Impressions: Uprising

I've always thought that someone or someones at Bungie had a serious penchant for parallel constructions. Where many other reviewers looked at the reuse of level geometry in Halo 1, I saw narrative purpose. The idea of a journey out from the Pillar of Autumn and then returning there was reinforced by the territories that were crossed twice. Each of the repeated levels undergoes major changes in its repetition.

The spic-and-span Truth & Reconciliation environment in the Covenant cruiser finds its mirror opposite in the leaking, burning, Flood-infested wreckage from which you retrieve Captain Keyes' neural implants. The bright and brisk snowscapes of Assault on the Control Room over which you glide in Warthogs, Scorpions and Banshees along with your marine support troops as you mow down everything the Covenant can throw at you is mirrored perfectly by the dark and bitter cold of Two Betrayals, as you slog through pitched battles between Flood, Covenant and Sentinels without any of your compatriots for assistance. If you thought that the Pillar of Autumn was a bit beat-up when the Covenant blew it out of the sky over Halo, that's nothing compared to what happened when Guilty Spark made it the site of his last effort to stop you from preventing the installation from being activated, while the Flood try to repair the ship to use it to escape and the Covenant try and stop them.

So it is no surprise to me that I see similar patterns at work in Halo 2. Once the Arbiter is introduced, he and the Master Chief alternate starring in levels, first two by two and then one by one. Some of the environments also follow a pattern. The Chief defends a space station, the Arbiter attacks one. Some of the Arbiter levels hark back to levels in Halo 1 that had no parallel there. Quarantine Zone is a good dark parallel for Two Betrayals or Assault on the Control Room, as an outdoor snow level with vehicular combat near an important installation-- in this case, Delta Halo's library. Sacred Icon itself is an improved Library, as a better-lit labyrinth, arranged vertically instead of horizontally.

So what does this all have to do with Uprising? Well, it fulfils another parallel. The Arbiter got two levels on his space station, Arbiter/Oracle, while the Chief only got one on his, Cairo. But the Chief got two levels in the leafy green environs of Delta Halo. Uprising is the Arbiter's chance to get his. (Yes, technically The Great Journey is also a Delta Halo level with the Arbiter, but it takes place mostly indoors or in vehicles near the beach, and doesn't really have the same colors or feel as Delta Halo.

The are also parallels with Metropolis; the outdoor levels are long and narrow, perfect for just speed-running through with a Ghost if you've a mind to do it, although you might have to worry about the occasional sniper.

That's all fine and good, however, but the one thing that has always irked me about this level is that it's not at all clear what you're actually doing there.

In the Gravemind cutscene, our favorite leafy green Flood says there is time to stop "the key from turning" and that he's sending each of you to a "likely spot" to find it. He's spot on sending the Chief to the audience chamber on High Charity, where Truth is holding the Index just a few meters away from where you start the level. Due to Cortana's uncanny ability to open just about any door in the city except the one that Truth just escaped through, you spend the rest of that level marching through a Covenant version of Better Homes and Gardens to try and catch up with him.

What's going on at the beginning of Uprising doesn't seem to have anything to do with that at all. It's conceivable that Gravemind is sending you to the Control Room, so that if the Index is brought there you can prevent it from being used, which is pretty close to what actually happens. If that's the case, why so far from the control room? Guilty Spark was able to teleport you right there from the Library in Halo 1, and if Gravemind is usurping 2401PT's control over Delta Halo's teleportation grid, it stands to reason that he could have sent the Arbiter directly there if he had wanted to. It certainly would have made more sense; then we could have had a Defend of the Control Room level (neat, huh?), where you regrettably fail in stopping Tartarus from entering the Control Room, but still eventually stop the installation from firing.

You can see the Control Room from the start of this level, but you won't actually reach it until near the end of The Great Journey, and all the possible shortcuts to reach it before that are protected by instant-kill barriers.

So what, then, are you actually supposed to be doing? Well, the level objectives tell you that. You're here for revenge against the Brutes! There's where this level starts to fall down for me. There are a lot of interesting tactical situations, a lot of choice in how to approach situations, despite the rather linear and elongated layout of the level. Despite that, though, by the time you reach the end of the level and hit start to pause the game and review your objectives, it's just a reptition of the same thing over and over again: revenge on the brutes, revenge on the brutes. The revenge is supposed to be for the murder of the Elite councilors, an event which you don't see. You only hear about it from a fallen Elite on the path at the start of this level. How and where this has happened, and how this Elite knows of it, is also unclear. And when you reach the start of Great Journey, you're the one who tells the Spec Ops commander about it, who up to that point didn't know. You've been out of circulation since you fell down the Control Room shaft into the tentacles of Gravemind, and then you're dumped into the middle of nowhere, seemingly to kill time while the Master Chief chases the Index from one side of the citadel to the other, so that the timelines will all match up at the end of the game. How it is that you manage to find out the fate of the councilors, but the Spec Ops commander, seemingly with access to Covenant vehicles and communication gear all that time you were incommunicade, still doesn't know, is a bit unfathomable.

There's also the thornier problem of character. The Brutes were introduced as the new "bad guys" among the Covenant, to make the Elites look better by comparison and prepare the audience for the shift in allegiance as you play the Arbiter alongside Elites in the Covenant civil war. The Brutes were portrayed as primitive, savage, arrogant and power-hungry, in contrast to the more honorable, responsible, and respectable Elites. To spend an entire level taking revenge starts to look a bit out of character, especially when there are more important things to do.

One might be given to wonder why the Arbiter mentions nothing of the Index and Gravemind to the commander. I don't think that is very surprising. He may not fully believe himself at that point. At any rate, none of the level's objectives pertain to Tartarus, the Index, or the Control Room.

This level is really the first place in Halo 2 where the story-- or rather the absence of it-- gets in the way of playing the game. Most of the other levels' environments and objectives are clearly rooted in advancing the plot in a logical way. The Chief starts aboard the Cairo, defends it from Covenant assault and then pursues the attackers to the surface. The attackers flee, and onboard In Amber Clad, the chief follows. Saved from the disgrace of his failure at Halo, the newly-anointed Arbiter is sent to deal with a dangerous "heretic" who has learned the truth from 343 Guilty Spark. Having discovered the location of Delta Halo (presumably) from his too-short visit to Earth, Regret sends word to Truth and Mercy, who send the Arbiter to retrieve the Index. Meanwhile, the Master Chief pursues Regret to the surface of Delta Halo to find out what he was after. Once it's discovered that he intends to fire the ring, you're supposed to kill him while Keyes and Johnson go after the Index. However, the Arbiter stops them from doing so, and then Tartarus betrays him, setting up the meeting between the Chief and the Arbiter. Gravemind lays the whole situation out, sends the Chief to High Charity where the Index is, and the Arbiter to a location... well, near the Control Room, where the Index has to go.

In its general outline, everything makes absolute sense and is absolutely necessary and logical-- right up until Uprising, where you are so far from your eventual goal with so little of consequence to do on the way there, that it seems the only real reason for the existence of this level is to give the Arbiter a chance to check out Delta Halo's prettier scenery and delay his arrival at the Control Room until the Chief has had time to reach the platform where Regret is killed and Tartarus departs the citadel on his way to the Control Room.



I agree with the fact that the game didn't really explain why you were teleported such a distance away from the Control Room as opposed to being right there, but something Gravemind says in "Inside Job" hints to the motivation:

"If you will not hear the truth, then I will show it to you."

The game does not expound on this, but I believe that Uprising was necessary to the plot in which the Arbiter was still in disbelief, and Gravemind needed him to be motivated--a pawn with a cause, after all, is substantially more dangerous.
The Arbiter witnessing the massacre of his brethren is one thing, but to allow him to only see its result was probably more jarring (seeing as Tartarus attempting to murder him wasn't enough of a jolt to his faith in the Covenant). Allowing the Arbiter to act out his revenge is a clever way to get his blood boiling.