Although this is listed as a level, it's really just a cutscene. As the game itself does later, this switches between the story of John 117, the Master Chief, receiving a hero's welcome on Cairo Station with Sgt. Johnson, Cortana and Lord Hood, and the Covenant Elite in charge of chasing the Pillar of Autumn from Reach to Halo being punished for his failure to protect the ring or destroy the human craft.
Like many players, I'd heard rumblings in advance from those disappointed with the game: about the texture pop, about the inconsistent level of detail on many items, on the length of the levels, which while large, can be played in a relatively short amount of time on any difficulty other than Legendary. I was determined to keep an open mind, but the first time I saw a texture pop in a cutscene I had to wince. It was so noticeable, and so at odds with the high level of polish that was in the cutscenes of Halo 1, which while certainly not as detailed, had a kind of unassailable professionalism in their execution. I also couldn't get over the impression that, while the scenes were apparently done in-engine, there was something still quite different about the way everything looked between gameplay and the scenes.
In Halo 1, they were nearly indistinguishable; and when there were any differences, they nearly always provided just a little bit of extra detail in the cutscene that spilled over into your impression of the gameplay.
A revealing comparison to make comes between a shot from the Pillar of Autumn cutscene in Halo 1 where you meet Captain Keyes on the bridge; the camera pans behind the Master Chief and you can see the black pits in the green armor; slightly shiny, gritty and grimy looking. It was beautiful.
I felt compelled to compare that to the Master Chief's chest as he gets out of the shuttle with Sgt. Jonson in the Cairo Station cutscene; in comparison the texture looks shiny, cartoonish, garish almost-- and in addition, there is noticeable pop there-- as if the Chief had been wearing a rather Teutonic black diving suit and then all of a sudden put on a chest plate that looked like children's Halloween costume version of Nightmare Armor.
I've read what Bungie has said about the pop-- that it was a design tradeoff in order to get faster loading times. That makes sense, and I believe it. I'm not a conspiracy theorist. However, I think that the effect of this pop may have been vastly underestimated. For a company that built its reputation in paying closer attention to important details than anybody else, this is a detail that screams out against everything that fans love about Bungie-- a bit of "good enough" in what is supposed to be a crowning masterpiece.
At any rate, that's the last I hope to have to say about texture pop.