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Halo Infinite review – Master of the mountain

Halo Infinite is the Halo franchise’s new peak.

The franchise is also now distinctively “owned” by developer, 343 Industries. Previously burdened by the ridiculously high standards and expectations set by series creator, Bungie, 343’s Halo, propelled by Infinite, now has an identity of its own.

It doesn’t get there without a few bumps along the way, however. Regrettably, Halo Infinite does not leave much of a first impression. The opening few hours of the campaign paint a familiar and mostly uninspiring reintroduction to Halo mythology and fundamentals. Fans of the series will likely blast through these opening moments with ease, and recognise them as just more of the “standard” Halo we’ve been playing for almost two decades. If you’re new to Halo, chances are your introduction also won’t be all that memorable: you’ll probably also struggle to know what the hell is going on, such is Infinite‘s — and every Halo game before it’s — narrative inaccessibility.

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Beyond the chasm that is Infinite‘s multi-hour tutorial, however, is a quasi-open-world battleground that neither bombards you with mindless fetch quests and intimidating map-stacking, nor leaves you with an empty world. The opening few hours for me were weirdly reminiscent of Halo 4‘s closing segments: neon-lit interiors and slick corridors introduce us to Halo Infinite‘s fundamentals, the bare minimum of what you’ll need to survive this world.

There are no surprises here: the core gameplay is still the same satisfying, mostly-accessible foundation of the quintessential Halo experience. Halo Infinite is, just as with its predecessors, all about movement, mobility, and variety. This carries into the multiplayer offering, something many have already dabbled in over a few weeks, thanks to the surprise “beta” release ahead of the full launch on December 9. The Halo foundation, drenched in a familiar philosophy, leads into a far deeper, more energetic and engaging experience, one that isn’t truly realised until the world opens up for you.

Kind of, sort of open-world

343 wasn’t joking when it said Halo Infinite wasn’t a “true” open world. Zeta Halo, our base for Halo Infinite‘s campaign, falls somewhere between sandbox, open-world and corridor shooter. Many of the game’s main campaign missions follow a very strict, linear pathway, with very little deviation from core objectives. Outside of that, the game world is open to explore … provided you tick certain campaign boxes to progress to new “islands”. The scale and verticality on offer is unlike anything we’ve seen in a Halo game before — it’s not even close — and sometimes the exploration can be genuinely entertaining, sometimes even therapeutic.

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Master Chief’s grappling hook, one of multiple new gadget accessories you’ll unlock and have access to throughout the campaign, is by far the most important tool in Halo Infinite, and it’s not even close. You’ll use it to traverse mountains and ranges, take out enemies, pull in weapons, vehicles and objects of interest to you, and really just get around the world with. I get mad Spider-Man game vibes on occasion with Infinite; there’s obvious attempts at keeping this grounded enough so you’re not swinging infinitely across the map, but if you time it just right you could easily swing from trees, mountains and cliffs with relative ease. Sometimes, simply using the grappling hook is easier than using any other vehicle in the game.

It is perhaps the most significant addition to the gameplay here, and the wider Halo franchise, and it perfectly compliments the (more) open world. This world, littered with UNSC and Banished (our primary antagonist) bases, is a slick companion to Infinite‘s main story: unlocking Forward Operation Bases (FOB) areas by eliminating all Banished in the area will open new fast travel locations, as well as unlock new key points of interest in the area on the map. These areas include mini-boss strongholds, which, once completed, unlock new weapons and vehicles to be stored at the FOBs, as well as additional collectables and narrative elements, some of which can be carried over into the game’s multiplayer component.

It all ties together relatively well, and Zeta Halo is fun to explore and cause havoc in, but some of 343’s open-world inexperience is on display at times. For example, the FOBs act as weapon storage zones, where you can change up weaponry and restock ammo. For whatever reason, you need to call in multiple of the same weapon to max out its ammunition, which seems counter-productive. Additionally, you can swap out weapons with marines located at the base, meaning you can stock every marine with a rocket launcher. This causes some rather unbalanced firefights: call in a vehicle, invite the marines to join as passengers, and you’ll basically drive around as a mobile tank. Alternatively, call in a Gungoose, and with one rocket launcher-packing marine sitting on the back, you’re essentially invincible during a firefight.

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Granted, the aforementioned might be genuinely honest rewards for your progression, and they give the game world a unique sandbox feel that’s never really been present in a Halo game before. But aside from the campaign missions, blasting through the side stuff can be done with relative ease once you unlock the necessary weapons and vehicles.

That’s not to say it isn’t fun, and the good news is that there’s enough to do — unlocked at just the right pace — that it never feels “game breaking” in its ease. I just wonder if maybe the intent here truly was to have Master Chief driving around in a Warthog with four marines all brandishing rocket launches (hot tip: make sure you drive around as Master Chief with four marines brandishing rocket launchers …).

Interestingly, all of this seems optional: I’ve never come across a point in Halo Infinite where I needed to clear an area, or unlock a particular FOB in order to progress in the campaign, so if you want to stick to the campaign story line in isolation, you’re free to do that. It’s an interesting design choice, because I get the feeling that the campaign is pretty much entirely separate from the “game” that is Halo Infinite‘s open world. They do at times feel like completely different games. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I do suspect that this may have been what led to co-op campaign delays, as there’s a complex layer of pacing and mission structure present that separates Infinite from every other Halo game before it.

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My only other callout here is the scale of the map UI. There are few visual queues that immediately highlight completion of an area, and the sense of “completion” of all main points of interest and collectibles, while still outlined and detailed in some capacity, isn’t particularly obvious. Clearer, more visually attractive cues that highlight completion and progression of an area would be helpful in understanding just how much you’ve progressed throughout an area.

Master of emotion

Halo Infinite‘s campaign presents an interesting turn in personality for Master Chief. He seems wary, cautious, more so than ever before, and yet weirdly understanding. Despite Halo Infinite‘s incoherent plotting mechanisms — no one’s fault, there’s just a lot to take in — Master Chief is, as he always has been, strangely likeable. He has the personality of a rusty nail, and yet he embodies a sense of leadership, scepticism, and sometimes even optimism that makes it impossible not to like him.

The campaign also manages to do something few games can: offer a rational, logical thinking enemy. The Banished, a familiar face from Halo Wars 2, are our key antagonists here, and their leaders approach each hiccup with a level of logical and rational thinking, that it’s difficulty not to genuinely fear their presence. There’s almost a mutual respect between Master Chief and the Banished’s leaders, and that makes for a powerful conflict. Master Chief’s interactions with AI ‘The Weapon’ (yes, that’s its name) are similarly approached with slick perfection. Without diving too much into the story — or what I can make of it — Cortana does have a presence here, but the ongoing relationship and banter between Master Chief and The Weapon make for some of the game’s more memorable — and emotional — moments.

Progressive art

Halo has for almost two decades helped define the online shooter genre, although it’s lost some footing in recent years. It’s not quite reached the peak of Halo 2 and Halo 3, with 343’s entries since Halo 4 always hitting that “good but not great” ceiling. Halo Infinite‘s online world, however, may well be the best Halo multiplayer for more than a decade.

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It’s fun. It’s brutal. It’s varied. And it’s tough. It’s burdened by the modern-day season pass culture, sure, but the early days paint a very good picture of what will undoubtedly be a “service” for years to come. The only downside is its shoddy progression system, something 343 is actively working on, and desperately needs to fix. I don’t mind the Challenges and how they vary and randomise, allowing you to switch up with consumables should a particular Challenge not tickle your fancy, but base progression as it stands doesn’t quite have the sense of “reward” that’s been set by genre heavyweights.

That aside, Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer just feels “right”: it’s obvious that this is the culmination of almost a decade of work and experimentation at 343 since the studio took over from Bungie, and it definitely appears to have hit its sweet spot. It’ll be interestung seeing how Halo Infinite is tracking in 12 months from now, but my prediction is that it’ll be active and ongoing deep into the Xbox Series X lifecycle.

Halo Infinite review

The Final Verdict

Halo Infinite is a new peak for the Halo franchise, and a true reflection of 343 Industries’ commitment to the iconic Halo franchise. The campaign is alone worth the price of admission, offering a unique yet strangely familiar Halo experience, set within the largest and most inviting world seen yet across the franchise. Its online world is equally as appealing, and it, too, could carry the weight of expectation Halo Infinite demands. If you own an Xbox Series X or Series S, Halo Infinite is a must-own.

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