Master Chief looks at the Weapon in a dark dungeon in Halo Infinite.

Screenshot: 343 Industries

The most shocking moment in Halo Infinite isn’t about exploding a derelict ancient space station or accidentally awakening a once-slumbering threat. It’s a brief exchange between two main characters, one that reveals the extent to which Halo protagonist Master Chief would go to fulfill what he sees as his immovable duty. It’s kind of a lot to process. Let’s talk about it.

Major spoilers follow for Halo Infinite.

An image warning about spoilers for Halo Infinite.

In Halo Infinite’s campaign, which hit Xbox and PC on December 8, you’re not alone. For the bulk of the story, you’re accompanied by a cognizant artificial intelligence unit known as the Weapon, who bears a strong resemblance to Cortana, the longtime AI companion of Chief and arguably the heart of Halo. (Fun fact: Both characters are voiced by Jen Taylor, who also provided the voice for Dr. Catherine Halsey, the scientist upon whom Cortana is based, in prior Halo media.)

On paper, the Weapon’s mission was to delete Cortana, who committed a whole bunch of genocides between Halo 5 and Halo Infinite. The Weapon succeeded, apparently, some time before the events of Halo Infinite. There’s just one catch: Upon control-alt-deleting Cortana, the Weapon was also supposed to self-destruct. So, yeah, there’s mystery afoot, and it’s quickly made clear Chief knows more than he’s letting on—both explicitly, in conversation with the Weapon, and, as a direct result of those chats, implicitly to the player—but just what it is that he’s keeping so close to the chest is shrouded in secrecy.

“The kind of more simplistic view of the game is: Chief is on a mission to kill his best friend, and then something went wrong,” Halo Infinite associate creative director Paul Crocker told Kotaku in a recent interview. “And you then have to start looking at it through the lens of, ‘Well, what did Chief know? Well, why does the Weapon not know everything? There must be a reason for all these things.’”

There is. But before you figure everything out, you go on a mission that culminates with Chief trying to delete the Weapon—who, to reiterate, has been your sidekick for most of the game. Here’s a clip showing both the first time he considers deleting the Weapon, then the second time, in which he actually tries to go through with it:

“You are slowly unlocking the reasons for why Chief acted the way he has, albeit in a subtle way, all the way through the game,” Crocker said.

In the wake of Chief’s betrayal, there’s a palpable albeit very understandable tension between the main duo. The third main character, a stranded engineer known as the Pilot, openly wonders where the banter between Chief and the Weapon went. It’s not total silence, but dialogue is largely limited to just a few perfunctory lines that double as player instruction.

“Obviously, [Halo Infinite], being a game, has quite a few lines that we have for players who are lost or whatever because we were trying to just make sure it’s easy to play,” Crocker said. (The workaround: During the level after the bombshell moment, Taylor is acerbic and sarcastic, condescending even, in her delivery of the Weapon’s lines.)

Red Flag, 034, Samuel

As users on Reddit have pointed out, the activation code Chief utters to delete the Weapon, “Red flag, 034, Samuel,” is a reference to events from the novel Fall of Reach.

You eventually learn why Master Chief did what he did. Infinite reveals, by way of hologram, that the Weapon is a replica of Cortana, who’d recently spent her free time obliterating cities and planets. The failsafe code Chief repeats, once during the mission “the Sequence” and once shortly after, is there to prevent the Weapon from getting into a similar habit. Upon learning this, the Weapon herself even urges Chief to delete her. He says he will not, and he openly admits that he does not trust the Weapon, but notes that he’d like to—annnnd then everything’s back to peaches and gravy. It solves one big mystery at the core of Halo Infinite (that the player is not privy to the same history Chief is), though I’d argue it lets Chief off the hook just a bit too easy.

Still, whatever you think of the twist, there’s the unassailable fact that you spend about an hour of Halo Infinite not as some unflappable, steel-nerved supersoldier but as someone who’s very willing to murder a partner without explanation. There’s a stretch of Halo Infinite where it is genuinely difficult to occupy the boots of Master Chief. For a character who’s spent two decades as a cipher—as a blank-slate character upon whom players can project—it’s a shocking turn of events. You’re, dare I say, playing as the bad guy, at least for a fleeting moment.

“I hope people…maybe ‘like’ is the wrong word, [but I hope] it affects people as they’re playing because, again, people want Chief to be this hero, but they also want him to have some complications,” Crocker said. “We wanted to make you feel uneasy.”

 

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