It looks like third time’s a charm for 343 Industries, who’s spent the past decade trying to live up to making a Halo worthy of its original creators Bungie.
Not that Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians were terrible by their own merits, though the latter was divisive for how it handled its core characters Master Chief and his AI companion Cortana. But looking back they also fell short of the game-changing masterpieces of the original trilogy while also struggling to stand from other shooters breaking new ground.
Halo Infinite then is a return to form, not just going back to basics with Spartan John-117 once more to save humanity from its latest threat but also by expanding its world.
Halo games have always given you the illusion of an expansive world just by nature of looking up at the sky to see the other side of an alien ring world but Halo Infinite takes that next logical step by giving you an open world with the new Zeta Halo.
You might worry at first. After all, Halo’s always excelled with well-paced linear story missions – even if some of the most memorable missions do have a degree of openness to them, which surely would be spoiled by trying to be like Far Cry distracting you with a lot of icons and objectives?
The good news is that the world, all lush pine forests and mountains, isn’t overwhelmingly huge, and if you do just want to follow the story, you can. You’re never walled behind some arbitrary level cap nor will you be at a disadvantage for not clearing the numerous Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) or enemy outposts. You’ll nonetheless get some cool perks out of it, while finding Spartan Cores can also be used to upgrade several of Master Chief’s core abilities.
The story missions, while funnelling you through tighter levels up towers or underground, do also contain some of those great expansive elements, such as giving you multiple targets to take down across the map in any order you choose, with plenty of weaponry or vehicles to make use of. But the best reason for exploring this beautiful ring world is that, more so than the challenges and rewards, Halo Infinite just feels fun at giving you that singular satisfaction of killing anything that moves.
Gunplay remains a high point, from the moment-to-moment strategy of switching weapons since you can only carry two at any time to the terrific audiovisual feedback when your shot lands a kill. Better still is that, while you can aim down sights like with any modern shooter, in Halo tradition you don’t need to do this to still be a crack shot.
The most revelatory and disruptive addition to the series’ revered “golden triangle” (that is guns, melee and grenades) however is the Grappleshot. Sure, Doom Eternal got there first, but in Master Chief’s hand, it has some ridiculous versatility not just in combat for closing the distance on an enemy but also for finding shortcuts as you traverse the world.
Even more transformative is the way you can use the grapple to pick up weapons, the many energy tanks lying around doubling as makeshift explosives, and hijacking enemy vehicles becomes laughably overpowering to do. As your starting ability, the Grappleshot is perhaps too good that other abilities you unlock, including a drop wall shield and threat sensor, pale by comparison. Fortunately, they work even more effectively when transferred to multiplayer where each has limited uses, giving you something akin to the abilities of a hero shooter.
As solid as Halo Infinite’s campaign is, and the open world means you’ll have reason to return to mop up collectables or outstanding objectives, or just attempt that Legendary run, the real mainstay is multiplayer, which is also free to play for the first time in the series.
From its tightly designed 4v4 arena maps to the more expansive 12v12 Big Team Battles, the core mechanics translate over perfectly, such as the aforementioned abilities, which also transform matches into mini sandbox experiments. Yes, killing sprees are a great achievement, but you can also chuck a threat sensor at an opponent, which gives away their position and possibly their teammates’ too. If someone lobs a grenade at you, you can knock it back at them with a repulsor. And yes, if you’re dealing with a menacing Banshee in the skies, you can even hijack them with a well-aimed grappleshot.
The only thing that spoils it is a miserably designed battle pass and progression system, which doesn’t correspond to the medals you get during a match for doing cool things. While there have been some adjustments so that you can at least gain XP for simply playing matches, the cosmetic items you unlock are laughable if you’re playing for free, which feels like a cynical way to lure people into ponying up for the £8 premium season pass.
Perhaps this is just the necessary evil of making Halo Infinite’s multiplayer free to play. For old-fashioned Halo veterans who remember the days of just playing as the same Spartan model in Red team versus Blue team matches, you’ll be better off ignoring these modern-day trappings and simply play for the fun of it. Not such a wild idea.
Set a fire in your heart
Despite being delayed by a year and missing its launch for Xbox Series X|S, Halo Infinite also arrives somewhat unfinished or at least lacking the features that fans have come to expect as series staples. These include the ability to play the campaign in co-op as well as the creative Forge mode that lets players create their own custom maps and game modes, which would surely be what makes Halo actually infinite.
The campaign also feels unfinished, as if leaving things open for DLC, which is likely the case given that Halo Infinite has also been touted as a platform for future updates. Yet that shouldn’t diminish the impact of the story told here, which might feel confusing at first, especially for people who skipped the last two entries but becomes one of the strongest in the series, one that manages to resonate on an emotional level – no mean feat when you’re dealing with a stoic super soldier while you spend most of the runtime not knowing the names of two key characters.
You don’t usually expect much in terms of storytelling in a shooter where you’re principally killing things and the plot is still very much about saving humanity, but it also manages to explore that humanity hiding beneath cold metallic armour and digital programming. Ostensibly, Halo Infinite is about owning up to mistakes and learning to trust again, which some may read as a reflection of 343 Industries’ own rocky journey with the franchise. After a bumpy ride getting here, it’s a relief that this time it manages to stick the landing.
After years of anticipation and delays, the wait for Halo Infinite has been worth it as 343 Industries finally prove itself as custodian to Xbox’s first and still legendary killer app franchise, which you can incredibly play with Game Pass.
It may not be perfect, but when considered as a platform for more content and improvement in months and years to come, there’s no doubt it will come closer to finishing the fight. But just from launch, its solid core gameplay, which also translates perfectly over to an incredible multiplayer, already makes it the best the series has been for a long time. Good to have you back, Chief.
The best that Halo’s been since the original trilogy.
The best that Halo’s been since the original trilogy
Grappleshot is a revelation
Surprisingly great story
Poor battle pass and multiplayer progression
Missing several staple features at launch