player towards their goal and provides an interesting gauntlet to overcome in order to destroy the ring. As a final level, however, The Maw does seem somewhat lacking – the final Warthog run is explosive and impressive, but it lacks the openness of many of the earlier vehicle sections and seems somewhat ‘on-rails’. What could have been more fun is if the player had to drive their Warthog along the top of the ship, perhaps to reach a dropship positioned at the end of the ship by the bridge and the Chief has to drive from the engines at the back all the way to the front of the ship, a great sendoff for a vessel like the Pillar of Autumn.

4 – Truth and Reconciliation, Mission 3

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Sniper missions are always fun, and Truth and Reconciliation is no exception. What begins as a night-time raid on a Covenant camp involving night-vision sniper rifles and tactical unit positioning eventually culminates in a raid on a Covenant vessel to rescue Captain Keyes and our first real look at the architectural preferences of the Covenant. The interior of the ship is unlike anything a Human would ever produce, with organic-looking pink and purple interior design and wholly alien layout and design. The bridge is a mystifying room of crystalline lights and holographic panels, the brig is dark and ominous and the main hangar is a frustratingly designed yet stylistically impressive three-tiered cavern. The level also introduces Hunters, and the idea that the Halo ring is some kind of weapon that the Covenant wish to use to destroyed humanity.

3 – Assault on the Control Room, Mission 5

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This is the mother of all vehicle missions in Halo. For the first time, You can drive every vehicle in the game in this level, and the game invites you to with glee. The level fluctuates between tight and enclosed interior corridors to vast snowy landscapes, with certain sections taking place on thin bridges above a snowy chasm. The gameplay is broken up into distinct sections in this level, beginning on foot before opening out into a Ghost or Warthog section which then transitions into a Tank segment, the first and only one in the game, and after that the game closes in again for several repeating interior rooms, a massive outdoor double-bridge, and yet more rooms, before opening up again for the final segment where fast and tactical players can kill an Elite pilot before he reaches his Banshee and finally take flight for a faster route to the control center, skipping the final indoor section for the final control room fight. Atmospherically, this mission is arguably the best in the game with tracks like Covenant Dance, On a Pale Horse and the infamous Lost Song. This level also includes the Siege of Madrigal Easter Egg, a great addition to an already fantastic level.

2 – The Silent Cartographer, Mission 4

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The first real open vehicle level in the game, The Silent Cartographer is unique among Halo levels outside of Halo 3 ODST, as this is the first ‘open-world’ level in the game, in which the player can go anywhere from the get-go. The game sort of cheats, however, when upon exploring the player is confronted with a locked door, and must progress to a specific location to find it, essentially making the level more linear than it could have been. It earns its ‘open-world’ status with the details that can be found upon exploring, however, such as a stray Jackal pair guarding an incongruous silver block, a Terminal guarded by two Hunters, a downed Pelican with Rocket Launchers and ammo, and an upturned Warthog with four bodies near it (odd, since three is the maximum…)

Overall, The Silent Cartographer is a fantastic open-world experience that breaks up the linear nature of most of the other levels in the game to make the world seem more alive.

1 – Two Betrayals, Mission 8

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This mission is my favourite for two reasons. First, it is a perfect example of a three-way enemy AI war as Covenant, Flood and Sentinels all fight each other whilst the player is stuck in the middle, and Second, it has one of the greatest plot reveals in video game history. This level opens with the realisation that your new friend, 343 Guilty Spark, is actually set to destroy all life in the Milky Way by tricking you into activating the ring. It is only when Cortana steps in to stop you that the Chief finally realises what the Halos are and what they can do, officially making 343 Guilty Spark your enemy. Speaking of new enemies, this level has the first instances of Sentinels fighting against you, coupled with an increased number of Elite Zealots and Covenant vehicles to fight. This level does have the option of simply allowing the various AI factions to fight it out and then mop up the survivors, depending on which playstyle best suits you. And finally, it has a fantastic Banshee segment, a feature that is rare in more modern Halo games.

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Top Ten Tunes from the Halo Soundtrack

The Halo soundtrack is truly wonderful, not only does it do its job of creating an ancient, powerful and mysterious feeling when exploring the varied environments of the various Halo games, the soundtrack makes traversing open landscapes, tight corridors and winding, labyrinthine battlefields both on and off of Halo rings all the more atmospheric and enjoyable thanks to the fact that the soundtrack is so rich and masterfully crafted by the fantastic Martin O’Donnell.

However, although the soundtracks for all the Halo games can be considered masterpieces, there are certainly some standout tracks that are iconic and perfectly suited to their moment in gameplay, but, also stand out as excellent pieces of music in their own right. These are in no particular order until the top three, and some may surprise you.

Charity’s Irony – Halo 2 Anniversary Soundtrack

This is a remastered version of the final section of the High Charity Suite from the original Halo 2 Soundtrack, that plays in-game during the opening segment of the mission, High Charity. The focus is clear here – this is the theme for the Covenant Holy City, which ironically plays in-game just as the city begins to fall to the Flood, and another reason why I like it so much. The tune itself is a fantastic electronic track that makes encounters tense but is actually very intricately constructed, like all of the best Halo tunes, including electronic tones and choral singing for an iconic Halo feel.

Bravery, Brotherhood – Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Soundtrack

This is a remastered version of Brothers in Arms from the original Halo: Combat Evolved soundtrack, and continues the legacy that its ancestor set down of having a Brothers in Arms variant in almost every Halo game, getting more bombastic each time. This represents the culmination of the evolution of the Brothers in Arms melody that was built upon in Follow our Brothers, the version that appeared in Halo 3. This version crescendos with the most energetic vigor yet, and hopefully the next time this track gets remastered they will continue this pattern.

Heretic, Hero – Halo 2 Soundtrack

Heretic, Hero is essentially the Arbiter’s theme in Halo 2, which is contestable with several other tracks on the soundtrack – Respite, from the High Charity Suite, or Reclaimer (ironically). The difference with Heretic, Hero is that it always plays during tense encounters with longevity, such as the section with the Wraith tank in the last level of Halo 2, or the Gondola section that the Arbiter traverses to recover the Sacred Icon. Either way, Heretic, Hero is an excellent ambient soundtrack that combines heavy, industrial tones with choir and light guitar riffs, and the name of the song reflects the Arbiter’s status as a branded Heretic on a mission to save his race.

Spirit of Fire – Halo Wars Soundtrack

For a main theme, Halo Wars could have done much worse. Spirit of Fire sums up Halo Wars in one piece of music – it harks back to the pre-classic era of Halo whilst also creating an atmosphere of isolation and desperation as the crew of the actual Spirit of Fire are left drifting in space. The piano segments are chilling and the piece is generally considered to be one of the most moving pieces to come from the Halo Wars subgenre of Halo Soundtracks. Undoubtedly, it is one of my favourite re-imaginings of the Halo theme and holds a rightful place as a unique theme for a wholly unique game.

Requiem – Halo 4 Soundtrack

Whilst Halo 4’s soundtrack is not one of my favourites, by any stretch of the imagination, it cannot be said that it was completely devoid of music that sounded truly Halo-esque. Of the best tracks on the Halo 4 soundtrack like Arrival, 117, Green and Blue, Solace, Wreckage and Mantis, none really compares to Requiem for me. Not only does it perfectly capture the feeling of wonder when emerging from the cave near the start of Halo 4 and seeing, for the first time, the unique floating metal structures of the Dyson Sphere known as Requiem, but the song itself is so mellow, so interesting. It sounds almost like the opening theme to a David Attenborough documentary series, if not for the periodic haunting-sounding electronic pangs. Overall, highly atmospheric, and certainly very Halo.

In Amber Clad – Halo 2 Soundtrack

A remake/re-imagining of Under Cover of Night from the Halo: Combat Evolved Original Soundtrack, which is itself a fantastic track, In Amber Clad provides for me what I call ‘the Halo 2 effect’, in that the unique style of Halo 2’s art and sound design makes each piece of the soundtrack truly unique from other soundtracks within Halo in that the atmosphere that Marty O’ Donnell seems so adept at creating and infusing into his soundtracks is very much alive and well here. The tune is nostalgic and hopeful but puts its own twist on the Under Cover of Night melody, combining several electric guitars with the preexisting ever-present bass line. A great little detail is the guitar lingering at the end after all the other instruments have stopped, a detail that was tragically removed from this song’s remake, Trapped in Amber.

Epilogue – Halo 2 Soundtrack

As far as Epilogue’s go, Halo 2’s is both extensive and simultaneously nonexistent. As far as the cliffhanger ending goes, most people agree now that the game earned one, and in hindsight this made Halo 3 all the better. But players at the time did complain that Halo 2 does seem to just cut off right when stuff starts to get good. You kill Tartarus as the Arbiter, thereby preventing him from activating the Halo ring, and yet Master Chief is left plummeting towards Earth on a Forerunner ship controlled by the Covenant, and then the game just ends. But it does have an Epilogue, and according to this tune that includes the first song of the credits, a fantastic continuation of the motif heard at the start of Impend from earlier in the Halo 2 soundtrack that features poignant guitar melodies performed by none other than John Mayer, who remained deliberately uncredited for 10 years so that he could keep the secret between his friends.

Perilous Journey – Halo: Combat Evolved Soundtrack

Perilous Journey is a truly iconic piece, not least because it plays during three of the best levels of Halo: Combat Evolved, as well as being remastered twice and featuring in one of Halo 3’s best levels. But despite appearing more than most tunes on the Halo soundtrack and across multiple games, this track never gets old. It fosters a feeling of adventure and inspires hope during difficult encounters such as the battle with the Zealot on the snowy bridge during Assault on the Control Room, or during the vehicle section of Halo 3’s The Ark. This track has been remade into First Step for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and was remade and included as Make Them Pay in the Farthest Outpost suite of the Halo 3 Soundtrack, truly a testament to its memorability and standout quality as a tune.

Covenant Dance – Halo: Combat Evolved Soundtrack

This tune is brilliant, and it is a shock to me that it was never re-released in any other Halo game. This does mean that the bond between this tune and its origin game is very strong, since hearing it brings back memories exclusive to Halo: Combat Evolved. Thanks to Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, a remaster of this tune does exist in the form of Choreographite, and although that tune is great in its own right nothing quite beats the original for nostalgia factor alone. The best thing about this piece is the sudden and unexpected shift halfway through from a generic-sounding Halo drum-and-choral track to a groovy electronic dance track. What makes this piece particularly memorable is that it plays when you finally reach the control room in Halo: Combat Evolved’s Assault on the Control Room, and the electronic part kicks in just as the door opens to reveal a Zealot and his advance guard, heightening the tension and enjoyment factor of the encounter.

Honourable Mentions

Asphalt and Ablution – Halo 3: ODST Soundtrack

Despite the fact that this is the only track from the Halo 3: ODST Soundtrack that features on this list, it cannot be understated how fantastic the soundtrack for this game is. Despite the fact that, like all Bungie Halo games, this soundtrack was composed by the one and only Martin O’Donnell, the whole album sounds nothing like anything that has ever been in Halo before or since. For one, the welcome introduction of the saxophone as a regular recurring instrument in this soundtrack gives every track a dark, moody noir feeling, which fits perfectly with this game’s setting in an abandoned futuristic metropolis drenched in rain at night time, and the slower pace signifies the increased difficulty and setup of encounters in the game, since in this game you are no longer a super-soldier. If you’re a fan of night-time ambience, this track is for you.

Under Cover of Night – Halo Combat Evolved Soundtrack

Remade as In Amber Clad that was included on this list, as well as Cloaked in Blackness for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Under Cover of Night is different enough from its progeny that it stands out for more reasons than it just being the original. Playing at iconic parts of levels like Truth and Reconciliation and Two Betrayals, this track has the legitimate Halo identity that makes it so well-loved by fans.

One Final Effort – Halo 3 Soundtrack

Of all the bombastic versions of the Halo drums that exist, this is one of the best. Whilst the Halo Theme has been re imagined in dozens of different ways across almost all of the Halo soundtracks, from outside-the-box wind-chime atmosphere of Halo: Combat Evolved’s Ambient Wonder to the more traditional style yet non-traditional fusion with 117 in Halo 5’s The Trials, none can beat the simplistic yet effective application here in Halo 3’s One Final Effort. Played during one of the most memorable moments in the game, the climactic battle with a pair of Scarabs, this track has certainly made an impact.

This Glittering Band – Halo 2 Anniversary Soundtrack

A fantastic remastering of Leonidas that was included in the Delta Halo Suite of the original Halo 2 Soundtrack, This Glittering Band is played during the gondola ride over a gleaming lake in the sunshine as Covenant Banshees and Drones assault your vehicle from all angles. The tune is possibly more commonly recognised as being part of the Three Gates section of the Halo 3 soundtrack, as that too was a remake of Halo 2’s Leonidas. Being an Anniversary version, This Glittering Band incorporates elements from both the original and the Halo 3 version of its predecessor to find a perfect balance.

Peril – Halo 2 Soundtrack

One of the standout tracks of the Volume One CD of the Halo 2: Original Soundtrack, Peril plays during two distinct parts of Halo 2 – first during the opening section of the level Delta Halo following the iconic drop-pod sequence, and second during the level High Charity in one of the outdoor garden sections of the Covenant Holy City of High Charity. Oddly, this track also featured in an episode of ‘Top Gear’, during James May’s review of a Jaguar XF in 2007, a full 3 years after the soundtrack came out. Guess someone was a fan. Overall, this piece uses rapid staccato strings to create a tense atmosphere making encounters more suspenseful.

And finally, the number one is:

Genesong – Halo 2 Anniversary Soundtrack

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that Halo 2 was big enough to get Steve Vai to record songs for the soundtrack during the development for its original release in 2004. Back then, Halo 2 was as big as it gets. The game revolutionised gaming online for consoles with the introduction of a functional matchmaking system that was unparalleled for its time and paved the way for hundreds if not thousands of other console shooters and games of all kind to follow in its wake. The game was being hyped up to the extent that it outperformed most big-budget movies of that year, and was considered by news outlets at the time to be bigger than any movie. Steve Vai, and all the other artists who contributed to Halo 2 such as Breaking Benjamin, John Mayer, Hoobastank and Incubus as well as producer Nile Rodgers, took the project immensely seriously, and Breaking Benjamin didn’t even receive payment for their work on the soundtrack, doing it for free as the publicity from having one of their songs in Halo 2 would pay for itself. This was a point where Halo was huge not only in the gaming world but in the mainstream media as well.

However, times have changed, and Halo is not the franchise that it once was. What is surprising, however, is how dedicated its fans still are to the games, the lore and the production of Halo and its tributaries. 10 years after recording one of the best songs on the Halo soundtrack, Reclaimer, Steve Vai returned to Halo 2’s soundtrack for the Anniversary version and recorded several tracks, including this remastered version of Reclaimer known as Genesong. Steve Vai’s contribution to the soundtracks of both versions of Halo 2 cannot be understated, particularly since he contributed to the excellent Mjolnir Mix and Gungnir Mix formed the main theme for Halo 2 and its remake. Truly, the Halo Theme and tracks like Genesong represent the pinnacle of not just the Halo Soundtrack, but video game soundtracks in general.

Do you agree with this list? What’s your favourite song from the soundtrack? Leave your thoughts in the comments and leave a like if you enjoyed. See more:

Halo and the ‘Sacred Icons’

Newcomers to my blog may be wondering, ‘what’s with the name?’ as it is true that I have given little explanation as to why this blog is called what it is. It may sound like a rather odd name, especially with no context as to what it means, so I will explain it here. At first glance it seems as though the name comes from a level in Halo, and that is indeed true, to an extent. ‘Sacred Icon’ is the tenth level of Halo 2, which is not only my favourite Halo game but possibly even my favourite game of all time, but the name ‘Sacred Icon’ has an even deeper meaning and importance within the Halo franchise, and further explanation is needed to articulate why this name in particular is the one I chose for my blog.

Halo Ring Approach

The Halo Rings or, more specifically, the Halo Installations that appear in the Halo series are, essentially, gigantic superstructures built by an ancient, long-dead race (the ‘Forerunners’) that engineered the rings to be habitable via a terrestrial surface that lines the inner surface of the ring. The rings themselves are huge, approximately 10,000km in diameter, and have a variety of different biomes across the vast inner surface, ranging from snowy canyons to temperate plains to thick, humid jungles – all populated with various angular and incongruous Forerunner structures that dot the landscape of the ring, a constant reminder to anyone walking around on the inner surface that they are indeed standing on an artificial world (that, and the fact that in anywhere outdoors you can see the ring arcing up into the sky). But these seemingly idyllic paradises hold a dark secret that is unlocked as across the games of the first Halo trilogy you explore deeper into the underground chasms of various Installations in the Halo Array.

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The Halos were built for a reason, as the Forerunners needed a way to essentially commit genocide on an entire Galaxy, wiping out all life on every single planet in the Milky Way. This was done by the Forerunners 100,000 years before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved take place, as they were under attack by an extragalactic parasite known as ‘The Flood’, which was consuming all life in the Galaxy to form one gigantic hive-minded Galaxy-spanning Flood dominion. After the Halos were activated, the Forerunners re-seeded the Galaxy using specimens that they had collected in the lead up to the Halo activation, before disappearing entirely from the Galaxy.

The Library of Installation 05

To facilitate another activation should the Flood ever return, the Forerunners left the keys (‘Indexes’) that are required to activate the rings in various locations on the rings themselves. The structures, called ‘Libraries’ vary – on one ring, the Index was located in the center of a huge multi-leveled cathedral with gigantic elevators leading to a complex labyrinth, whilst another example (from Halo 2) required the player to conquer a complex gauntlet but whilst playing as The Covenant.

Prophet of Truth with the Sacred Icon

The Covenant, an interstellar empire comprising a conglomerate of various species of aliens who all believe that the Forerunners are Gods and the Halos will bring them transcendence, venture into the Library to recover the Index and activate the ring. However, the Covenant religious name for the artifact they are seeking is not ‘Index’, despite the fact that the Forerunners themselves referred to it as such, as they instead use their own term for the key: “Sacred Icon.”

So, in short, that is what the Sacred Icon is. It is the key, hidden away on a gigantic ringworld that, when correctly used, destroys all life in the Galaxy by activating the ring.

It’s also a pretty cool name for a blog I reckon.

Xenophobia – Halo, the Covenant, and the Fear of the Unknown

The Aliens are the bad guys. Everyone knows that. There’s a film called Alien, in which the villain is an alien, and it kills people because its an alien and that’s what aliens do, right? Think of any sci-fi franchise and undoubtedly you’ll think about a whole host of evil alien bad-guys who want to destroy Earth and kill all the Humans. Predator. Independence Day. Cloverfield. Even Star Trek. And Halo is no exception. The Covenant are an evil gang of aliens who want to destroy the Earth, kill all the humans and basically be bad guys. Or are they?

You don’t expect anything particularly deep in terms of story from a first-person shooter game, but Halo is definitely an exception. There is no doubt that Halo has a story that is both complex and interesting, and the reason for this is that the characters in Halo are themselves complex and interesting. Halo isn’t just a game about blasting aliens – it can be, if you want it to be, but if you pay attention to even 10 minutes of the cutscenes from any game past Halo: Combat Evolved and you’ll see that there is far more to the Covenant than simply a gang of evil roaring laser aliens. They have an entire religion, a way of life and a code of conduct that is just as complex and rigid as any human code of self-discipline, and it is because of their faith that they do the things that they do, even if individuals within the Covenant don’t want to.

At face value, however, the Covenant do appear to be simply a barbaric cult of zealots who want to destroy humanity – they fulfill their role in the game for this very reason. But the Covenant are designed to represent any real-world extremist religious organisation. In a sense, a player of Halo being indifferent to the inner workings of the Covenant is comparable to any real-world person being indifferent to the inner workings of any society or country that they are currently fighting. If people in the real world payed as much attention to the inner workings of genuine fanatical organisations as Halo fans did to the inner workings of the Covenant, then there might just be a greater general knowledge of why modern-era wars are being fought and what the motivations for the real-life ‘bad guys’ really are.

In a sense, the indifference to the psychology of ones enemy stems from a fear of the unknown. We don’t want to know why the people we are fighting are doing the things that they are doing, because every so often there comes a time when we might just realise that we’re not as much in the right as we thought we were, and vice versa. Who are the real ‘bad guys’ in the world? If we stick to the Halo analogy, we know that the UNSC – humanity’s commanding force – are secretly at the beck and call of ONI, a sinister HYDRA-esque organisation that are undeniably evil. And it is from the Covenant that we derive the character of the Arbiter, a fan-favourite who is driven by his desire to bring justice and do good in repentance for the evil things he did during his time in service of the Covenant. So who are the real villains?

In any good story, just as in real life, there are no true ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ – there are simply factions, each fighting for a distinct reason, and it is up to the individual to assess each one and decide for themselves which is the best. It is comparable to sports, in a sense – in the grand scheme of things, is there really any tangible difference between different countries fighting each other and different sports teams competing in a championship? They are all self-interested, independent actors in a great global game – a game in which we are the players.

Choose your team wisely.

 

 

Halo: Combat Evolved – Capturing the Magic

Halo: Combat Evolved is a game that is full of surprises. Anyone who has played the game will know that there are moments in the game that are genuinely memorable – moments that stay with you forever and will always inspire feelings of nostalgia. The fact that the game contains so many of these moments is a testament to how fantastic the game really is, even over 10 years later.

The first of these wonderful moments that you encounter in the game is the reveal of the Halo itself. After a whole level of crawling through vents and facing linear corridor-shooter style gameplay in Pillar of Autumn, the second level Halo suddenly opens up into a wide vista with trees, rocks and even a river. Leaving the escape pod and seeing the lens flare of the Chief’s visor against the ring arcing into the sky is nothing short of breathtaking.

The player is also introduced to the Forerunners and their architecture which establishes a theme in this game of things appearing out of place – rounding the corner and seeing the beam emitter tower immediately reminds the player that they are standing on an artificial world, a totally alien environment that appears natural but is in fact an ancient fortress with thousands of hidden rooms and structures. It is truly unearthly.

Another memorable moment is the ascent into the Covenant ship via Gravity Lift in the third level, Truth and Reconciliation. The role of the ship as an alien war machine is contrasted by the sudden tranquility upon entering the belly of the beast, creating a peaceful moment for the player to assess this new environment – and then the doors open. After a huge firefight there lies ahead a maze of purple corridors and white-blue hangars – the interior design of the ship makes it appear mysterious and otherworldly.

These are just a few of the moments in Halo: Combat Evolved that really stick with you, and there are many more both in Halo: CE and its sequels. Truly the only way to fully experience the magic is to play the game yourself and see where it takes you.

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