Thoughts

Halo Infinite

Halo Infinite is the latest mainline instalment to the Halo video game franchise. It has come to us six years after the last main instalment which had most fans feeling like the new developers, 343 industries, missed the point of its story and thus lost the spirit of the original Halo games. For most, including myself, Halo’s campaign was an introduction to concepts like giant ring worlds, alien zombies, and lying leaders losing their grasp on power. Halo was at its best… in the original trilogy. Saying this should not be controversial. The first three games were what created the fanbase and set the standard with which all future titles had to try and live up to. And the most interesting thing about that in my mind is how Bungie went about making their stories. They did the very same thing that 343 had done, just with more liberty. 343 was tasked / obligated with emulating past Halo games, something they seemed not wanting to do. Bungie on the other hand, used other science fiction concepts and storylines to create their vision, without the restraints of expectations. And now, it seems, with Halo Infinite 343 has taken that expectation approach fans have wanted all along while also continuing to craft their original, different, storyline.

Before going on may I just say, hello everyone, and welcome back to another thought piece by me ya boy Joe Van! Today’s subject is, well, pretty specific. A single game. I’ve never done a thoughts piece on such a specific subject, so I want to take a different approach other than just giving a simple review. Mix things up a little.

To start with that I want to dive into how Bungie borrowed themes and ideas from elsewhere, and shook them all up to create their own story. The first Halo game did this the heaviest. Its opening roll call was ripped straight out of James Cameron’s Aliens. The concept of a ring world itself was taken from the Ringworld novels by Larry Niven, published in the 1970’s. And other written influences include: Ender’s Game, The Vang, and Armor. For some people, this is nothing new. Fun facts-tidbits of their favourite franchise. And to all you literarily cultured academics, good for you! But to me, I didn’t learn about these influences until recently. Like even the ringworld books. I saw the movie Elysium and thought to myself, hey, that’s Halo! My boy Blompkamp ripped off that movie he couldn’t get enough money for! Now I know better. -Side note here but isn’t it crazy how business comes before art in cinema? The whole thing’s a business parading as an artform. But anyway, I DID know about the Aliens rip-off because I saw that first hand. Then when Avatar came out and there were names for things like banshees for the aircraft I was like ‘oh this is James Cameron hitting back at Bungie taking his things’.

Back on point, further huge influences were such works as The Bible and other historical texts. Spartans, Elites, Brutes, Jackals, Arbiters, Ghosts and Banshees; all these terms come from Abrahamic/Roman times. Tales were spun back with the same names used. I bring all this up not to point out some kind of unoriginality taking place in the Bungie games but rather how the games’ stories were at their strongest when they used outside sources to bolster the tale they wanted to tell. Halo, even that word, taken from another meaning.

So what about 343’s Halos? Well, they aren’t entirely going for their own thing either. Those games are based heavily off of literary material too, only instead of it being outside sources, they’re based off of their own books’ series! Now in saying that accusatorily, several extremely talented novelists have made Halo books over the years. Eric Nylund, Joseph Staten, and Greg Bear are my personal favourites. The stories they’ve created are easily worthy of film adaptation in my opinion, though only if it were done right of course which wouldn’t happen because execs would only green light it if it was injected with basic dialogue and topical comedy and other stuff that would alien both a casual viewer and a fan- but I get away from myself!

Halo as a universe is a vast and rich pool full of story potential. There are so many different factions and histories and mysteries and perspectives. It makes for great reading, however, when then taking story inspirations from said fountain of novels, ya gotta be careful to properly adapt. There are examples of successful novel-to-game adaptations, such as The Witcher and Metro, witch show that such a feat is possible, but in this case you have a weird game-to-novel-to-game switchiroo thingamajig going on. It could have led to an easy pull, but did it stick the landing? It’s up to each individual person. I can’t tell you that, but what I can tell you is that the popularity of Halo unfortunately began to see a decline after Halo Reach. Is it the authors’ faults for this? No! It’s just bad implementation, again, in my opinion. Many can, and have, said these newer Halo games are better than the original, so all this talk is just my perspective.

But from my perspective I feel like there was no ONE thing 343 did to lose Halo’s status of greatness. My theory is hearing Bungie leave played a role in viewer concern, and then having a multiplayer desperate to be like other shooters did them in. Campaign-wise my biggest gripe were the prometheans. They were not fun to battle against. I missed the scarabs, warthog runs, and sheer stakes involved in the OG campaigns. These new games felt unnecessary.

After defeating the didact, then facing a new evil Cortana, Halo Infinite found itself at a tough starting point. It was the third part to a story, but one that felt like just a part two to Halo 5. This trilogy 343 made felt far more disjointed than Bungie’s trilogy. Where would this final act in their trilogy lead us? Well, some including myself theorized it would finalize the Chief’s story, having him die or retire. Others speculated Halo Infinite would see the flood return by Cortana’s hand and force the banished and the UNSC to work together against prometheans to stop the flood. Where the story DID end up going was definitely unpredictable, but also incomplete.

343 made a concerted effort to bring back what people loved about the Bungie games. They did so in a way that didn’t take away from what they added, but steered the boat to find that nostalgia fans like myself were so desperate for. The art style was the biggest overhaul, and one half of their greatest achieve in my mind. The other half was the gameplay style. Halo looked and felt like Halo again. Rejoice! They kept mechanics like clamber, sprint, zoom for all guns, and slide, but did so in a way that didn’t take away from the core sandbox mechanics. Equipment was reinstalled from Halo 3 days and Chief no longer received fall damage. RIP to his knees but thank the forerunners for it. All of this in one word is: Freedom. But now where did the story go? That’s the biggest impact for me. A game can have the world’s funnest mechanics, but if the story is doo doo, that’s what I’ll remember the most. And infinite’s story, by comparison to Halo 5, is absolutely amazing. It’s a palette cleanser. It’s a return to basics. It does its best and damned-est to reinvigorate the main story thread, and it did so, superbly. However, it is far from perfect. Infinite’s story served to achieve several goals and in doing so didn’t have the same kind of freedom the gameplay had. It wasn’t able to spread its wings and soar.

The biggest blunder is that it is unfinished, though talk of story DLCs should mean that that feeling will not… be infinite. It’s story is hyper focused on the Chief, waving goodbye to the plethora of characters introduced in Halo 4 and 5. If 343 wanted… they could have had a soul crushing campaign where you start off fighting alongside all the characters you’ve come to know and love but against overwhelming odds, and level by level you witness each and every beloved character die off until only you, the chief, stand as the last chance at stopping Cortana. It would be brutal, and leave the story truly at an end, but work at giving weight to and concluding this new galactic threat known as Cortana once and for all. But I can see why they didn’t go for that. Instead, the campaign serves us a message of hope against dire odds, and those dire odds are simply: The Banished.

I appreciate from a gameplay perspective their focus and use of the aliens we love to kill as the main enemies. It was the right move to switch away from using prometheans, but the story now had to have them be the main antagonist, a threat far smaller than the one Cortana was meant to be. Another faction is introduced later in the campaign known as skimmers, an off-brand drone variant, and sentinels make a return so we still get some variety, but nothing would have been better than facing off against the flood again. I would have sacrificed the open world if it meant having the flood return! Just sayin’. But back on track, we are introduced to a new (other than the skimmers) alien species known as the Xalanyn with one single individual: the Harbinger. She works to give us that biggest threat imaginable vibe we lost from Cortana. The Xalanyn are said to be worse than the flood by the forerunners, a heavy statement, especially because we never end up seeing why! The campaign ends with us stopping the threat before it comes. After defeating every local spartan-killer, we take out the Harbinger. Not seeming worse than the flood, honestly. But that’s not the end of the threat! Once we finish her off it is revealed to just us the audience that the banished leader thought dead (by no one) is actually alive! And he is seen awakening the Xalanyn. So the story is far from over.

The original campaigns had a lot more going for them story-wise. They had fun, adventure, fear, and stakes like you wouldn’t believe! But as far as a 343 Halo game goes, this is my personal favourite. Infinite does an incredible job showing us Chief’s strength, AND short comings. It shows us his love for humanity through Fernando, and his fear to trust with the Weapon. It even shows us a side to him he only really saw in Halo 3, with his respect and understanding to an enemy, Escherum. In Halo 2 and the very start of Halo 3, Master Chief was ready to fill the Arbiter with bullets, but in Halo 3 we see his understanding toward a fellow soldier. We see his respect and even kinship develop. And that form of story telling is the main through-line of Infinite’s story, relationships. Threats loom over every crest, but so does hope. Hope for a better tomorrow, hope for trust and respect for our fellow people, and understanding of even our enemies. That was my main takeaway from its story, and what I love most about Halo infinite.

Oh, and it’s fukin’ grappleshot! WEEEE!

Thank you guys so much for listening to this thought piece! I appreciate your time, wish you nothing but love in your life, and ask you to remember to keep on thinking. Until next time… wake me when you need me.

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