Onto act two of Halo 4’s story which serves as the rising action in the plot, introducing us to and developing a series of critical thematic elements surrounding humanity, our history, and setting the stage for the rest of the Reclaimer Saga by continuing to build on the concept of the Mantle which is, as we’ve covered, intrinsically liked to humanity’s destiny.Following the arrival of the UNSC Infinity after being pulled into Requiem by the Shield World’s gravity well, John and Cortana find themselves traversing through the planet’s vast jungles on their mission to reunite with humanity. All forces are converging at this point, the Covenant and Prometheans have worked their way to the Infinity and the human ground teams are in need of saving.
What’s interesting about this level’s opening right off the bat is that we start to see John think more independently and draw his own conclusions. When looking out over the Infinity’s crash site, Cortana wonders why the the ship appears to be intact to which John responds.
“Something tells me that’s only because the Didact wanted it that way.”
Ordinarily, John relies almost exclusively on Cortana for answers, as we’ve seen in the previous games. It’s rare that he makes his own deductions because he’s got somebody in his head to do that for him, but the complimentary nature of the relationship between John and Cortana has evolved to a point where John is becoming slightly more independent – a subtle shift away from the previous games. This also gives us an insight into what John thinks about the Ur-Didact, as he seems to believe that humanity is being looked at with more of a sense of curiosity than the simple destructive means of the Covenant. John is then interrupted by a message sent out by Commander Lasky, something which leaves John visibly taken aback as we see a sudden and uncontained shift in his movement – the camera moving closer in on him.As is common knowledge among Halo fans, John and Lasky have a bit of a history together – it was established in the live action series released prior to Halo 4 called Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn. Thomas Lasky was first introduced as a character in 2010 in the rereleased version of the novel Halo: First Strike, as one of the Adjuncts at the end of the novel focuses on a female reporter called Petra who recalls a memory of herself growing up with Lasky.
“Petra chuckled aloud as the phrase spun into her head, visions of some schticky old psychic waving a gloved hand over a much-abused crystal ball at one of the carnivals she and her buddy Tom went to as kids.” ~ Halo: First Strike (2010 edition), Adjunct 4
This has even been confirmed by Chris Schlerf, lead writer of Halo 4, as a genuine reference. Once again, we see 343’s insane propensity for foreshadowing at work here as characters and concepts have been subtly weaved into the narrative without us noticing – 343 Industries is all about the fine details when it comes to storytelling which means that you really do have to be paying attention to everything you see and hear.
Back on the topic of Lasky, his mother (a Captain of the UNSC) sent him to attend Corbulo Military Academy when he was a teenager who was going through a real crisis of conscience with regard to the UNSC’s war with the Insurrectionists – humans from the outer colonies who were seeking a greater degree of autonomy from the Unified Earth Government. Lasky showed an open-minded and tolerant view towards the Insurrectionists, as well as cynicism towards the UNSC which made him rather unpopular at the academy as he appeared to be failing to live up to the reputation of his brother, Cadmon Lasky, who went on to become an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper. Things changed however when the Covenant arrived at Circinius IV and invaded the planet, leaving Lasky and a few of his compatriots from Hastati Squad the only survivors on the planet who were rescued by the Master Chief and two of his other Spartan-II comrades – Kelly and Fred.
Lasky’s encounter with the Master Chief taught him what it meant to be a soldier, and what kind of sacrifices have to be made. It seems perfectly fitting for John’s arc in Halo 4 that Lasky should be the one to teach John about the value of humanity by the end of the story, but we’ll get into that when we arrive at the Epilogue.Another thing that this mission exposes us to is the animalistic nature of the Prometheans, one of the primary goals that 343 set themselves when designing these new foes was that it would show us a different dimension to the Forerunner design and we see it accomplished perfectly here, especially with regard to the Crawlers.
“There’s a degree of animalistic fierceness that maybe you didn’t see in previous games…”
“These certainly slot into that Grunt-style combatant, and so there was certainly a want to make sure that we get a lot of them on-screen.”
“If you let too many of them get together they become a really formidable force; one-off: super fun to take out. All together, its like a pack of feral dogs.”
“Its mandibles, when it screams, will actually separate and float around in the air while it’s howling. Animation adds so much fresh behaviour to this character.” ~ Kenneth Scott and Kiki Wolfkill, Making Halo 4: Return of the Forerunners
The goal here was to present a much more animalistic, even ferocious dimension to the Forerunner enemies because what’s important to keep in mind here is that these are not the same constructs that we’ve seen in the previous games which were designed as a simple defence contingency. There’s something more about the Prometheans which is explained in the following mission, but the mixture of organic and synthetic textures in this mission combines together really well to make it seem like this harsh jungle is almost like their natural habitat. This tone is really supported by the music in the level, tracks like Ascendancy, Swamp, and Push Through really bring together this very organic tone combined with all these alien sound effects that really do give the Prometheans a distinctive voice in the game, just like other tracks have done for the Covenant previously.Another thing that Infinity introduces to us is the newest generation of Spartans, the Spartan-IVs. Immediately, I find myself going back to what Doctor Halsey said in the Prologue about Spartans being “humanity’s next step, our destiny as a species”, as the Spartan-IVs are a pretty huge addition to the Halo universe. At the same time, there’s a schism that the narrative drives between the Spartan-IVs and the previous generations of Spartans because the newest generation were not kidnapped as six year old children to receive a lifetime of military training and indoctrination, in fact the Spartan-IVs are consenting adult volunteers – most of whom were previously ODSTs or veterans of the Human-Covenant war. These Spartans are fully in-touch with their humanity, as Spartan Ops explores this schism between generations which leads us to ultimately question what a Spartan truly is.
This is also where John and Lasky meet face-to-face once again. We immediately see them on relatively informal terms, Lasky immediately offers John a friendly handshake with a wide grin on his face now that his path has lead him back to his hero.
“Afraid we’ll have to give you an IOU on that welcome home party… Tom Lasky, First Officer of the Infinity. Never thought I’d see you again.”
Sarah Palmer, Commander of all Spartan-IV fireteams, is also introduced in this scene and likewise engages John informally – her first words to him being “I thought you’d be taller”, grinning just like Lasky. What’s interesting here is John’s reaction, rather his lack of a reaction at seeing this new group of Spartans. He gives them a moment’s glance but makes no comment about them, nor gives any visible sign to give us an idea of what he feels about them – he’s shutting himself in again, now that he’s around other people as opposed to just Cortana. He’s stoic and reserved, a clear contrast to his earlier acts of distress and emotive movements, because he’s a symbol to humanity and a soldier that every Spartan-IV aspires to be like.
On the radio, the Captain of the UNSC Infinity, Andrew Del Rio, has established contact with Lasky. Del Rio was introduced in Karen Traviss’ Kilo-5 Trilogy of novels, first mentioned in Glasslands before getting a proper introduction in The Thursday War where the Infinity is deployed to Sanghelios to help the Arbiter out with a rebellion. What’s important to note however is that Del Rio was not the original choice of captain for the Infinity, the Office of Naval Intelligence wanted Lasky for that position which was denied by the UNSC. While Del Rio fulfils a similar role to that of Captain Jacob Keyes from the original Halo, there is a clear distinction made between their characters – Keyes was a legendary captain who inspired loyalty and trust in the hearts of his men for his daring manoeuvres against the Covenant which earned him a great deal of respect, but Del Rio was seen more as a manager, somebody to just keep things in-check.
“Del Rio wasn’t her choice of captain for Infinity. She’d learned to pick her battles and had conceded to that one, but she felt vindicated by observing his crew’s body language. He was just someone filling the uniform, a manager rather than a leader.” ~ Halo: The Thursday War, page 48
“…respond to comm… on what frequency? What frequency, dammit?!”
“Infinity, this is Commander Lasky. Pelican recon teams are down – repeat, all birds are down! We’ve got numerous casualties and require immediate assistance, over!”
“Finally… Did you get the coordinates to that gravity well?”
“Affirmative, sir, but we’re going to need a bus out of here–”
“Make it happen!”
We hear that Del Rio is impatient with his crew, and has little regard for the “numerous casualties” that Lasky mentions – he’s solely interested in whether their objective has been completed. Cortana openly questions Lasky about Del Rio’s orders.
“You were sent on a scouting run in the middle of an attack on the ship?”
“The Captain thought Infinity could provide us cover and hold off the attack at the same time.”
Lasky’s tone of voice is one of frustration, it’s clear that he doesn’t agree with the way in which Del Rio runs things which immediately establishes the contrast between them. What this illustrates is a significant part of Lasky’s character arc, as it serves to illuminate the qualities of a good leader who takes into account the needs of his or her fellow soldiers. We see this quality in Palmer as well who edges in closer to Lasky and quietly informs him that they’ll never be able to get the wounded out on-foot, she’s well aware here that she can’t let the morale of the Spartans under her command and the Marines accompanying them drop. Lasky hears her out and acts on her advice, turning to John.
“I don’t know if it’s too soon to ask you for a favor, but…we’re going to run out of breathing room here real quick. I don’t suppose you’re any good at clearing LZs?”
“On occasion. I’ll send out an all-clear once the area’s secured.”
What I love about this little interaction is just how reciprocal John is around Lasky when he jokingly asks if John is “any good at clearing LZs”, referencing once again the events of Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn where John and Lasky take on a Hunter together in order to clear a path to get to a Pelican dropship. Already, we are able to see the humanising effect that Lasky has on John, as Cortana’s role in this scene is quite minimal outside of questioning the logic of Del Rio’s orders. It’s a subtle dynamic which we see develop between John and Lasky over the course of the narrative.
Speaking of Cortana, towards the end of the level we see her condition continue to deteriorate. John and a squad of Marines (who all react with awe and surprise upon seeing him, believing he was dead) reach a locked door which Cortana has to interface with in order to open – but the process takes her longer than usual as wave after wave of Prometheans swarm the area, leading John to actually question her how long.
“You do your job and I’ll do mine, okay?!”
This manifests as the ‘anger’ aspect of rampancy which continues to be seen at later points in the campaign. She apologises to John after the encounter, passing it off as the security system being more advanced than she expected, to which John immediately attempts to comfort her about it.
“It’s not alright. Nothing about it is alright…”
She says this with a frustrated grimace on her face, which appears on John’s HUD. She knows how bad her condition is starting to get, that it’s gradually worsening and becoming harder to hold back, and to her it appears that John doesn’t seem to quite realise it. They’re interrupted however by the revelation that the Ur-Didact has united the Promethean and Covenant forces together, and Del Rio appears on the COM informing Infinity’s ground forces that the ship has been taken over – that the bridge could be potentially compromised.
Upon reaching the Infinity, Del Rio radios John and informs him that the Ur-Didact has taken down the vessel’s defences and is actively extracting data from the ship’s databanks. This proves John’s intuitive observation at the start of the mission that Infinity was allowed to remain intact by the Ur-Didact because he wanted it that way, he wants to gather information from the vessel which he wouldn’t otherwise have access to. We also see that the Ur-Didact underestimates humanity as well, as John destroys a number of Covenant jammers which were blocking Infinity’s defences, Del Rio informs him that:
“The rate that thing is searching our systems just doubled – I think it knows what you’re up to.”
Implying that the Ur-Didact had the capacity to search Infinity’s databanks faster, but chose not to in order to observe humanity’s military capacity. Once he finds out that he’s being quite lax about the situation as it starts to turn against him, he ends up having to flee the battle as Infinity’s MAC gun starts to take down his Cryptum’s shields.With the mission’s objective complete, we cut to Infinity starting to take off from the crash site with a meeting being held on the bridge between John and Cortana, Del Rio, Palmer, and Lasky. Del Rio is evidently shaken by this hostile encounter with Forerunner technology, he expresses every wish not to pursue the Ur-Didact and begins his questioning with a hostile tone.
“What I want to know, people, is where the hell did those things come from?”
Cortana responds by presenting a possible explanation that they might be native to Requiem, as far as ‘native’ goes for Forerunner constructs, which Del Rio barely even acknowledges as he paces around the holographic table display and expresses confusion about not having seen “this kind of offensive reaction from any of the other installations”.John appears confused as to what Del Rio means by “other installations”, to which Del Rio responds with a grudging and irritated tone by getting Lasky to answer his question. Here, an important detail about the Halo universe is set up.
“Infinity’s mission is to locate the remaining Halo rings, and establish permanent bases to study them for decommission. We’ve got locations up and running around Installations 05 and 03, but lately, they’ve run into some setbacks.”
This was actually a major plot point left over from Halo 3. While we did prevent the Prophet of Truth from firing the Halos at the Ark, we know that in the event of unexpected shutdown the entire Halo array goes into stand-by status. All six remaining Halos are still primed and ready to fire, as Frank O’Connor says:
“There’s still six extant Halos in the galaxy, and primed and ready to fire. We never diffuse that fuse.” ~ Halo, A-Z
Undoubtedly, this will be picked up on again at some point in the future as there are still four other Halos still undiscovered – one of which, Installation 07, still has over twelve Proto-Graveminds on it following the events of the second book of the Forerunner Saga, Primordium.
“A science team got zapped excavating a Forerunner artefact. This… sensor data is all that was left.”
“Interesting… these symbols are a derivation of the Forerunner glyph system.”
“And our geeks managed to pull some coordinates. I’ll give you three guesses where it led.”
Again, we see Del Rio as a purely pragmatic man who appears unconcerned with collateral casualties, just with results. This small exchange is also a seed for later events in the narrative, as the Forerunner artefact which ‘zapped’ the science team was actually the Composer which was recovered from Installation 03. We’ll talk more about the Composer in my next post on the Reclaimer mission, as that’s the tipping point in the story where things become a great deal clearer.What’s important to note in this scene which you may have noticed from these images is the framing and the placement of the characters. Despite the legendary Spartan-117 having been finally reunited with humanity, he and Cortana are often excluded from the frame as Del Rio, Lasky and Palmer interact with one-another. John is made to look and feel out of place, camera shots where John is exchanging dialogue with Del Rio actually put him at the edge of the frame which further serves to distance him from the bridge crew. It’s not until Del Rio starts dishing out orders to Palmer that he steps in and openly questions Del Rio because he’s caught off-guard by what the captain is saying.
“This is a first contact scenario, Master Chief. Priority is to free Infinity from Requiem’s gravity well and file a threat assessment back at FLEETCOM.”
“You mean we’re leaving?”
“Sir, Infinity drove the Didact back. He’s vulnerable!”
“He isn’t the only one…”
John and Cortana are both openly disturbed by Del Rio’s priority being to escape Requiem and return to UNSC space, this is especially important because at this point John has realised that the issue of Cortana’s rampancy will have to wait in the wake of this greater threat that they’re facing. One has to appreciate the position that Del Rio is in however, as it’s clear that he’s really quite out of his depth here and is doing his best to keep things together. He doesn’t want to put humanity’s best and most powerful warship in danger of being destroyed, he’s caught between a rock and a hard place as he sends out Infinity’s crew on almost suicidal missions to ensure the ship’s escape from Requiem.As the tone turns more confrontational, our attention is drawn once more to the framing and lighting. Del Rio leans in to respond to John, his gaze is stoic yet judgemental as we see his face largely shadowed – in visual storytelling 101, this is a clear-cut way of establishing an antagonistic tone when it comes to presenting a character. Contrast this to whenever we see John or Cortana in the frame, the lighting is wholly complimentary of them because they’re the heroes of the story – likewise with Lasky in the above shot. He and Del Rio are on each side of the frame, Lasky appears closer to John which is a visual means through which we see his ‘allegiance’. Palmer stands impartially in the middle, as a soldier and a Spartan she knows that it’s not her place to question orders (as we see her say to Lasky in Spartan Ops when Halsey’s execution is ordered by Admiral Serin Osman), meanwhile Del Rio stands to the right which appears furthest away from John who is standing at the left of the frame.
It’s a beautifully effective method of visual storytelling, as I said it’s these details which you really have to pay attention to in the cutscenes.Del Rio shows himself to be quite petty as well, given how he responds to John.
“You know… I’d think you, of all people, would appreciate the benefit of living to fight another day.”
What this is a direct reference to is the legacy of John’s fellow Spartan-IIs who are almost entirely wiped out, while others are still MIA we only know of three Spartan-IIs who are actively in-service (Fred, Kelly and Linda – John’s old team). It’s an important thematic point in some of the novels with regards to Halsey’s character where she kidnaps Kelly and orders Lord Hood to send her more Spartans so she can hide them away from the war, live to fight another day, because she becomes convinced that humanity cannot win the war with the Covenant, only survive it. Del Rio subverts that notion by turning it against John, reminding him of the brothers and sisters that he grew up with who died while he survived.
Again, like when John first encounters the Spartan-IVs, John has no overt reaction. He shuts himself in, which earns him a concerned look from Cortana before the screen cuts to black and the next level begins.That’s about all I have to say about Infinity. The storylines have converged with the major themes continuing to develop, but they’ve not quite reached that pivot-point yet which will come by the end of the next level, Reclaimer, where the stakes are raised higher and the overarching story becomes clear. John is beginning to display more independent thought, even openly questioning a superior officer, the Prometheans and Covenant have united against their common foe, and Cortana is starting to really struggle to hold back her rampancy as it continues to manifest in a more hostile form.