Impressions: High Charity

Same Flood-time, same Flood-channel, Flood-fans.

Oh, you aren't a Flood fan?


If you're not really into the idea of dark, smoky environments where you can't see where you're going or what's attacking you, if the idea of shambling, moaning, drooling Flood zombies doesn't really do it for you, if the flashlight isn't your favorite button, then arguably this level isn't going to be among your favorites.

Sadly, despite significant changes, Halo 2's Flood aren't that much more fun to fight against than they were in Halo 1. Unlike Arbiter and Oracle, which were fairly well-lit until the very end, High Charity is dark-- darker even than the darker portions of Quarantine Zone, another area where I was tempted to change my monitor settings to gain an advantage.

Halo 2's Flood have a few tricks up their sleeves... figuratively speaking, anyway. Combat forms that have fallen but not been thoroughly destroyed can be reanimated by passing infection forms, which is a nice touch. The infection forms themselves seem faster, or at least less predictable; largely gone are the days of taking them out only with chain-reaction explosions caused by well-timed melee strikes.

You can also see some of the cosmetic touches to the Flood that Bungie was able to squeeze out of the new engine. As in the other Flood levels, an orange mist that seems to consist of spores, fills the air, and tentacled growths sprout from the floors and walls. Whether this is something that Bungie just thought to add to the new engine, or a hint that Delta Halo, in housing the Gravemind entity, is somehow special or different from Installation 04, isn't entirely clear.

Halo 2's Flood combat forms are also tougher. There are combat forms that sport energy swords and even shields, instead of just the camoflauge forms, which were the rarest kind in Halo 1. But they're still no tactical geniuses. They still tend just to run straight at you and overwhelm you with sheer numbers than outsmart you or outflank you. Their single-minded attack patterns still force you into a relatively shorter list of possible approaches to each area, at least compared to the Covenant. Sniping weapons are still largely useless against them, which means doing things up close and personal or with explosives.

And of course, in addition to the fighting amongst the Covenant you started to see in Gravemind and Uprising, now the Flood have added a fourth side to the conflict-- lending more weight to the idea that somebody at Bungie is a huge fan of the Battle of Five Armies chapter of Tolkien's The Hobbit-- as am I, for that matter.

That aside, what it means for the player is that most of the gameplay either consists of responding to immediate threats with whatever weapon you have on hand (hopefully a sword or a shotgun) or it would be wiser just to hang back until the Flood and Covenant thin each other out.

We've seen that situation before-- in Two Betrayals, for instance. Except that the wide-open spaces, available vehicles, and relative brightness of that level still gave you plenty of tactical options. You could hang back if you wanted. You could snipe the Covenant and then approach the Flood at close range. You could charge in with a vehicle or just wade in on foot and take your chances, knowing that there would be time and space for you to retreat and regroup.

High Charity, for the most part, offers no such opportunities. Quarters are close, most of the rooms are quite dark, it's all indoors with no vehicles and rooms rarely have more than one possible path to take-- usually just a choice between right down the middle or along one of the walls.

Even the final room, which is the largest, offers few approaches. The room is symmetrical, which means that the left and right hand sides are roughly equal in terms of how you approach them, so the only different ways to handle this are along the sides or straight up the middle. Given the danger of crossfire, along the sides is almost always the better idea, once the first waves of Flood that jump out from the sides when you emerge from the lift have been cleared. And once the jackal snipers near the far ledge, your ultimate goal, are gone.

At Legendary you might be tempted, as I was, to try and find a place to hide until the fight dies down. The ledges along the sides near the lift seemed like a good idea, and getting up there by jumping on nearby debris is not that hard. However, once there, if you turn around to face the battle, Flood combat forms will spawn behind you, so this is less fun than it seems. As usual, it seems Bungie's primary objective with the Flood is to force you into close quarters combat by limiting your options for positions and making long-range weapons like the sniper rifles ineffective.

The level is clearly my least favorite of all those in Halo 2, but it is, at least, mercifully short. It also contains a lot of back-and-forth between Gravemind and the Prophet of Truth over the loudspeakers, if you can manage to hear it over the combat noise.

If you can't, check out the excellent transcripts of this (and other) levels at the Halo story page:

The darkness won't be a complete handicap, either. Many of the rooms you'll travel through will feel familiar-- after all, you just passed through similar rooms, or even the same rooms, back in Gravemind, when the lights were still on. However, when they used this trick in Halo 1 I didn't mind. Two Betrayals and Assault on the Control Room used a lot of the same geometry, but there were two intervening levels-- The Library and 343 Guilty Spark. That, coupled with the addition of the Flood, the slightly dimmer light, the musical score, and the necessity of traversing different parts of the level by Banshee to reach the pulse generators, as well as the removal of much of the interior room-crawl, made it a different enough level that I enjoy playing them both.

When Cortana told me I had to run back through High Charity again-- this time in the dark, and with Flood-- I nearly cried. Then I threw my controller at the wall in frustration. Somehow it felt unfair-- unfair in an unfun way.

Maybe it's just not possible for a game to have a lineup of levels that are all uniformly great. Maybe one or more levels just has to end up being singled out as not as much fun, as repetitious, as not fun. For Halo 1, it was the Library. In Halo 2, at least for me, that level is High Charity. It's worth replaying to catch any Gravemind/Truth dialogue you missed the first time around, but aside from that, I usually feel like skipping it and going to the next level-- the end-- which is The Great Journey.