Level 1: The Pillar of Autumn

Posted August 12th 2010

This talk-though for single-player Legendary is with fellow UK-based cyborg One One Seven. It grew via a tortuous series of email exchanges in 2007, and then we polished it up with some of the finest spittle money can buy. On top of that I've added some pictures which should help you keep your bearings. As for the tactical side, although 'Seven and I may tackle things differently, we're united in the belief that all covies must die! Sure you can whizz past a lot of ugly folk without bothering them, but where's the fun in that? Nope, our policy is clear: nothin' livin'! And on that righteous note, let the journey begin.

Opening cutscene

Spot the space-bats

Rockslider: So, here's a pretty major cutscene to get the campaign started. And what's this ugly great monstrosity heaving into view? Ah, it's the Pillar of Autumn. Sheesh! You can't really blame the Covenant for wanting to vaporize that angular heap of junk eh? We've only got ourselves to blame.

'Seven: Why focus on that eyesore when you can be gazing at the glorious hula hoop in the background?

Rockslider: Yes, you see that distantly for a few moments to start with, but then you get the Autumn spoiling the view. Well, ok it's not that bad I suppose, and I like those spooky giant space-bats flying alongside.

'Seven: Space-bats? Oh, you mean the Longsword fighters. Yeah, they look nice, though you don't see them for very long. I have to tell you, I wouldn't mind piloting those things one day.

Rockslider: Dream on, space-boy. Nice ominous music in these opening seconds too. But pretty soon we're on the bridge with Keyes and Cortana for some tactical talk that clues us in on the situation; and it's not looking good! Keyes does some chin-pinching at a screen and I guess he's meant to be considering things, but I think the animators were having a bad day with that bit - looks more like he's checking out the shape of his chin in a mirror. "Let me see now… hmmm… yep, all in order; that's one hell of a fine chin there Keyes you old dog".

'Seven: Well we don't have to stare at it long in any case; Keyes quickly tells everyone to get to their stations and finally gets someone to thaw out the Chief, before we cut to the hangar where there's a heck of a lot of vehicular activity.

"…and a pool of their own blood to drown in!"

Rockslider: Yeah, you'd want to watch out where you're walking in that place. Probably safest to just paint yourself with that yellow and black caution-striping actually, so everything gives you a wide berth. Of course, the real highlight here has to be Sergeant Johnson delivering his amusing pep-talk. Really gets you in the mood for carnage eh? And hey, if you keep your eyes peeled you can spot a few Marines doing various things. One guy looks like he's checking his ammo, and another seems to be doing up a boot lace.

'Seven: The various goings on add to the atmosphere, but yes, the best part is definitely Johnson's talk, especially the version you get on Legendary. You tell 'em Sarge!

Rockslider: It was a while before I realized that you get a different pep-talk on each difficulty level. Me, I've got a soft spot for the Heroic version. That's the one where there's talk of strangling the enemy with their own living guts. Aw, that's nice eh?

'Seven: It's a shame the Marines don't manage to follow his instructions very well for the most part, but we'll make up for it shortly. Nap time's almost over…

Reaching the bridge

Give me a sign dammit!

Rockslider: I have to admit, when I first started Halo I was a complete novice at FPS games, and I was wandering around for ages trying to figure out how to exit the cryo-bay; trying to open doors and so on. The motion sickness didn't help either; I'd bumble around for twenty minutes then start feeling queasy and have to leave it for another day. I thought I was never going to get to fight an alien. Took me a couple of days before I finally realized you could jump over that pipe in the corridor! Jumping just wasn't on my mind as a beginner. In retrospect, I notice that there's a flashing red light by the pipe, as well as a giant green arrow pointing to it on the floor, so maybe I should feel a little embarrassed after all.

'Seven: How big a pointer do you need? Would a gigantic neon sign labelled "Attention all big green cyborgs: Head this way" have helped? Actually, to be fair, when I first played Halo myself I wasn't particularly familiar with the FPS genre, having previously being more of a strategy/simulation game fan myself. Luckily however, I was playing with a friend in co-op who was able to lead the way, which certainly helped get me into the action quickly.

Rockslider: Huh, opted for the easy life eh? Boo, hiss! Anyway, once I got headed along the corridors, things got a lot more enjoyable of course. Well, apart from being almost blown to pieces by an explosion just along the way. Oh, and apart from encountering an eight-foot monster right behind a door - not that you get him on Legendary.

'Seven: Thankfully. I love a good battle any day but not when I don't have a weapon! So now it's past all those crewmen and Marines, all of which are using those weapons rather poorly. However we've still got some way to go before we get our hands on some hardware. Bah.

Good idea buddy!

Rockslider: Quite. It's an atmospheric trip though, with some fun things to see. Pipes billowing steam, crewmen running about or cowering, and the first covies of the engagement. Paints a nice picture of all hell being let loose. But I really wish the game had let you pick up an AR early on so you could pause to help out in the skirmishes. That would've made things feel a lot better to me, and it's not as if you'd get held up long doing that, as the enemies soon get sealed off anyway. It's frustrating that you can't do anything yet. You can't even give a cowering crewman a good whack about the head.

'Seven: All in good time. I agree with your comment about not being able to help out though; as someone who likes to take out all the enemies he comes across, I don't like being completely unable to do so through no fault of my own. It also gives you no other choice but to run like hell to the bridge.

Rockslider: Well, apart from if you want to just saunter along whistling as you watch the fun. Not gonna make me too popular with the Cap'n, but hey, he's had me rudely hauled out of cold storage without even time for a wash and a shave, so he can jolly well wait!

'Seven: Saunter along with all the explosions, plasma being shot all over the place, people being blown up and all that? Sounds like a recipe for a disastrous early death to me.

Rockslider: Actually I used to think it was impossible to get killed on the way, because the enemy are clearly programmed not to bother you much. But then I noticed that you can simply stand in the flames just past the cryo-bay, until you're dead. Or, you can use it to reduce your health, and then get killed at the last skirmish. If you stand at the invisible barrier, an explosion seems to go off before the blast door starts closing, and it can finish you off, or leave you so close to death that you a stray shot kills you. With such a premature death I was hoping that a Marine or crewman might say something novel, but they didn't. I'm thinking it could've been "Well, that was a waste of a perfectly good freezer."

'Seven: I would have liked something that 'breaks the fourth wall', even if jokingly like "I wouldn't bother playing this game mate". Let's face it, if you do manage to get yourself killed, you're either messing around or terrible!

Oh stuff a sock in it squid-face

Rockslider: Actually, on Normal you can play about with getting killed at an earlier spot. You know the Elite that growls at you when you open a door? He goes back up a corridor and a couple of Marines attack him. Usually a door would seal him off, but if you stay sufficiently close, it doesn't. With a bit of perseverance you can get the Elite to kill you, though it helps if you've already wiped most of your health by getting burnt. I also managed to get a Marine to kill me with a stray shot, as I moved about between him and the Elite. He said something like "Oh now I've really gone and done it", but I don't think that was a special line.

'Seven: I can't recall hearing that one before, but let's face it, there are a lot of lines! I've never tried hanging about though, so it's a bit surprising that it takes such effort to get the Elite to kill you.

Point that somewhere else mister

Rockslider: Well, it's a pity the enemy are so easy on you. It removes any feeling of immediate threat, and it's not as if full-blooded Legendary fire would've stopped you reaching the bridge. But there's another aspect of the scripting that I've got an issue with. Once you know the way to the bridge, crewmen and Marines that are intended to show you the way are a bit of an annoyance. For starters it's annoying how the cryo-bay guy blocks the door if you don't get there first. And you know there's no point following him down the corridor, because an explosion is about to ruin his day and jam the door. So you probably just jump straight over the pipes rather than bothering to follow him, which makes things feel unrealistic. And then there's this fool Marine standing in a doorway doing his "Better follow me" speech; but I'm already off in the distance, having jumped past with a brusque "Out of my way fool!". Basically then, all that scripting only really works on the first run or two, unless you care to act ignorant and pretend you don't know the way.

'Seven: It's a tad annoying that the scripted sequence becomes a hindrance, but it doesn't last too long thankfully. It's also become a habit to avoid it, and by the time the Marine's finished his "Better follow me" speech, I'm almost at the bridge, where things don't seem to be going all that well…

Keyes cutscene

"I'm initiating protocol Baccy-1. The pipe must be saved at all costs"

Rockslider: Well lookee here - it's the tobacco-addled Captain Keyes in person, and a pint-sized Cortana in a fetching mix of purple and blue.

'Seven: The colour definitely adds nicely to the eye-candy, and this cutscene certainly isn't lacking in it. One of the things I especially love is the way the camera pans around the Chief, giving you a wonderful view of that scratched metallic armour. The view into space behind the control panel ain't so bad either!

Rockslider: Yes the armour surface is good - there are a lot of great textures in the game. But I like the playful interchange between Cortana and MC best. "So you did miss me." Aw, that's cute eh? Not that there's much time for getting reacquainted. The ship gets a bit of a jolt and before you know it, Keyes is calling abandon ship. AI constructs and cyborgs first!

'Seven: Waaaay ahead of you.

Rockslider: …with Cortana now embedded in the back of your helmet, judging from the animation. More cute interchange there - I like MC's "Don't get any funny ideas" remark. But not so fast to that lifeboat mister! Got some unwelcome alien visitors to deal with first, and this pistol from Keyes should help. Hold on though, what's this he's saying? "I don't keep it loaded son, you'll have to find ammo as you go". Oh that's real handy sir, you pipe smoking buffoon!

"Careful with this son, I keep my spare tobacco in the clip"

'Seven: I'm not so sure that's tobacco after all…

Rockslider: You may be onto something there. I mean, let's get this clear now Keyes. You go to all the trouble of cryo-freezing your one-and-only cyborg hero for goodness knows how long, you haul him out and charge him with a mission on which the future of all mankind depends, and then you send him into battle with an empty pistol. Masterful! Am I missing something here 'Seven, or is this man a rank idiot? I tell you, next time they put me in the freezer, I'm taking a flippin' rocket launcher with me.

'Seven: I'll take a Grunt plushie myself. And if I load it with a few rocks, it'll be both cute and deadly. Much like me actually.

Rockslider: Okayyy… (steps back slowly). Is there anything else you'd like to share with us, or shall we just move hastily on?

'Seven: Oh, move hastily on, definitely. This hunk of junk isn't going to remain in one piece for much longer.

Mess hall

You're next grunty

Rockslider: So finally, we've got a gun. But the big question for me as I approach the three Grunts is: where the heck did I suddenly get this pistol ammo from? There's none on the floor. Did it fall from the ceiling or what? Is this a magic pistol?

'Seven: I always wondered about this; seems even more silly than not keeping a weapon loaded! The fact that the pistol disappears and then rematerialises as you get closer to the bridge exit doesn't help either; it would have made more sense I feel for the weapon to immediately appear in your hands when Keyes first hands it over. Maybe it really is a magic pistol!

Rockslider: Another oddity here: when those Grunts die you can't pick up a plasma pistol because there aren't any. They've gone! Yep, special vanishing plasma pistols - what's up with that? I guess Bungie are determined that you should get the AR in the doorway first. But that's another annoyance to me. There's no way to avoid getting that partly loaded popgun suddenly thrust into my hands, just as I'm starting to aim my pistol sights at those Elites at the far doorway. That's a big help huh?

'Seven: Hey, if you're lucky, the Covenant will be laughing so hard at that piece of junk, they won't be able to fight back!

Hold on boys, I'm coming!

Rockslider: We can only hope. Actually, if we'd already been able to pick up an AR on the way to the bridge like I suggested, we'd never have had this annoyance; we'd already be fully armed. Can't think why Bungie didn't do things that way, and also let us pick up a plasma pistol if we want. Still, it's done now; let's get to battle. This mess hall can be tricky but there are only two Elites and a Grunt to start with. I switch back to the pistol right away and try to take down an Elite from relative safety. The Grunt too, to stop him getting fidgety with grenades. The other Elite is likely to get a dose of AR rounds from closer up, or quite possibly a good whack or two - hopefully while he's distracted by Marines through the door. But overall I have a definite goal in mind here. Within a second or two of his death, which triggers enemy reinforcements, I want to be ready with a plasma pistol and plasma rifle. How about you?

'Seven: As soon as I've stowed away my new AR, I'll aim straight for the Grunt with my pistol, whilst heading towards the nearby barricade, which gives me a safe position to target the Elites from; the cover is excellent. As soon as they're toast, I'll race over to acquire some of those plasma grenades, and definitely exchange the AR for the plasma pistol; those reinforcements are going to be a lot harder without it. How are you going to handle them?

Get those teeth outta my face!

Rockslider: I like to charge straight down the left-hand side of the hall, blitzing anything in the way and maybe chucking a grenade or two if I've got them. Ideally I'm down there before they're fully advanced, and that way I take less fire. Hopefully I'll kill an Elite and maybe a Grunt or two. There are more left, but now that I'm behind the enemy I can go around to the other door if I like, and surprise the Elites in that part of the room. They're probably focusing on the Marines, so I've got a chance to tag or whack them unnoticed, or just use my plasma combo. The plasma pistol is great for stunning an enemy with an overcharge shot of course - and then I can follow up with some whacking or more plasma to finish them off. I tend to go in hard here; brutal close-up stuff. Might take some health damage, but on a good day I can actually save all the Marines.

'Seven: No small task, as the combat here is quite intense, to put it mildly! I prefer to handle the reinforcements by lurking behind a corner on the left side of the hall; the cover there is about as good as it's going to get when being attacked from this direction. As soon as the mob come pouring in, I'll start stunning them with overcharged shots, before finishing them off with plasma grenades, if I have time. If I'm lucky however, the Marines manage to finish off any enemy I miss, or in the case of the Elites, at least prevent their shields from recharging. Once they've been thinned out a bit, I can then finish the remainder off with a few right hooks from the plasma pistol; have some of that. A great way to unwind after a hard day's work.

Rockslider: Whoa, did I hear you right? Did you really talk about Marines managing to finish off enemies? Heck, I'd be surprised if those bozos can even finish off their own dinners! Marines are hopeless at putting enemies down. Sometimes I wonder if the AI tells them to try to leave that to you. I suppose I'm thinking especially of megabattles here, but it's frustrating as hell when you can plainly see that an Elite only needs another bullet or two to go down. And what are the Marines doing about it? Rolling around and taking fire, basically. Meanwhile there's me screaming "Use the trigger dammit!" or something more colourful, but do they listen? Do they hell. I have to do everything around here! Phew, calming down now…

Johnson dead already! But don't worry, he'll get better

'Seven: I'm serious; I have actually seen the Marines finish off a few foes here, and on Legendary to boot! Sure, they still spend time doing fancy rolls, getting shot, fumbling grenades, getting shot, shooting allies, and then getting shot, but they can nevertheless occasionally kill enemies. Yes, I was pretty amazed when I saw it myself!

Rockslider: And look, there goes a flying pig! But ok, I know you're right, they're not completely useless. I mean, if nothing else, at least they attract some of the enemy fire away from you! Thanks guys, appreciate it. Anyway, now we've cleared the place, it's worth looking for any loose frag grenades, because there are precious few along the way. And hey, what about your weapon preferences? I favour my brutal plasma combo for the rest of the level. Seems ideal for all this close-up brawling.

'Seven: I'll stick with the two pistols as that gives you a wide range of options, not to mention the always useful ability of killing unshielded enemies with a headshot. Combine that with plasma grenades, and those covies don't stand a chance.

Rockslider: Confident talk! Watch out covies, gung-ho crazie comin' through…

First airlock area and beyond

Rockslider: Ok, that's the mess hall done. What about the Elite standing in the corridor with his back to you, on the way to the first airlock?

'Seven: I think a small blue fashion accessory might be in order. Or if I haven't any of those left, an old-fashioned whack to the back will do the job nicely. What do you reckon?

He's dead and you're still missing?

Rockslider: Let's face it, he's no trouble. I normally just run up and whack him, but sometimes I'll fire on him for a change, or even leave him alone for a while just to see how things play out - not that the Marines are going to thank me for that! But actually this bit is a good early example of how the scripting makes parts of the level have an unwelcome feel of pattern-learning. This guy is always standing right there, and because of the cramped surroundings there's never any variation in how you approach him, so it gets to feel quite repetitive. Still, let's move on. First airlock in sight now, and a couple of dopey Marines are standing where they really ought not to. BLAM!

'Seven: Oh well, easy come, easy go I guess. We should probably get used to it. Anyway, I'm standing well clear of those fools thanks. Once the door's blown open, I'll respond with a few explosions of my own and try to tag a Grunt whilst they're all clustered together.

Rockslider: I prefer not to let them escape at all if possible. I stand back and wait for the bang, then lob a plasma grenade so it lands at the airlock door. Sometimes a few Grunts might come out anyway, but a spot of plasma fire takes them down almost instantly. The bang takes out more, and then it's time for doorway grenade number two. You're probably spotting a trend here huh?

'Seven: I'm sure the Covenant command will be spotting one in the not too distant future as well with this rapidly rising bodycount…

Dammit Johnson, that's twice you've been killed already!

Rockslider: They will if I have anything to do with it. Anyway, after that I'll tend to move in and lob a grenade actually into the airlock, then mop up with my plasma combo if anything's still moving. Quite often there's been a nasty chain reaction by now though, and everything's nicely cooked.

'Seven: Nicely cooked Covenant, never a bad thing. Once that's over with, I'll nab myself one of those overshields. Yoink!

Rockslider: Yoink indeed. We can do with all the protection we can get, with all these Elites around.

'Seven: So that's the airlock mob taken care of, but what about the Elite and the Grunt lurking in a dark tunnel just up ahead?

Rockslider: No problem. If the big fellow's got his back turned I'll probably run straight in and whack him, closely followed by a bit of Grunt smiting. Otherwise I'll just tag him through the doorway and wait out of sight while he gets on with exploding. Yeah, ain't no good growling at me, squid-face; you've had it.

'Seven: Yep, they're easy pickings for a few grenades and whacks; no trouble. Two more down, five million to go.

Two corridor fights

Uh-oh, a grunty lookout!

Rockslider: Next up, a couple of Marines ahead behind a shield, getting attacked by enemies you don't see yet. I make it four Elites and eleven Grunts in all - quite a force. I take a right turn here so I can tackle them from the side. A couple of plasma grenades usually takes care of the first two Elites you see through a doorway; I'll try to tag at least one. Then the other Elites come up. So, more grenades and blasting.

'Seven: Similar tactics here, as I usually take a right turn and attack from the side. Those covie goons are usually too preoccupied to notice the small blue devices being hurled in their direction. Anything still standing gets a good going over with the pistol.

More pests around the corner

Rockslider: A few more Grunts around the corner - have some plasma in da face boys - and then a bit further along we've got a similar situation to the last, with Marines under attack. Not so much opposition this time though - I make it two Elites and four Grunts. Again I'll attack from the side. Best to keep clear of those Marines and their fumbled frags!

'Seven: Hah, no kidding. I've been caught out by those more times than I'd care to admit. I'll play it safe and attack from the side, as aside from the Grunts lurking around, you'll usually go unnoticed by the rest of the gang until it's too late and those grenades are heading towards them. Adios suckers.

Second airlock area and beyond

Hurry up and die then you idiots

Rockslider: Another airlock coming up past some steel supports, with Elites and Grunts already waiting. The main trouble here is that if you don't get there ahead of the nearby Marines and take care of things fast, they tend to go rushing straight in and get themselves killed by a wall of plasma, like they've got a death-wish or something. Well, I'm not getting mixed up in that, thanks very much. If the Marines start getting in the way like that, I'm liable to hang back, safe from any possible frag fumbling, and maybe lob a few plasma grenades through. It's easy enough to clean up the rest of the enemy once the place is bozo-free; there's good cover here.

'Seven: Sounds like a good strategy from here. I'll make use of that excellent cover myself, popping out to launch an overcharged shot from the plasma pistol at those Elites. Once stunned, it's an easy stick, and it makes dealing with the rest of them that much easier.

Rockslider: Moving on, there are a few feeble crewmen in deep trouble ahead, with unseen Elites and Grunts to the left and right as you approach from under a half closed door. They'll be gonners if you don't act fast. What's your strategy here?

'Seven: On Normal I'll happily wade in there to save the day, but to do so on Legendary would border on insanity. I may be insane, but not quite that insane! No, I'll sneak around the back way thanks.

Cyborg to the rescue!

Rockslider: I think I used to have the same opinion, but actually a frontal assault isn't so bad after all if you start by throwing a plasma grenade through a gap so it lands in the left doorway or thereabouts. That stalls the enemy advance and often decimates them, though you may still have work to do. The enemies off to the right aren't such an immediate concern, and the Elite tends to stay back to begin with, so he's easy enough to go after separately once the coast is clear. With this approach you can actually save both crewmen sometimes.

'Seven: It still sounds somewhat risky, and it's not even certain that you'll save them. However, throwing a grenade at the left hand doorway is an essential part of my plan; as you say, it prevents those on the left from spotting me, and it'll usually take a good chunk of them out. It's then easy to sneak around the back and stick the final Elite, and it's easy to retreat if you do get spotted before you can pull it off.

That was nearly you mate

Rockslider: Fair enough. And yes it's far from certain that I'll save the crewmen, but as long as a situation doesn't feel too risky, I generally like to try to save folk. Feels more realistic battling that way, and I feel safe enough here. If a nasty red Elite escapes from the left I can probably stun him quick with an overcharged plasma shot, which starts to give me some control back. It's also handy that there's a medkit on the wall. Those things are pretty nifty eh? Medical healing technology has come on a bit from the present day.

'Seven: Try looking it at this way, and things get stranger still: "I suddenly saw a bright white light, and when I came to, I was magically healed". Sounds more like an alien abduction from a B movie or something. Anyway, best reload and grab a fresh plasma pistol for the stairs; you wouldn't want to be caught there with no ammo, huh?

Rockslider: Not unless you want to be fried in pretty short order. And with that in mind, I might backtrack for a fresh overshield here if I came out of this last encounter badly. Plus I want all the grenades I can get. In fact I generally try to save any frags for what's next. New plasma weapons and some gritting of the teeth, and I'm all set.

Stairs and beyond

Rockslider: So here's the nastiest bit, I think you'll agree. "Covenant! On the landing above us!". Yeah thanks for that Cortana, I hadn't noticed. I'm going straight up the stairs with my plasma combo to sort things out and try to save a few Marines. How about you?

'Seven: I'd definitely agree with that assessment; easily the hardest part of the level, with all those Elites waiting to roast you with plasma. I prefer to headshoot a few Grunts on top before throwing some grenades into the mix to try and take those freaks out with a chain reaction or two. Don't you just love it when that happens?

One tagged Elite coming right up

Rockslider: I like a good chain reaction as much as the next cyborg, but I don't see much potential for it in these opening seconds. I think the best plan is to just get up the stairs and try to clear the upper level as quickly as possible, rather than trying to defend from below. Maybe I'll sneak a few shots through on the way up - might even kill a Grunt - but I'm not letting it slow me down. Once up, I'll try to blitz the enemy with brutal close-up blasting and maybe a few stun-and-tag moves on the Elites. But above all I want to be ready to lob a few grenades through the slowly opening doors to take out the reinforcements before they get loose and add to the grief. The Marines down below will have to cope without me for a while. Sorry guys, but it's for your own good in the long run.

'Seven: Traitor! Actually I don't blame you; if you don't put the rest down before the blast doors open, life is going to get a lot more uncomfortable.

Rockslider: Exactly. But surely that's a problem for you then isn't it, if you're battling from below? Or have I misunderstood your plan?

'Seven: Not at all, I merely haven't revealed all of it! Once the grenades are on the way I'll head up the stairs double time and tag our newest arrivals. As soon as that's done, I'll clear out any remaining enemies with the pistol/plasma pistol combo, which then leaves me in a good position to take out the final few enemies that have just emerged down below.

Rockslider: Still not sure I like the sound of it. The initial grenade lobbing sounds a bit hopeful to me. If I tried those tactics I reckon I'd probably find the original Elites still alive when I got up there, and that would make it too difficult for me to try tagging the newcomers. I'd be too busy defending myself against the originals; and pretty soon I'd be in a right old pickle. I want to get those originals cleared first.

'Seven: You can clear any remaining enemies out using various plasma pistol combos quite quickly, but if everyone is still alive then yes, it's going to be a bit of a tight spot, to put it mildly. Even so, it only takes a moment to stick those that are emerging.

Bloody hell Sarge, not again?

Rockslider: Well, you do things your way, I'll do things mine. Anyway, the fun part is when you have wiped out the guys above. At that point you can leap down and dish out some harsh justice to the enemies below - just a blue Elite and a Grunt. I like really going for the Elite. Aerial attack! He'll probably get a faceful of plasma, and then it's curtains. And that goes for you too, grunty.

'Seven: Death from above, definitely my favourite part of this skirmish. Similar tactics here, give them a good helping of plasma and lead until they drop. So we've finally finished this area, now we have a lot of enemies back upstairs to deal with. I think it's time to make use of the overcharge feature of the plasma pistol yet again.

Rockslider: Quite possibly. It's good for putting Elites on the defensive even if I don't have a pistol to follow up with a headshot. Let's see, what have we got up here? Elites and Grunts down a rather obstructed corridor. I think I'll be tempted to open with a barrage of plasma grenades. Might even manage to get an Elite and spook the Grunts into running off. C'mon you stinky little devils, it's no use hiding in that dark room; big bad cyborg is gonna get you.

'Seven: Damn straight; no use running off scumbags, you're only delaying the inevitable! As for tactics, in addition to using overcharged shots on the Elites, I'll take full advantage of my ability to score headshots with the pistol. Once they're out the way, it's easy to clean up with plasma grenades and a few more bullets.

Time for some plasma drilling

Rockslider: Just past the dark room, I sometimes have a bit of fun with an Elite when he tries to hide behind the stationary shield at the far end of the corridor. You often get one who does that after you've put him on the defensive. Lob a plasma grenade to fall behind him, and BLAM! - that's him taken care of. Real sharp, those Elites.

'Seven: Hey, stupid Covenant are one of the best kinds of Covenant! After dead ones, of course. As an added bonus, we're treated to a nice view of space and a not-so-nice view of lifeboats being blown up. Best not linger if we don't want to end up like that eh?

Rockslider: Good point. Actually I think it was quite a while before I stopped long enough to notice one of those lifeboats getting blown up after it was well clear of the ship. I'm usually too busy heading on past.

First access way and beyond

Rockslider: Grunts ahoy! Three of 'em, up at the end of the corridor, near the access way. They're in for a nasty shock any moment now…

'Seven: I'll say. If I'm going for pure efficiency, it's headshot time, but if you have a spare frag grenade or two, that can certainly spice things up. Not to mention you get the added bonus of those delicious grunty screams.

Courageous grunty troopers in action

Rockslider: I can go with a few grunty screams any time of the day thanks, but I wouldn't use up valuable frags on these little softies. I'll usually just do a bit of shooting as I run up. They're soon panicking and no trouble to finish off up close. But hey, talking of frags, why aren't there more lying around on the ship? That's always annoyed me; there are hardly any until the end when you get a whole rack of 'em. Seems a bit stingy.

'Seven: I guess the Marines nabbed them all when they abandoned ship; they seemed to have stripped the armoury pretty bare earlier on too. Anyway, time for a spot of potholing. Spooky!

Rockslider: Yeah, time to switch on the flashlight. Quite a welcoming party at the other end, including five Elites. You wouldn't want to blunder out into that lot eh?

'Seven: I've never been a huge fan of deep fried cyborg, though I'm quite partial to deep fried Jackal; tastes like chicken. Anyhoo, despite the large number of Elites waiting to send you to an untimely death, this part's fairly easy with the right tactics. I adopt a simple strategy of popping out, stunning with an overcharged shot, and finished off with a sticky grenade. No mess, no fuss. Well actually, it does leave a few large purple stains over the place, but it adds nicely to the décor.

Rockslider: Hold on a minute, exactly which of these multiple Elites do you do the stunning and tagging on? And what are the others doing in the meanwhile? With what you're describing, I'm picturing rather more red stains than purple ones!

'Seven: Which Elites do I stun-and-tag? Every single one! Even if you get spotted, you can quickly duck back into the tunnel and charge up another shot. As long as you don't run out into the open, it's a fairly risk-free affair. However, if you are silly enough to waltz out, then you'll see a lot of red stains.

Better whack him quick before that Grunt raises the alarm

Rockslider: Oh right, you're ducking in and out multiple times; ok that makes a lot more sense. I usually tag one of the Elites from the opening - there's one in a doorway just off to the right - but after that I like to back off and go down the access way to emerge in an empty room and circle around, coming at the enemy from the end of the area. That's the route you get forced into on Normal or Easy, so the game can tell you about melee attacking to open a blocked door. I completely forgot about that route after I moved up to Heroic, but I rediscovered it a long time later. It gives me a welcome bit of distance from the enemy, plus good cover. I'll do a bit of grenading and plasma work to sort them out, but there's usually a separate Elite down the next corridor past the medkit. He comes back my way and I like to wait just out of sight until the blip on my tracker is real close, then I'll step out and let him have a plasma ball in the face - always good for a laugh - before finishing him off with a few whacks to the head or something. It's nice to let these Elites know who's boss.

'Seven: Always a good little bonus to complement bucketloads of carnage.

Second access way and beyond

Rockslider: Hey, there's the cryo-bay again, down on the right. Now featuring a nasty dose of squid-faced invaders who apparently wanted to catch you napping. Hold on a minute, I want to taunt them through the glass. "Wort wort wort! Too late, suckers!".

'Seven: Taunting would be fun, but taking them out would be even better! Or taunting and then taking them out. Ahh, the possibilities.

Things aren't looking too good for you now grunty

Rockslider: Yeah it's a pity you can't break the window and give 'em a going over. Nothing to do but press on; and off in the distance there's another Elite. I can often get him with some rapid long-range fire from my plasma pistol, or maybe tag him as I near the doorway. But quite often he eventually gets taken out in a nasty explosion, which is pretty hilarious - the graphics are great.

'Seven: I'd have to agree with you there, though the sound effects also deserve considerable praise. As for Mr. Elite, I'll weaken him with some pistol shots, and let the explosion finish him off. Likewise, I'll let the explosion take out the Grunts; any stragglers are easy to deal with.

Rockslider: I'm not sure any Grunts can survive the second bang can they? I'll maybe dish out a spot of plasma from near the doorway, but then the explosion finishes them off. There are usually a few plasma grenades lying around after that and I always feel a bit nervous moving past them. I mean, what if the game plays a trick on you and sets off another explosion? I don't think it ever does, but still, let's not hang around eh?

'Seven: Amen to that. I'm off to play hide and seek with the Grunts in the access way. "Boo!"

Rockslider: Yeah, not sure what those critters think they're doing in there. Maybe just hiding, come to think of it. Maybe they've had advance word that there's something big green and nasty headed their way. But if so, they chose a pretty unfortunate hidey-hole. Thwack! Zap! I'll have that fresh plasma pistol thanks shorty. Should come in handy any moment now; I smell trouble ahead.

'Seven: Your senses are dead on, as we come to a bunch of Marines taking a real beating from some Elites and Grunts. Time for a few grenades though the access hatch I think.

Hey red, here's a plasma for ya!

Rockslider: Yeah I'll try to tag a red Elite. But I'm a bit cautious about stepping out right into the thick of things, because the Marines might be contributing a grenade or two of their own right about now! I'll back off a moment until it sounds safe. After that, it's business as usual, close and brutal. Doesn't take long to polish those first enemies off. Then when you advance, there's a cluster of Grunts off to the left. I'll send up some plasma to sort them out or at least make them retreat. But then I about-face and go the other way to tackle a few Grunts hanging around in a corridor, otherwise they might attack the advancing Marines behind me.

'Seven: Definitely a smart idea to hang back for a bit. I usually take a left through the access way just after throwing a grenade, giving you a perfect chance to attack from behind. For the Grunts, I'll keep it simple and give them a plentiful supply of high velocity lead. It's a similar story for the rest of the Grunts lurking around.

Rockslider: But around the corner there are a few more with a couple of Elites. I find the Elites relatively awkward to get at in this cluttered area, so I'm fairly careful. Don't want to get toasted at this late stage of the proceedings! A few plasma grenades should do nicely for openers, then I'll probably pick off enemies from a safe distance with my plasma combo. No great rush. Well, ok the ship is disintegrating as we speak, but hey, I figure the old crate can hold together just a few minutes longer.

'Seven: They don't usually give me too much trouble; one or two plasma grenades followed by some pistol sniping usually does the trick, with minimal danger.

Third airlock area

Caution: Low-flying Grunts

Rockslider: Almost done: final airlock ahead. And look at that rack of frag grenades sitting there invitingly. That'll do nicely thanks. I'll usually lob a few plasmas to get things started as I move in, then clean up with a fun-filled hail of frags.

'Seven: They sure look good don't they? Again, similar tactics here; I tend to throw a plasma grenade at the Elites first with the hope of tagging them (or a nearby Grunt), or else distracting them, and then follow up with all the frags I can muster. Occasionally though, I'll forego throwing plasma grenades and only throw frags, as it's a bit more of a challenge to kill the Elites with them. And boy, those explosions sound terrific.

Rockslider: Yeah I almost pity the covies here; they really get swallowed up in a mass of explosions. Pretty funny though. Strictly speaking I ought to be more careful as one of those explosions could blow a grenade back my way, but it's hard to resist the temptation to just shovel them in. But hey, did you realize that you can use an access way to approach the grenade rack from the side, or even to emerge around the back with the Marines? It was ages before I noticed that. Gives you some nice variations on tackling this last bit.

'Seven: I didn't actually; perhaps I'm the one that should be embarrassed this time!

Rockslider: Hey, it's only taken you what, five years?

'Seven: Nah, more like four and a half; there's a big difference. Anyway, it's cutscene time.

Closing cutscene

Huh? Who dat?

Rockslider: This closing cutscene starts badly if you ask me. I remember the first time I triggered it. I was moving past the doorway and suddenly the cutscene starts up, which is bad because I haven't gone in yet. They ought to wait for you to go through the door, so you're not so surprised. You shouldn't get yanked in like that. And then the first thing I see is someone landing on the floor, and I'm thinking "Huh? Is that me?" It's not of course, it's just a Marine who then gets tossed into the lifeboat by MC. But there wasn't one anywhere near the door, so it was a bad bit of discontinuity.

'Seven: I always found this cutscene a bit poorly implemented myself. Sometimes I'll be able to go past the airlock, at other times it'll start the cutscene before I even get close to the door. Then there's the discontinuity you mention; hardly a good start! Aside from a few goofs however, it's interesting to note that this cutscene actually provides one of the rare moments of humour outside of actual gameplay. Certainly gives me a chuckle anyway.

Hold on tight!

Rockslider: Great atmosphere inside the lifeboat too, what with the chat and the shaky ride. Plenty to see out the window as well. There goes that dang fool Keyes on manual control; Cortana's not too happy about that. And when you see the ring surface coming up fast, you know the real adventure's only just beginning. It's a great moment and my spine is tingling with anticipation.

'Seven: Sure is, and that dramatic music sure adds a lot to the whole atmosphere. This is where things really get going. I hope you packed your camera; plenty to see over the next few levels!

Rockslider: Camera, toothbrush, buffing cloth for my tin plating… yep, all packed for a nice cyborg vacation. What could possibly go wrong?

Looking back

Rockslider: So, how was that level for you overall?

'Seven: In general, the level does a nice job at setting the tone of the game, and there's a particularly urgent and somewhat dark feel to it, compared to the relative paradise of rolling hills and beaches we'll be seeing in the next few levels. As a level in it's own right, it seems more suited as a plot device than anything else, as it lacks a lot of variety.

Rockslider: Well I certainly enjoy it plenty - it's a great little blast of close-up fighting - but your remark on variety takes me back to something I was saying earlier. The cramped surroundings tend to make things feel more repetitive when it comes to replaying, as there's not much variation in how you can approach things. At least you get a choice of corridors sometimes though, which is good. But now I come to think of it, I don't see why it needed to be so cramped like that, because at the end of the campaign we encounter some really big areas of the ship. Seems a pity we didn't get any here for a spot of more open fighting. Imagine a battle in the massive hangar for example, or something like that elsewhere in the ship. I could've really gone for that.

'Seven: It would have been nice to have some more open areas, but realistically you wouldn't expect too many of those on a ship. Though as you mention, that didn't stop Bungie adding a few of those at the end! It's also kind of a shame that - to me at least - the level has a rather scripted feel to it, partly due to the way that the mini tutorials are built into it, which separates it from the rest of the game. Although the tutorials are removed when playing on Heroic or higher, a few relics remain in the level design.

Rockslider: This isn't the only level with game-freezing advice panels though - which I assume you mean to include under the term "mini tutorials". There's also one in the next level about how to drive a Warthog, for example. Actually there really ought to be an option to turn all that stuff off. Anyone playing on Normal or Easy will have to put up with those panels every time, along with the tedious calibration sequence in this first level. It's as if Bungie decided that anyone playing below Heroic must be a novice to the game. But that's poor logic, and it must be pretty annoying for folk who happen to like playing on Normal or Easy.

'Seven: Which includes myself actually; I like my relentless gung-ho combat a lot! It would definitely be a nice addition to disable the screens that pop up though, as it's a constant reminder that you're playing a game, which really breaks that immersion.

Rockslider: Yeah. But that calibration business really is tedious though, don't you think? In fact, on Normal that would be the first place in the game where I really feel the need for a weapon of some sort, so I can just shoot the guy who keeps messing around with my pitch. I mean, even after I do a super-fast job of targeting with normal pitch, he picks up some "calibration errors" and swops me to inverted anyway, so then I have to turn my brain upside-down to struggle through the test. And even after that, I still have to press another button, as if to say "Yes, I'm done, please let this torment end before I lose the will to live". Arrgh! Hey, I don't suppose your brain is upside-down is it?

'Seven: Not at all; I like my ups to go up, and downs to go down thanks. So, aside from being able to skip the calibration test, is there anything else you would have liked Bungie to have changed about the level?

Rockslider: A few more frags would've been nice. The level seems really stingy with those, until you get a whole rack of 'em right at the end.

'Seven: Unfortunately, yeah. My theory is that they don't have any around until the end because on Normal or below, the game has yet to teach you how to throw them. That said, I don't see why Bungie couldn't have built the 'grenade tutorial' into the level earlier.

Rockslider: Absolutely. You'd think they'd teach you almost right away as it's such a key part of Halo combat. But on Normal or below, it seems that you just don't encounter any grenades until the rack at the end. As part of that, enemies don't drop plasmas when they die. That's a big anomaly compared to standard gameplay, and one which will make things even less fun to play. Still, it's good fun on Heroic or Legendary. I just wish it was longer. I suspect they deliberately made it short to get you down ringside quick, so they can show off their beautiful outdoor scenery.

'Seven: I hardly think we can blame them for that; waterfalls and lush green valleys tend to look a lot better than corridors of grey steel after all.

Rockslider: So if anyone got bored reading this, we can just blame Bungie for sticking us on a dusty old spaceship, right?

'Seven: Yep, it's all Bungie's fault, but the next level more than makes up for it!

Rockslider: Lock 'n load - and hold on tight!