‘They let me pick, did I ever tell you that?’ These are Cortana’s opening words in Halo 3. They – the UNSC – let her pick, and she picked the best of the best. An icon, not only in a universe filled with alien races with a penchant for the colour purple, but for a whole generation of gamers. And after going through so much – dying, reloading, scratching your head at its ludicrous plot, you feel like you’ve reached the final chapter of something important, and that’s because you have. You are the Master Chief after all, and you’re here to save the galaxy. Sure, you might have saved it from Reapers or Sith or any number of black and red orientated bad guys, but this is different… okay, maybe it’s not, but let’s at least wrap it up until the end of the next trilogy in 2018.
A fireball comes hurtling towards Earth against the night sky. It breaks into two pieces – one of which is the Forerunner ship; the other is our hero, the Master Chief, a man who likes falling. Master Chief awakens in the African jungle to find Johnson waiting for him. The Arbiter is also with them, and it appears there has been a truce between the quad-lipped creatures and the humans.
Fortunately for the narrative’s sake, it seems Bungie learnt a thing or two from the previous outing. Namely, to keep it as simple as possible. Half of the game is spent on the African continent, fighting off a Covenant invasion. So let’s fast forward…
Master Chief shoots, blasts and needles his way to the edge of the Covenant’s discovery: a huge crater, in which the Forerunner ship has double parked. This is the Ark, and as far as anyone is concerned – if the Prophet on board the ship sets it off – we’re boned. So… the Prophet sets it off.
A turquoise beam erupts from the centre of the crater into a great vortex in the sky. Nobody dies. For a moment. And then all hell breaks loose. A ship rips through time and space – one of Covenant origin – but there’s something wrong: it appears to have caught an S.T.I. This is a Flood infected ship, and it crash lands on the planet. The Covenant ships hastily make their way through the vortex, and we realise the Ark isn’t an Ark at all, but a gateway.
Time is short, and Master Chief (having been plagued with visions of Cortana throughout the game) decides to head for the crash site of the Flood ship. This time it’s hoes before bros, or more specifically, hoes before all sentient life in the galaxy. The Elites join Master Chief as he makes his way to the impact site (which is both strange and awesome, considering you’ve murdered hundreds of their kind). To the disappointment of our Spartan hero, he finds only 343 Guilty Spark (the floating A.I.) and a message left by Cortana. He must head through the newly opened portal, and stop the Prophet from setting off the Halo rings.
As Master Chief and gang slip through the portal, the Elites suppress the Flood invasion on Earth. Suppress, in this case, means nullifying most of the continent with their ships’ plasma beams (a disheartening scene, if you’ve played Reach).
On the other side of the portal, Master Chief stumbles across the Ark – a flower shaped colossus of a space station, which sits at the edge of our galaxy. As Elites and UNSC make it to the Ark’s surface, the Flood infested High Charity (the mushroom capital ship of the Covenant) comes crashing down.
Johnson is kidnapped by the Covenant (again); the Ark requires a human touch to trigger it and prime all the Halo rings. Keyes attempts to rescue him and is killed in the process (no emotional attachment there, but it’s still a surprise nonetheless). As Master Chief and the Arbiter race against time, they are confronted by two Flood creatures. ‘Do not shoot, but listen!’ They wish to fight alongside you, to stop the Ark before it’s too late. This moment surpasses the Elites, as you witness how powerful the Flood actually are (is?). Dozens of enemies are wiped out effortlessly as you make your way towards the Prophet.
One blade through the back later and the Arbiter has killed the Prophet. It’s pretty obvious at this point – having prevented the Ark from destroying all – that Gravemind/Flood turns on you. Master Chief, along with Johnson and the Arbiter, escape the facility. The Spartan proceeds to another Flood site, that of the High Charity – certain now that Cortana is there. He battles through the worst piece of level design in Halo history and rescues her. After escaping, they discover something quite remarkable…
The Ark is building a new Halo (after Master Chief kindly blew the first one up). With dawning realisation, Cortana mentions she can trigger this Halo to destroy both the Ark and Gravemind (she has – rather conveniently – kept a copy of the Index from the first Halo game).
And so, what’s a finale without a few more deaths, eh? Guilty Spark kills Johnson, after his attempt to trigger the Halo (the unfinished Halo would not purge the galaxy, but merely destroy itself and the Ark – which is perfect for us, really). The Spartan and Arbiter kill the A.I. and trigger the Halo. Cue the Great Escape music as they hurriedly leave by warthog and fall (Michael Bay style) into a waiting UNSC ship, the Forward Unto Dawn.
As the ship escapes, the blast rips it in half. A cut scene moves to a memorial service… in memory of the Master Chief. And so the galaxy is at peace, thinking our Spartan hero is dead… floating in space somewhere. Which is true, of course, apart from the dead part. He’s too lucrative to kill off yet.