Cortana’s Story Shouldn’t Be Pushed Aside In Halo Infinite

Cortana began life as Master Chief’s naked blue space girlfriend, and it’s always been a little cringe. The artificial intelligence construct designed by and based on Catherine Halsey, the lead scientist behind the controversial Spartan programme, has been by the space marine’s side from the very beginning. Halo simply wouldn’t be the same without her.

She’s fought with him against the Covenant, Prometheans, Flood, and countless other terrors that have threatened to destroy the galaxy. They’re an iconic duo, so much so that Microsoft named its own voice assistant after the character despite the fact it sounds absolutely nothing like her. So when the time came for 343 Industries to slowly pull them apart in service of emotional narrative crescendos and a deeper approach to lore in the mainline games, their relationship became infinitely more fascinating.

Halo 4 saw Cortana enter rampancy, a condition that affects all constructs at a certain point in their lives. Their ‘brains’ begin to degrade, causing them to make irrational decisions and even put their masters in danger if they’re in possession of precious information. Cortana has been influenced by the Gravemind and fiddled with ancient Forerunner technology, so she’s as busted as they come. So when push comes to shove and rampancy begins to take its toll, the process is slow, painful, and plants a new emotional core in Master Chief’s character.

The once stoic man who shoots good became a man who shoots good with emotions and shit. Much like B.J Blazkowicz in the modern Wolfenstein titles, 343 Industries took the core foundations of Master Chief’s character and expanded upon them. He’s still an unstoppable killing machine, but one with a history and relationships with people that mean something. Spartans are essentially young children who were stolen away from their families and subjected to artificial growth hormones, intense physical training, and a healthy dose of military indoctrination. They were built to quell human insurrection across myriad colonies, but the arrival of the Covenant saw them become so much more. Such a past meant Master Chief hasn’t been able to form relationships or fall in love – his fractured bond with Cortana is all he’s got, so he hangs onto it with everything he has. Unfortunately, Cortana meets her end in Halo 4 – at least, that was the initial plan until a rogue signal found halfway across the galaxy in Halo 5 sends our protagonist on a galaxy-wide hunt for his renegade blue girlfriend.

Bad news though, her rampancy remains and she’s now working with an ancient race of beings that want to destroy the galaxy. The final scenes of Halo 5 have Cortana taking control of all UNSC technology before stumbling upon another Halo ring – presumably the one we’ll spend all our time on in Halo Infinite. That’s the last we saw of her, and that was almost six years ago. Later this year, 343 Industries needs to continue this narrative while also treating the series to a soft-reboot of sorts. It’s Combat Evolved 2 in all but name, and that sadly involves leaving behind many of the strides the studio has made since adopting the series from Bungie.

I don’t want 343 Industries to leave behind The Reclaimer Trilogy’s wider narrative in service of pleasing everyone. While Halo 4 and 5 had their problems, I don’t think the story was one of them. Unlike the original trilogy, they weren’t afraid to lean into the novels, comics, and other supplemental materials to flesh out the universe. As a result, the stories we were told felt grander and more coherent, like we were on a personal journey as a human being rather than a faceless self-insert designed to shoot first and ask questions later. It meant more to me, and I imagine a bunch of other fans feel the same. This especially extends to Cortana’s relationship with Master Chief, and her agency in this world and how her arc still requires a definitive resolution.

E3 2021 was very light on narrative details for Halo Infinite, opting to focus on multiplayer while pushing its campaign to the side. However, we did see one sequence, which has Master Chief befriending a new artificial intelligence who informs him that Cortana has been deleted. So is that it? Has the big bad from the previous two games been wiped clean and we’re supposed to accept it with an obedient whimper? I sincerely hope not, since 343 Industries would be doing a colossal disservice to everything it’s built thus far. It’s likely a red herring, designed to draw Master Chief into a false sense of security as he begins to mourn one of the only friends he’s ever had, while knowing he needs to keep fighting for the sake of humanity. Our boy needs to finish the fight (again).

Halo Infinite is clearly the start of this series’ life as a live-service title, and I wouldn’t be shocked if the launch campaign and further story expansions are explored in this manner. It will keep players invested in a singular ecosystem, one that takes Xbox Game Pass and multiple platforms into account. With this future in mind, I hope Microsoft doesn’t forget that the core appeal of Halo doesn’t just sit with its multiplayer, but also the grandiose stories it has told over the years – how it made me feel like an epic hero as a child when I stepped forward to save the galaxy when nobody else could. The bond between Master Chief and Cortana sits at the epicentre of this, and I hope it receives the resolution it truly deserves.

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