The Infinite Zenith

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Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War- At the Halfway Point

“Amidst the eternal waves of time, From a ripple of change shall the storm rise, Out of the abyss peer the eyes of a demon, Behold the Razgriz, its wings of black sheath!” –Razgriz Poem, Part One

In 2010, an unidentified spy plane appears near Sand Island, prompting Wardog squadron to scramble. Rookie pilot, Blaze, accompanies Captain Jack Bartlett and two other trainees, Kei Nagase and Alvin H. Davenport into the air to intercept the plane, which unexpectedly calls for support. Although they are successful in repelling the attackers, a second spy plane shows up three days later, forcing Wardog squadron to scramble yet again. During the combat, Bartlett is shot down and declared missing. On the same day, Yuktobania declares war on Osea. Wardog squadron is sent to defend the Osean fleet, before returning to Sand Island. Hans Grimm joins Wardog squadron, and Blaze’s actions lead him to become promoted to Wardog’s flight lead. Wardog escorts the Kestrel and two other carriers, but an attack from the Yuktobanian submarine, Scinfaxi, destroys the other aircraft carriers and most of the air forces with burst missiles. This turn of events prompts Osea to accelerate the installation of a laser module on the Arkbird, a low-orbiting space craft originally intended to be utilised as a testbed for aeronautical technologies and space exploration. Yuktobanian forces launch an attack on the facility, but Wardog manages to repel them. When the Scinfaxi attacks Sand Island, the Arkbird’s support allows the defenders to focus on the Scinfaxi, and despite severe losses from the last of the burst missiles, Wardog squadron sinks the Scinfaxi. To prevent the war from escalating, Osean president Vincent Harling makes his way over to a secret peace summit with the Yuktobanian government. Although the aircraft carrying Harling comes under fire, Wardog defends him. The Osean army prepares for a massive amphibious operation against Yuktobania, and with Wardog’s assistance, deal the Yuktobanian army a defeat by destroying their bunkers and capturing their fortress. Wardog pursues the withdrawing Yuktobanian forces, and while they are able to shoot down their transport aircraft, Wardog is made the scapegoat after a terrorist attack at a Yuktobanian university kills civilians. This leads Yuktobania to launch a massive attack on the Osean capital, Oured, and on Bana City. Wardog is in Oured while awaiting a disciplinary hearing, but the unexpected attack forces them to take to the skies and engage the Yuktobanian air force. They manage to defend the airport and minimise damage to the city. To prove their innocence, Wardog next takes an assignment to destroy a Yuktobanian ammunition depot and successfully complete their task. Later, a ballistic missile attack reveals that Yuktobania has another Scinfaxi-class submarine, the Hrimfaxi. Travelling to the far north, Wardog engages and destroys the Hrimfaxi, earning them the nickname of Razgriz. Later, when Wardog is set to support the extraction of Osean POWs, Nagase is shot down, and command decides to wait until the next morning to pick her up from behind enemy line. To their surprise, when Nagase is located, she’d actually managed to turn the tables on the Yuktobanian forces sent to capture her.

Right out of the gates, my immediate impressions of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War (The Unsung War from here on out for brevity) are overwhelmingly positive. The flight controls are smooth and responsive, allowing me to direct my plane towards any target and participate in most dogfights with confidence: after beating the first few missions, I became at home with how things handled. However, it also became clear that unlike Skies Unknown, the fact that The Unsung War dates back to an older time means that some mechanics were simplified from what I’d been accustomed to. For one, enemy planes cannot equip countermeasures. In Skies Unknown, enemy pilots could sometimes put flares out if a missile would impact, but here, one needn’t worry about flares. Similarly, clouds were utilised to act as cover in Skies Unknown, and planes could ice up if they spent extended periods inside cloud cover while attempting to break an enemy lock. Moreover, laser weapons would fail to function if a target was behind a cloud. The Unsung War has none of these elements, and this actually simplifies things for players, who can focus purely on the mission at hand. Missiles are consistently useful; they can reliably hit targets between 2500 and 5000 feet, and one can chain kills in succession by rapidly switching between targets. Like Skies Unknown, having gotten through half of the missions in the campaign, I am now quite confident that my flying is sufficient for me to be successful in The Unsung War‘s second half. With a good understanding of The Unsung War‘s control scheme now that I’ve fifteen missions under my belt, one more remark that I will add is that being able to play The Unsung War has furthered my appreciation for Skies Unknown, as well. It is clear that The Unsung War had pioneered the sort of creativity that returned in Skies Unknown. Missions with special mechanics (such as phony radar contacts, flying down a narrow, specific course and special bombing runs) help to keep things novel and challenging. In this way, Skies Unknown ends up being the developers’, Project Aces’, way of thanking players for having waited this long for Ace Combat‘s return to form after almost a decade of spinoffs which lacked the original series’ finesse and staying power. The success that Skies Unknown enjoyed is also a testament to the extensive list of things that The Unsung War did particularly well in: numerous elements from The Unsung War made their way to Skies Unknown, demonstrating that this classic evidently still holds up to more modern games where mechanics and narrative are concerned.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • My first exposure to Ace Combat was sixteen years ago: it was the middle of the summer, and back then, the local public libraries had a wonderful selection of books. There wasn’t anything quite like it nowadays, but previously, libraries had books on every conceivable topic of interest, from Reader’s Digest’s Treasures of China, to Smithsonian’s Universe: The Definitive Visual Guide. There was even a small section with video game strategy guides, and as luck would have it, the newly-opened local branch happened to have guides for a handful of games I’d been curious about, including Halo 2.

  • On that day, I found a copy of Brady Games’ Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, and upon perusing it, I was captured by the extensive aircraft listings. The strategy guide had been intriguing enough for me to check it out for the two weeks, and reading through it, I found myself wishing that I had a copy of The Unsung War for my PlayStation 2, which was a brand-new console at the time. Upon arriving home, I sat down and began reading through the strategy guide, which had detailed a rich world beyond imagination. Over the years, I would check The Unsung War‘s strategy guide out a few more times, but as I moved into secondary school and stopped going to the library, Ace Combat began falling to the back of my mind.

  • This changed when I came upon a link to The Unsung War‘s soundtrack during the early winter semester of my second year in university. The music was exceptional, far beyond anything available to games of The Unsung War‘s era, and instead of studying for organic chemistry, I remember spending an afternoon reading about The Unsung War‘s missions, aircraft and superweapons. At the time, I wished that I’d bought The Unsung War back when copies were still being sold at local gaming stores, but I resigned myself to watching YouTube playthroughs and reading about things, believing there wouldn’t be a chance to ever go through this game for myself.

  • All of this changed recently, and I was able to acquire a copy of Ace Combat 5: this is something that I’d long given up hope for and thought to be impossible until now. However, with a functional copy, I’ve been able to step into the world of The Unsung War for myself for the first time since checking out the strategy guide from the library sixteen years earlier. I don’t recall every detail in that strategy guide, except for the fact that Nagase gets shot down at some point, that the Arkbird plays a major role in The Unsung War‘s story and that the best missions are in the game’s second half.

  • In order to reach the second half, I needed to become familiar with the controls anew, and then beat the first half of the game. Fortunately for me, The Unsung War handles very well, and I have no trouble in getting the aircraft to go where I need it to go. Things aren’t quite as smooth as they are in Skies Unknown, the consequence of Skies Unknown being some fifteen years newer, but overall, the controls are as responsive as can be reasonably expected. After I acclimatised to the controls and had the chance to fly a few sorties, my confidence increased.

  • After repelling spy aircraft from the skies over Sand Island, Wardog is sent to assist the Kestrel, an Osean aircraft carrier that served in the Belkan War. The goal here is to fend off enemy aircraft while the Kestrel heads for open water, and the level marks the first time players get to fight over a populated area. The graphics have aged quite gracefully, and while smaller buildings are just textures on the ground, simple structures do have some height to them. Despite being far simpler than the visuals in Skies Unknown, where every building has height, the visuals still hold up quite nicely.

  • Initially, Wardog will only have access to the F-5E Tiger II, a supersonic light fighter designed by Northrop. Despite being less renowned than its larger and heavier cousin, the F-4 Phantom, the F-5 did have a strong service record, being utilised in the Vietnam War, and it was thought to be similar in the MiG-21 in terms of air performance. In fact, the F-5 was adopted as the aircraft to stand in for MiG-21s during air combat training, and it was found that in the hands of a good pilot, an F-5 could give both the newer F-14 and F-15 trouble.

  • In The Unsung War, the F-5E carries twelve unguided bombs to go with its missile payload, making it a fair all-around aircraft for beginners. The missiles of Ace Combat is one of the series’ defining features: players will carry a prodigious amount of missiles with them into combat, and while these missiles are either the AIM-9 Sidewinder (when using an American aircraft) or the Russian Vympel R-60, which are heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles in reality, Ace Combat allows the standard missiles to lock onto both air and ground targets alike.

  • I’d grown accustomed to missiles acquiring a lock at around two thousand metres in Skies Unknown, so it was a little jarring to see them acquire targets at five thousand in The Unsung War. However, as it turns out, I’d left the units on Imperial for my run. The Unsung War does allow players to freely switch between Imperial and Metric units: using Imperial units, speed is measured in miles per hour, while distances and altitudes are measured in feet. I normally have difficulty with miles, since they’re an arbitrary measure (kilometres is more natural for me), but feet is something I’m okay with, since I approximate one metre as about three feet.

  • Given that missiles lock on at around two thousand metres in Skies Unknown, I’d say they actually have a longer distance than they do in The Unsung War. However, owing to the way the older Ace Combat games work, missiles do tend to be quite reliable between three and four thousand feet, and it’s possible to fire off two missiles in rapid succession, switch over to another target, and watch as the system displays to players that their target was destroyed. This was something that became an integral part of older Ace Combat games, so when I entered the franchise for the first time through Assault Horizon, I was disappointed that dogfight mode was needed to shoot down a larger number of foes.

  • Skies Unknown marked a true return to classic game mechanics, and it became possible to once again fire off missiles at one target and switch over to the next without worrying about whether or not one’s shots would find their mark. Playing through The Unsung War, it becomes clear that many elements from an old classic would make their way into the latest instalment, and in this way, my appreciation of Skies Unknown increased. Back in The Unsung War, I continue to fly the venerable F-5E into combat. It’s one of the weaker aircraft of the game, but in the beginning, this doesn’t matter too much: the game doesn’t throw insanely mobile or large numbers of foes at the player.

  • This is fortunate, since unguided bombs, the F-5E’s special weapon, don’t have any application in missions where the combat is primarily anti-air. Special weapons have long been a feature in Ace Combat, and in The Unsung War, different aircraft will be granted different special weapons. These weapons are more powerful than the standard missile and have different capabilities, whether it be locking onto multiple targets simultaneously or tracking them with a much greater accuracy than standard missiles. Iron bombs are about as basic as it gets and simply free-fall towards their target, dealing slightly more damage than the missiles would.

  • All aircraft in Ace Combat will automatically display a gun reticule when within two thousand feet of a target. At these ranges, missiles become useless. The documentation incorrectly calls the gun a “machine gun” – this is a misnomer, since a machine gun is an automatic weapon firing rifle cartridges. The guns aircraft carry are correctly called “auto-cannon” since they fire rounds of 20 mm or larger. On lower difficulties, the gun has unlimited ammunition, making it a great way of conserving missiles when engaging targets that are too close for missiles, or stationary ground targets.

  • The mission to defend the mass driver from a Yuktobanian attack brought back memories of the mission to protect Tyler Island and destroy cargo launched from the mass driver, as well as the mission after Trigger is transferred to the penal unit and sent up to protect a phoney airbase from Erusean forces in Skies Unknown. The setting here reminds me of the former, and this mission actually did give me some trouble when I first played it, since I was having trouble finding all of the tanks attacking the launch facility.

  • One of the most notable aspect of this mission was the soundtrack: up until now, the music in The Unsung War had been pretty bog-standard, but the moment the Yuktobanian forces show up with their tanks, a flute-like instrument is added to the incidental music, creating a summertime feeling that spells melancholy and wistfulness that reminds me a great deal of KyoAni’s AIR, a 2005 anime that adapted Jun Maeda’s visual novel of the same name, about a travelling showman whose aim is to find the enigmatic “girl in the sky” by summer. The Japanese have long excelled at creating collective nostalgia in their works. Collective nostalgia refers to a nostalgia for something one has never experienced, and in particular, their music is able to do this with great frequency.

  • Once all of the tanks are destroyed, the Yuktobanian forces will launch cruise missiles in a bid to destroy the mass driver. Conventional cruise missiles are subsonic and can be intercepted, but their advantage is accuracy: cruise missiles are highly accurate and can be considered as unmanned aircraft with an explosive payload intended for a single use. The Yuktobanians are counting on their numbers to destroy the mass driver, and missiles come from all directions – if the mass driver takes too much damage, the mission will end in failure.

  • It took me a few tries to get things right for this mission, which is why it reminded me of the mission in Skies Unknown to defend the false base from Erusean bombers: it would’ve been three years ago, at around this time of year, that I’d gotten to that mission, and after getting stomped by the mission, I ended up taking a short break from things before having another go at it. This time around, I was able to push forwards, and beating this mission showed me that I was ready for whatever lay ahead in The Unsung War.

  • Once the Oseans successfully outfit the Arkbird with the laser module, its power becomes apparent: the Yuktobanian navy deploys the Scinfaxi, a nuclear-powered submarine that served as a combined underwater carrier and ballistic missile platform. With a length of three hundred metres, the Scinfaxi-class submarines are double the length of the Russian Typhoon-class, and were capable of firing the highly lethal burst missiles, which have multiple warheads that scatter over a wide area before detonating. In Ace Combat games, burst missiles are used an area denial measure by forcing players to abandon their current target and reach a safe altitude.

  • Use of burst missiles annihilates entire squadrons, but with the Arkbird in Osea’s corner, several burst missiles are shot down before they have a chance to detonate. Wardog is then tasked with destroying the Scinfaxi. While sporting impressing specs, the Scinfaxi is actually a relatively slow moving and easy target to eliminate: several attack runs will destroy its weapons, weakening enough so that it can be sunk. I ended up using the iron bombs here to get a feel for things, and their area of effect damage proved helpful in destroying several targets at once.

  • It goes without saying that the Scinfaxi is nowhere nearly as treacherous as the Alicorn: the Scinfaxi cannot submerge and only has limited anti-air defense capabilities, so it was simple enough to simply make a few attack runs and sink it. This is the first super-weapon Wardog sinks in The Unsung War, and I was surprised that players would be involved with destroying a Yuktobanian super-submarine so early in the game. This is meant to show that Wardog squadron means business, and also tangibly indicate to players that their roles in this war are essential.

  • Having gone through a few missions with the basic F-5E, I picked up the F/A-18C, which was a minor upgrade over the F-5E in terms of anti-air performance and has better mobility and speed overall. The F/A-18 is a multi-role aircraft that the Canadian air force employs, and here, I flew a familiar mission: use of the yaw controls to stay out of a radar net being employed on the ground. Between these and canyon missions, I’ve found that if one can handle manoeuvre missions in Ace Combat, they’re more than ready to deal with more challenging missions.

  • The aim of this mission is to defend a transport after guiding it past the anti-air defenses, but almost immediately, enemy fighters will show up. The object here is to protect the transport and keep fighters off it: allowing attackers to deal enough damage to the transport will result in the mission ending. For my run, I stuck close to the transport and fired on any foe that got too close. It turns out President Harling is on board this transport, and he’s en route to peace negotiations with the Yuktobanians. Standing in for Russia, Yuktobania is the main foe players engage in The Unsung War, but remarks from Grimm and Nagase both suggest that there’s no real ill-will towards them.

  • During the chaos, the transport takes enough damage so that it needs to land, and Wardog is tasked with destroying a few windmills in the plane’s path. Once this is done, the mission will draw to a close. The 8492nd Squadron will then secure Harling, but he subsequently goes missing, foreshadowing the 8492nd’s affiliations. Although war is brewing, players cannot help but wonder if the Yuktobanians are the true enemy at this stage. As things escalate, however, these thoughts are pushed out of both Wardog and the players’ minds.

  • Osean forces launch a full-scale invasion of Yuktobania in retaliation for their actions at Bastok Peninsula, and Wardog is sent out to assist an amphibious assault on the Yuktobanian coast on an overcast day. The weather in The Unsung War is definitely capable of conveying a very specific mood; modern games are nearly photorealistic, and this leaves very little to the imagination, but with older games, just enough of a visual is provided such that the mind will fill the rest in, and this accentuates the atmosphere somewhat.

  • The goal of this mission is simply to neutralise the bunkers on the ground and support the advancing Osean forces. There are very few air targets to speak of, so equipping aircraft that are primarily focused on anti-ground operations will be helpful. Since I’m running the F/A-18C here, I’m running with the AGM-84 Harpoon. The LASM (Large Anti-Ship Missile) actually proved a viable option against the heavily fortified bunkers. Normally, anti-ship missiles are most effective against ships since they have long ranges and high damage against individual targets. However, because of their flat trajectories, they are less useful in ground operations.

  • After Yuktobania organises a retreat in response to the fierce Osean attack, Wardog is sent to deal with escaping transports. This mission is complicated by the fact that Yuktobanian forces are using E-767 jammers, which confound the radar and give the impression that there are more targets than there actually are. The key to this mission is to close the distance and engage targets after visually confirming their presence, as well as focusing on the jamming aircraft themselves. During the course of this mission, radio chatter indicates that an Osean squadron has just bombed out a Yuktobanian university, and Wardog is held accountable, since officially, there is no 8492nd squadron.

  • Players will be powerless to do anything about this outcome, but earlier in the mission, can make a decision that determines whether they are sent to Apito International Airport on Oured Bay, or Bana City. Chopper will ask players if they’d heard a certain song: if players answer yes, their mission is Apito International Airport. I ended up picking “yes”, which sent me over to Apito International Airport to defend it against attacking Yuktobanian forces. The first phase of this mission was to shoot down all attacking Yuktobanian aircraft by night, while the second part entails destroying Yuktobanian tanks that had snuck in via transport aircraft disguised as civilian vehicles.

  • Even though The Unsung War is eighteen years old, I remain impressed with how gracefully the visuals have aged, and fighting urban operations accentuates this fact. Oured below looks like a proper city despite using two-dimensional textures for low-rise buildings. High rises are still rendered with 3D structures, and while these are quite simple, especially compared to what was used in Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation and all subsequent games, The Unsung War represented a dramatic jump from what was seen in Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies. While I’ve long read about the Ace Combat universe, from a practical standpoint, I’m not an Ace Combat veteran by any means (in fact, I don’t even know what this manoeuvre is called or how to perform it).

  • My first in-game experience Ace Combat was 2013’s Assault Horizon, and I subsequently had the opportunity to play Ace Combat properly on PC through 2019’s Skies Unknown. To keep up with the lore and read up on different aircraft, and their efficacy in various missions, I turn to both online resources and YouTube videos. Ace Combat Fan is my go-to resource; his content is actually how my interest in The Unsung War was piqued, being uploaded to YouTube back during a time when there were no other videos. Beyond full play-throughs of older Ace Combat titles, Ace Combat Fan also has a variety of videos on how to fly, benchmarking different aircrafts and their weapons, and even full collections of the music throughout Ace Combat.

  • I respect this level of devotion from Ace Combat Fan: were it not for people like this uploading gameplay to YouTube, the only thing I’d have of The Unsung War would be memories from reading a strategy guide. One of my best friends has expressed an interest in trying The Unsung War for himself, as well, and he’d actually been in a similar position to myself; both of us have seen the YouTube videos and read extensively about the lore, but thanks to Ace Combat games being unavailable on PC until recently, we’ve never had a chance to otherwise try the games for ourselves.

  • Altogether, I greatly enjoyed this night mission and its aesthetics. At some point in the future, I’m going to have to return and take on its sister mission, which is set in the university town of Bana City. The Unsung War‘s branching missions add variety to things, and this also provides an incentive to replay missions: hidden hangars allow players to acquire parts for the legendary Falken. This is something that Skies Unknown was lacking. However, while alternate mission routes would’ve been great, overall, missions in Skies Unknown feel a ways larger, whereas here in The Unsung War, missions feel a bit shorter to complete.

  • After successfully repelling the Yuktobanian attack, Wardog is next sent out to a munitions depot. The object here is simply destroying everything before the time runs out, and while there’s a catch (the munitions sites are located inside tunnels that can only be hit from certain angles), the mission itself was quite straightforward. This level also contains a hidden hangar for the ADF-01 Falken, a super-plane that was first seen in Ace Combat 2. In Skies Unknown, players who bought the Year One Pass would acquire this legendary aircraft for free; in The Unsung War, players must replay several missions in order to destroy the hangars, although luckily, the hangars can be destroyed on lower difficulties in Free Mission mode.

  • For this playthough, I will not be flying the Falken: although I do have it unlocked, I plan on presenting things as people would’ve seen it for the first time, and here, I begin the operation to take down the Hrimfaxi, the second of the Scinfaxi-class submarines. The mission is set in the Arctic ice floes, and unlike the encounter with the Scinfaxi, this mission sees the Hrimfaxi diving and surfacing repeatedly to launch its drones against Wardog squadron. It is here that the F/A-18’s anti-ship missiles really shine, and after locating the Hrimfaxi, the goal is simple: to put it on the bottom of the ocean floor.

  • The Hrimfaxi’s captain has access to a wide range of anti-air weapons, and burst missiles will periodically be used. I ended up using the anti-ship missiles to disable the weapons on its surface, and once all of its weapons are disabled, the targetting system will indicate that the Hrimfaxi’s super-structure is the final thing to take down. I absolutely loved this mission for its aesthetics, and as I found with Skies Unknown, every mission in The Unsung War brings something new to the table.

  • The feat that Wardog accomplishes here earns them the moniker Razgriz, the name of a mythological deity of great power unique to Strangereal. Its traits make it similar to that of the Valkyries from Norse Mythology, and The Unsung War creates a very comprehensive collection of lore in its story surrounding the Razgriz, indicating that the pilots of Osea are likened to a mythological being whose existence was misunderstood, but ultimately, was a benevolent presence. Sora no Woto ultimately utilised similar elements from The Unsung War for its backstory, and a cursory search finds that no one’s drawn the conclusion until now.

  • As it stands, my coming upon The Unsung War should be a boon to the Sora no Woto community; I’m not too fond of grandstanding, but I will say that my approach towards anime means that I offer insights that often greatly augment one’s enjoyment of a series. In this case, assuming that the Fire Maidens and winged dæmons of Sora no Woto are based off the Razgriz, it is possible to say that the events of Sora no Woto parallel Wardog squadron’s reputation in The Unsung War. The 1121st are initially revealed as protectors of Seize, come to be seen as traitors when Colonel Hopkins takes charge, but ultimately demonstrate themselves to be saviours by stopping an all-out war between Helvetia and the Roman Empire.

  • While the mythology in both Sora no Woto and The Unsung War likely were derived from real-world stories, commonalities meant that spotting the connection between Razgriz and Sora no Woto‘s angels meant that one could’ve predicted, with high confidence, how the anime would’ve ended. From what I’ve seen, this connection was never drawn. Back in The Unsung War proper, I’ve embarked on the mission to rescue Osean prisoners of war from Glubina, a snowy and mountainous region of Yuktobania reminiscent of Siberia.

  • The operation is dependent on Wardog providing cover for the Sea Goblin helicopter team, and in the end, they are successful. During the operation, Nagase begins to believe that Bartlett might be amongst those being rescued, and becomes sufficiently distracted that she is shot down. Although she is able to bail, when one of the helicopters attempts to rescue her, the poor visibility causes it to crash, forcing the retrieval to be postponed until the next morning. The next mission deals with Nagase’s recovery, and utilises a signal system to guide players to the spot where Nagase is.

  • This system was reapplied to the hunt for the Alicon in The Unsung War‘s DLC missions, and having had familiarity with how that worked, I had no trouble in finding Nagase. For the final two missions in The Unsung War‘s first half, I’m rocking the F-15C. This air superiority fighter boasts solid all-around stats for air-to-air combat and equips the semi-active air-to-air missile, which is a long-range radar-guided missile best suited for engagements at range.

  • Once Nagase is rescued, the mission draws to a close, and with this, I’m now halfway through The Unsung War. Even though we’re just getting into the game’s best parts, I was thoroughly impressed with the sheer variety there is in The Unsung War, and at this halfway point, I’ve already seen the destruction of two superweapons in the Scinfaxi-class submarine. Coupled with the fact that the game takes players from the remote Taiga characteristic of Siberia, to the heart of Oured, and everywhere in between, The Unsung War has been a blast. I am very much look forwards to finishing The Unsung War, and for the time being, I should be on track to wrapping this game up before the month is over.

At The Unsung War‘s halfway point, I now appreciate why The Unsung War is considered one of the best in the franchise: besides solid gameplay, the story has proven to be very captivating. Mission briefings and banter between pilots and command are an immersive mode of exploring the story, explaining to players very clearly what their goals are, what’s at stake, and what their accomplishments are in the grand scheme of things. It is clear that war is brewing between two superpowers, but neither superpower seems to desire open conflict, and some of the Ace Combat world’s most devastating war machines are brought out to bear. In The Unsung War‘s first half, players already get to sink two of Yuktobania’s most powerful weapons, the Scinfaxi-class submarines. The Arkbird is unveiled, both as a symbol of peace that Kei idolises, and as Osea’s latest superweapon. The stakes of an all-out war prompt players to take to the skies and do what they can, providing incentive to keep pushing forwards such that they can see what happens next. The combination of world-building and exposition through events that players experience allows The Unsung War to add depth to the Strangereal universe in a then-unprecedented scale, giving the Ace Combat world a much more immersive feel to things than previous titles had done, and it is for this reason that even now, The Unsung War remains a fan-favourite. In fact, a part of me wishes that this game would be given a full remaster: when Skies Unknown released, PlayStation owners also gained access to an HD version of The Unsung War, but beyond this, it would be great to have a standalone version of The Unsung War on PC. I have heard that a new Ace Combat is in development, and beyond the fact that it will be built using Unreal Engine 5, not much more about this project is known. For me, I’d definitely love to see a return to Belka and Osea as seen in The Unsung War: these areas of the Ace Combat universe are iconic, and certainly worthy of being remastered with all of the improvements available to both computer graphics and hardware available today. In the meantime, I’ve got another whole half of The Unsung War to experience, and if my memory isn’t mistaken, this is the half of the game to look forwards to (which is saying something, considering how consistently enjoyable the first half has been).

Halo Infinite: The Spire and Pelican Down at the Halfway Point

“We all fail. We all make mistakes. It’s what makes us human.” –Master Chief

Upon entering the Conservatory and fighting through the Banished forces within, Master Chief and The Weapon encounter Despondent Pyre, Zeta Halo’s Monitor. Despondent Pyre is destroyed whilst warning Master Chief of a new threat that Zeta Halo holds, and Master Chief encounters the Harbinger shortly after. She explains that her people, the Endless, were incarcerated on Zeta Halo, and the Banished have been working to rebuild a facility that will liberate them. Along the way, they are assisted by Adjutant Resolution, but upon learning that the Master Chief’s goal is to destroy Zeta Halo, outfits himself with a Sentinel battle mech and attempts to stop the Master Chief, who ultimately destroys his armour. After Master Chief deactivates the spire, it begins to collapse, and while he manages to escape thanks to Esparza’s arrival, their Pelican is shot down. Frustrated, Esparza expresses his want to escape by locating a functional slip-space drive. Master Chief reassures Esparza and promises that after he deals with the Banished anti-aircraft guns, they’ll look for a slip-space drive together. After the guns are disabled, Esparza reveals that all of the slip-space drives are non-operational, and moreover, he’s actually not a pilot: during the battle on board the Infinity, panic took him, and he stole a Pelican. Master Chief confides in Esparza that he was unable to stop Cortana, and the pair set off to destroy the remaining spires on Zeta Halo to stop its reconstruction. Having now spent an additional six hours since I last wrote about Halo Infinite, I am now a ways further into the campaign, and at the time of writing, I’ve now captured all of the forward operating bases. In addition, I’ve taken down all but one of the high value targets, and I’ve unlocked enough Valour points so that I’m able to call in the AV-49 Wasp, a UNSC VTOL that, alongside the Banished Banshee, allows for unparalleled ease of exploring Zeta Halo’s surface. Having access to the Wasp means one thing becomes apparent: before I continue on with the remainder of the campaign missions, it’s time to finish gathering Spartan Cores and Mjolnir cosmetics now that I’m able to freely fly around Zeta Halo.

One detail that became particularly enjoyable in Halo Infinite is the presence of weapon variants, which are modified versions of common weapons that cater to a specific play style. Some of the weapon variants are straight upgrades of their common counterparts, offering improved firepower, accuracy or firing rate, while others alter the base weapon’s functionality. The Volatile Skewer I picked up is a Skewer whose projectiles are explosive, while the M41 Tracker is able to lock onto vehicles. These weapon variants offer additional variety for Halo Infinite and allow players to play according to their preferences to a much greater extent than was previously possible. The incentive for unlocking weapon variants is built right into the heart and soul of Halo Infinite: Valour Points from completing secondary objectives will give access to most UNSC weapon variants, while high value targets provide the remainder. This gives players the encouragement they need to really explore Zeta Halo (as opposed to just blasting through the story missions) and those who take the time to check out every nook and cranny of Zeta Halo will get the most out of their experience, being rewarded for their troubles in a fair manner. In this way, Halo Infinite creates a highly immersive environment that brings the Halo franchise to new heights; exploration isn’t mandatory, and it doesn’t bloat Halo Infinite‘s runtime in any way, but instead, it provides a chance to really build up Master Chief’s arsenal, abilities and a bit of the backstory behind how things are since Cortana’s actions devastated the galaxy during the events of Halo 5: Guardians. Having now reached a point where I am able to explore freely, I find that Halo Infinite has absolutely lived up to expectations, and the open-world segments of the game have allowed me to play Halo in a way that advances the franchise in an impressive new direction.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Last I left off in Halo Infinite, it was New Year’s Eve, and I’d just finished clearing out the Excavation Site of Banished. I’d brought with me the Gravity Hammer and Ravager used to defeat Bassus into the labyrinthine interior of the Conservatory. Almost immediately, the silence inside the Conservatory overtook me, and it hit me that I’d not been inside a Forerunner structure in quite some time.Beyond the first set of doors, I find a deceased Spartan and a new armour ability, the drop wall, which can be deployed to provide cover from one direction.

  • The drop wall provides cover from enemy fire briefly, but adds the bonus of allowing Master Chief to continue shooting through them. In a pinch, deploying a drop wall can mean the difference between life and death, and I’ve managed to extricate myself out of deadly situations by making use of the drop wall when my shields had failed. At this point in Halo Infinite, I’d already fully upgraded my Grapple Shot and shields. The improved shields aren’t normally noticeable, especially if one comes under heavy fire, but when fully upgraded, it allows one to survive things that would otherwise be instant death. I’ve found that I can now escape being stuck with plasma grenades or a sword lunge now that my shields are maxed out.

  • 343 Industries did a phenomenal job of portraying Forerunner interiors: exploring the interior of the Conservatory brought back memories of playing Halo: Combat Evolved with classic visuals, and I’m especially fond of the lighting effects. Artificial lighting inside Zeta Halo’s interior gives the impression of sunlight streaming through windows into the cavernous hallways, and in these tight quarters, I swapped off my weapons for more mundane, but practical weapons. Halo Infinite generally does a fine job of balancing the weapons, and most of them have some utility. The Mangler is great as a hard-hitting pistol, and in fact, the only weapon I’ve found to be ineffective is the Disruptor.

  • When required, I’ve found that the classic Covenant weapons are actually quite effective in a fair range of scenarios. The Needler retains its ability to super-combine and instantly kill even shielded foes, but unlike its predecessors, the Halo Infinite Needler’s projectiles no longer home quite as aggressively on targets. The exception is the Pinpoint Needler, whose projectiles are a walking cheat-code and moreover, can lock onto multiple foes at once. On the other hand, the Banished Pulse Carbine is weakly homing and can eliminate shields quickly. Combined with the fact that one can recharge its battery now, this is actually a viable weapon to have around.

  • The energy sword, an iconic Elite weapon, retains all of its classic mechanics; it is a one-hit kill on all but the toughest foes, but the lunge distance is reduced. In multiplayer, this weapon is highly sought-after as a power weapon, but in Halo Infinite‘s campaign, it is less effective owing to the fact that every kill with the sword depletes its battery by ten percent, regardless of whether or not the kill was on a Grunt or a Brute. As such, while I will use the sword where my ammunition is depleted, I generally will not pick the weapon up.

  • The Bulldog is the UNSC’s go-to close quarters weapon in Halo Infinite, and it is devastating in narrow corridors and small rooms. A single pull of the trigger will put most foes on the floor, and speaking to its firepower, even the Brutes will be seen wielding the Bulldog despite their disdain for humanity. Conversely, in the wide-open areas of Zeta Halo, the Bulldog is next to useless. However, there is a variant of the Bulldog, the Convergence Bulldog, which has a choke that reduces spread. Together with a larger magazine, this Bulldog is a longer-range option that still retains the standard Bulldog’s traits.

  • As I make my way deeper into the Conservatory, I encounter Zeta Halo’s Monitor, Despondent Pyre. Although this Monitor appears helpful and desperate to stop the entity known as the Harbinger, it is promptly destroyed. Recalling that it took a Spartan Laser to permanently kill Guilty Spark, whatever killed and dismantled Despondent Pyre must be a foe to reckon with. Shortly after this revelation, Master Chief and the Weapon come under attack from the Gasgira, informally known as Skimmers. These foes are new to Halo – they share similar traits as the Harbinger’s species and functionally, are a cross between the Drones and Grunts.

  • After escaping the ambush, Master Chief pushes further into the facility in order to track down the Harbinger, and along the way, encounters another deceased Spartan. The mystery of who is killing Spartans with such brutality remains a mystery for now, although Master Chief assures the Weapon that he’ll be able to handle whatever comes their way. Every time, the Weapon’s analysis indicates that the Spartans were cut down by an unnaturally powerful energy blade, implying that it’s probably an Elite that’s been doing this, and cutscenes have shown that there is one Elite that Escharum respects: Jega ‘Rdomnai.

  • A pair of Brutes appear, and while the Weapon wonders if they’re the Spartan killers, Master Chief replies no. At this point, I’d been short of ammunition, but luckily, there was a cache of weapons in the large hall where this fight occurs. I ended up using the Cindershot to take one of the Brutes out, then picked the Scarp cannon off his body and used its firepower to take down the remaining Brute. The Scrap Cannon is a turret that fires large spikes, and the longer the trigger is depressed, the faster it will fire. On the other hand the Cindershot is a hard light grenade launcher of Forerunner origin, and while it is quite powerful, its bouncing projectiles do take some getting used to.

  • After Master Chief confronts the Harbinger, he is promptly defeated and thrown back onto the surface of Zeta Halo. The goal next is to reach the Spire and deactivate the Ring’s reconstruction mechanism. For the time being, I took a moment to enjoy the sunset here: more so than any Halo before it, Halo Infinite takes visual effects to an entirely new level. The first trailer for Halo Infinite was announced back during June 2018, and despite its short runtime, foreshadowed a gorgeous environment. It is not lost on me that during this time period, my first startup was on its last legs. I’d been working on both a mental health questionnaire app, and a generic app for pain reporting at the time, although the lack of clients meant funds were rapidly dwindling.

  • Halo Infinite thus fell from my mind: the 2018 trailer had been an impressive tech demo, it gave almost no hints of what the story was going to be about. Halo 5: Guardians had released to general disappointment owing to its disjointed story, and left players on a massive cliffhanger that had seemed as difficult to resolve as the cliffhanger Star Wars Episode VII: The Last Jedi left viewers with. The games themselves won’t answer this directly – after Halo 5, the Infinity escapes, and Dr. Halsey managed to create a new AI that would be able to put an end to Cortana’s rampage. While this is somewhat successful, elsewhere in the galaxy, the Banished become a powerful threat. This ultimately leads to Atroix clashing with the Infinity at the beginning of Halo Infinite. There’s a great deal of lore, but using the timeframes allows 343 Industries to do a soft reset on things and focus on the most important elements: a clean story and consistently good gameplay.

  • Here, I square off against Adjutant Resolution after he goes rogue upon learning of Master Chief’s aim of destroying Zeta Halo. He dons a Sentinel suit that confers combat capabilities, but despite this suit’s firepower, there are several weak spots: shooting out the arms and central core will damage it. The fight was fairly straightforward for me, although I will note that Kotaku’s Ethan Gach struggled with the encounter. Games journalists encountering difficulty with even the most trivial of tasks in video games is not a new phenomenon, and it is no surprise that most gaming outlets have writers who would prefer to talk about things like representation and the narrative’s political statement rather than discuss things like game mechanics, map design and equipment balance. The end result is unsurprising, but for any moderately competent gamer, Adjutant Resolution will not be a challenge on normal difficulty.

  • By the time Halo Infinite‘s gameplay was shown, it was July 2020, and I had been working from home for a second startup amidst the global health crisis’ first wave. Halo Infinite had looked flatter than I’d expected, but the gameplay still looked solid. Indeed, once I reached the Pelican Down mission, the site of the 2020 E3 demo, I found that while everything looked much improved over what had been shown during the E3 demo, the gameplay was more or less identical. I had been sold on Halo Infinite after that demo – the Grapple Shot was a novel addition that revolutionises how movement in Halo worked, and the ability to reel in things like weapons and fusion coils increased the game’s pacing. Older Halo titles were very slow and clunky, having been designed for older consoles, but with advances in consoles, this is no longer a constraint.

  • I ended up walking around the valley, marvelling at all of the details here that had been first portrayed during the E3 demo. Unlike the demo, which started Master Chief off with the assault rifle and pistol, I had a Commando and Sentinel Beam from my last mission. However, I was similarly playing at sunset, and upon ascending the elevator to the first of the guns, I ended up using my drop wall to similarly stop a Brute with the Ravager, before riding it up to the Banished camp near the gun. The Halo Infinite E3 trailer is another example of where the finished product actually ends up surpassing what was shown – DOOM Eternal had previously done this, and in retrospect, I’m glad that 343 Industries ended up taking the extra year to really polish the title.

  • From the sounds of it, the core mechanics and story were already in place by the time of the E3 conference, but other aspects were not fully ready yet. An extra year ended up being the right amount of time for 343 Industries: they were able to completely improve lighting and textures with this time, and by the time Halo Infinite‘s open beta was available, the game was in a satisfactory state from a technical standpoint, more than ready to be released. The missing features, specifically co-op mode and the ability to replay missions, was somewhat disappointing; considering that Halo Infinite handles more like The Division than earlier Halo games, there is precedence for how these elements can be implemented, but on the flipside, I have heard that both functions are technically working – like the remainder of Halo Infinite, 343 isn’t releasing them until they’re confident it works as expected.

  • I ended up commandeering a Ghost and rode it up to the power core for the first AA gun. Upon reaching this area for the first time, I was treated to Escharum’s iconic speech. In addition to portraying the Brutes as a glory-seeking, but honourable species, Escharum’s first speech also acts as 343 Industry’s challenge to the players, to experience a legend in the making that will push them to their limits. Escharum’s remaining speeches aren’t quite as rousing, but they do portray the Brutes as being a much more fleshed out species than Bungie had ever done: in this area, 343 Industries has done very well, and admittedly, Escharum’s speech was actually one of the main reasons why I’d considered Halo Infinite as something to pick up shortly after launch.

  • Halo Infinite‘s Hunters are tougher than their predecessors: they’re now completely covered by armour plates, and like their predecessors, can deal as much damage as they can take. Careless players will burn through their entire ammunition supply without scratching one, so a bit of strategy is involved wherever Hunters are concerned. The easiest approach is to blast them with power weapons like the rocket launcher, or else focus fire on a specific spot to knock the armour plates off, then shoot the exposed areas. Players with vehicles can also deal damage to Hunters effectively, and making use of fusion cores in the area, in conjunction with the thrusters and grapple shot to get behind them, is also a viable trick.

  • The 2020 E3 demo portrayed Master Chief preparing to knock out one of the AA guns, but here in Halo Infinite‘s completed campaign, players will have a chance to go through all three of them. Because of the distances that separate the AA guns, walking between them can be a bit of a lengthy process. A vehicle makes all the difference here, and it is helpful to remember where one left their ride for this part of the campaign. Here, I take off in pursuit of an Elite major, whose dialogue can be seen on-screen: the enemies of Halo Infinite lack the menace they conveyed in Halo: Reach and Halo 4. In the earlier games, foes spoke their own tongues, but here in Halo Infinite, enemy dialogue is all rendered in English. Elites and Brutes have great lines, as do the Marines.

  • The dialogue from the Jackals is passable: they’re obsessed with whatever bonus money they’ll get from a job well done, but the lines do extend on their personalities. On the other hand, the Grunts are hilarious. Halo Infinite will gently mock players for dying to Grunts with comedic lines (“I’m alive and he’s not? It’s a miracle!”). However, the best line in the entire game comes from the propaganda towers: the Grunt running the show will ask about the WiFi password (implying the Banished have WiFi), and as the Master Chief destroys more towers, the Grunt will even try to plead with Master Chief about not destroying any more towers.

  • If it turns out that Halo Infinite was delayed so they could get these Grunt lines into the game, I’d be completely okay with that. Here, I’ve finished taking out all of the AA gun right as the morning sunrise allows light to fill the valley and glint off a large hexagonal construct in the distance. Hexagonal pillars dominate the landscape of Zeta Halo, and while the folks of Reddit are struggling to understand their significance, a little lore suggests that they’re the result of reconstructing Zeta Halo’s structure. These are placed first, and then terrain and vegetation is overlaid on top of it to create a natural environment. Their jutting appearance stands in stark contrast with the wilderness and serve to remind players that the Halo rings are artificial constructs.

  • Once all three guns are destroyed, Master Chief must face Tovarus and Hyperius, two Brutes bearing the Spartan Killer moniker will appear. Fighting one boss at a time is already challenging enough, so two seems outright impossible. However, I was able to survive this fight because Hyperius enters the fight on a Brute Chopper, and boss or not, it is possible to hijack his vehicle using the Grapple Shot. I thus seized the Chopper and used it to annihilate him, as well as his entourage, before focusing fire on Tovarus. Tovarus is armed with a scrap cannon and is lethal up close, but at a range, one can dodge his attacks while returning fire.

  • In the end, I used the Skewer to drop his shields, and then whittled his health down using the battle rifle. I’m not sure if it was a bug, or luck, but Tovarus used his jetpack and took refuge in the crashed wreckage of what appears to be a UNSC ship. After reaching the platform here, he remained there for the remainder of the match, and I ended up using the drop wall to create cover while hammering him with the battle rifle. Once the Spartan Killers are dealt with, Master Chief will speak with Esparza, who admits he’s no pilot, and compared to Master Chief, he’s a failure. Master Chief demonstrates the extent of his humanity and compassion here by talking to Esparza, who regains enough of his composure to decide that he’s willing to help Master Chief achieve their goals.

  • Once the anti-air guns are down, Master Chief will turn his attention to the second spire. However, the Harbinger has locked it down, and the Weapon must recreate the data sequence from Forerunner signals in order to decrypt its code in order to override the lockdown. My gut feeling told me that this was the best time to now focus on going around the open world and collect anything of value. For me, the main goal here was simply to finish all of the outposts, take down every last high value target, acquire all of the Spartan Cores and as much Valour as I could before pushing onwards with the missions.

  • While this task can seem quite daunting, the combination of air vehicles and fast travel actually makes things a lot smoother – I simply fast travel to a forward operating base, pick out a Wasp, and in moments, I’m in the skies, flying over streams, boulders and forests to the site of interest. When the Wasp isn’t available, a Banshee will also do in a pinch. The Banshee is faster than a Wasp and can be boosted, while the Wasp has better manoeuvrability and is easier to control. Both vehicles are great for taking players from point A to point B, but the Wasp’s ability to hover, and the fact it can be freely spawned at forward operating bases, makes it the vehicle of choice for me.

  • Because completing side quests like high value targets and outposts provides access to stronger gear, Halo Infinite appears to gently guide players down a path where the focus is to reach Pelican Down first, then take some time exploring the open world, before continuing on with the actual campaign itself. Players who choose to focus on the campaign and skip the open world aspects won’t necessarily be punished for it: the armour abilities are great, but at the end of the day, Halo Infinite is a first person shooter, and that means the skill that matters most is a steady aim and a well-practised trigger finger. I don’t imagine that having boosted shields or the best possible drop wall will be too helpful against Escharum or the Harbinger of Truth if one can’t even shoot straight.

  • Moments like these are why Halo Infinite absolutely excels in its single player experience: I’d just finished off a high value target in a field of red flowers and was left with one foe, standing in the middle of the clearing. A few rounds from the battle rifle was enough to wrap this mission up, and I’ve found that it is possible to take down a lower-ranking Brute in as little as one burst if one’s aim is true. Throughout the campaign, I’ve found the battle rifle to be my go-to weapon for almost any situation: one burst will finish a Grunt and any unshielded foe, and when paired in conjunction with a faster-firing weapon like the pulse carbine, players can be ready for most situations.

  • There’s actually an achievement for reaching the highest point available to Master Chief on Zeta Halo called “Nosebleed”, and I actually ended up unlocking it while exploring around for Mjolnir lockers near forward operating base delta. The fact that players can ascend the hills and cliffs speaks volumes to what’s possible, and I will note that even on my nine-year-old desktop, the fact that Halo Infinite looks as gorgeous as it does is an impressive feat, speaking volumes to the optimisations that went into making the game run well on a variety of hardware. Being nine years old, my desktop has been with me through many things, and to be honest, I’m surprised it continues to run as well as it does. With this being said, I have noticed that the CPU heats up a lot more quickly now than it did even two years ago, even with regular cleaning.

  • As such, while nothing is set in stone just yet, I do plan on building a new PC once I’ve had the chance to settle in to my new place. With the Intel twelfth generation CPUs out now, and motherboards becoming available, I’ll probably start shopping around for parts shortly after the move, and then pick out the parts. The criteria for this machine is simple: it needs to beat out a machine with the Ryzen 9 3900X and the RTX 2070, all the while staying under 1500 CAD (prior to warranty for mission critical components and the OS itself). I’ll elaborate on why this is the minimum I am building against in a later post and return to Halo Infinite: for the last outpost, I ended up calling in a Scorpion so I could dispense an unparalleled amount of destruction using the tank’s main cannon, making the outpost trivially easy to sort out.

  • While vehicles in Halo Infinite are powerful, they’re not invincible: here, I took the Wasp on over to the Myriad, a pair of Hunters with firepower far surpassing those of ordinary Hunters. Guides suggest using a Scorpion to deal with them, and while this is the most feasible way I can think of, I ended up improvising. My original goal was to use the Wasp’s rockets to whittle them down, and while this allowed me to take down one of the Hunters, I’d sustained a little too much damage and was forced to bail. Vehicles do make it clear when they’re about to explode, so I was able to escape in time, and with Master Chief’s luck, I managed to pick a rocket launcher from a dead Brute, using it to finish off the second of the Hunters.

  • The prize for defeating what are probably the toughest of the high value targets is a Backdraft Cindershot: this variant allows the Cindershot’s projectile to break down into explosive submunitions, making it great for clearing rooms out. I stopped to admire the jaw-dropping scenery of Zeta Halo before continuing on with my quest to upgrade my abilities and open up as many options as possible before heading into the next act of Halo Infinite. Having just passed the halfway point, I’m quite excited to see where everything is headed, and knowing that I have spent the time to earn a small edge means once I do continue, I’ll have the confidence in being prepared enough for whatever lies ahead in Halo Infinite.

At this point in time, the only things I have left to do in the open world is to deal with the remaining handful of high value targets, collect enough Spartan Cores to fully upgrade all abilities, and amass as many Mjolnir cosmetic upgrades as I can. Once this is done, I will continue with finishing off the story missions of Halo Infinite and consider both the latest instalment’s contributions to the franchise, as well as what this means for Halo. So far, the game has proven to be superb in all regards. The gameplay feels responsive, crisp and fresh. Movement is smooth, and the gunplay is visceral. Moreover, Halo Infinite runs well even on my aging desktop. During my time in Halo Infinite, I only experienced one crash, and this merely sent me back to my desktop, as opposed to blue-screening my computer. The optimisations that went into Halo Infinite are impressive; the game looks amazing, but it also runs extremely well on hardware that’s almost a decade old. With a more recent configuration, Halo Infinite would likely run even better. Quite simply, the game has been worth the cost of admissions, and I anticipate that altogether, I’ll get a grand total of around thirty hours out of Halo Infinite by the time I finish the campaign missions. While the lack of an ability to replay missions or co-op with friends, something that was possible in earlier Halo games, is a noticeable omission, I now fully appreciate why 343 Industries was not able include these features during launch. Halo Infinite‘s open world is vast, and tracking player positions for a smooth co-op experience would entail additional work, while the intrinsic open world approach in Halo Infinite similarly means that additional thought would need to be given towards how to best allow players to revisit missions they’ve previously completed. There is a great deal of precedence out there (e.g. The Division, Far Cry) for how to approach this, but owing to 343’s focus on delivering the best possible experience in the base game, one cannot fault them for wanting to leave these additional features on the “would be nice to have” list: I would much prefer to have a responsive movement system and good weapon handling available now, as opposed to a scenario where Halo Infinite had shipped with co-op and replayable missions that came at the expense of core mechanics like movement and weapons.

Halo Infinite: Reconquering Zeta Halo, Ascending the Tower and Entering the Conservatory

“I am the Harbinger. All that you know shall be undone.” –The Harbinger

After Outpost Tremonius is captured, Master Chief makes his way over to other regions of the Banished-held surface, clearing out local commanders and assisting groups of surviving UNSC marines along the way. Upon receiving a signal from Spartan Griffith, Master Chief heads to the Tower, where he defeats Elite Chak’lok in combat to rescue Griffith. In doing so, Master Chief learns that the Banished have successfully excavated a Forerunner facility referred to as the Conservatory. Master Chief makes his way over to the excavation site and shuts down a Banished mining laser before entering the Conservatory itself. This is where I stand in Halo Infinite after ten hours of play: while there is a story to be experienced, I’ve found myself enraptured by Halo Infinite‘s open world: Zeta Halo is beautifully crafted, and attention paid to details is impressive. Open areas are vividly portrayed, from the most distant mountain right down to the flowers at one’s feet. Day and night cycles completely change both the aesthetic and the combat style one requires to adopt: by day, enemies are awake and will patrol their facilities actively, but by night, guard is doubled as some foes sleep. Foes will taunt the Master Chief, and allies will express excitement at the player’s arrival. Levels themselves are intricately designed, and the campaign missions set within the open world are seamless: after I cleared out a nearby fuel depot, I headed on over to Chak’lok’s tower where, after neutralising all of the patrolling Banished, I simply went inside to fight Chak’lok and liberate Spartan Griffith, without once encountering a loading screen. While my aging PC encountered a few frame drops, performance on high settings has been generally smooth, and moreover, firefights themselves feel immensely satisfying. Having now made some satisfactory progress into Halo Infinite, I enter the Conservatory, ready to see what the next step of Master Chief’s adventure entails.

Overall, Halo Infinite‘s open world aspects feels a great deal like Far Cry: there are forward operating bases to capture, and scattered throughout the world are collectables, combat encounters and upgrade points that confer bonuses to the Master Chief’s armour. These aspects are simple in their implementation, but in practise, Halo Infinite provides a fantastic chance for players to simply explore Zeta Halo and blow things up as they are encountered. Completing tasks also confers Valour Points, which unlock additional options at forward operating bases. Players can initially call in Mongooses and recover the MA40, but as they complete tasks, more powerful options can be called in, as well; at the time of writing, I have access to the Battle Rifle and Commando, as well as the standard Warthog and marines that can accompany Master Chief. Altogether, the fact that the UNSC is on the backfoot here, in conjunction with an open world, should create a lonely experience, of overwhelming odds to overcome, and convey the sense that the former UNSC Infinity’s soldiers are waging desperate war of resistance. However, this actually doesn’t happen in practise, and Master Chief never feels alone in this game. Wildlife can be encountered. Esparza is always on station to drop things off for Master Chief, and The Weapon herself feels distinctly like a younger, more naïve version of Cortana: still competent and knowledgable, uninformed in some things but otherwise retains Cortana’s sense of humour. Marines will loyally accompany Master Chief to objective, manning guns and providing cover fire, as well as make the occasional amusing quip (especially if Master Chief swaps out one of their guns for a sidearm). Similarly, while the Banished are presented as a powerful foe, in combat, they will taunt the Master Chief and exchange trash talk with the Marines. Halo Infinite is a rich experience that shows how much effort was placed into creating an immersive, novel experience that is still Halo: in fact, I have heard that 343 Industries had intended Halo Infinite to be a reimagining of what Bungie had originally wanted to do with Halo: Combat Evolved after the game transformed from an RTS into an FPS, and by all counts, 343 Industries have succeeded in bringing an old vision to life.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Whereas Halo 4 wasn’t even set on a Halo Ring, 343 Industries returns Halo Infinite to its roots by having Zeta Halo play a much more prominent role in things. Here, I gaze out at the curvature of the Halo ring – when I saw this for the first time in Halo: Combat Evolved, it was a sight to behold: other games of the time had a flat horizon or were otherwise set in narrow corridors, so seeing something of this scale had been breathtaking. In that time, I dabbled in some game design as a part of learning game engines for my thesis, and nowadays, I am aware that Halo: Combat Evolved simply had made very creative use of skyboxes to create what would be an iconic part of gaming.

  • With this being said, Halo Infinite‘s return to a Halo bring brought back all of that wonder and amazement to me in full – I may know how skyboxes work now, but the fact that Halo Infinite recreates all of the feelings I had when stepping out onto Installation 04 for the first time as a secondary school student. Here, I prepare to rappel down a cliff sheer: thanks to advancements in Master Chief’s Mjolnir Armour, falling damage is no longer a concern, although since fall damage is a factor in other games, I usually don’t like jumping down great distances.

  • After taking Outpost Tremonius, Zeta Halo opens up to players immediately, and to guide things along, Master Chief will be asked to take out Ransom Keep, a chop-shop of sorts where the Banished are salvaging parts from UNSC vehicles for their own ends. Taking on these areas entails clearing them out of Banished, destroying their assets (such as these fuel tanks), and then fending off any reinforcements that show up. Hidden away around these locations, and Zeta Halo in general, are audio logs, Spartan Cores and Mjolnir lockers: while the initial goal surrounding an objective might be simple enough, searching for everything before clearing an area can take some time.

  • Red markers indicate the arrival of Banished drop pods: everything from Elites and Grunts can arrive to reinforce existing forces, but most challenging of all to deal with are the Brute berserkers, who will rush straight for Master Chief after deploying. They possess no ranged weapons, but are immensely durable and can pummel Master Chief to death if allowed to close the distance. There isn’t any one strategy to use against these foes: circumstances dictate what works best, and I’ve found that chucking fusion cores or making use of grenades, in conjunction with the upgraded Grapple shot’s ability to stun ensnared foes and melee attacks, can make short work of these foes.

  • I ended up finding a Scorpion Tank at Ransom Keep and used its massive firepower to make short work of the Banished foes to secure the site, before wandering off to see if I could find a Spartan Core on the nearby hill. I ended up finding a VK78 Commando, an automatic rifle that is a solid precision weapon. I’ve found that weapons like these are actually better for dealing with the weaker enemies like Grunts and Jackals: a single shot will knock them out. Unshielded Brutes also go down fairly quickly, but against shielded foes, it’s better to use these semi-automatic weapons in conjunction with a plasma weapon. The Pulse Carbine has become a reliable weapon in this area, having the advantage of being a relatively common weapon.

  • The Halo Infinite Scorpion handles very similarly to its Halo 4 and Halo 3 iterations, where players only have access to M512 90 mm cannon. Previous Halos gave players a coaxial machine gun, as well, but this made tank drivers overpowered against infantry and vehicles alike. Instead, to fully use a Scorpion’s power, two operators are needed. One touch I particularly liked about Halo Infinite is the fact that, after every shot, the Scorpion will spit out the spent shell casing before the autoloader prepares a new one for firing.

  • After I cleared Ransom Keep, I ended up capturing another forward operating base right as the sun began setting. The fact there’s a day-night cycle in Halo Infinite is impressive, and it adds considerable character to the game. 343 Industries had indicated that they were looking to add dynamic weather, as well: players would’ve experienced overcast skies, fog and even rain during their trek across Zeta Halo’s surface. I do not believe this was ever implemented, since I’ve only ever seen stunningly gorgeous daytime weather, and a nighttime sky that is at once exotic and breathtaking; even without additional weather, Zeta Halo looks amazing.

  • Here, I’ve finally picked up the BR75 Battle Rifle, an iconic weapon that debuted in Halo 2. The original BR55 was as burst-fire weapon that required a modicum of skill to use, standing in contrast with the fully-automatic assault rifle, and in multiplayer, the Battle Rifle became the tool to become familiar with. The Battle Rifle has changed over the years in terms of performance and appearance, but in Halo Infinite, it most closely resembles its Halo 2 iteration, being a powerful medium range weapon. This weapon pairs very well with the Pulse Carbine or Assault Rifle, giving players plenty of options at different ranges.

  • When Master Chief rescues squads of marines pinned down by Banished forces, Valour points will be earned. I initially thought that these would be a currency that I could then put towards certain unlocks, but as it turns out, Valour points handle more like experience points, and accumulating a certain amount will automatically unlock weapon and vehicle call-ins. In the time I’ve put in, I’m able to call in the Battle Rifle and what’s called a “Gungoose”, a Mongoose armed with a pair of forward-facing, slow firing cannons that can deal massive damage.

  • Some folks have suggested calling in Sentinel Beams and handing those to marines, then calling in a Razorback and drive around with five marines around. The result is supposed to make playing Halo Infinite trivially easy, but I’ve found that doing things like this takes the fun out of the game. As it was, I am more than content to stick to my style of play: while I’ve got a Sentinel Beam variant and the Razorback unlocked, I’d much rather stick with my usual method of picking foes off from a distance before switching over to CQC.

  • After clearing out the forward operating bases and collecting as much stuff as I could in the first area, I finally turned my attention towards Chak’lok’s tower. The campaign missions set in the open world are surprisingly smooth; switching over from the open world to the tower’s cavernous interior was seamless, as was the firefight leading up to the confrontation against Chak’lok, an Elite warlord with an arrogant attitude, a cloak and an energy sword. I will note here that watching TheRadBrad’s playthrough of this mission was ultimately what cemented my decision to get Halo Infinite.

  • I had already been quite confident that I would be picking up Halo Infinite at launch, but wanted to get a measure of how the game handled and see what the missions were before diving in for myself. Watching TheRadBrad cleared up some questions I had, and also showed me that Halo Infinite was going to be fun; in his playthrough, TheRadBrad manages to kill Chak’lok, but an exploding shock barrel kills him after, sending him back to do the fight over. I was fortunate in that I only needed one attempt: I made extensive use of shock coils to lower his shields, and then hammered him with the assault rifle and battle rifle to finish the fight. Despite Master Chief’s efforts, Spartan Griffith cannot be saved, but he learns of something called the Conservatory, leading Master Chief to the next area of Halo Infinite.

  • During the mission at Chak’lok’s tower, I ended up coming across the shock rifle for the first time: this weapon is a long-range electrolaser and is effective against both shields and vehicles. However, during my play through, there were few targets to use this weapon against, so I’ve not really had much of an opportunity to really try it out: at present, it’s the basic weapons like the assault rifle, battle rifle and pulse carbine that have proven to be most versatile.

  • I’m a little ashamed to admit that in the beginning, I didn’t have any idea how to get over to the next area: a gap leading into space separates the area with Chak’lok’s tower from the next, and I initially thought that I could build up some speed using a Mongoose, then exit said Mongoose and attempt to use the grapple-shot to latch onto the  other side. In the end, I just needed to approach a bridge, fight off the Banished guarding things, and that was sufficient to open up the new area. Here, I’m rocking the S7 Sniper Rifle: like its older counterparts, the sniper rifle is a powerful weapon for long-range combat, being balanced out by a small magazine capacity and rare ammunition.

  • Once in the new area, I set about clearing out forward operating bases so that I could fast travel more readily. Once forward operating bases are captured, nearby points of interest are also revealed on the map, so it makes the most sense to secure those first and then decide how to best tackle everything. Here, I enjoy another sunrise en route to rescuing a squad of marines; Halo Infinite looks jaw-dropping with its visuals, and speaking freely, I’m surprised my machine can run the game as well as it does. This moment really highlights the incredible detail paid to lighting, and under the first light of day, my battle rifle’s textures are thrown into sharp relief, making the weapon’s resemblance to its Halo 2 counterpart all the more evident.

  • Amidst a field of yellow flowers, I fend off all of the Banished forces attacking the UNSC marines, earning myself some additional Valour points in the process. Throughout the course of Halo Infinite, I’ve found that the default assault rifle has actually proven itself to be an excellent all-around weapon, and it has taken some time for me to get past my initial thoughts on it: the Halo: Combat Evolved assault rifle handled more like a submachine gun, while the pistol behaved like a marksman rifle, and in most Halo games, I’ve actually swapped off the assault rifle for something else at first convenience because of my original experience. On the other hand, Halo Infinite‘s assault rifle feels like a proper weapon that hits hard at close to medium ranges.

  • During one high value target hunt, I ended up picking up the Volatile Skewer, a variant of the Skewer whose projectiles explode on impact. Weapon variations in Halo Infinite add variety to the gameplay, ranging from altering a weapon’s functionality to simply improving its overall performance. Completing high value target hunts reward Banished weapon variants, while Valour points are needed for unlocking UNSC weapon variants. The Volatile Skewer is particularly fun, since it can be used to eliminate entire squads at once if one picks their targets well; common Skewers are a one hit kill on most enemies, so if one were to aim for a Brute commander standing among a squad of Grunts and Jackals, a single shot could conceivably take everyone out.

  • Here, I switch over to the Stalker Rifle, a cross between the Covenant Carbine and Beam Rifle that I grew up around. This weapon is primarily found with Jackal Snipers, but unlike Halo 2‘s Jackal Snipers, who were armed with Beam Rifles that could one-shot players, the Stalker Rifle requires three headshots to kill, and wielders give away their position when aiming down sights: the weapon emits a laser sight of sorts. For most combat situations, I scavenge weapons off defeated Banished forces, use them to achieve a goal and then return to pick up the weapon I’d dropped for it.

  • This approach allows me to conserve on kinetic ammunition for my UNSC weapons: while weapon resupply is possible thanks to ammo crates scattered throughout the world, I’ve not tested to see if they’re one-use only, and as such, during my play-through, I’ve only used them to top off before a boss fight or campaign mission. For everything else, I end to run UNSC weapons until I run dry, then I switch over to whatever weapons I can scavenge from the world. The plus side is that Banished weapons are quite effective, and there are instances where the Banished will swallow their pride and utilise scavenged UNSC weapons, too.

  • The fight against Balkarus was particularly challenging, since he’s accompanied by Brutes and Elites wielding the Ravenger. This weapon handles most similarly to a grenade launcher, firing rounds of incendiary plasma in an arc and dousing an area of impact with hot, damaging plasma. I was actually at quite the disadvantage, since I was using UNSC weapons that were better suited for engaging common enemies, but fortunately for me, there was a weapons locker nearby with a few Ravengers. I subsequently utilised this with the grapple-shot to end the fight, earning me another weapon variant.

  • Today is New Year’s Eve, the last day of 2021. From a personal standpoint, 2021 was a fair year for myself; I’ve not hung out with many friends in person, and my physical fitness isn’t what it was before because all the gyms are closed, but on the flipside, I also was able to better my career and finances, and in the process, became a homeowner, too. During this past year, I also achieved the impossible by going through the whole of Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny; this is something I wouldn’t have thought possible, but thanks to encouragement from friends in real life, and the anime community I’ve become a part of, I was able to finish the Cosmic Era in whole.

  • Being able to do something like this means finishing a journey that was some fifteen years in the making, leaving me in a position where I’m able to both keep up with my friend in discussions surrounding the Cosmic Era, and be ready for the upcoming Gundam SEED film. Encouraged by this, one of my anime related goals for 2022 is to make my way through Ah! My Goddess in full, as well as Love Hina, and on the topic of finishing things from my childhood that I never finished back then, I also managed to set up the PCSX2 emulator. Armed with the BIOS dump from my PlayStation 2, I’m now able to play my old PlayStation 2 games on PC, and this means I can actually begin going through Ace Combat 5 and, as time allows, Ace Combat 4.

  • After picking up some patches to disable deinterlacing, tuning the video settings and getting the controller bindings configured, I powered on the emulator and entered the game. At this point in time, I have a working emulator: things run at a smooth 60 FPS, and everything looks sharp. The controls are a little tight, and I don’t have the same level of finesse as I did in Ace Combat 7, but after an hour’s worth of setup, I can finally begin my journey through a game I’ve been curious about for the past fifteen years. I still vividly recall borrowing an Ace Combat 5 strategy guide from my library back in the day, and during university, I remember spending time watching YouTube videos of Ace Combat 5‘s final missions when I should’ve been studying for organic chemistry.

  • It does feel like there are unlimited possibilities now as I go through something that, a decade earlier, I only could’ve dreamt of trying for myself. I have plans to write about my Ace Combat 5 experiences in the future, but for now, I’ll return to Halo Infinite, where I’d just found a Forerunner Artefact and sent it back for decoding. The night sky can be seen here, and it is stunning. The skybox designs remind me of star-forming nebulae seen in astronomy books, making the night skies feel a lot more exotic, worthy of Halo.

  • The final mission I’ll highlight in this post is the dig site. The goals for this mission are simple enough: stop the Banished mining laser, which is powerful enough to cut through Forerunner metal. While the goal itself appears straightforward, Master Chief is faced with an entire Banished armada, and it’s going to take some creative thinking, spatial awareness and a steady aim in order to come out triumphant. With that being said, this mission was absolutely fun, and I had a blast shooting at everything that stood between me and the objective.

  • During the course of my travels through the open world, I found and defeated Thav ‘Sebarim to unlock the Arcane Sentinel Beam. This weapon is deals more damage than a standard Sentinel Beam at the expense of consuming ammo faster and having a smaller ammo pool to begin with. After attempting to deactivate the laser, The Weapon finds that there are two regulators that must be destroyed first, and unsurprisingly, destroying the exposed regulators will cause Banished reinforcements to appear. It is here that the Sentinel Beam shines: a short burst will vapourise foes and thin out crowds.

  • Once all of the regulators are destroyed, Master Chief must return into the tower and deactivate things again. However, Bassus makes a sudden appearance. He is counted to be one of the hardest in the whole of Halo Infinite because of the fact that this fight takes place at extreme close quarters, the range that Brutes excel in. Bassus prefers to rush players with his Gravity Hammer, and this leaves players with very little space to make use of more powerful ranged weapons. Guides suggest that there is only one viable way of beating Bassus: use the Pulse Carbine and Needler.

  • On my first encounter, I was completely unprepared; I came to the fight wielding the battle rifle and Commando, and unsurprisingly, because neither weapon is suited for damaging shields, I got wiped. I subsequently switched on over to a Ravenger and a Rushdown Hammer in anticipation of close quarters combat. This approach differs greatly from what is suggested, but since I’m playing on normal difficulty, I am afforded with a little more creative freedom. I utilised shock grenades to slow him down so that I could use the Ravager and drop his shields.

  • Once Bassus’ shields fall, a few strokes of the Gravity Hammer are enough to finish the fight. With Bassus done, I returned my attention to disabling the mining laser, and subsequently finished this mission off. Before returning here, I explored the mission area to ensure I’d found all of the items of note: in a given mission, my priority is to locate all of the Mjolnir lockers and Spartan Cores, with the audio logs being a “nice to have”. Thus, with the mission done, I headed for the waypoint on my screen and prepared to continue on with Halo Infinite.

  • I thus pass through the Forerunner wall that the Banished were trying to drill through with their mining laser, and entered the Conservatory. I didn’t bother swapping out my weapons, so it appears that as I continue, I am going to have to change out my weapons for something a little more appropriate. With this post in the books, I’m quite excited to continue: Halo Infinite has completely modernised the Halo experience, and I’ve had zero complaints with the campaign so far. This is my last post of 2021, and I look forwards to seeing what lies ahead in 2022, both for myself and this here blog.

At this point in time, I’ve fully upgraded my grapple-shot and shields with the various Spartan Cores I’ve found throughout the world, found several interesting Banished weapon variants as a result of taking out high value targets and have spent nearly eight hours in the open world of Zeta Halo just exploring the superbly detailed, West Coast-like environment. The openness of Halo Infinite has meant that there is no shortage of things to do or check out, and while this makes for an unparalleled experience, of providing players with the near-total freedom to play as they wish, that Halo Infinite has an open world component to it has also meant that I’m getting distracted by just how gorgeous Zeta Halo is. I could be content just running around Zeta Halo with a Battle Rifle and Skewer, ruining the lives of all Banished that cross my path, as I search for every last weapon variant and Spartan Core available to me. The fact that Halo Infinite has created this compelling of an experience speaks volumes to the effort that went into bringing Halo into the modern age, and it is saying something that a part of me wants to just stay in this open world forever. However, being a Halo game, complete with a lore and the need to unearth whatever the Banished’s machinations are, I do need to push ahead and continue on with the story. Having now entered the Conservatory, I saw my first loading screen since the first few missions: Halo Infinite has done a fine job of breaking things up, and given what I’ve seen, I am expecting that the Conservatory will be a more traditional, linear mission. After about ten hours of Halo Infinite, then, I can say with confidence that 343 Industries has stricken a great balance between the open world and linear missions to give players a hitherto unmatched experience. Having found a good amount of the collectibles and upgrades, it’s time for me to continue on with the story and see what about the Conservatory makes it so valuable to the Banished. Halo: Combat Evolved had presented players with the Flood as an expected surprise, and a part of me can’t help but wonder what game-changing experience lies ahead, in the labyrinthine interiors of Zeta Halo.

ШХД: ЗИМА / IT’S WINTER: A Reflection of the Darkest Season on the Coldest Days of the Year

“He looked at the snowflakes dancing above the fire and remembered the Russian winter with a warm, bright house, a fluffy fur coat, swift sleighs, a healthy body, and all the love and care of a family.” –Leo Tolstoy

I’m standing in a dark kitchen, and there’s a snowfall outside. After retrieving the house keys, I walk down a flight of steps and close an open window before stepping out into the frigid night. There’s no one around: most of the neighbours are already asleep, although I encounter a sparkler that was left in the ground. A faint rumbling noise can be heard in the distance, and I walk on over to the bus station. A snowplow is busy clearing the roads from the snowfall, but there will be no buses at this hour. A sense of tranquility overtakes me: a familiar world is buried under a few inches of snow, drowning out almost all ambient noise (save my own footsteps). After a few minutes, my fingers and ears begin to feel the bite of this winter night. I prepare to head back to my apartment, passing by the local convenience store, whose sign is aglow in a vivid green despite being closed. I return to the warmth of my apartment and gaze outside again before turning off the lights and head for bed, falling asleep under the quiet of a new snow. This is Ilia Mazo’s ШХД: ЗИМА / IT’S WINTER, a recreation of the Хрущёвка (khrushchyovka, literally “Krushchev Slum”, or panel housing) common to the Soviet Union. Although Mazo suggests that IT’S WINTER is meant to convey the endless melancholy of the Soviet Winter, and Russians can attest to the fact that IT’S WINTER accurately captures a world that otherwise remains far from the minds of those who live elsewhere, this title actually does something else, as well: it reminds those who experience it to count their own blessings. After wandering the deserted apartment blocks, my own small unit feels warm and inviting. I’ve got a roof over my head, a well-stocked fridge and a warm bed to return to. While the snow falls outside, I can read a book, watch some TV, listen to the radio or doze off. IT’S WINTER is not a game in a traditional sense: in fact, it lacks the features that make a game (a clearly-defined set of victory or failure conditions), and instead, gives players the freedom to do as they will. Imaginative folks can spend hours mastering the game’s mechanism for a manipulating objects to cook themselves up a fabulous dinner, or else do a bit of reorganisation if they so choose. In this way, IT’S WINTER also speaks to the idea of perspective, of counting one’s blessings: temperatures yesterday reached a low of -34°C before windchill (-40°C with windchill), so rather than braving the biting cold of an otherwise gorgeous day, I ended up staying in and eating tang yuan, at peace with the cold weather and short days.

Seven years earlier, I was enveloped by a sense of bitterness: after the Alberta floods took out any opportunity I had to attempt a kokuhaku, I entered my first term of open studies without resolve or determination. My work suffered for it; besides Japanese history and a course on proteins, I ended up taking a special projects course, where I attempted to continue the work I had done that summer on peer-to-peer networking as a mode for sharing computational loads in multi-system biological simulations. However, I was preoccupied and thus, never made the same progress as I did in previous years: in retrospect, I consider my grade in that course (a B+) to be highly generous, considering I made next to no advancements. That term, I only had the winter anime convention to look forward to, and even that proved to be a disappointment when I learnt that the organisers had unveiled a secret collectable pin available only to those who attended a special session. The winter break came and went, taking with it the festivities and lights of Christmas. During the dark of that year, I fell into a depression that worsened upon finding out the individual I’d been waiting for had begun seeing someone else. In the years following, I’ve associated the winter months after December with misery, darkness and the near-total absence of hope. Combined with the need to frequently shovel the walk, navigate icy roads and deal with bitterly cold weather, the winter does appear to offer people with very little to like. However, in recent years, this stance has softened somewhat: a failed kokuhaku does not render a cup of cocoa any less warming, and even after the last of the Christmas lights are downed, I have the consolation that every day I get through means I’m one day closer to the summer, a time of exploration and joy. Kokuhakus may fail, and darkness may fall upon the world after each summer, but as long as I’ve got it in me to put one foot in front of the other, there will always be something to look forwards to, and something new to work towards.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When one opens up IT’S WINTER, they’ll always spawn in the dark kitchen of a Soviet-era apartment in the middle of nowhere. Developer Ilia Mazo had stated that IT’S WINTER could be set anywhere in Russia, from the outskirts of Moscow, to the heart of Vorkuta in the Komi Republic, or even the Kolyma region’s Magadan. I quickly glanced around the small but cozy-looking kitchen before deciding that I should get a feel for this small one bedroom, one bathroom apartment before taking a look outside.

  • The bedroom is the largest room in the flat, and there’s a balcony players can walk out to. Russians consider the balcony an essential part of their space, and while they are largely used for storage, some creative residents have transformed balconies into makeshift rooms. While balconies and patios are great for places where it’s summer for at least six months of the year, in somewhere like Russia or Canada, I would prefer more interior space instead: a lot of condominiums in my area have balconies, and while they’d be a brilliant space during the summer, we recall that in Alberta, winter dominates for up to eight months of the year.

  • I’d much rather have more interior space for something like a home office or reading nook. While the bedroom is minimally furnished, it does feel like a comfortable space, as well. I do realise here that my thoughts about IT’S WINTER stand contrary to what Mazo had intended to say: small hints of the protagonist’s monotonous and depressing life can be found scattered around the apartment, from anti-depressants to notes speaking to the inescapable boredom that one might face while being confined to their small homes for much of the year owing to the bitterly cold Russian winters.

  • IT’S WINTER can be thought of as a statement about depression from the Soviet perspective: the apartment is a small space, and even outside, there’s a limit to how far players can go before being enveloped by the winter weather. No matter where one goes, it’s always nighttime, and the skies are cloudy, only being lit by the glow of street lamps below. In this function, IT’S WINTER succeeds entirely in its function: there is little doubt that the me of seven years earlier would’ve found this experience to be a profoundly relatable one: I’d been dreading the arrival of winter, a time when being outside isn’t possible, and the only thing that I could do was focus on my open studies, completing courses that ultimately might’ve been completely pointless.

  • After I stepped outside for a walk, I found myself taken aback at how quiet everything was: the centre courtyard is completely devoid of life, and the playgrounds are deserted. Everything is bathed in a gentle glow from the streetlights: there is a beauty about this type of setting, although strangely enough, rather than finding myself feeling saddened by what I was seeing, I felt a sense of tranquility instead. IT’S WINTER offers players with no objectives or goals, but this near-total freedom meant I was also able to impart my own feelings on things.

  • Here, I encounter a lone sparkler that someone had left behind. Larger sparklers can burn for up to a minute-and-a-half, so it is clear that there are other people with me, but perhaps the brutal winter cold forced them back inside after they’d lit the sparkler. This small sign of life was regarded as saddening for some, but again, a different perspective from me gave me a bit of reassurance, that I wasn’t entirely alone: on nights like these, people would have an inclination to remain in their flats, and some might have even turned in already. I would chalk up my different stance on winter in the present to be a consequence of where things have headed for me in the past year. After conversation with family yesterday, I finally confirmed the date that I will be moving in to the new place: they’d figured out what date was the most optimal (i.e. lucky) for the move by means of feng shui.

  • While I won’t share all details at present, I can say that it is happening in the spring, and that I am very excited. The new place is a luxury condominium located in one of the best parts of Calgary, close to public transportation and numerous shopping and dining. I’d long been in love with that side of town, and it also means I’ll be much closer to my parents, and some relatives. After touring the space back in September, something in me clicked, and this space became something I found myself daydreaming often about. As a luxury condominium, there’s a well-equipped gym, complete with dedicated bench press and squat racks, plus a beautiful rooftop patio and meeting hall with a gorgeous view of the mountains. The unit itself is beautifully appointed, affording me with a gorgeous view of the north from the solarium, kitchen and my bedroom.

  • It’s a far cry from the view that the apartment in IT’S WINTER provides: the more I explored IT’S WINTER, the more I realised that this was a title that conveyed melancholy, depression and the inescapability of these conditions to me. I am aware that some time ago, I disparaged Depression Quest for its poor execution and portrayal of depression. My thoughts on Depression Quest have not changed since then – it is a low-effort hypercard game made by those with only the vaguest idea of what depression entails and no idea what software development requires. IT’S WINTER manages to do what Depression Quest could not, and the reason for this is because IT’S WINTER gives players options and lets players work out that whatever they do ultimately ends up being futile. Depression Quest, on the other hand, takes agency away from those who’ve got the patience to sit through it.

  • Moreover, IT’S WINTER visually captures what depression might look like – a foggy, cold and snowy evening illuminated by the occasional light, but in a dark world where everything is otherwise closed. There is no incidental music to speak of, leaving players to get lost in their own thoughts as they wander the frigid wasteland. By comparison, Depression Quest makes use of a repetitive and insensitive piano piece that feels completely out-of-placed. Altogether, it is sufficient to say that IT’S WINTER is a proper experience, whereas Depression Quest should be removed from the Steam Store for making a mockery of what is a very serious mental health issue. As it stands, I enjoy things where an honest and sincere effort was made into conveying an idea to players, and IT’S WINTER does this very well through its simplicity.

  • This leads to the question of whether or not IT’S WINTER is worth the price it commands: a lofty 10 USD (12 CAD) for an experience that typically lasts about a quarter hour. I can’t answer this for others, but for me, the price represents a means of supporting the developer and his other projects. Routine Feat is another work from Mazo, but it is set during the summer and has a slightly more developed narrative. The way I see it, since Routine Feat is free to play, contributing to IT’S WINTER means also supporting Routine Feat: looking around at the aesthetics, I feel that it would be a great game to frame my recollections of the MCAT, as well as of the flood that struck my home town some eight-and-a-half years earlier.

  • I found out about IT’S WINTER a few weeks ago while browsing around articles about Russian apartments. Folks over in North America are accustomed to their large homes of 1700 square feet or above, so the austere and small size of khrushchyovka can come across as being quite unlivable in comparison. While there are some aspects that can take some getting used to, such as the relative lack of space and nonexistent control over the heating, Russians have also managed to turn these spartan quarters into personalised homes. Russians are fond of redecorating their interior spaces, and the inside of a seemingly drab-looking khrushchyovka can look unrecognisable.

  • The nature of khrushchyovka contributes to the Russian belief that the inside is what counts, and in IT’S WINTER, this aesthetic seems to be retained: the lifeless apartment blocks outside stand in contrast with the small but cozy space belonging to the player, and I found that on several occasions, there was a feeling of reassurance whenever I stepped out of the winter night and climbed up the stairs to my place. It felt good to know that no matter where I explored, there was always a place I can return to. One small detail that I did find amusing was how I could jump off my fifth floor balcony and land on the snow below, unharmed.

  • Here, I encounter the snowplow that is making the rounds. Its cabin glows brilliantly: besides the sparkler and lights in the other units, it’s the only sign of life in IT’S WINTER. Despite its simplicity, I found myself watching its progress: some audio will play if players spend enough time looking at the snowplow, and this in turn prompts thoughts of who the driver is, whether or not he has any stories to share, and what his thoughts on the cold winter weather are. As it is, IT’S WINTER offers no answers for players, leaving them to draw their own conclusions.

  • Temperatures today reached a much more agreeable and comfortable -15°C, so I capitalised on this as a chance to go out and pick up ingredients for the New Year’s Eve dinner, as well as our annual New Year’s 打邊爐 party. Despite some issues with availability, we managed to pick up most of what we were looking for, and I am quite looking forwards to things. The forecast indicates that New Year’s Day is going to see a high of -8°C, which is very comfortable by all standards, but it’s still cold enough to really enjoy hot, savoury food and good conversation.

  • The fact that this year’s Christmas Day and New Year’s Day land on a weekend means that there have been observation holidays on Monday, so I’m going to be returning to work on Tuesday, January 4. With the time that has passed in my break, I’ve managed to take delivery of both beds and mattresses, and I’ve also moved most of my old university books over. In the time remaining during this break, I’ll aim to finish assembling a shoe cabinet. Whatever time is left, I’ll take easy: I’ve made some progress in levelling up in Battlefield 2042, and I’ve just unlocked the PKP, a LMG that is said to be as accurate as an assault rifle with the capacity of a machine gun. In Halo Infinite, I am at the excavation site, and I’ll be looking to finish that mission before writing a post about my experiences in the open world.

  • Here, I walk by a store with a green sign. WIRED erroneously indicates that this is a pharmacy, but closer inspection finds that it reads продукты (produkty), which refers to convenience stores. The nearest convenience store to me is about a three minute walk away, but they’re open twenty-four hours a day, so on paper, it means I could head out at 2 AM and pick up a coffee if I felt so inclined. Here in IT’S WINTER, the convenience store is about a minute and a half from the player’s flat, but it’s closed, so there’s no opportunity to browse around and see what they’ve got.

  • One of the most visually distinct features about IT’S WINTER is the fact that it has a very Minecraft-like aesthetic. This works to IT’S WINTER’s advantage: while photorealistic graphics are often touted as being the driving force behind hardware and algorithmic advances, they alone do not improve a game. What’s important to a game (or experience) is the aesthetic, and as such, while IT’S WINTER might not have the insane visuals of something like DOOM or Crysis, the art style works perfectly for what Mazo is trying to convey.

  • The quiet playgrounds here really speaks to IT’S WINTER‘s desolation: ordinarily, playgrounds are venues of amusement, filled with children’s laughter. I glance around the empty courtyard before making my way back into the player’s flat. One thing I had worried about was whether or not I’d be able to find the entry again after exiting: there are very few identifying marks, and I ended up making use of the fact that walking out, I could immediately see a flat with a purple light in it. Since I was across from it, if I could find this purple light, I knew I could find my flat again.

  • The interior of the apartment complex is filled with locked doors, and people seem to be fond of leaving their refuse in the hallways. Being a good Samaritan, I cleared the hallways out before returning to my unit. To remember which unit, one simply needs to recall that they’re adjacent to someone with a steel-black door. Of course, if this isn’t viable, then a fair way would be to approach every door and see if the prompt to open it appears. Upon returning to my flat, I head to the bathroom, wash my hands, turn the lights in the bedroom on and prepare to catch some shuteye.

  • IT’S WINTER is certainly one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever tried, and I can say that it was quite worthwhile in making me count my blessings, as well as showing me how even in a melancholy environment, there can still be things to be grateful for. I’ll likely play through this whenever I’m feeling introspective, and depending on my experiences, I might return to write about things again. With this post in the books, I have two more posts planned out for this year: a talk on PuraOre! now that I’ve crossed the finish line, and then as I’d noted earlier, a talk on Halo Infinite. It’s now a ways past lunch, and after enjoying an English muffin with sausage, there’s nothing left on my itinerary for the day, so it’s time to make as much progress as I can with my remaining blog posts, wrap up the excavation site mission in Halo Infinite and then get PCSX2 setup so I can see if I can get Ace Combat 5 running.

In the present day, winters no longer quite bother me to the same extent as they once did. While sleet and slush still evoke in me a twinge of annoyance (I hate ice more than I do extreme cold), the snow and darkness simply acts as a reminder that I’ve got a roof over my head, and like the protagonist of IT’S WINTER, my fridge is in good shape, so I’ve got much to be thankful for. In the New Year, the list of things I am to count my blessings for will lengthen: at the time of writing, all of our beds and mattresses have been delivered, and after speaking with a feng shui expert in the family, we’ve now locked in a time for moving-in day. This is going to be busy season, as my goal now is to begin finishing the move ahead of this day and finalise all of the furniture that we’ll need. Quite simply, I’m going to be focused on something with a tangible goal, and I’ve long found that to ward off feelings of loneliness and melancholy, a productive mind acts as the perfect countermeasure. The future is one I am quite looking forwards to, creating a bit of warmth in me even as we’re in the middle of winter’s darkest, loneliest months; after Christmas, winter is at its most miserable, but knowing there is something to both work towards and look forwards to is a massive psychological boost. Memories of months I once spent memorising physics concepts for will be displaced by shopping for furniture and arranging for movers, as well as packing and cleaning, and right as winter ends, it’ll be time to begin a new chapter in life. One could say that I no longer regard winter as poorly as I once did: it’s taken almost a decade, but I do feel like I’ve pulled through and overcome my dislike of the winter months. Like IT’S WINTER, an experience about winter melancholy and loneliness, I’ve found that changing my point of view on things transforms something negative into something more welcoming. I’ve only really explored a few areas of IT’S WINTER insofar, and I’d certainly like to try my hand at making a more scrumptious dinner with the ingredients available in the fridge seen in-game, and mess around with the physical objects in the apartment, as well as see how far I can go before I hit IT’S WINTER‘s map boundaries. Finally, Ilia Mazo has also released a title called Routine Feat, set in the same apartment blocks, but now, during summer. A decade earlier, I would’ve been staring down the MCAT, and nine years ago, despite the pleasant sunny weather, I found myself in the throes of melancholy after the Great Flood washed away my summer. I am now curious to know if Routine Feat is able to capture the melancholy and loneliness I’ve come to associate with those experiences.

Halo Infinite: Initial Impressions, The Banished, A New Weapon and Setting Foot on Zeta Halo

“The missions change. They always do.” –Master Chief

In the chaos resulting from Cortana’s actions in Halo 5: Guardians, a former faction of the Covenant known as the Banished attack the UNSC Infinity, led by the warlord Atroix, attacks and destroys the UNSC Infinity. Atroix defeats the Master Chief and casts him out into space, where a UNSC pilot, Fernando Esparza, locates him. Their Pelican is captured by a Banished warship, prompting Master Chief to board the warship and disable it. While the Master Chief is working to take out the warship, a beacon is received, hinting at the presence of a “weapon”. Making his way through the cavernous interior of Zeta Halo’s massive interior, Master Chief locates the source of the signal and finds a Cortana-like AI calling herself The Weapon. She explains that her original directive was to delete Cortana and then herself, but somehow managed to survive the process. The Master Chief retrieves her and fights his way to Zeta Halo’s surface, defeating the warlord Tremonius in the process. After clearing out a Banished camp, The Weapon explains that the Banished have taken over UNSC outposts on the surface of Zeta Halo and suggests that clearing them out will give them an advantage as they make to ascertain how many survivors remain from the UNSC Infinity’s destruction. This is Halo Infinite‘s campaign after two-and-a-half hours of gameplay, marking the first time a new Halo’s been available on PC at launch since Halo: Combat Evolved was released, and while 343 Industries’ previous instalment, Halo 5: Guardians, was met with cool reception for introducing a meandering, convoluted story, Halo Infinite makes a bold effort in returning the franchise to its roots. The end result, coming six years after Halo 5: Guardians, shows that for their part, 343 Industries had been successful; the story continues on with the dynamic between Cortana and Master Chief that Halo 4 had portrayed, while at the same time, placing the events on a Halo ring that the series is named after. With a promising new narrative and a return to an iconic setting, Halo Infinite‘s campaign is off to a strong start; everything about Halo Infinite is faithful to the original aesthetic, while at the same time, properly bringing Halo into the modern era.

At the heart of Halo Infinite is a responsive and smooth movement system. In earlier Halo games, movement felt sluggish and slower. Players were limited to walking and jumping. By Halo: Reach, sprinting was added as an armour ability, and this subsequently became an integral part of the game in Halo 4. However, contemporary shooters have very evolved movement systems: Titanfall seamlessly combines wall-running with standard movement, and Battlefield introduced the idea of being able to vault over fences by jumping near them. DOOM similarly implemented a ledge-grabbing feature, where players could automatically catch onto and pull themselves up a ledge if their jumps landed them nearby, and DOOM Eternal further improved this mechanic, making it possible to move around a map in a creative manner. Halo Infinite enters this realm by introducing the grappling hook, which allows Master Chief to latch into and pull himself towards a surface quickly. In addition, Master Chief can also grab onto an enemy with the grappling hook and rappel in for a quick kill, or else pull nearby items close. The grappling hook of Halo Infinite is an upgrade over DOOM Eternal‘s meat hook, which similarly extended gameplay options. A more versatile movement system in Halo Infinite means that map designs can be more creative, allowing keen-eyed players to fully utilise their environment in order to be successful. Together with a visceral and tactile combat system, Halo Infinite is a winner in gameplay: firefights feel immensely satisfying, and the game makes every effort to communicate the results of a player’s actions clearly. Red hit markers are used to let players know when they’ve scored a kill, allowing for attention to be redirected to a new target. The firearms are diverse and unique, creating an environment where picking one’s weapons matter again. Halo Infinite also marks the first time the series deals with boss fights in a traditional manner: before Master Chief can exit Zeta Halo’s tunnels, he must first fight Tremonius, who has a larger health pool and stronger energy shields than standard enemies. The introduction of proper boss fights in Halo adds variety to the game and punctuates moments of exploration and classic firefights with with platforming and strategy. Mechanically, Halo Infinite is built on solid foundations, adding enough new features to modernise gameplay while at the same time, making the core elements of a high standard. In the knowledge that the basics in Halo Infinite are nailed, I can focus my attention on exploration and progression into the story.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Whereas Halo 4 presented a humanity filled with a newfound confidence, Halo Infinite‘s humanity is scattered, hunted and defeated. This is emphasised for the player’s benefit right at the beginning: the UNSC Infinity, mightiest of humanity’s vessels, is under siege, and Master Chief himself is being ragdolled by Atriox despite putting up an impressive showing. The atmosphere Halo Infinite conveys, of humanity being forced onto the backfoot, is consistent with the feeling that originally accompanied the original Halo games.

  • The first mission is set inside a Brute warship, and right out of the gates, I am reminded of Destiny‘s Cabal, whose gargantuan frames and utilitarian ships share parallels with the Brutes’ designs seen in Halo Infinite. Long characterised as a barbaric, war-like species, Brutes favour aggression and strength over finesse, and while Brutes tend to look down on humanity, they aren’t above picking up human weapons off their foes on the battlefield. Here, I wield the Mangler, a mainstay Brute sidearm that fires massive spikes at foes. The weapon is extremely powerful and handles similarly to a slower-firing version of the Halo: Combat Evolved pistol, but with a lower firing rate and projectile drop to balance things out.

  • The UNSC assault rifle in Halo Infinite is the MA40, an evolution of the MA37 seen in Halo 5: Guardians, which is itself a successor to the assault rifles seen in earlier games. An all-around performer, the MA40 is a fast firing weapon with less spread than its predecessors. It is able to hit targets further away with greater reliability than its predecessors, and carries enough ammunition to, in conjunction with grenades, make short work of a crowd of Grunts and Jackals. During this first mission, the entire setting is in the narrow corridors of a Brute warship, bringing to mind how Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 both started in claustrophobic spaces (the Pillar of Autumn and Cairo Station, respectively).

  • The tradition was broken in Halo 3 and Halo: Reach, but Halo 4 has players start in side the Forward Unto Dawn. I actually enjoy these missions because Halo has always excelled in presenting wide-open environments, and coming from the narrow confines of a starship, or the vast caverns Forerunners had built, into a pristine bit of wilderness has always been the most breath-taking moments of a Halo game. Halo Infinite is touted as being a ways more open than any of its predecessors, allowing the game to capitalise on the wonderous setting, but for players beginning their journey, one must get through the first two missions.

  • While this can feel a little arduous, the first two missions actually act as an opportunity to familiarise oneself with Halo‘s newest toy: the grappling hook. This versatile tool has multiple applications, ranging from reaching hard-to-reach places to being able to pull distant items closer. One particularly amusing feature is the fact that the grappling hook can actually latch onto enemies and stun them, leaving them open to attack. When used in conjunction with closing distance, the grappling hook behaves a great deal like DOOM Eternal‘s meathook.

  • The Revenger is a new weapon that fires searing plasma bolts over short distances: projectiles arc and are affected by gravity. This weapon is powerful but cumbersome, and I found its utility to be in softening up groups of enemies before finishing them off. Unlike earlier games, plasma now deals damage to players for a few moments after it is discharged, and it takes a few moments for the plasma to evaporate. This shows how far Halo‘s come: small details like these bring Halo Infinite to life, and also alters the ways players approach the game in subtle ways.

  • The Needler makes a welcome return, and like its predecessors, it is capable of super-combining to create devastating explosions that can kill even Brutes. Once Master Chief reaches the warship’s control room and finds that he is unable to cleanly disable the tractor beams holding Esparza’s Pelican in place, he decides to destroy the ship instead by overloading its engines. The Brute warship begins disintegrating, but the Banish seem unfazed. In the end, Master Chief cannot make it back to Esparza, but fortunately, Esparza is around to pick up up outside the warship’s wreckage.

  • Halo Infinite doesn’t allow players to replay completed campaign levels, and while this decision does seem strange, it appears that 343 Industries was focused on making the core experience solid first, before adding back long-standing features. Like co-op, 343 Industries is suggesting that being able to replay campaign missions to completely collect audio logs, Spartan Cores and other items will be added later on. For me, this is perfectly okay, since I do not expect I’ll be finishing Halo Infinite‘s campaign so quickly that I’ll be replaying missions again for completeness’ sake.

  • After Master Chief retrieves a new communique, Esparza consents to drop him off on Zeta Halo, feeling that whatever weapon Master Chief might be able to acquire could be helpful in getting them both home. Contrasting the utilitarian interiors of the Brute warship, Forerunner architecture is angular, smooth and features plenty of clean lines. In this second missions, Elites are encountered for the first time, and like their classic incarnations, equip energy shields and side-strafe to evade attacks. Classic techniques like the plasma pistol overcharge and any headshot will quickly dispatch them, as will seven Needler rounds.

  • During the open beta, I was a little underwhelmed by the Pulse Carbine: this weapon is basically the Storm Rifle from Halo 4, but fires in four-round bursts rather than on full automatic. The burst properties were quite unknown to me in the beta, but now that I’ve had a chance to get into the campaign, I’ve found that it handles like the Battle Rifle: a single burst at close range will kill weaker enemies, and a burst will also disable a Jackal’s shields. Three bursts will drop an Elite’s shields. The weapon initially appears tricky to use, but the weapon has a very unique property: the plasma rounds travel faster the further they are allowed to travel and the plasma rounds weakly lock onto targets, making it a superb medium range weapon.

  • This past weekend marks the halfway point from the start of December to Christmas, and this past weekend, I enjoyed my first-ever day off since 2017. I ended up using that time to fully finish the Master Grade Kyrios, a process that took five hours from start to finish, and altogether, I thoroughly enjoyed the build. The kit is incredibly detailed, feels solid and looks amazing. Yesterday, I spent most of the morning waiting for new beds and mattresses to arrive, and then by evening, I attended the company Christmas party at a local Italian restaurant. Dinner started with Arancini (stuffed rice balls), Tuscan Bruschetta (a flatbread with tomato, basil, olive oil and a dash of vingear), and a Caprese Salad. The centrepiece was grilled Chicken Parmesan with seasonal vegetables and potatoes, which was superb.

  • After dinner and a desert Saltinbocca, there was a live show, as well. I didn’t arrive home until half an hour to midnight; while I’d been quite exhausted from a longer day, it was also a great chance to get out and celebrate with the team: I had the chance to converse with people I’d not met in-person previously, since we’d been working from home, and the food was fantastic: Italian food is something I don’t have often, and when done well, different dishes have completely different, vivid flavour profiles. With this Christmas party in the books, I only have one more week of work left before my winter vacation begins. I anticipate spending this time handling the remainder of the furniture delivery and assembly, as well as hitting IKEA to pick up any smaller items we’ll need for the new place.

  • In the spare time I have, I’ll aim to continue on with my blogging and wrap up what remains to be written about. This naturally will extend to include Halo Infinite: I am hoping to make a bit of headway into the open world and check out Zeta Halo for myself. Here, I’ve found the Stalker Rifle, a cross between the Beam Rifle and Covenant Carbine from earlier Halo games. This weapon is actually a joy to use, being a highly reliable solution for longer ranges than the automatics and burst fire weapons. In earlier Halo games, I always carried a good medium range weapon and then paired it with whatever the situation demanded. For now, I am holding onto the assault rifle and pulse carbine to fulfil the role of a solid medium range solution.

  • As Master Chief progresses through Zeta Halo, armour upgrades and Spartan Cores will be found. The latter unlock acccess to different abilities that augment the Mjolnir armour’s functionality, while the latter improves an ability’s functions. The approach taken in Halo Infinite brings to mind the likes of Far Cry, which has similar mechanics. For now, I’ve found that the grappling hook to be an ability I am making extensive use of, so I’ll probably focus on getting this one fully upgraded before looking at the other abilities.

  • A few weekends ago, shortly before Halo Infinite was due to launch, uncivilised and counterproductive discussions were occurring on social media, to the point where people were issuing threats against those who disagreed with them, led moderators to temporarily put a hold on all discussion. It was actually shocking to see people defending this level of negativity: someone actually went so far as to claim that excessive negativity is a “human right” because it’s supposedly the “the only mechanism by which people can campaign for, and achieve change and improvement”. This is soundly untrue: change and improvement comes from people acquiring the skills needed to make a tangible difference, and then working hard to reach a point where said change and improvement can be implemented.

  • As it stands, excessively negative individuals have no inherent value to society. This holds true for those who tear down game developers, and it certainly holds true of those who pull anime apart pixel-by-pixel. Criticism is only valuable if it offers a course of action, such as a suggestion for improvement, and in their absence, defenders of negativity are not meritorious of consideration for the simple fact that their aim isn’t to be constructive, but rather, to gain notoriety. Here, I square off against Tremonius: the two Jackals accompanying him can be a distraction, so I finished them off first, before using the Skewer against him. The presence of boss fights in Halo Infinite is a first, but I found this first one to be most enjoyable, a change of pace from the usual firefights.

  • Once Tremonius is beaten, Master Chief will board the elevator and ascend to the surface of Zeta Halo. Players will be greeted with a verdant evergreen forest and blue skies, but there’s little time to enjoy the scenery. This forward operating base is crawling with Banished, and Master Chief must clear them out. However, even if one is short on ammunition after the fight with Tremonius, there’s a plasma turret up on the cliff overlooking the Banished-held territories below. This turret handles similarly to the turrets of older Halo games and will make short work of foes, at the expense of reducing mobility and forcing one into third person mode.

  • After clearing out the first group of enemies, I came under fire from more Banished on the cliff above. They’re standing closely to a bunch of fusion coils, so I ended up burst-firing the assault rifle to set these off, allowing me to easily clear them out without needing to close the distance. This area is meant as an introduction to the sort of world Halo Infinite offers players, suggesting that for a given problem, there are always several solutions one can utilise to complete their goal. The only thing that Halo doesn’t do well is stealth, but beyond this, having a semi-sandbox is going to be quite exciting.

  • After realising the power that amassed fusion coils can provide as a force multiplier, I ended up reaching the platform, waited for the Banished to arrive, and then detonated one of the fusion coils. Upon exploding, these created a chain reaction that cleared out the entire launch pad, leaving a handful of stragglers that could then be mopped up without much effort. In this way, I ended up taking this forward operating base, which, according to in-game documentation, is an area where players can fast travel to, resupply and link up with allied forces.

  • While the possibilities are quite varied, I think that my approach now will be to finish off the side quests and unlock as much of the map as I can before pursuing the story missions. This way, I will have the best possible amount of armour abilities unlocked for the campaign ahead. Here, I’m wielding the Hydra Launcher I picked off Tremonius; this weapon was introduced in Halo 5 and is described as a multiple missile launcher. I’ve only used it to one-shot Brutes, since it handles more like a shotgun than an anti-armour solution. However, unlocking a forward operating base does mean I gain access to more weapons, and this means I’ll be able to kit myself out with my preferred weapons before attempting whatever lies ahead for me in Halo Infinite.

From my two and half hours of time spent in Halo Infinite, it is early to say what themes and motifs Halo Infinite covers. However, I can say that what I’ve experienced has been fun so far, and as such, 343 Industries’ decision to delay Halo Infinite by a full year was a decision that proved wise and appropriate. When the game was showcased in June 2020, it was met with mixed reactions: on one hand, the gameplay and mechanics looked amazing. However, the visuals proved to be a point of contention: Halo Infinite did not particularly look like a modern game, and while the world assets and the lighting looked sharp, textures were still quite lacking. Realising the potential for disaster on account of all the memes that followed, 343 Industries astutely took Halo Infinite back for additional work rather than insisting on a 2020 launch. The end result speaks for itself; Halo Infinite is the smoothest-playing and best-looking Halo game made to date. Textures are more detailed, character models are less uncanny, and overall, Halo Infinite feels precisely what one would expect Halo to be. While the game does have a few flaws (the inability to replay campaign missions, absence of co-op mode and a poorly thought-out progression system for the multiplayer come to mind), overall, once I set foot on Zeta Halo and captured Tremonius as a forward operating base, all of these issues melted away as I began considering what my next actions should be: I can continue to clear out areas of the map and make travel easier by finishing the side missions, or I can press forward with the story and see how The Weapon and Master Chief’s experiences unfold, delving deeper into the secrets that Zeta Halo contain. One thing is for sure; seeing the distinctive curvature of the Halo ring on the horizon, rendered using modern game engines, is an absolutely astounding sight to behold.