Halo Infinite Ended A Decade Long Slump for Me and for Halo

I was 20 years old when I first knew I was depressed. I existed in a blank fog a lot of the time, eating and sleeping just to survive, going to college and work because at least there I might feel something. Repetitive actions soothed the depression. Shooting games were a balm. Halo was a balm. Until Halo 4 that is. It’s clear to all that the series’ descent began with its fourth numbered entry and concluded with the meteoric impact of Halo 5: Guardians. I never played Guardians, by that time I had left Halo and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 for Call of Duty and Sony’s PlayStation 4. But something remained missing.

Call of Duty provided the instant gratification of the point-and-click mechanics that had made shooters so popular but it wasn’t Halo. Halo 2 was the first game for adults I ever played in that yes it was violent but it also required serious tactical thinking. Yet it also had the bright colours and the kind of whizz-bang kinetic energy that could keep the attention of a ten-year-old boy. Call of Duty was a serious game about serious soldiers even if some of those soldiers had solid gold guns and weed pins hanging off their pistol barrels. Halo was pure fun to me.

Some of this is nostalgia. How could it not be? I replayed all of the Master Chief Collection late last summer and those games, in their remastered and original forms, are still fun but nothing will ever be as good as when you’re young fighting side-by-side with a friend through Halo 2’s campaign or making the most of Halo 3: ODST’s Firefight mode or just playing a custom game of Frogger with a select few and seeing the world tilt and explode around you. These experiences whether they’re in Halo, Street Fighter or Call of Duty shape you as a person and as a gamer. You can’t go back but you can try make new experiences. That’s why I love Halo Infinite.

Halo Infinite’s campaign mode is fun. It’s (almost) open world and new mechanics of movement and verticality add new wheels to classic bodywork. The story will be nearly incomprehensible to most players apart from those deeply invested in Halo’s lore. Still, it’s the humanizing moments as well as the back-and-forth quippy humour between the Spartan super soldier Master Chief, the human Pilot and the new AI companion known only as the Weapon that drive the story where it’s actual plot mechanics can’t. So, not only was it a pleasure to come back to a game series whose latest entry dispensed with most of that Forerunner fuss but also one that saw the man beneath not only the armour but the myth as well. The Chief hasn’t been broken but he has been beaten and he won’t let it happen a second time.

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I was good at Halo. I was good at Call of Duty. I was good at Titanfall 2. But slowly as I withdrew into myself this skill at FPS games began to slip away as if the controller was sand in my hands. I played these games for fun and eventually the joy of nailing headshots, bouncing grenades around corners and knocking fellow players flat with a shotgun became a coping mechanism. Some of the only times I was happy in my early 20s were when I was playing a first person shooter and it wasn’t for lack of trying that my enjoyment of them ceased.

The Master Chief gives the Pilot some advice in one of the series’ most emotionally open scenes.

Depression is a strange illness. It can fog up your brain so that you forget what you were doing while you were doing it. It can leave you bedridden and lethargic. There are some that confuse it with laziness and others that say it requires a change in attitude or behaviour. The former are wrong and the latter are sort of right. Depression can be so acute and chronic that only medicine can truly help, so poorly balanced is the brain’s chemistry. In other cases, like mine thankfully, it means that things like fresh air and exercise as well as talking to a professional work wonders. The fog had to be cleared if I wanted to enjoy the things I had once loved.

Over the course of many years these things started to come back to me. Reading and writing became avenues of escape once more now that the roadblocks were clear. I enjoyed movies so much I chose to pursue a degree in English and Film Studies. By the end of my college life I thought depression had stripped from me my ability to write and read about films as well as watch them too. When my appetite for the latest Call of Duty started to go I knew something was wrong and being shoved out into the cruel working world far from the writing career I had dreamed of I knew I had to make a change or start thinking the unthinkable.

So I asked for help and luckily I was well enough mentally to wait the 6 months after the initial assessment to get a therapist who I saw regularly. I got better gradually but there’s no cure for depression. It will be with me the rest of my life. I learned, through exercise and other forms of therapy, how to blunt its edges and silence the self doubt. With those lessons learned the joy gradually cam back into my life. But it was only just last year that Halo Infinite reignited a love I’d thought long extinguished.

Halo Infinite is neither whole nor perfect, yet. It’s very much still in its Early Access version meaning it’s modes, maps and customization options are limited for now. Multiplayer is a shadow of its former self but I can’t find it in my heart to be disappointed about this. For one because Halo Infinite plays so well. Secondly because I know what it feels like to be on the road to self-improvement even if towards the beginning I would wake up, look in the mirror and see sad, unfamiliar eyes staring back at me. But playing a multiplayer match in Halo Infinite is like coming home for me right now. I’m feeling the same things I felt before I was depressed. It may not seem like much but to me being able to find happiness in such a simple thing as a 10 minute game of Capture the Flag means everything. I’ve been beaten but I’m not broken yet.

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