Story thoughts (FULL OF HALO INFINITE SPOILERS) (Gaming)

by CruelLEGACEY @, Toronto, Friday, February 11, 2022, 15:00 (135 days ago) @ cheapLEY
edited by CruelLEGACEY, Friday, February 11, 2022, 15:11

That’s a very good summary that I completely agree with.

I’d like to hear some more of your thoughts on the story, because I still haven’t worked out exactly how I feel about it. I didn’t hate the pilot as much as everyone else seems to have, mostly because I felt absolutely nothing about him.

I should start by saying that in general, I’m pretty darn sick of the whole “soft reboot” story model. By “soft reboot” I’m talking about stories like The Force Awakens or Ghost Busters Afterlife or Matrix Resurrection where they are technically a continuation of the franchise, but simultaneously a recycling of the same basic plot of the original. In other words, remakes disguised as sequels. I get why they exist and I don’t think they’re inherently bad, but it’s just so overdone at this point I’m burned out on it.

All that to say, I was tilted slightly against the direction of Halo Infinite’s basic story right from the start, because it is very clearly a soft reboot, although only in the broad sense. That’s not really a “fault”, just a personal preference of mine.

That said, I’m fine with the basic overall plot of Infinite. I think it’s fine. I found it to be very safe, and a retreading of the same concepts we’ve already dealt with earlier in the franchise, but that’s fine. When it comes to video game stories, I care most of all about how they work to direct and inform the gameplay experience. Do I always know where I am, where I’m going, and why I’m doing it? Do I have a clear understanding of the relevant motivations and stakes? That sort of thing, I LOVE when video game stories go above and beyond those more functional factors, but as long as those bases are covered, I’m happy with it.

In that regard, I think Infinite’s story works… mostly. There are some strange technical choices that really derail my investment in the character motivations. Not a lot of them, but they’re major enough that it sucked the wind out of the story’s emotional push for me. The first big thing was the encounter with Atriox right near the start. He did the same dumbass thing that Saturday morning cartoon villains have been doing for decades, where he has the hero totally beaten and could have killed him a dozen different ways, but for no justifiable reason he lets him live. I mean, it’s such a cliche that Austin Powers was making fun of it 20 years ago. These are the kinds of small details that seem unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but I’m at the very start of this new game and I’m already rolling my eyes at what a dumbass the big bad villain is, and how cliche this encounter between him and chief is. The immersion is already damaged for me, because I just can’t believe that the leader of such a powerful and threatening force would be so stupid.

But whatever, that happens, and now at the very least we have a dynamic in place where this dude kicked Chief’s ass and we really want to get some payback. So I’m thinking “hey, that’s cool, we’ve established a villain and I’m really looking forward to hunting him down and getting some payback. Awesome”. Aaaaaaaand then just a tiny bit later we learn that Atriox died “off camera” and one of his henchmen is running the show now. And now Eacharum is talking shit at us and I have no idea who he is or what he’s like, and I can only assume he’s not as much of a badass as Atriox was because he wasn’t in charge while Atriox was still alive. So just like that, the emotional drive which had been established just a few minutes earlier is wiped away, and I’m left not really caring about the new villain. Like yeah, I know he’s bad, and I know I’ll fight him and beat him eventually, but there’s just no emotional weight behind it for me. And yeah I know things with Atriox aren’t that simple and they’re building towards future stuff, but I’m talking about the story that we have right now in this game. IMO undercutting the cohesion of the story that’s happening right now in service of stories that are coming down the road is… not ideal.

From here, the plot of the game is a perfectly serviceable series of “gotta go here to do X and then here to get Y” kind of thing. The more important factor for the middle bulk of the game is the characters. As I alluded to before, there really only are 3 characters of note for most of the game, and their chemistry just didn’t work for me most of the time. Chief was fine IMO. I do find it slightly cringy any time they try to “humanize” him, because I find they go just a bit too far. The reason i latched on to Chief in Halo CE and got attached to him was because he was cool, calm, and confident to such a comical extreme, it was absurd. When you’re in the escape pod after fleeing the Pillar of Autumn and it’s hurtling towards the surface of the first Halo ring and the descent/landing gear is all malfunctioning and the pilot is screaming and Chief just casually says “we’ll be fine” without even sitting down… and then he just walks away from the crash like it was nothing! Those moments are hilarious and ridiculous and badass to a comical extreme. But that’s who chief is. He’s invincible, and he fucking knows it. And Johnson knew it, and Keys knew it, and every marine that ever saw him knew it. I understand they’re trying to explore what it’s like for chief to face failure, but I just don’t buy into the sudden long, sorrow-filled moments of silence as he looks down at a dead Spartan or thinks about Cortana. It’s too much. And then there’s the Pilot’s non-stop “you’re crazy chief! This is nuts! I won’t do this! You’re going to get us both killed!”. It made me think of Avengers Infinity War, where Thor gets his ass kicked at the start of the movie, then goes and gets himself a new weapon and returns to earth right in the middle of the battle at Wakanda. Bruce sees him and instantly yells “you guys are so screwed now!” THAT is the kind of triumphant reaction that a hero’s presence should illicit from others. Can you imagine if Thor showed up and Banner just started saying “Thor you’ve gotta get out of here, this is suicide man! What are you doing?!?”. Now imagine that’s all Banner said for the next 12 hours! Man, I fucking hate the pilot, lol. I just don’t know what they were going for with him. It’s not even a question of him being too much over time… I remember like 2 years ago, when we got that first trailer which was just a portion of the early cutscene between Chief and the Pilot, I said to Claude “oh great, just what Chief needs… a fucking annoying sidekick” lol. He’s just instantly and eternally annoying to me, to the point where I was reeeeally hoping the story would take a darker turn and actually kill him off, rather than just threatening it.

I found the weapon to be off-putting a lot of the time as well. I never hated her the way I hated the Pilot. Sometimes I even liked her. But I just don’t like the way they decided to portray her “youth” like a kind of ditsy stupidity. Not a big deal, but given who she’s functionally replacing, it’s hard not to miss Cortana circa Halo 1-3. She was just such a perfect balance of clear-headed insight with little hints of curiosity and a slightly mischievous, dry sense of humour. (Side note, I LOVE the way the Weapon looks. I mean, I’d rather put up a poster of Halo 4 Cortana in my high school locker, but The Weapon is my favourite “next gen” representation of an AI hologram in any of 343’s Halo games. She looks the way my brain imagined Halo CE Cortana would look “in real life”).

I know I’m harping on a lot about these character relationships, but they’re just such a huge part of our time with the game, I find it to be pretty important. But there’s another technical storytelling choice that I found a bit odd. I’m not sure how I feel about the way “mystery” and “discovery” were handled in this game. Specifically, we the player spend much of the game wanting to learn things that Chief actually knows already. When he finally reveals these details, he’s revealing them to us as much as anything. It makes me relate more with other characters (specifically The Weapon) over the Chief. I almost feel like Chief isn’t actually the main character of this game, in a technical sense. It’s more The Weapon’s story. In a vacuum, I’m good with that. She’s more interesting than chief is to me anyway. But there’s a strange disconnect that I kept feeling because the mysteries I was trying to figure out were not what Chief was working to figure out.

As far as the ending goes, it felt to me like something was missing. I don’t really understand how Cortana went from being the biggest threat in the galaxy at the end of Halo 5 to bring so vulnerable that Atriox was a genuine threat to her. I’m sure it’s covered in one of the novels, but as someone who is just going from Halo 5 to Infinite, it felt like a retcon. Like “we need this to happen to get the plot where we want it to be” rather than a natural and believable progression of the characters and situation. Same with Cortana’s change of heart. It just didn’t feel natural or justified to me. Who knows, could just be me missing something. I will say I had another little “eye roll” moment at the end when they ask the Weapon what her name should be, and she looks at chief and asks “would it be ok?” or something like that and he nods and says “you get to choose your name”, so she turns to the camera and says “alright… well I know exactly what I want my name to be” (or something to that effect) and the Pilot just laughs and says “great!” and then goes and sits in his chair, when his reaction should have been “ok… well, what is it?”. But the dialogue wasn’t actually written like characters talking to each other, it was characters talking to the audience. Again, very Saturday morning cartoon, which I’m totally fine with, it the whole game is going for that tone. But they seem to be going for a heavier, more mature tone and feel with this game… I just don’t think the writing lines up with the mood that’s being presented. I’d love to see them pick a direction and lean into it. If they’re going to go all earnest and serious, the script needs to follow suit. If they want to go more cartoonish and cheesy (which I’d actually prefer) they need to lean into the cheese with a bit of a grin and a wink to the audience, like Halo 1-3 did.

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