The Flood are one of the most infamous antagonists in modern first-person shooters, and boast an interesting history within the Halo universe.
Halo is one of gaming’s more successful attempts at expansive storytelling through the use of multiple mediums. The iconic science-fiction franchise is the Xbox brand’s original killer app, and it has spawned a plethora of adaptations including novels, comics, and TV shows – such as an upcoming live-action Halo streaming series.
Typical of science-fiction works, the world of Halo is home to numerous alien species, including some that attempt to annihilate humanity. The infamous Flood, out of all the alien species in Halo, has been the most ruthless in their actions, and the most terrifying in their ultimate goals.
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According to Halo lore, the Flood is a product of a war between the Forerunners and the Precursors. Some Precursors, who lost the war, were turned into regenerative dust that created horrific mutations. The remaining Precursors assimilated into this newfound corruption. They became the Flood and destroyed the Forerunners, taking over Forerunner-controlled planets in the process. Although the Flood ended up targeting the Milky Way, their initial attacks wound up benefitting humans at the expense of Forerunners.
The Flood are conceptually nightmare fuel in the realm of science-fiction. They are a highly adaptable parasitic species that reproduces by consuming both the bodies and minds of sentient lifeforms. By the time the events of Halo: Combat Evolved took place, the Flood had already assimilated most lifeforms in the galaxy into their hivemind. Because of their flexibility, the Flood’s physical appearances can vary. While their skin color is relatively consistent, ranging from green, to black, to brown, their height and weight depends on their host.
This variety is especially blatant when a human-based Flood is compared to a Covenant-based Flood. The Flood did not take sides during the Human-Covenant war, assimilating everyone and every thing possible. Another consistent aspect of the Flood is its ability to retain a host’s memories, essentially becoming a distorted version of their host’s character. Because of these powers, the Flood are considered one of the biggest existential threats in the Halo universe.
Despite being one of the most memorable aspects of Halo and its world thanks to their various forms, the Flood’s existence used to be a spoiler. In the first Halo game, the Flood were completely hidden until Master Chief finds a recording of one marine’s experience. It's this event that leads to the Flood being freed for the first time in centuries, quickly spreading across the eponymous Halo Ring – which is revealed to be designed for exterminating the Flood by starving them of sustainable life sources.
The Flood’s sudden ambush was not just an effective use of horror when the first Halo game came out, it also subverted player expectations and added to a grayer area to the military conflicts that dominate its story. It exposed Halo not as a benevolent tool of protection, but as ruthless and genocidal as the Flood themselves. This twist contributed to Halo's innovations in the FPS genre.
By the time Halo started getting sequels, the Flood were still threatening but stopped being a source of surprising horror. They remained major antagonists throughout the original trilogy, and were the primary source of truces between humans and the Covenant. The best example of such collaboration is in Halo 2, when Master Chief and Covenant's holy warrior the Arbiter team up to defeat the Flood. In Halo 3, both Chief and the Arbiter end up teaming up with the Flood itself, showing the hivemind is rather pragmatic when necessary. Even after their defeat and decreased relevance in the series, the Flood remain impactful on the franchise and players’ perspective of what science-fiction villains can accomplish in video games.
Halo Infinite is set to release on December 8 for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. The multiplayer beta is available now.
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