The joy of melee

Technology

Watching the Halo Infinite reveal in the recent Xbox Showcase reminded me about the groundbreaking elements of the original Halo and how it transformed the console FPS genre. That moment of wonder when you escape The Pillar of Autumn in a dropship and set foot onto an alien world, when you look up at the awe-inspiring Halo ring towering above you and marvel, most of all, at the freedom of that open space. Freedom is the true essence of Halo.

That means lots of freedom in how you tackle encounters. Different weapons, grenades, and that legendary two-gun slot pushed you to be truly experimental. And you ended up with favourites. My preferred mode of attack was the Halo staple of melee. It felt truly thrilling, as the enemy behaviour made you feel connected to them and the Halo universe. Each new weapon had different melee animations, so I was addicted to collecting them all like Pokémon. The first time I chased a screaming Grunt and hit B, when Master Chief flipped the M6D Pistol in the air and smashed the grip onto the noggin of a Grunt? That had me hooked. Ever since that moment I made it my mission to melee Grunts with every single gun I acquired in the game. Creating my own narrative regarding the combative relationship between Master Chief and the Covenant, I decided he felt sympathetic towards Grunts and tried his best not to shoot them.

By him I mean me, of course. Grunts are one of the greatest enemies in the Halo universe because they were designed to be funny: they had personalities and vocalisations that draw you towards them. I just couldn’t bear to shoot them, so I tried my best to melee them or throw sticky plasma grenades at them. Grunts saying “Noooooo oh oh” and running away was priceless.

So the B button for me was the hilarity button. My favourite melee animation of the UNSC weapon collection was the M19 SSM Rocket Launcher: you grip the barrel, rotate the gun to smack the Grunt on the top of the head with the stock. Whack. The Needler was my favourite Covenant weapon due to the pink crystalline tracking needles that detonated, but the melee was also brilliant – you moved the gun to the side and pushed the needle-end into your target. Ouch. However, I didn’t try to melee the Flood because I was either too busy running away in terror or holding my trusty Flood barrier, the M90 shotgun. Best friend to the melee attack.

My melee obsession is still with me now. If a game has fantastic melee animations then I’m in. The Batman Arkham series was the perfect vehicle for melee, the free-flow combat system seemed simplistic, but the animations created a sense of freedom even within a restrictive set of inputs. Recently, The Last Of Us Part 2 has the best melee combat animations I’ve ever seen, that visceral thrill that immerses you in the world and connects you to your actions – and leaves you a bit queasy.

Back in the day, Halo CE had the same thrill, that magic essence created between the player and the constructed universe. Your fingers transcended reality and transported you into a new world. Time to find my next melee fix.