“We need to fight.”
It’s hard to believe that this time of year has come around again so quickly, but here we are.
Next year, Microsoft’s next console – Project Scarlett – will launch with Halo Infinite, and we were given a glimpse at the game’s opening cutscene, titled ‘Discover Hope.’
Naturally, it’s time to get the analytical visor on and see what awaits us in the sixth movement of the odyssey…Last year, when Halo Infinite was announced, I did not initially find myself among those who were ecstatic about what was shown in the teaser.
Like some others, I found myself in the Palace of Pain over various aspects that bothered me (the Chief’s new-old armour being one such example).
But somewhere between getting to talk to people at 343 during my visit last November, working in the gaming industry as I do now (hell yeah!), and my own ongoing ‘character arc’ in life, I have been able to step back and let go of some of the pearls I once ardently insisted on clutching.
That’s obviously not to discredit anybody who holds those reservations (I certainly still have my own), but I have come to get a much broader perspective on things over the course of the last year – particularly when it comes to what hills I’m going to die on.
Since then, my excitement for Halo Infinite has shot through the roof and this glimpse we got at the opening cutscene has got my imagination whirring.
A new story, a new era, a new journey… it feels great to have the next step in this odyssey palpably getting closer day-by-day now.
With that preamble out of the way, let’s get into the scene.
As an aside: I will not be going over all the various tidbits of trivia in the trailer, as it has already been thoroughly covered by the likes of Halo Canon, HiddenXperia, LateNightGaming, and others. I suggest checking their content out for that; this will remain purely focused on the thematic side of storytelling.
Right away, the tone is set by scaling things down to the perspective of an ‘ordinary’ human, which is something the games have never quite captured in this way before.
His worries are very different to what we typically have to deal with in Halo; a breach in his Pelican causing a build-up of pressure that he has to manually deal with, standing on a box to frantically fix it, before falling on his back.
It’s a real contrast to Halo 5, where the immense cast primarily followed eight Spartans with very loaded backstories.
Halo 5 struggled to do much of any notable substance with its characters due to having such a large cast. As such, 343 starts with their best foot forward by dialling that down to just one person we are given time to get attached to.
A recording of the Pilot’s wife and child plays; time moves forward as we see the power light on the little holo-projector change from green to red. He’s fully-bearded now, time has passed – months, perhaps, and he silently repeats the last words he hears of his family.
Already, these themes are in the process of being established with barely a word spoken.
What enhances this even further for me is the parallel drawn between the Pilot and Cortana at the start of Halo 4, where she has similarly been adrift in space on a dying ship with nothing but a fading memory for company.
Echoes of the past in Halo Infinite, it seems, are not simply limited to the Bungie era, as some people fear. The context is obviously different, but the framing is the same.
Indeed, the scene itself follows the sort of ‘model’ of the kind of storytelling we saw in Halo 4; quiet character scenes, where not much is physically happening but a lot is going on (emotionally, thematically, with the imagery, and so on).Something I think is really worth crediting, too, is the Pilot crying.
Not just because of how incredible the Slipspace Engine looks with the level of detail and humanity it’s able to capture (on that note: WOW!), but because there is still a very real social stigma attached to men crying.
Children are conditioned by the phrase “boys don’t cry” from a very young age, they are encouraged to suppress their emotions and remain stoic, with the knock-on effect looping into the wider misogynistic idea that women are “emotional.”
It is this very notion that Halo 4 sought to deconstruct by pushing the Master Chief into circumstances where he had to respond emotionally, and that was a really important story to tell for his character because previous entries in the franchise have rarely succeeded in engaging with John on any meaningful level beyond stoic one-liners.
The Pilot doesn’t hold any emotion back, and that is such a huge part of his appeal. This is a character who wears his heart on his sleeve – his joy, his fear, his sadness…
That, I think, is one of the real highlights of the scene that makes Halo Infinite feel like it’s going to be a poignant, emotionally honest story.
A signal is detected, lighting the side of the Pilot in green. But he doesn’t react immediately, he stays in the moment, as if he thinks he’s imagining it… but the message repeats… and repeats again, and he rushes into the cockpit to make contact.
When there’s no response, he wipes the window clear and sees… well, what else could it be, but the Master Chief and his immense talent for drifting in space.
The Chief is brought aboard and, for perhaps the first time in the games, we really feel the weight of his MJOLNIR armour as he’s dropped to the deck.
We’re also treated to the latest iteration of a timeless image in the series.
There’s something strangely definitive about it. On a meta level, it feels like we’re seeing the time and love that goes into the work of crafting this iconic armour. To the everyday human, a Spartan-II is commonly seen as something of a ‘robot,’ and that is perfectly encapsulated by what we see here.
Indeed, the knowledge that there is a person inside that armour, somebody who has been trapped within it for a very long time, is quite horrifying to contemplate when he’s brought aboard the Pelican and cannot move.
It sustains him, but – going back to that image at the start of Halo 4 where the six-year-old John is inside a helmet-shaped pod – it’s also his prison.The Pilot manages to revive the Chief by redirecting what little power he has left into his suit. This, in turn, feeds back into the Pelican as the room is suddenly bathed in light. The Pilot is exuberant, his hope renewed.
It’s a small thing, but it perfectly encapsulates 343’s stated objective with Halo Infinite. After the crushing hopelessness of where Halo 5 concluded (in terms of the state of the universe, but also – again, in a meta sense – the community), we need to rediscover that feeling of hope.
The jubilant reaction of the Pilot has already endeared me to him so strongly. He demonstrates such a tremendous emotional range in just a few minutes, which is the kind of latitude you can really double-down on when you have such a small cast.
When dealing with an ensemble, each character tends to be written in quite a singular way in order to differentiate their voice. That can work, but more often than not I find it to be a slippery slope into writing one-dimensional characters. Of course, this is not universally true (after all, Halo 1 has a cast of very fixed archetypal characters), but I think it is something that the series has demonstrated trouble with.
With Halo Infinite, in terms of its character writing, I feel quite a close approximation to the confidence that I had with Halo 4.
And I feel that because the moment we see the AI chip in Chief’s hand, our immediate association with such an image being Cortana, the parallels between the Chief and the Pilot coalesce.
Both are holding onto a memory, one that has long since faded.
The Pilot’s holo-projector has run out of power, and the AI chip is empty.
The way in which the Pilot is articulated as a foil for the Chief could almost be said to reflect who he might have been if he hadn’t been kidnapped to become a Spartan…
At the end of last year, 343 did a Social Stream with Dan Chosich (Narrative Experience Director) on the making of the Halo Infinite announcement teaser for E3 2018. In this, Chosich goes into great detail about the philosophical approach to the core pillars of what they want the experience of this game to be.
One of those pillars was ‘Mystery,’ where the descriptive statement for it reads: ‘The audience arrives one moment after.’
The goal is to empower the audience to feel like the explorer, going back to the feeling one got in Halo 1 when you took your first steps into this incredible alien world.
Questions should be posed that aren’t necessarily answered, giving us space to wonder and fill in some of the gaps ourselves.
There is a point where universes can become overly curated, where everything ends up having to mean something specific so it can be slapped into a fact file and must be held as canonically sacred…
And that just isn’t a sustainable narrative model for a long-running universe.
Sometimes, you have to take a step back and let people find the fun in coming up with their own answers, rather than enforcing one.
That’s what the reveal of Installation 07 accomplishes in this scene.It’s so much more powerful to follow the Chief into that cockpit, seeing him gaze up at the incredible image of this broken circle, than it is to go in knowing the whole story.
Something has happened here, something immense, and it did not end well for us.
No matter what your level of knowledge of Halo lore is, everybody is put in the same starting place of not knowing.
We’re all equally clueless, but in a good way. The journey that will follow will have us all go out with the same intention of finding those answers. That’s one of the benefits of starting this story three years after the events of its predecessor.
There are those who are concerned over the “spiritual reboot” and “simple stories” comments from Bonnie Ross, that it means 343 are throwing out ties to the expanded universe, and so on.
Were that 343’s intention, this game would be set on a Halo ring that we’ve not seen yet – Installation 01, 02, 06, or possibly even 09. That would give them a totally clean slate without any baggage to tie them to the past, as none of these Halos have been explored in any capacity yet.
Instead, we’re going to Installation 07, which has perhaps the most narratively loaded history of them all.
Unless 343 says that the bit of the ring that’s been destroyed was where the entirety of Halo: Primordium took place, I think we’re probably going to be fine on this score…
The Pilot’s fear returns to him, and while he is distracted the Chief moves him into the cockpit. It’s a subtle but notable motion that makes the Chief feel a little more ‘real,’ calling to mind the moment in Halo 1 where he comforts a distressed Marine with a reassuring hand on the shoulder.
One of the problems I have with Halo 2 and Halo 3 when it comes to the Chief is how he ends up feeling like part of the scenery, especially when more than two or three other characters are present in a scene and he fades into the background, as he doesn’t have many meaningful or dynamic interactions with characters or the setting.
But here, we have some action. The Pelican rocks from side-to-side, the Chief and the Pilot stumble; he grabs an assault rifle from the wall and immediately moves the Pilot out of the (new) ‘airlock’ area into the cockpit.
“We need to run,” the Pilot says.
“No,” the Chief marches into the troop bay. “We need to fight.”
This ‘one-liner’ feels like it’s wholly earned, as it comes with the purpose of rounding off the scene with what is effectively the statement-of-intent for the game that the scene has built up to.
Discovering hope, finding courage – the Chief embodies these ideals, and so there is more to this line than a simple Badass™ quip.
With this taking place three years after Halo 5, following a cataclysmic event, and serving as a new beginning for the story… I don’t think that we’ll be fighting the Created.
Cortana will obviously have some presence, that much is made explicitly clear by the trailer’s closing moments, but 343 has heard the feedback loud-and-clear from Halo 5. It’s no exaggeration to say that the direction things went with its handling of the AI uprising trope (when what makes Halo unique is its hopeful exploration of our symbiosis) was met with overwhelming negativity.
I said it back in 2016 when I wrote my impressions on the story of Halo Wars 2 following its E3 reveal, and I’m still saying it today…
The Banished are the perfect antagonist for the post-war era.
An important motif in post-war fiction has revolved around how tired many major characters and groups are of fighting. Even Halo 5 explores this in a lot of its intel, particularly with the Sangheili as the Covenant reaches its end.
The Banished have been on the sidelines for decades, slowly building up on the fringes of these events, and – as we see in Halo Wars 2 – they have no such war weariness.They’re a threat on a scale that’s big enough to devote a particular focus to, but not large enough that they dwarf all the other conflicts going on in the setting.
They’re ripe for further expansion, as Halo Wars 2 largely centred things around Atriox. Much of what we learned about them came from the Phoenix Logs, mostly through narrative bytes – their organisational structure could simply be how things work on the Ark, not necessarily shared by their forces left in the Milky Way.
They have their own unique designs, aesthetics, and lore to effectively differentiate them from the Covenant, while their foundation is rooted in that ‘classic’ Halo imagery.
Indeed, there are a number of parallels between this scene and the moment early in Halo Wars 2 where Isabel tells Cutter – as the Pilot tells the Chief – that they need to run as fast and as far as they can.
Cutter’s rallying speech in response is essentially his prolonged way of saying “No. We need to fight.”
That’s admittedly quite a tenuous connection to make. I’m certainly not saying “Because the dialogue is similar, it means that this is obviously what’s going to happen.” Not at all.
Let’s call this my ‘best case scenario’ hope.
If this is the way things go, I will be very, very happy.
THE GUN POINTED AT THE HEAD OF THE UNIVERSE
I’m not going to delve too far into speculation about the final scene with Cortana, that’s a very sensitive area which ultimately needs a great deal more context than what we currently have.
This is where I take a step back. I’m not latching onto any specific ideas (though that’s certainly not to say I don’t have one or two) as to where this is all going to go.
The folks at 343 know what went wrong here in Halo 5, so I just want to wait and see how this develops.
What more can I say? I’m genuinely excited about Halo Infinite. Do I have reservations about certain things? Yes, I absolutely do. But, for me, negativity is a wellspring that has truly run dry.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with scepticism, people have valid concerns about the aspects of the Halo universe they love, but we can’t remain stubbornly fixed in 2015. We must move forward.
Sometimes, that involves letting go – just a little bit.In Inside Xbox’s interview with Chris Lee, he refers to this final sequence as the Master Chief entering a Forerunner environment to “reconnect.”
That, I think, is at the heart of what bolsters my excitement for Halo Infinite. I want to reconnect with the series in a way that I haven’t quite experienced since the Halo 4 ‘era,’ just as others feel a personal connection to other times in the series – be it Halo 3, or Reach, whenever.
With The Master Chief Collection coming to PC and Halo Infinite launching Microsoft’s Project Scarlett next year, it feels like a very exciting time where the series as a whole is reconnecting people.
New fans will arrive, old ones will return to relive their favourite games in the series, and then Infinite will be the next step forwards in this journey that has been in my life since I was seven.
No matter the specifics of one’s hopes, that truly is a win.
Until the next time, Spartans…