Using audio logs to help convey a game’s story is nothing new. In fact, audio logs aren’t even new to Halo, with Halo 3: ODST’s Sadie's Story being one of the most memorable parts of an incredibly memorable game, and Halo 4’s Terminals delivering key details about the Didact. Halo 5 utilized them too. But Halo Infinite – thanks to its campaign’s open-ring structure – is putting them to use in a contextually fascinating way: to tell multiple sides of the larger story about the fight on Zeta Halo between the UNSC and The Banished that takes place prior to the start of when you as Master Chief enter the fray.
You’ll find data pads scattered all over Zeta Halo, and they house audio logs that fall into three categories: UNSC, Banished, and Spartan. There are also Forerunner Archives. But there are multiple stories within those groups. “The great thing that the audio logs gave us is the opportunity to fill in some of the blanks that players can experience at their own pace,” said Halo Infinite associate creative director Paul Crocker. “Each one of those then leads to another connecting kind of piece of the game, whether it's the Marines you're finding, the Spartans and what happened to some of them, [etc.].”
Crocker characterized them as “really polished kind of radio plays,” and thankfully, you don’t have to worry about trying to piece the story of these audio logs together yourself. Some audio logs will tell one-off stories relevant to the location you find them, but for the bulk of them that spin a larger yarn, you can discover the data pads in any order and they’ll play out in linear order so that you hear the story as it was meant to be experienced. But 343 was keen to make sure that finding one won’t stop the action. “We made conscious decisions with the audio logs in the game,” Crocker began. “Like when you find one, you can just hit X and you will collect it or you can hold [X] and you will get to play it [right then]. And then we've very purposefully said, well, if you hold that button and you choose to play it, it will take priority over everything else. So if you just want to be walking through the game, just listening to the data pads and having effectively your kind of library of story, moving around the game with you, apart from a cutscene, they will take priority. Everything else just gets kind of muted down.”
Halo 4’s Terminals were criticized for burying too much key story information in them, and Halo franchise narrative writer Jeff Easterling acknowledged that the 343 team is trying to strike a better balance for Halo Infinite. “I think [the audio logs are] a neat way to balance that element of, 'What are our stories that we can tell that enrich?', but that you don't feel are a requirement,” he said. “They're there for the players who want to scrape a little bit below the surface.”
Easterling hopes having several perspectives in the audio logs will give players multiple ways into this larger optional part of Infinite's story. “One of the ways that we had specifically kind of designed is that there are threads that you can also kind of choose from too,” he said. “So there will be people, of course, who want to see all, but there might be some people who may happen upon like a specific story arc or a specific thread that they're like, 'Oh, I, I kind of actually want to follow this one.'”
“They feel like these great ways to look out into the wider story,” Crocker added. “And at the same time they can be more human because like, let's be honest, you put a bunch of Marines in the back of your Warthog and drive off the side of a cliff – you're not really thinking about what's going to happen to those Marines at that moment as a player. But as Chief, you want to have that kind of reason why you're protecting humanity. And that's what they give us.”
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN's executive editor of previews and host of both IGN's weekly Xbox show, Podcast Unlocked, as well as our monthly(-ish) interview show, IGN Unfiltered. He's a North Jersey guy, so it's "Taylor ham," not "pork roll." Debate it with him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan.