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Let's Play Halo: Combat Evolved — Pillar of Autumn
Posted By: VikingBoyBillyDate: 5/30/15 6:12 p.m.

Recently I wrote this:

: Heh, that's actually what I was thinking when he was talking about Banshees
: and Wraiths. I really need to finish Halo's single player scenario...
: eventually. I mean, it's been years, but I'll definitely get around to it
: before finishing Half Life 2, since I lost the HL2 CD key and all. Stupid
: DRM.

Evidently I'm not doing anything about HL2's DRM and getting a new CD that requires installing Steam anytime soon. So here I am.

To preface this, First: I have played Halo a few times before, but never seriously tried to finish the game, and most of my experience of it was from multiplayer. So this sort of counts as the first time I'm playing Halo to it's entirety in the single player "campaign" (Progressive new terminology!) to see what it's really all about.

Second: This isn't going to be like Tour of Duty with me puking out every intricate detail of each map in the playthrough as I play it (though I will point out interesting design choices and easter eggs as I spot them), I'm just going to recap the highlights of what I remember after I play each map and note some observations. Should be fun! (and less confusing for readers trying to visualize what's being described)

First, the manual text (and I looked up the chart of web colors because html doesn't know what "azure" is):


The year is 2552. Planet Earth still exists, but
overpopulation has forced many of her former
residents to colonize other worlds. Faster-than-light
travel is now a reality, and Earth’s unified
government, through the United Nations Space
Command, has put its full weight behind the
colonization effort; millions of humans now live on
habitable planets in other solar systems. A keystone
of humanity’s colonization efforts is the planet
Reach, an interstellar naval yard that builds colony
ships for civilians and warships for the UNSC’s
armed forces. Conveniently close to Earth, Reach
is also a hub of scientific and military activity.
Thirty-two years ago, contact with the outer colony
Harvest was lost. A battlegroup sent to investigate
was almost completely destroyed; only one badly
damaged ship returned to Reach. Its crew told of a
seemingly unstoppable alien warship that had
effortlessly annihilated their forces.
This was humankind’s first encounter with a group
of aliens they eventually came to know as the
Covenant, a collective of alien races united in their
fanatical religious devotion. Covenant religious
elders declared humanity an affront to the gods,
and the Covenant warrior caste waged a holy war
upon humanity with gruesome diligence.
After a series of crushing defeats and obliterated
colonies, UNSC Admiral Preston Cole established
the Cole Protocol: no vessel may inadvertently lead
the Covenant to Earth. When forced to withdraw,
ships must avoid Earth-bound vectors—even if that
means jumping without proper navigational
calculations. Vessels in danger of capture must
self-destruct.

On Reach, a secret military project to create cyborg
super-soldiers takes on newfound importance. The
soldiers of the SPARTAN-II project rack up an
impressive record against the Covenant in test
deployments, but there are too few of them to turn
the tide of the war.
Existing SPARTAN-II soldiers are recalled to Reach
for further augmentation. The plan: board a Covenant
vessel with the improved SPARTAN-IIs and learn the
location of the Covenant home world. Two days
before the mission begins, Covenant forces strike
Reach and annihilate the colony. The Covenant are
now on Earth’s doorstep. One ship, the Pillar of Autumn, escapes with the last SPARTAN-II and
makes a blind jump into deep space, hoping to lead
the Covenant away from Earth.

Ah, interesting stuff. See, back in the heyday when Halo was like, the new Pokemon or Mario, or whatever you want to compare it to in terms of popularity (I guess Doom would have been the most fitting choice, but I think even that pales in comparison to what Halo was in the early 2000s), I had never read the manual and didn't know much about the story.

Interesting things I didn't know:

—First contact with the aliens (covenant) was 32 years ago.

—The year is 2552. The level of technological advancement and the expansion of the human race exceeds by far what we see in Marathon in the year 2794, with several colonized planets in other solar systems and FTL travel, while in the Marathon universe humans were stuck on Earth, Mars, and traveling slowly to Tau Ceti in a hollowed out Deimos.

—There was once more than one Spartan (this game's equivalent of Battleroids), but they were all annihilated in one devastating assault, save the Master chief in one desperate escape. You see, I've seen the opening scenes and first level of Halo before, but I was unaware of the context given by the manual explaining the backstory. All I knew was the covenant were chasing these guys and Master Chief woke up to kick some arse. This backstory makes me a lot more invested now: before I just didn't care as much, since I was entering in-media-res knowing nothing. I did always have the manual since I obtained H:CE for the PC (yes, that's what I'm playing), I just never bothered to read it, which is odd for me even at the time since I loved reading game manuals.

—Master Chief is a cyborg, just like our buddy the SO. I never knew that, I always thought he was just a badass with superior armor to everyone else.

—The Covenant is the name of a collective group, not a single species, like pfhor. They're killing humanity... why? BECAUSE THEIR RELIGION TOLD THEM THE HUMAN SPECIES IS AN ATROCITY THAT NEEDS TO BE ELIMINATED. Holy s'pht! That's some crazy, sick, dark and heavy stuff from the usual "they want to enslave us" or "they want to take over earth." There's no specific details on why their gods hate us, but I assume we'll get exposition explaining that in the game.

A big difference between this and Marathon is that first contact already happened offscreen 32 years ago, and a lot of war and killing has been happening ever since. We don't get the privilege and intrigue of this being a first encounter with an alien race like marathon.

So let's get this started already, but first, I have to install it, and I just have to comment that it was an unpleasant experience.

I have an 8GB ram windows 7 laptop here, and when I tried to start it, it said something along the lines of "we're sorry, but your computer does not have enough RAM or virtual memory to play halo."

What? This makes no sense. I used to be able to play this on a PC that only had 2GB ram. It gave me the option to continue anyway, but then it said something like "Halo has a problem accessing your personal files on My Documents and has to quit. Sorry."

This is stupid design. They didn't see very far into the future, because windows 7 changed the name of the "my documents" directory to just "documents" and there is no option on the setup gui to change where it puts saves. That is not good.

Luckily, I figured out how to solve both of these problems:

Downloading the 1.0.10 patch removes the bizarre nonsensical complaint about RAM, and running halo via the commandline adding the parameter "-path [directory name]" circumvented the complaint about accessing My Documents (I chose to call the folder "spaghetti" which was created inside halo's directory. Putting the saves in a subdirectory of the game folder is how it's supposed to work.)

I still get yet another message that complains about not having enough video software or something, but whatever, it now works fine and there's no problems.

CHEESE LOUISE! That was an aggravating experience. My opinon of microsoft sank even lower, and believe me, that's an accomplishment because it was nearly at rock bottom already.

With all these introductions out of the way, hopefully the rest of the write ups won't be as long as this.

One of the intro credits screens reveals Gearbox was involved with this, which explains why Duke Nukem Forever stole so much from Halo. There's the iconic bungie, with a screen of grandiose fanfare. Lastly, there's microsoft, to the chagrin of all fanboys of Apple-platform exclusive Bungie titles.

I start my "campaign" on Legendary skill, because I'm daring and always feel like I'd be missing out on something if I played a game on anything lower than the highest skill.

We get a cutscene that picks up where the manual text left off. Yep, a cutscene with voiceovers and everything. There aren't even subtitles. Terminals this is not—but there is an AI: Cortana, who takes the visual appearance of a purple hologram shaped like a woman and gets stuck inside your head, which suspiciously reminds me of Vairocina from the Softwire novels... the author did say he played Halo a lot.

But before she gets stuck in our head, we have to get to her and the captain on the bridge. The covenant have caught up with the Pillar of Autumn and have already boarded.

Introducing this game's equivalent of BOBs, the marines: they're a lot more helpful and don't have classic, repetitive lines. Nobody says "They're everywhere!" when the aliens are, indeed, everywhere =(

We don't get to do any fighting ourselves until after we reach the bridge and get a status report from the captain. Aliens are after us, all hope is lost unless we escape, yada yada yada... Cortana contains the collective knowledge of human civilization, including the location of earth, and we don't want that to fall into enemy hands, which is why she's being put in our head. (I noticed myself slipping back into using group "we" and "us" pronouns ala Tour of Duty. I'll just roll with it)

Interesting tidbit you might remember from the manual is that we've also been trying to find their home planet to destroy them for the past 32 years. Good to know.

Our mission is to escape to this weird... ring... thingy in orbit of a nearby planet that the covenant seem to be obsessed to protect. Interesting. So off to an escape pod we go!

Something cool I found on a wall here before leaving is a poster that says "FOR SALE [...] Colony ship." Squee!

Now the action starts.

Halo was among the first games in a transitionary period between the Classic 90s FPS games we know and love and what would become the sterile modern FPS games of today (The others are Doom 3 and Half Life 2). I think Halo can confidently claim the dignity of having the best from both worlds: meaning it looks shiny, implements some new age gameplay ideas, has environments based on realism, and it's somehow still fun! There actually feels like some non-linearity in the passages here, a big step up from handholding tutorial-ridden linear hallways between cutscenes, but there isn't anything like keys or buttons to make the level anything more than wandering around and battling to get from point A to point B.

We constantly have 2 weapons and can swap one for anything else we find lying around. One thing this does right that Duke Forever failed at is there doesn't seem like a scarcity of good weapons and too much to choose from to make these swaps feel like an impossible choice... at least not yet.

Here's what we get on this map:

—A magnum with a zoom feature.

—An SMG. No secondary fire for grenades. We just have to throw them =(

—An alien plasma gun that's like the Zeuss fusion pistol.

—Some kind of plasma rifle thingy. Think of the plasmagun from Doom with the power and functionality of the chaingun.

—Plasma grenades with the hilarity of sticking to their target. These are ALWAYS binded to the secondary fire.

Our fists aren't a weapon, but we can whack them with the butt of whatever we're holding.

Our enemies so far are grunts and elites (I take it these aren't their actual species names, either). Grunts are short, goofy, and are like the equivalent of goombas. They carry orange and red pyramids on their backs, which the manual calls a life support system. Elites are bigger, meaner, and their grunts are also hilarious. Err... not their grunt companions, I meant the grunting noises they make. Violet Elites have shields which will recharge if we don't kill them quickly, while red ones are shieldless. The plasma weapons seem to be more effective for taking down their shields. Oh, yes, I should explain our health system.

We, like violet elites, have a shield that recharges if we take cover for long enough. Another thing this did right that Duke Forever failed to mimic was that there is also a life bar in addition to the shield. Your shield depletes quickly as you get, and when it's gone, getting hit more will deplete your health. In DNF, the shield (or ego) is your health, so it has this weird effect of making the game both too easy and too hard at the same time.

As for Halo... honestly, it feels like it's on the easy side, because I'm playing on Legendary and I only died once on this map, but it doesn't feel lame like DNF does (the comparisons to DNF ends here, I swear (but the alien weapons in DNF were way worse than Halo's plasma weapons)).

I felt helpless to navigate a dark corrider until I remembered there's a handy-dandy flashlight button. Pretty cool! I guess it's time for an unfavorible Doom 3 comparison now, because that game had the flashlight binded as a weapon instead of being attached to all your weapons, which was stupidly ineffecient, but I guess it succeeded at making that game feel scarier.

Have I covered everything? Okay, some final notes:

—You can jump and crouch. Huzzah, it's a feat the Security Officer wishes he could accomplish!

—Cortana occasionally makes some comments yapping at you to hurry up, describe what's happening, and telling you where to go. She's nowhere near as bad as Navi, so I'll accept this.

—This just doesn't look as great as I remember. I mean, it looks decent, but if you look at their faces when they're talking... eww. Mouths and eyelids do not move like that.

—We get to see lasers hitting the ship outside when we look out a window. Pretty cool. This is the equivalent of seeing the pfhor ship outside the window in Arrival, I guess.

—The Master Chief's voice is awesome. He's like the new John St. John, but he cuts the attitude and just gets down to business with a more placid temperament, with one liners like "we'll be fine."

Also, there's this one really hard part where three elites have the advantage of higher ground up a staircase on a balcony with obstacles. You read about the advantage of higher ground in boring history books, but you really feel it here.

In the end we find an escape pod and crash land onto the big ring. Yippee! I'm finally done writing! Next Time: A hopefully much shorter writeup of Flawless Cowboy (the cutscene showed the map title as "Flawless Cowboy," but the list of game saves just calls it "Halo." Meh).

PS: We can reload our weapons whenever we want without having to let a clip run out first, and we magically don't throw away what's left in our used clip!

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Replies:

Let's Play Halo: Combat Evolved — Pillar of AutumnVikingBoyBilly 5/30/15 6:12 p.m.
     Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat Evolved — Pillar of AuMatt 5/30/15 7:31 p.m.
           Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat Evolved — Pillar of AuBob-B-Q 5/31/15 9:08 a.m.
     Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat Evolved — Pillar of AuPerseusSpartacus 5/30/15 8:26 p.m.
           Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat Evolved — Pillar of AuVikingBoyBilly 5/31/15 3:15 a.m.
                 Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat Evolved — Pillar of AuPerseusSpartacus 5/31/15 12:50 p.m.
     Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedLion O Cyborg 5/31/15 1:37 a.m.
           Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedLion O Cyborg 5/31/15 1:40 a.m.
           Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedVikingBoyBilly 5/31/15 3:12 a.m.
                 Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedLion O Cyborg 5/31/15 6:03 a.m.
                       Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedVikingBoyBilly 5/31/15 9:26 a.m.
                             Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedLion O Cyborg 5/31/15 10:58 a.m.
                                   Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedVikingBoyBilly 5/31/15 11:07 a.m.
                                         Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedLion O Cyborg 5/31/15 11:23 a.m.
                                               Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedLion O Cyborg 5/31/15 11:27 a.m.
                                                     Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedVikingBoyBilly 6/1/15 2:53 a.m.
                                                           Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedLion O Cyborg 6/1/15 6:02 a.m.
                                                           Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedLion O Cyborg 6/1/15 6:06 a.m.
                                         Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedBob-B-Q 5/31/15 2:08 p.m.
                                               Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedVikingBoyBilly 6/1/15 2:54 a.m.
                                                     Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedBob-B-Q 6/1/15 8:27 a.m.
                                                           Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedVikingBoyBilly 6/1/15 10:04 a.m.
                                               Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedLion O Cyborg 6/1/15 6:10 a.m.
     Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedMartin 6/1/15 2:58 p.m.
           Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedVikingBoyBilly 6/2/15 3:39 a.m.
           Re: Let's Play Halo: Combat EvolvedLion O Cyborg 6/2/15 5:54 a.m.

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