Hacks, cheese, and cheats in competitive multiplayer

No, it's not "harmless" fun

It’s not even properly out yet – one more sleep to go! – and already, people are cheating in Halo Infinite. Developer 343 Industries‘ social media accounts have been flooded with complaints from unhappy Halo-ers, some with video evidence that their opponents are breaking the rules of polite FPS engagement. As a Redditor so succinctly summarised when sharing this travesty of a video: “The absolute state of Halo Infinite ranked right now”.

Though not surprising, it’s depressing to see it all the same. While I reckon my kill/death ratio would be a damned sight rosier if I had ever learned to cheat (honestly, it’s such a faff on console), there’s not a single part of my body or soul that understands the motivation to do so. It’s true that the problem is worse in ranked lobbies – that is, the really competitive matches that keep a running tally of your shooty highs and lows – but some absolute dicksplashes cheat in unranked play, too. For no reason other than they’re wankers, I guess.

It’s not an issue unique to Halo, of course. Cheating affects all games, especially shooters, and as we covered recently, there are few games on the market where cheating is as impactful as it is in Escape From Tarkov, where a chance meeting with a hacker can wipe out hours of progress and gear.

Once upon a time, though, a video game “cheat” was something very different. Developers would hard-code secrets into a game to reward the lucky few who knew them; a fancy new gun here, perhaps, or a cool little shortcut there. Not all are created equal – I have a friend who worked at a Halo-adjecent studio who once told me they were so scared about showing themselves up when demo-ing a game live, the team programmed a special Konami code-esque God Mode for them just in case they needed it and holy shit, I wish they’d shared it with me – but they’re not cheats, exactly, because they’re part of the game, created and sanctioned by the people who made it.

Halo Infinite multiplayer
Halo Infinite multiplayer. Credit: 343 Industries

I think of cheesing – that is, kinda-sorta exploiting a weakness in a game to complete an objective in a way the developer had not originally intended – in the same way, although I accept you may not. Did Bungie want me to get through Destiny‘s Cerberus Vae III Strike on Nightfall by cowering under the stairs for an hour and boring the main boss to death? Did they fuck. Did that stop me doing it? Lol, no. I suspect they felt the same about us using the bridge cheese in Crota’s End, too, but that didn’t stop us, either. Gamers are, by their very nature, curious, exploratory folk. We instinctively want to turn left when a waypoint tells us to turn right. The fact that gamers discover these secrets and exploits in the first place blows my mind, and I reckon it probably reluctantly amazes developers, too.

Third-party aimbots and wallhacks, though? These are not the same thing. They’re not written by the very people who make the game. They’re not delicious little secrets to reward replays, exploration, or for pulling off a neat in-game trick. They’re gross and exploitative and can bleed enjoyment from even the most colourful shooter, especially when there’s cross-play – the ability for gamers on different devices to play together – from which players can’t opt-out. It means gamers who play on console (which are harder, if not quite impossible, to hack and cheat with) are forced to play with PC players, for which cheat software is plentiful and readily available.

Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite. Credit: 343 Industries.

343 Industries says “cheating is a natural part of supporting a free-to-play PC game and it’s one we anticipated“, and even acknowledges “it’ll never go away entirely”. However, the team is “prepared and committed” to improving the game’s systems in a way that takes a “game-wide approach to anti-cheat”.

I hope they don’t take their time looking for those solutions, though. I just stuck “cheat software Halo Infinite” into Google and I instantly found a site that promised me a “undetectable” deadly aimbot and the ability to always know where your enemies are for the bargain price of $35 (£26). PER MONTH. Another boasts a warning system to let you know when you’re being targeted, a little like Wraith’s ability in Apex Legends (an apt game to mention here, actually, given cheating is rife in that at the moment, too).

What chance do I, a happy if hopeless player, have against that? Where’s the enjoyment in continually battering a team that simply cannot beat you – not because you’re better than them, but because you’re a twat paying £26 a month to cheat at a free-to-play game?

Vikki Blake is a video games journalist and regular contributor to NME.

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