At Dealspwn, we're dreading the release of Halo Reach. Fearful of the day Bungie's time in the Halo universe comes to a close. We shudder at our desks, clutching our beloved Master Chief doll, Marty O'Donnell on repeat. Well, at least I am responding in this manner, and as such have devised a list of the Top 10 Halo missions, from first crash-landing on a mysterious alien ring, to battling Elites in zero-G. Read on, Halo lovers, and rejoice in the nostalgia!
10. Pillar of Autumn
Appropriately, the first Halo mission begins our list. Introduced to key players, Captain Keyes, Cortana and, of course, the Master Chief, on-board the frigate Pillar of Autumn, having mind a blind slipspace-jump to flee Covenant forces, buoyed by their recent capture of UNSC stronghold planet, Reach. It's a terrific opening scene, the Pillar of Autumn's vast bulk sliding past a sea of stars, as inside, its crew hurry to and fro, and one occupant in particular is roused from an ice-cold slumber.
Introducing you to the mechanics that'll soon become second-nature and an industry standard, 'Pillar of Autumn' sees Master Chief navigating the eponymous ship's corridors, overrun with Covenant forces. As far as introductions go, it's a thrilling welcome, blue and green plasma bolts searing the screen, marines barking orders and venting their fears in unison, all amongst the alien tongue of the Covenant themselves.
9. Tsavo Highway
We jump from the very beginning to the final third now, with Master Chief's vehicle-laden romp across African terrain cementing the no. 9 spot. 'Tsavo Highway' is quintessential Halo, set-piece after set-piece, from mopping up fleeing Covenant troops aboard a Warthog, to engaging a trio of Wraiths with nothing but your wits and a full-clip.
Halo's vehicle-heavy sections avoid the pitfalls of such missions by simply allowing the player to hop out and proceed on-foot, should they wish. But the pitch-perfect controls, somewhat competent AI and wonderful co-op potential mean driving a Warthog across rugged terrain, balancing it out as it fishtails into a turn, bullets spraying from its mounted turret, splattering slow-moving Grunts and Jackals, is unforgettable.
8. Delta Halo
Halo 2 was marketed as the defense of Earth, but we all knew we'd return to a Halo ring at some point. And we did, piggybacking the Prophet of Regret's slipspace-jump, and finding Master Chief and co, on-board In Amber Clad, marveling at the sight of yet another ring. What follows is a simply epic cutscene, as Master Chief and a squad of ODST pile into drop-pods, and plummet to the alien land below.
'Delta Halo' is a varied level, as you progress through Covenant infested ruins on foot, before hopping in a Warthog and dispatching Ghosts and Wraiths, all the while in pursuit of Regret, who draws ever closer to activating the Halo ring and purging the galaxy of organic life.
7. Truth and Reconciliation
Halo's quintessential 'sniper' mission has yet to be bested, and the overall tone of 'Truth and Reconciliation' is excellent, segueing from the tense, nigh-time crawl spent peering down a sniper-scope, to the epic assault on a docked Covenant cruiser, your first introduction to the innards of the enemy, as you rescue Captain Keyes and his crew from imprisonment and stage one hell of a jail-break.
What I remember most fondly of this mission is the opening encounter, where you climb a rocky outcrop and observe a Covenant force, unaware of your presence. The night-vision mode on your Sniper Rifle is vital, as you scan your targets, deliberating on whether to drop the marching Elite generals first, or deal with the mounted Shade turrets.
6. The Ark
With the third Halo game, Bungie faced a dilemma. Fans had witnessed a Halo ring not once, but twice. How do you top that? Well, you magic them to an even more alien and wondrous place; the Ark. A Forerunner station designed to activate and rebuild Halo rings, the Ark was shaped like a celestial flower, floating in space, its petals painted with swathes of desert and countryside, mountainous terrain and flooded rivers.
'The Ark' is very reminiscent of 'Truth and Reconciliation', but it lacks the overall atmosphere and mood. However, it more than makes up for it in bombastic action, as you hop aboard a Mongoose and careen across the sand-dunes and hills, facing a battery of Anti-AA Wraiths and, eventually, another Scarab, clambering over a Forerunner facility jutting from the mountainside.
5. Assault on the Control Room
As far as vehicle-heavy missions go, 'Assault on the Control Room' has yet to be beat. Emerging from the depths of a Forerunner station, you emerge on the wind-swept tundra as UNSC and Covenant forces attempt to blast each other into oblivion. You'll tumble across the snow in a Warthog, before finding an abandoned Scorpion tank and laughing wildly as its cannon obliterates oncoming Wraiths, scattered Patrols, and even a pair of menacing Hunters.
'Assault on the Control Room' is memorably not just for its rollicking action and set-pieces, but for the discovery Cortana makes at the end of the level, as she unearths the purpose of the Halo rings, and the deadly secret they possess...
4. 343 Guilty Spark
"343 Guilty Spark" proved Halo, and Bungie, could do horror. As you crawl through a Forerunner swamp, listening to distant cries of, can you believe it, Covenant in peril, stumbling on corpses of Grunts, blue blood everywhere. You follow the trail of destruction to a Forerunner station, deserted, but for the abandoned weaponry and occasional body. You find a UNSC helmet, screen the film stored on its on-board memory chip and camera.
It's like a mini-horror movie in itself, as the UNSC platoon finds what you found, enters the facility and is then overrun by parasitic growths, floating on the floor. You return to your situation, find the door closed and you're locked in a room. Other doors begin to rumble, quake, until finally a swarm of parasites floods from the doors. You escape the station with your life, just. But now you've met the Flood. And they're hungry.
3. The Covenant
Perhaps the most set-piece heavy and intense level in the trilogy, "The Covenant" is like a montage of the best moments in Halo. Crash-landing on a beach, driving a Warthog, manning a Falcon for the first time and raining fiery destruction on those below. Then you hop in a Scorpion tank, until finally encountering not one, but two Scarabs, along with a battalion of vehicle-mounted Brutes and Banshees.
It's easily the high point in Bungie's schizophrenic end to the series, a monument to why we love Halo and what makes Halo what it is. Try it on Legendary by yourself. It's nigh-impossible!
2. The Silent Cartographer
I love "The Silent Cartographer" not just for its explosive intro scene where you're dropped off in the middle of a war-zone, before circling the Forerunner island via Warthog, infiltrating a Covenant-claimed station and finding the ring's map-room. I loved "The Silent Cartographer" for the fact that I could go approach each section at my leisure.
Fancy swimming in the sea? Go ahead, but you'll die. Why not go the opposite way and muck with the AI-scripting? Finally, try and bounce a Warthog onto the top of the island with grenades. Go on. It's fun.
It's fitting that Halo's best mission is its first foray on a Halo ring. Stranded on alien land, his crew splattered across the verdant countryside, the Chief must rendezvous with UNSC patrols scattered across the terrain, avoiding Covenant forces and discovering just where in the hell he is.
For me, it's one of my favourite gaming moments, an indelible sight as I emerged, vision swimming, from the crashed drop-ship and laid eyes on the grassy hills, the beautiful waterfall and, impossibly, the rest of the Halo ring looping over me.
Why not tell us what were your favourite missions in Halo? What levels did we overlook, and why did they deserve to be on the list? Also, fill us in on your worst Halo experiences! The tense crawl through the library, or finishing Halo 2, not as the Master Chief, but as the enemy.