Impressions: Cairo Station

The Cairo Station level is where you really start to feel nostalgic, not only for Halo 1 but for much older Bungie games. The parallels to the first Halo game start to become apparent, as well as the influence of ideas and themes from the Marathon series.

Leading up to this point we've gotten a cutscene to establish the setting, and a short tutorial on the controls and the Mjolnir suit-- exactly what we got in Halo 1, except that the cutscene was split between UNSC and Covenant perspectives. After that came the tutorial on the shields and aiming, just like in the cryo bay on the Pillar of Autumn.

After that, we had to repel Covenant boarders on the PoA and then escape to the surface before the ship crashes. In Halo 2, we have to repel Covenant boarders on the Cairo and then escape before a Covenant bomb destroys the station. The similarities are quite obvious and striking; the bomb being the only real wrinkle, and it's a small one at that, given that once you reach it the level is over and the cutscene plays.

This scenario also allows the player to see right up front how different the physics of Halo 2 are from the previous game. Where on the PoA, the Covenant entered the ship through the escape pod airlocks, cleverly only requiring Bungie to model the inside of the boarding ships, this time the Covenant drill through the station's walls and observation windows. It's quite a nice touch to see the ships outside and the melted holes through which the boarding ship's proboscis protrudes.

However, it also produces one of the game's second poke-in-the-eye moments, visually. When you defeat one group of Covenant, another group pours out of the boarding ship. But the breaches are about halfway up the wall, meaning that Covenant units, especially Grunts, seem to bounce out of the opening like gumballs, rolling and bouncing in an almost comical manner; their limbs seem to be frozen in space until they hit the surface of the deck, which at distance makes them almost look like two dimensional sprites from some ancient shoot-em-up. It's not that the physics engine isn't good, or perhaps even better or at least more comprehensive than Halo 1's; but Halo 2 will counter and frustrate any experienced Halo player's expectations of how objects will behave at almost every turn; and the way units jump, fall, bounce and roll is one of the earliest examples of this. Covenant corpses crumple and fall in more detailed and realistic ways, even moving slightly after death, especially if the body is on an inclined surface; but the whole process has such a different feel that it gives a player pause.

Another issue that becomes apparent in the Cairo level is detail. Whereas Halo 1 had some detailed objects-- units, vehicles, weapons, and certain portions of the scenery, interspersed with some rather large and basic objects (snowscapes, grassy hills, etc) almost everything in Halo 2, especially in Cairo Station as wel as other levels, has an almost confusing level of detail. Detailed objects in Halo 1 were almost always signs that screamed out "pay attention to this item, I'm either important or interesting looking". But everything screams that in Halo 2; so many items have detailed textures and move and sway that it's hard to know what to pay attention to sometimes and hard to locate targets in among everything else; especially true when drones are flying against a detailed background. Of course, there's nothing wrong with this; in fact, one might even say it lends the game a greater degree of verisimilitude. But it is another thing that Halo 1 players will need to adjust to.

Cairo Station is basically a corridor crawl, similar to the interior areas of Truth and Reconciliation from the first game, with its mix of small, cramped spaces with limited options for cover and wide open areas. When the battle moves outside into vacuum for a short while, the look of the outside of the station, the large pieces of moving geometry, and the change in the music and sound, will all scream "Marathon" to old Bungie fans. And the effect is quite pleasing, I must say. The only problem really is-- and this is something that has been said and will be said about Halo 2 in a number of ways-- is that it ends just when it starts to get going. By the time you get outside the station, you're already more than halfway through the level, having cleared the hangars of boarders. The first exteriors with the flying Elites is quite intimidating the first time you encounter it-- until you realize that the distance to be covered is so short that on anything less than legendary you can get through it fairly easily by just waiting a bit for the Elites to wander away; plus, there are several places you can hide inside what look like cargo containers.

There's one more exterior area like that, near the Mac gun mechanism that is definitely Halo 2's first real "oh, wow" moment-- fierce combat, sound and motion everywhere, a real feeling of chaos and the thrill of mastering a confusing situation. The only problem is that it's almost over; the next major encounter takes you to the bomb room and the level ends.

As a counterpoint to the sometimes distracting visuals, it is well worth noting that the sound and music in Cairo Station are fantastic. There are two moments in particular that work extremely well. When you pass through the airlock that leads outside to the area where you first encounter the flying "Ranger" Elites, the sound becomes deadened-- a decent compromise between a realistic behavior (where sound doesn't travel at all in a vacuum) and giving the player appropriate audio feedback. In addition, there's a subtle and surreal piece of synthesizer music that plays in the background of that encounter; something quite different from the rest of the soundtrack that lends it just the right mood. The music changes to a bass-heavy bit of techno when you enter the fire control room where the Covenant have placed the bomb; it does a great job of building up tension.

The idea of the Covenant boarding an orbital defense station to disable a Mac gun makes perfect sense inside Halo 2's backstory; it follows a parallel structure with the previous game, and thus makes perfect sense. However, all too soon it begins to feel all too familiar and yet not familiar at the same time. Even when it's enjoyable, Halo 2 will have you wondering why so much has changed, and reflecting that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
I totaly agreeee!

I totaly agreeee!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Yes. Yes. But the Storyline?

Why fix it when it ain't broke? You are absolutely correct. The have bot followed on from "First Strike". Why do us Halo ganers havce to "ADJUST". All we wanted was more covie butt to kick. And extra Multi player maps. Not happy!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
don't act so lame

It's not "fixing" it but "changing" it. why make the same game twice if you can be inovating and original. I'm 100% convinced that if they didn't make all those changes it wouldn't of been a succes cause then all you dickwands would be bitching about how the game wasn't inovating or new or original at all. so please, STOP YOU'RE WHYNING AND FACE UP TO THE FACT THAT HALO2 IS THE BEST FPS EVER MADE! period!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
I totaly doooon't

When i started playing Halo 2, i didn't realy pay attention to the comparisons of Halo 1 and 2, i was to busy looking at how detailed everything was and how it was so much better than Halo 1.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
please be realistic

Perhaps you are right about all the things you say, but I think it's better if you NOT compare halo 2 with halo 1 all the time and just judge the game for itself. Then you will realise that all the shit you've been talking is "obsolite" (sorry i'm not english) and that halo 2 is most likely the best fps ever made. It certainly already is for all consoles. I do agree about the texture popping though, that realy REALY anoyed me because as you said with a game of such great eye for detail it realy is quite devastating to see how they f@*ked up the cutscenes with such low eye for detail.

narcogen's picture
narcogen
Offline
Joined: 05/26/1999
Let's not gush now

I'm a huge Bungie fan and have been for years, so I don't think it's "obsolete" to compare Halo 2 with Bungie's older games, including Halo 1 and Marathon. Just because something is brand new and has better eye candy doesn't make it a better game.

As for the comparisons-- that's the whole purpose of my writing this series. If you want to see reviews that look at Halo 2 all by itself, look around-- there are plenty of them all over the web. But the primary purpose of the series of Impressions was to compare Halo 2 to Halo 1 and to other Bungie games.


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Rampant for over five years.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
halo 2

i think halo 2 is less more fun than i toght it would be ther are some major mistakes that bungie have made in the game

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Its impossible to get pass this part
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