Halo Infinite is somber and serious, wrapping up a story players have followed for 20 years with the kind of heart wrenching solemnity you'd expect from a Halo tale. But Halo Infinite is also hilarious, both intentionally and unintentionally, throughout its entirety, offsetting its seriousness with moments of pitch-perfect physical and verbal comedy.
With Halo Infinite, 343 Industries achieves something not many other games can: humor without trying too hard or coming off too cringey. Whether it's the hilarious Grunt lines that are all over social media, the brief flashes of a sense of humor in Master Chief, or the accidental hijinks of the UNSC Marines, Halo Infinite is the funniest game I've played in a very long time.
Halo's grunts have always been hilarious, giving us henchmen humor at its finest since Halo: Combat Evolved. Canonically, grunts (or Unggoy, their official species name) are absolutely absurd: they are mean-spirited, squat, and easily felled by just about anything in Master Chief's hands; they're incredibly cowardly and fearful; and they ingest nutrients through something called a 'food nipple', resulting in a species-wide obsession with nippled-shaped objects. If you've played almost any Halo game, you'll have heard grunts discussing a "giant nipple in the sky" or thanking the nipple if a player retreats from combat. Recently, I spotted a Halo Infinite video on Twitter where a grunt says "I bet the Spartan went to *public* nipple academy, ha!"
Thanks to great writing and the ability to inject more humor into gameplay with skulls like Grunt Birthday Party, which turns grunt deaths into celebrations and IWHBYD (I Would Have Been Your Daddy), which unlocks rare dialogue, the grunts have always been hilarious. But 343 Industries takes their cartoon character formula and runs with it to the bank - Halo Infinite is expectedly full of grunts for you to mow down, but its story allows for even more opportunities to deploy grunt lines that will have you spitting out your drink.
Banished propaganda towers are dotted all over Zeta Halo, beaming out transmissions that mimic when a kid grabs your phone and starts recording an Instagram live. Shortly after killing an optional boss named Bassus, I overhear a grunt transmission assuring the Banished that Bassus had been reassigned to a new post and was "definitely not dead". Another transmission is just a grunt reading a poem he wrote for Master Chief that goes "your blood is red, your teammate's blue, your parents don't remember you", while another rags on human names, calling them the "dumbest-sounding names in the galaxy".
Lead narrative designer Aaron Linde tells me via email that they wrote "a few thousand" lines of dialogue for the grunts, with extra special attention paid to Glibnub, the Banished Minister of Propaganda whose voice emanates from the towers. Linde knew Glibnub (voiced by Halo Infinite project lead Joseph Staten) was a key character, but even he was shocked by how much dialogue he had. "I knew the line count was at least a couple hundred lines just for him, but I had no idea that we had written almost an hour of dialogue in total until I saw it all compiled together on YouTube. I guess we went a little hard," he writes.
Social media is inundated with clips of hilarious grunt dialogue, with some so disarmingly funny and meta that I couldn't believe they were real - like one where Glibnub asks if anyone has a spare Xbox controller. I ask Linde about the rarity of the grunt dialogue. "Some are more common than others; some only trigger when the I Would Have Been Your Daddy skull is on. We reserved most of our Easter eggs, like a line where Glibnub makes fun of our names, the 4th-wall stuff, largely to be behind the skull," he explains.
And Linde has a favorite voice line, one that isn't locked behind the IWHBYD skull. "I’m extremely proud of the 'Spartan? You There? You still mad?' line if only because of the ton of videos I’ve seen of people responding to it while playing. Like, literally responding to it, out loud, usually with a certain kind of murderous glee. Those are the moments we set out to inspire and they slay me every time."
Halo's sandbox also allows players to stumble into tons of happy accidents that will have you rolling with laughter. With the ability to free-roam between campaign missions, it sometimes feels like Halo Infinite is a comedy game punctuated by brief beats of seriousness - and I love it that way. The most common catalysts of accidental in-game antics outside of the grunts are the UNSC Marines, whose behavior has me wondering if any of them actually went through boot camp.
With Halo Infinite's new open-world, players have access to Forward Operating Bases or FOBs where you can call in vehicles and choose from an impressive selection of weaponry. Every time you regain control over a FOB, a handful of Marines will pop up there, ready and waiting to hop into your Warthog or follow dutifully behind you on foot. These loyal Marines are always ready to jump into a fight with you, but they aren't all that bright.
During one session, I watched in horror as a Marine dove into the area directly under an incoming Scorpion tank and proceeded to alternate between ducking for cover and standing at attention until they were unceremoniously flattened. A second Marine, clever enough to stand just barely out of reach, walked over and picked up the flattened soldier's sniper rifle. Later, I ran to an FOB close to a high value target in order to grab a special rocket launcher that I had obtained from another HVT. I scrolled through the menu, selected the rocket launcher, and stepped back as I waited for it to appear. But before I could put it in Master Chief's capable hands, a plucky Marine stepped in front of me and took it off the rack. I looked around incredulously, speechless at her gall, before letting out a surprised giggle and summoning another rocket launcher.
Rip this guy #HaloInfinite pic.twitter.com/hTvLTmn7LODecember 13, 2021
When the Marines manage to get into the vehicles rather than get crushed by them, there are some hilarious dialogue gems just waiting to be discovered. Just a few hours into Halo Infinite, after calling in my first Warthog, I accidentally drove myself and two Marines off one of the broken edges of Zeta Halo. As we plummeted towards the vast emptiness of space, the Marine riding shotgun loudly proclaimed, "yup, I'm gonna be sick."
As any stand-up comedian will tell you, comedy isn't easy. Humor is objective and choosing to inject your game with fairly consistent comedy is a risky move. If it doesn't hit, players will cringe their way through gameplay - which is kind of how I feel about the Borderlands franchise. But Halo Infinite player feedback is largely full of praise for its humor, with players taking to social media to post their favorite clips. "For a comedy writer this is about as gratifying as a game launch could be," Linde writes.
Halo has always had pitch-perfect humor, and Halo Infinite brilliantly doubles down on it. It's been a long time since I've laughed this hard and this consistently while playing through a game's campaign, thanks to both purposeful humor and accidental hijinks.