“The mission’s changed. They always do.”
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Release Date: December 8, 2021
Platforms: Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One X, Xbox One S, Xbox One, Xbox Cloud, PC
Reviewed on Xbox Series X|S consoles
I don’t think there is any property so synonymous or as vital to a console’s identification as Halo is to Xbox. When the franchise does well, the console does well. If it doesn’t, the console’s failure is tied to it. Even now, even though the Xbox Series consoles are some of the best pieces of gaming hardware ever developed, the video game industry still associates Halo Infinite’s success to the future or failure to them. It’s literally impossible to think about Xbox without associating the brand with Spartan-117. After playing the Master Chief’s latest adventure and countless hours of its multiplayer suite, I can say that Halo has returned to it’s former glory and is back with a vengeance. 343 Industries made so many smart decisions leading up to launch like making multiplayer free for everyone, creating live action shorts and trailers to invoke nostalgia, and throwing away the tried and true formula that made Bungie’s games so memorable to forge their own path in the Halo legacy.
For the uninitiated, Halo Infinite has Master Chief fighting a Covenant rogue faction called The Banished, who were first introduced in Halo Wars 2, on a new ring known as Zeta Halo while also attempting to tie up the story threads of Halo 5: Guardians and the events concerning Cortana.
The story begins with Chief floating in space six months after the battle against The Banished leader Atriox on the UNSC Infinity, seen in the opening sequence. He is found by a character known only as “The Pilot,” frozen and unresponsive. Our nameless hero proceeds to reboot Chief’s armor by plugging him into the ship’s core power source. When our hero wakes up, a new mission begins: find something known only as “The Weapon” (who happens to be another AI created to “delete” Cortana) and stop the Banished from firing the Zeta Halo installment. Without spoiling anything else, the nonlinear story goes some interesting places even though it doesn’t quite pull it all together neatly, most likely due to the Far Cry-esque style of open world and choice driven mission structure. Overall, it was still very engaging, keeping me interested throughout, especially through the audio logs, and has me excited to see where the story goes from here in future expansions and sequels.
Let’s start with how the game feels. Halo has always been known for its dynamic combat and awesome variety of weapons. Infinite is no different providing a plethora of UNSC, Covenant, and Banished tools to choose from. Whether you like what’s going on in the story or not, the gameplay loop of guns, grenades, and vehicles to take on Banished towers or operating bases is second to none. Every weapon feels unique, giving you the ultimate choice of rock, paper, scissors decisions when encountering foes. Taking down a Jackal shield with a plasma pulse carbine then switching over to the battle rifle for a headshot or charging up a plasma pistol to unleash a charge to stun an armored Elite and blasting him with a fresh shotgun blast feels like nothing else in video games. What’s nice about ammo too is that you can always find some in your Forward Operating Base’s (FOB) weapons locker if the enemy you just finished off didn’t leave you what you needed, which is a great quality of life feature. Anytime I don’t have to get rid of the battle rifle is definitely a plus for me.
The greatest addition to the arsenal however is the grapple shot. It’s the ultimate game changer, letting you travel to higher ground with ease, grab weapons and plasma canisters from a distance, and pull yourself to enemies, stunning them on impact. This creates so many “hero moments” in the campaign as well as in multiplayer. I absolutely love jumping out of a Wasp as it explodes, grappling to the Banshee that shot it down, kicking out the enemy pilot, and shooting up the rest of the base with their own ship. Another one of my favorite moments was grappling a gravity hammer away from a brute who was running to pick it up and using it to kill him and his squad of grunts.
The new open-world and RPG-esque progression are a welcome addition to the tried and true formula as well. Though the game borrows mechanics for taking over zones from games like Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed, and Horizon Zero Dawn, it feels so fresh and makes Halo feel more modern. As someone who really enjoys the “checklist” game, the gameplay loop of finding a base, taking out enemies, and setting up camp felt like I was really building back up the UNSC’s presence on the ring. I especially loved charging the larger outposts, which encouraged me to think about how to approach them tactically. Sometimes I’d go in silently and snipe some of the more challenging enemies and sometimes I’d roll in guns blazing on a warthog and run over the group of grunts while my AI teammates took out some of the mid tier foes.
Boss battles are also very diverse and felt extremely tactical, as I always felt I had to be on my toes when I encountered one. Each boss felt, looked, and reacted differently, which I enjoyed immensely, creating a nice change of pace from the rest of the group-style fights. There are so many types of encounters that even when I found one I had already done, it never felt like a chore to do again because I always knew there was a different one around the corner.
Another thing the game does well is encourage you to explore and discover. I spent a lot of time just driving or flying around the world searching for interesting structures to investigate. There are so many audio logs and skulls scattered throughout the ring and it always felt rewarding when I found one. It’s not quite Halo‘s Breath of the Wild moment, but it invoked the same feeling of accomplishment when I found that well-hidden trinket.
Where the game shines brightest, however, is the multiplayer suite. As the calling card of the series since its inception, it was so important that 343 got this aspect right. Spoilers: they did. Though there are many playlists and modes still missing, the core gameplay is so nostalgic for me. As a huge fan of Halo 3’s multiplayer in particular, I felt transported back in time, smiling from ear to ear as I picked off enemy Spartans with the battle rifle, needler, shotgun, and pistol. It truly feels like a modern take on the old games. The scramble for power weapons while trying to hold your own with an assault rifle or the pistol really challenges your skill set. The inclusion of equipment adds another level of depth to multiplayer as well, especially the grapple shot. As I said in the campaign portion of my review, it is a complete game changer in the competitive space as well.
Game modes like Big Team Battle, Capture the Flag, and Oddball all felt right at home as well, though I felt too many times players just didn’t want to play the objectives. That’s probably due to the fact that playlists like Slayer, SWAT, and Free-For-All still aren’t available at the time of this review. Though those can easily be added in (which 343 has confirmed is happening), I can only review what I’ve experienced so far. I also feel like the battle pass progression and rewards don’t quite hit the mark. 343 has made some adjustments, but I don’t expect to see any real impactful changes until Season 2. I do think the Heroes of Reach themed skins are incredible, looking better than ever on Xbox Series X (even better than the Emile and Kat skins added to Gears 5 in 2020). Those minor gripes aside, Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer is my go to competitive experience and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
For Halo Infinite to not only be good after it’s infamous development issues, multiple leadership changes, and an entire year’s delay, but to come out and be the definitive Halo experience for modern audiences is unbelievable, yet here we are. 343 Industries has finally found their footing with the franchise, creating an experience and a platform that feels profoundly nostalgic and yet incredibly fresh with it’s free-to-play multiplayer and it’s open world campaign. It’s arsenal of classic and new weapons, enemy encounters, and new equipment like the game changing grapple shot make Halo Infinite feel so different than anything else available while managing to feel wonderfully familiar as a natural evolution of the original trilogy. In a world where many fans thought the franchise would be left behind in the modern shooter space, especially after Halo 5: Guardians, I am happy to say that Halo Infinite not only honors the legacy but builds upon it in all the right ways, giving the franchise a bright future. Despite some minor story elements that didn’t quite hit the mark and some nitpicks about multiplayer playlist issues that can easily be patched down the road, Halo Infinite is incredible and is the definitive experience for Xbox Game Studios and Xbox Series X|S that fans were hoping it would be. Well done 343 Industries. Well done.
Halo Infinite lands on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Xbox GamePass, Xbox Cloud, and PC on December 8, 2021.
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