Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cortana, What Exactly Am I Looking At? (Halo 2)

Originally written for Halopedia:

When I originally played through the campaign of Halo 2, I ran into an unusual stumbling block: a section of the level Gravemind I could not get past. As it turned out, this section isn’t supposed to exist as far as I can tell. Despite being witnessed by my mom and dad in addition to myself, I have been unable to find any references to it on the mainstream Halo sites.

While many people play through the games simply for their tactical entertainment, I have always been a fan of the official storyline. In order to preserve my ignorance of spoilers, I had pretty much banned myself from the Internet until I could finish the game. As I didn’t want this to take weeks, I decided to play through on the first time using the Easy difficulty. This was probably a good idea, because I initially found the game pretty hard, in comparison to the previous game at least.

Anyway, I was making good progress until the latter part of Gravemind with the mausoleum sequence. Man, I could barely keep myself alive during that part! I’d worked out a strategy where I’d sneak along the side of the room, ducking away from Elites, and slip into the door on the far side of the room while everyone was still fighting. I imagine many people are wondering what the heck I’m talking about, but as far as I can tell I did in fact manage to enter the far door without killing everyone first.

At this point, I had just felt relieved to get out of the slaughter that was the mausoleum battle. I figured this was a chance to calm down and relax before entering the next area. So, I walked down the long, peaceful hallway without triggering a cutscene, and in fact exited through the door on the far side of the hall.

On the other side was another “hanging gardens” area. However, despite having cargo crates strewn around as if the remainder of a battle, there were no enemies of which to speak. No weapons, either. It was a very peaceful bit of scenery with a river and stuff, but no advancement of the game.

On the other side of the far door was another hallway, this time going down. Past that was an energy bridge connecting the hanging gardens to another tower. However, even though I stood on the pedestal that would normally take me across to the other side, it seemed that the bridge was “off” or not working. Despite this, I got a checkpoint while on the pedestal. I tried various things to get it to work, but it seemed dead.

I decided it was a glitch and decided to play through the section again. I restarted the level and made my way through the mausoleum again. As my strategy had worked so well last time, I snuck around the edge again. Once more, I found myself in the abandoned hanging gardens with the dead bridge.

Annoyed, I broke my Internet ban and looked through several Halo 2 walkthroughs. No luck, though. They all just described the mausoleum battle and then stopped writing, completely leaving out the section I was stuck on.

Really aggravated, I had my mom and dad watch me as I played through the section to offer advice. Although neither of them play video games, I figured that if there was some puzzle I wasn’t getting, their fresh perspectives could help. However, despite some creative shifting around of crates, the bridge remained dead.

At one point, my dad came to me to say that he had talked to a coworker who plays Halo and who had written down some instructions on how to activate the bridge. Feeling good, I played to that point with the dead bridge and then looked at the instructions, which detailed the activation of a nearby switch.

I started combing the gardens for a switch, pressing X all around every crate, trying to activate the bridge. Eventually, I realized that the bridge to which the instructions pertained was the one in Delta Halo, not the one with which I was having trouble. I gave up on trying to activate the bridge and instead tried to find another way across.

I started with trying to grenade jump up to the skeletal section over the bridge, but that didn’t work. I then tried jumping down onto the lower skeletal section and walking across. It seemed to work, but I was at too low a level to jump up to the other side.

Finally, I decided to play the game in co-op mode (by myself) and try to get to the other side of the bridge in a similar manner as the last attempt, but to use the other player model to give me a little extra height. If that didn’t work, I’d try the same thing with Sputnik on to give my grenade jumping some more oomph. However, this time around it would be more difficult to sneak around the mausoleum with two characters, and I decided to save some energy and kill all the enemies before leaving the room.

To my surprise, I didn’t even get to the bridge this time. As I made my way across the hallway, a cutscene was activated! I was suddenly seeing Tartarus walk by some docking platform and he was talking to the Prophet of Truth. The game was actually continuing and I was delighted and baffled at the same time. What the Halo had happened?

The obvious conclusion to come to is that I just made a 360 loop and wound up going the way I came from. I am pretty sure I did not do this due to the different look of the hallway and what’s on the other side. The way I came was filled with corpses and debris, and even if that was cleaned up by the system, I know the look of the terrain to be fundamentally different.

My posts about this on HBO and HIH have produced skepticism and disbelief. Obviously, this is not a regular occurrence. Furthermore, I did not record any evidence of the mysterious map extension, having no idea that it was out of the ordinary at the time, and have been unable to recreate my experience since completion of the level. My personal hypothesis is that it was an incomplete section of Halo 2 that Bungie was forced to abandon when they had to rush to finish the game. Perhaps after crossing the bridge, the player would reach a section with the gravity lift the Chief is seen using in the next cutscene, thus making a smoother transition than is seen in the final version. In any case, this Brigadoon of Halo 2 remains the greatest Halo mystery as far as I am concerned.

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