Ahead of the anticipated launch of Halo Infinite, Halo hype hadn’t reached such peaks in a long while. In my 20 years of playing the franchise, I recall two times when excitement for the Master Chief’s next outing was at a fever pitch. And it was for the two sequels for Halo: Combat Evolved. Before Halo 2, the Master Chief’s shiny visor was printed on practically every 7-Eleven Slurpee cup in the land. Certainly, Halo rage has returned, but it’s not quite like it was then. It exists alongside an unmistakable air of caution.
It’s been nearly a decade since developer 343 Industries picked up the torch left by Bungie. Both games the company made during that time were divisive among fans and critics. I did like Halo 4, though, and its attempt at humanizing the Master Chief in a way that few games in the franchise had dared. The story was enjoyable, but the ho-hum enemies and multiplayer mode left a lot to be desired. Halo 5: Guardians, however, hit the ground with an audible thud. While the multiplayer was decent, its story saw the resurrection of Cortana as an intergalactic dictator, something that the game and subsequent books struggled to justify.
The return of the Chief
Indeed, the excitement for Halo Infinite — the third and final game in 343’s Reclaimer Trilogy — is real, but overshadowed by the big question: does it live up to the legacy? After playing the game from start to finish, blasting Grunts and skidding over grassy plains in a Warthog like the good old days, I have my answer.
Yes, while it may not go down in history as the best in the franchise, Halo Infinite‘s campaign is an excellent return to form. Not only does it provide some of the best Halo gameplay in years, but delivers an emotional and engaging story that will keep your focus locked. It’s not perfect, mind. But it’s a satisfying adventure, demonstrating that 343 Industries has at last confidently come into its own as the Halo developer.
Welcome to Installation 07
Halo Infinite‘s story kicks off roughly 18 months after Cortana’s rise to power. At least, that’s how it begins: with the Master Chief and the UNSC in a final attempt to bring down the AI. However, the UNSC forces are assaulted on all sides by the Banished, a mercenary force made of ex-Covenant soldiers. The UNSC loses. In an interesting turn, six months pass between the opening scene and when the Chief is found adrift by a roving Pelican dropship. He is rescued by its pilot, known as either “the Pilot” or Echo-216 — or Brohammer by the community, as a nod to the original game’s popular dropship pilot.
With this gap of time, Halo Infinite‘s story is laid out like a partially completed puzzle. You learn the important parts early on. The Banished, led by an imposing Brute named Escharum, has taken hold of a damaged Zeta Halo — also known as Installation 07. Alongside the unwilling Pilot, the Master Chief goes to the ringworld to stop the Banished from hatching whatever evil plan it’s on. Together, they retrieve an AI known as the Weapon, who partners up with the Chief. Because you can’t hack terminals with a fist.
Who’s the rookie?
The core of the game’s story is the relationship between the Master Chief and the Weapon. At first, the Chief is locked into his typical humorless stoicism. After all, a lot has happened since Halo 4, and the Weapon looks and sounds just like Cortana, his old friend (albeit with more clothes). But she isn’t as smarmy as her counterpart — she’s naïve, and a little awkward. Over time, however, the Chief’s attitude noticeably changes. He shows concern over her, and even cracks dry jokes for their amusement. Character development has been at the forefront of 343’s new trilogy, and it’s good to see it sticking to its guns.
Larger pieces of the narrative puzzle are delivered through the mission beats. There are a lot of questions here: What happened to Cortana? What is Escharum planning? Those do get answered in time. A lot of the smaller pieces come in the form of collectible audio logs, left behind by UNSC and Banished forces. They fill in the details, explaining what happened just before and during the Chief’s six-month slumber. Longtime Halo fans will also appreciate the callbacks to the older games and some of the novels.
A concern I have with the story is that it tries to do a little too much in places. I enjoyed the clash between the protagonists and the wheezy, bloviating Escharum. But the game also tries to squeeze in a B plot. It’s intriguing enough, though it sometimes threatens to derail the other segments.
Early on, 343 Industries was adamant that Halo Infinite was not an open-world game. And it kind of isn’t. For the most part, the game follows a linear path. Once you complete the game’s first mission, you know exactly where to go next, and so on. However, between each story mission, you have the freedom to explore, take on side events, or hunt down hidden collectibles.
Forward Operation Bases, or FOBs, dot the land. Recapturing them from the Banished will award you with a place to restock weapons or call in vehicles, delivered by Echo-216. They can also be used as fast travel points. Once a FOB is reclaimed, it will show nearby Banished outposts, captured marines, and even some collectibles in the in-game map. It’ll be up to you to either hunt these things down, or call in a Mongoose to scurry off to the next story mission and continue.
Choose your method
Regardless, the FOBs are the best way to plan out your next move. You can grab a sniper rifle if you want to take out enemy forces from a distance. Or, maybe you’d rather go at it the standard way and bust down the doors armed with a Battle Rifle and Bulldog shotgun. One method I employed was to fill a Razorback with a troop of marines carrying rocket launchers and sniper rifles and let them do all the dirty work. Doing this, though, I did discover that there is a limit to how many of one weapon type you can call in. It’s also not hard to notice the four weapon access crates found in each FOB. While the co-op mode wasn’t ready for launch, the amount of crates does suggest you may be able to buddy up with three others.
There are other limits when it comes to FOBs. You need Valor points in order to unlock more vehicles, as well as marine and weapon variants. Valor is awarded by completing missions, taking out Banished outposts, rescuing marines, or destroying Propaganda Towers (thankfully, you don’t have to climb them). So you can’t just start up the game and call down a Scorpion tank. You have to earn it.
Not too large
As mentioned, Halo Infinite isn’t a true open-world game, to perhaps some detriment. Though not small by any means, fans of open-world games may smirk at the size of the game’s playable area. You travel across a handful of “islands,” chunks of the ring broken off when Zeta Halo was damaged. But instead of water, these sections are suspended in place. Looking down from the edge, it’s certainly intimidating when it’s not water you see but the endless void of space.
It feels like the second mission of Halo: Combat Evolved, but stretched far beyond its original scope. And as such, Halo Infinite misses out on some of the interesting biomes of its predecessors. There are no snowy canyons as seen in Assault on the Control Room, and while there are swamp-like areas, they’re far from the spine-tingling nature of 343 Guilty Spark. There are, of course, plenty of Forerunner structures to peruse — and they’re the best I’ve seen yet from the series.
The smaller world does offer an advantage, however. Games like Assassin’s Creed are certainly massive, but much of the environment feels lifeless and empty. By focusing on a more confined area, 343 was able to enrich Zeta Halo with details large and small. The disappointment of not having a snowy area may vanish from your mind when you spot an enormous, beautiful waterfall as you’re flying over in a Wasp or Banshee. Next to a Banished stronghold, you may stumble on a marine stakeout point complete with a sniper rifle, makeshift bedding, and discarded MREs. On a nearby mountain, a fallen marine across a dead Elite next to a Banshee hints at a story that will never be fully told. Easter eggs and secrets are also hidden throughout. There’s a lot to experience, which should help prevent the fatigue of true open-world games from settling in.
A detailed world would mean nothing if the gameplay was lacking, but that’s not the case with Halo Infinite. This is the most fun I’ve had in a Halo game in a long time. And I have to owe a lot of that to the Grappleshot. I love this thing. With the press of a button, you can zip up ledges, reel yourself close to enemies to deliver a meaty elbow, snatch weapons from the ground or mid-air, and even commandeer most vehicles. It integrates so naturally into the classic trinity of guns, grenades, and melee, I often wondered how I ever got along without it.
Other equipment gets unlocked through story progression, and is upgradable via Spartan Cores scattered throughout the game. With all equipment unlocked and powered up, the Chief becomes a nearly unstoppable force. There weren’t many engagements where I felt I was out of options. Faced with too many foes, you can unleash a Drop Wall to stop enemy bullets before grappling up a ledge to let your shields recharge. In one fight, I used the Thruster, a short dash, to get behind and dispatch a Gravity Hammer-wielding Brute. In the next moment, I used the Grappleshot to reel in the hammer and turned to crush an oncoming Elite. I never felt so powerful playing as the mighty Spartan.
There are some new and returning weapons, but not all them are enjoyable to use. Some like the Assault Rifle and Battle Rifle are still just as trustworthy as ever. Newer weapons, like the Bulldog shotgun and Sidekick pistol, are fantastic. And I’m pretty much in love with the Heatwave, which sends a tide of bouncing hardlight particles that can vaporize enemies. However, the Ravager, which lobs plasma, feels useless, and the Pulse Carbine is a poor replacement for the Plasma Rifle.
Scuffs in the armor
Halo Infinite does have some drawbacks, however minor. Its optimization, with my 2080 Super and Ryzen 9 5900X, felt good. But running across bugs, and the lip-syncing of some characters wasn’t as smooth. The game was delayed for a year, but there are still small areas in need of refinement.
Taking on Banished strongholds also didn’t feel as engaging in the long run. Sometimes sequestered off as side missions, the strongholds exist to offer a small combat arena that, when completed, awards Valor points. But while the objectives weren’t always the same, after the third one I did feel some tedium setting in. Also, in the game, you’re told that completing these outposts would help you reclaim the ring from the Banished. Though, on your return, you’ll find them reoccupied. Granted, it wouldn’t make sense from a gameplay perspective to leave these areas empty. Still, it does make an impact on any lasting feeling of accomplishment.
At least the same can’t really be said of the Banished captains you can fight. Throughout Zeta Halo, there are optional High Value Targets (HVTs): named, Banished leaders you can take on for that additional challenge. Killing them will unlock updated versions of enemy weapons, and you can also equip them at any FOB.
The last year following the delay has also made a world of difference. Halo Infinite is a beautiful game, from gorgeous vistas to the battle damage on the Chief’s armor and assault rifle. Of course, mainline Halo games have often come in two parts. The multiplayer, this time, is separate and free to play. And though there are issues over progression and monetization among other things, it’s still a damn fun time. We’ll likely provide impressions on the multiplayer once it’s out of beta.
Though it may have taken six years, the wait for Halo Infinite was worth it. It’s clear that when 343 said it was looking into the franchise’s past for inspiration, it wasn’t just words. The game takes influence from the original trilogy, while adding just enough new features to prevent it from feeling like a tired retread. Everything, from the environments to the combat and music, is pure Halo.
There was an early moment in the game I don’t think I’ll forget anytime soon. I watched as the Chief, through the back of an open Pelican, gazed at the ancient ringworld. The sunlight bathed the green hills and towering mountains of a land that extended into the distance. At the apex of the moment, I realized the original Halo theme was playing. It hit me like a lead weight. I felt goosebumps, and, though I didn’t know it then, it wouldn’t be the first time.
There will no doubt be discussions on where Infinite lands on the spectrum of great Halo games. For me, it definitely ranks among the best. It’s been a long road, but it felt good finishing the fight once more.
Note: A PC review key was provided to PC Invasion by Microsoft/Xbox.