In response to those who've asked me what do you think of Halo 3 I wrote a long piece on finishing the fights. Halo, being a first person shooter with a linear story has a number of "finishes", though. There are the conflicts the player is a direct party to, but there are other story elements as well, and action that takes place away from the player.
How well does Bungie bring this epic trilogy to a close?
So You Must Be Silenced
Unlike the Prophet showdown in Halo 3, the silencing of Truth is a cinematic affair, and fairly brings to a close the Arbiter's personal agenda in Halo's storyline. Blamed for the Chief's destruction of Installation 04 and sent on a suicide mission to assassinate a Heretic and retrieve Delta Halo's Index, the Arbiter learns the truth of what Halo does from 343 Guilty Spark, Gravemind and the Master Chief and vows vengeance on Truth and the Brutes for their betrayal of him and his kind.
In fact, making this an entirely intraCovenant conflict may explain why Halo 3 shows an entirely different side to Truth from Halo 2. In Halo 2, Truth's time is occupied by the layrinthine machinations necessary to start the Great Journey; playing Tartarus and the Arbiter against each other, securing the Oracly and the Index as well as a couple of required Reclaimers. He's so devious the audience must wonder if anything he says means what it appears to.
Halo 3's Truth seems far more on the level; his speeches are all mixes of straightforward practicalities with dogmatic justifications, intended to keep the troops motivated to cover his back while he completes the preparations for the Journey. He doesn't have any maneuvers left to make. The Elites, led by Half-Jaw and the Arbiter, have split off from the Covenant, but at least amongst Truth's forces he retains everyone else. The Brutes apparently do not have a new top Chieftain to replace Tartarus, at least, not one that functions as a character in the story.
Truth's behavior when confronted by the Arbiter is also not quite what I expected. I was convinced that Truth's enthusiasm for the Great Journey was spurred more by ambition than belief, and that seems borne out by his assertion that the Great Journey will make him a God-- a haunting echo of Durandal's "escape will make me God" from the Marathon series.
If this were so, why not make the Arbiter an offer? Why not offer to share that godhead? Why not plead or apologize-- blame his compatriots? Perhaps the simple answer is that all that might end up working to the same end if the Arbiter refuses, and simply waste screen time. Fair enough. Still, the central pin of the argument-- that there is no evidence that any "journey" really exists, and that Halo will kill everyone-- is not brought up. Arbiter tells Truth, cryptically, that this moment "will not last" but it's unclear whether this is a rebuttal or merely a threat. If Halo were a Bond movie, this is where Truth would get the drop on his would-be attackers and then explain his entire evil plan before being unexpectedly defeated. I suppose I should be grateful that Halo avoids such a hackneyed mechanism, but on the other hand, it does seem like there are a few things one might want to learn from the old codger before dispatching him-- about the details of how the Elites' religion was suborned by the Prophets, about what the role of a Reclaimer is, about why humans had to be exterminated. Basically, the audience might liked to have known what Truth knew, and when he knew it. Too late now, although I'm given to understand some of this is revealed in Staten's Halo novel, Contact Harvest.
In the end, the primary motivations for doing Truth in appear to be vengeance first and self-preservation second. Which I suppose is fine-- up until that point, the primary characters believe they are safe from the Halo installations, and are fighting to protect the rest of the galaxy. Only 343 Guilty Spark knows differently, and while he urges the Arbiter and the Master Chief to action based on that information, he keeps the details to himself.
You Are Forerunner
Nothing like a bit of figurative language to send Bungie fans into a tizzy.
Where the Arbiter gets to run Truth through on his plasma blade, 343 Guilty Spark is left for the Chief to deal with. While the Truth scene glosses over what could have been a potentially revealing argument with a brief trade of aphorisms, Guilty Spark is a bit more forthcoming.
What it comes down to is the compartmentalization he spoke of earlier; while the Forerunners may have designated humanity as the "Reclaimers" and given them the responsibility for activating the installations, should the time come, Spark's only real concern is for his own installation, and it shows. Deprived of it once, he can't bear the thought of it again, and one human life-- that of Sergeant Johnson-- simply doesn't measure up in comparison.
He's got a point, too-- after all, if both 04a and the Ark are destroyed, the system of installations may be fatally crippled, and there's no reason for believing the galaxy really is safe from the Flood. After all, what about Delta Halo? Gravemind sent a ship to Earth and High Charity to the Ark. How do we know he didn't send other ships elsewhere, not to mention Flood that may be loose on other rings?
There's also precedent for Forerunner AIs to take matters into their own hands when it comes to fighting the Flood. The Terminals tell the story of the space battle being waged when the Installations were first fired, killing both the organic Forerunner ship crews and the Flood infestation, leaving the balance of power in the hands of AIs.
If Bungie wanted to leave open the possibility to do more Halo stories about the Flood, they certainly achieved that.
Having Your Cake...
No, that's not a Portal reference.
You have to admire what Bungie achieved with the final cutscene of Halo 3. My only regret is that even after completing the game on all difficulties, it's inaccessible from the main menu, unlike Arrival. So if you want to see it, you have to start the final level, Halo, from rally point alpha, and play through the final run. If doing that weren't so much fun, I'd be upset.
When that cutscene first starts to run, with the Chief and the Arbiter jumping into the Dawn's hangar bay in a Warthog (regardless of what vehicle or vehicles you're actually using, or if the Arbiter is even with you) I thought it a bit awkward until I realized what they were trying to achieve. The rolling tank serves to separate the Chief and the Arbiter. The Arbiter makes his way forward to the Dawn's bridge, but the Chief nearly falls to his death, creating the camera angles necessary for the "if we don't make it" Chief-Cortana moment.
Of course, it's not apparent why Bungie bothered to show those things until the next cutscene comes. The Dawn, seemingly sheared in half, crashes on Earth, presumably having returned there through the same portal that brought it to the Ark. The return of the Arbiter clears the way for a Human-Elite peace of sorts, with Lord Hood coming to terms with the end of hostilities and the loss of the Chief.
Which is, of course, the brilliant bit. The audience doesn't know yet what's happened to the Chief, and it's only fitting that he'd be presumed dead. With the war over, the need to keep up morale that led to all Spartans being listed "MIA" instead of "KIA" falls away; and the "117" scrawl that takes the place of the Chief's photo (a picture of the helmet would just be silly, and Bungie's not going to show you the Chief's face now) is a really nice touch.
Hood gives a nice speech and has a wonderful little exchange with the Arbiter who gets to bookend his role in Halo 3 with another "were it so easy" that brings the story, and his relationship to the Chief, full circle.
It'd be sacrilege to mention this scene without bringing attention to Marty O'Donnell's score. It transforms the scene from something that would probably fall flat with all except the most hardcore of fans into a scene that I have to admit makes me misty-eyed when I watch it. The fact that he's been preparing for it since 2004 or earlier probably doesn't hurt, especially when you note track names like "Unforgotten" and "Remembrance" from Halo 2.
So with this memorial service Bungie gets to have its cake...
...And Eat It, Too
Because of course the Chief isn't really dead. Lost somewhere in space with Cortana on the other half of the Dawn, the Chief gets to hang up his spurs and go back into cold storage, which brings his role in the Halo story arc full circle as well. The Chief was always, if not an actual reluctant hero, certainly not a wise-cracking bloodthirsty caricature. He never gloried in violence, and there's some real emotional value in the simple action of putting away his rifle, even if he and everyone in the audience knows it's temporary.
Perhaps, even... very temporary.