“Halo, It’s finished”.
“No, I think we’re just getting started”.
And here we are at the sixth game in the main series, a moment which at one point, I wasn’t sure would ever arrive. To begin with, I must declare my love for the Halo franchise having been with the Master Chief from the very beginning and promise you, dear reader, that I will remain as objective as possible throughout this review.
It felt as if we were all kept on tenterhooks regarding the single player campaign details for Halo Infinite. However, eventually we found out that “The Banished” were back from Halo Wars 2, and had quite devastatingly wiped out nearly all human resistance. It appeared that even the Master Chief himself couldn’t stop them. Luckily then, you have a new AI in tow along with a somewhat hysterical UNSC soldier as a sidekick, Echo 216.
Halo Infinite deals both with the rise of The Banished, and the fall of Cortana at the end of Halo 5: Guardians. It’s been a while since the divisive fifth game in the series was released, so you may find yourself scratching your head at first in an attempt to remember what went down. Even if you did, many fans (such as myself) didn’t care too much for Cortana’s story arc. Still, both strands slowly draw together and intertwine, but you are very slowly drip fed details for the first few hours of the campaign.
I must be honest, I thought the narrative was something of a letdown, as well as its focus feeling somewhat muddled. The campaign also has a very open ending, leaving more unanswered questions compared to when you started, which doesn’t feel very satisfying. Not only this, but when the credits rolled it felt almost as if nothing had really happened. All of the big, universe changing stuff took place before Halo Infinite starts, off screen. What this does do, is clearly pave the way for some DLC or season pass campaign expansions in the future.
There are some lovely little callbacks to the Master Chief’s previous adventures, but the story heavily relies on cutscenes to tell it, whereas in the past big gameplay set pieces would also pick up some of the load, really giving you the sense that you were in the driver’s seat. However, unlike with the original trilogy, I struggled to get absorbed in the story being told. It all felt a bit, well, small compared to the Master Chief’s previous adventures. Halo’s final act is traditionally big, bold and full of explosions. But here the adventure ends not with a bang, but with a whimper.
What doesn’t help is I never really cared for the Brutes either, not since they were introduced in Halo 2. I found them to be big, bullish and somewhat boring compared to the other creatures which made up The Covenant. The main antagonist in Halo Infinite is threatening and a decent villain, but at the same time is very one dimensional. However, the voice acting is brilliant and really gives the character substance, saving them from simply being a bland brute baddie.
On this subject, the soundtrack in Halo Infinite is superb. Not since Halo 3 have I been emotionally triggered by the composition, a lot of which calls back to previous games. In a way, it’s a greatest hits of the biggest anthems which take you right back to when you first heard them, and you can pinpoint the exact moment thanks to how impactful they are. It feels as if 343 Industries were hesitant to use the main Halo theme in the fourth and fifth games, and this actually worked against them. However, Halo Infinite pays respect to the original soundtrack, whilst playing with it just enough to make it feel fresh and new. This is, of course, the perfect balance for the game amid promises of going back to its roots.
I am also relieved to say that Halo Infinite looks brilliant. After a much mocked reveal (remember Craig) the team took time to overhaul the visuals and this extra development time has really paid dividends. The ring looks fantastic, and most of what you can see is reachable. Climbing up high and taking in some of the vistas is impressive to say the least.
This also extends to your enemies, vehicles and array of weapons on offer. For me, the weapon detail is particularly impressive, with each feeling distinctly different in looks thanks to the graphical power of the Xbox. Not only this, but the weapon SFX are sharp, distinctive and often brutal, offering plenty of satisfaction for the player. Discharging a headshot with the sniper rifle has never sounded so good.
There is a downside however.
Each level is set either in an open world setting on the surface of the ring (similar to the second level of the original game) or inside a rather drab looking forerunner facility. That’s it. The brief prologue is set on a Banished warship, but it’s not long before you land on the ring. What made the original so captivating was the range of landscapes and settings for each level, but there’s very little of that here.
Potentially the biggest talking point of Halo Infinite is the open world setting of Zeta Halo. This works well overall, but isn’t without its drawbacks. It’s certainly a risk to shake up the traditionally linear storytelling of previous games, with the exception of the excellent Halo 3: ODST.
The ring provides a fairly large area to explore, but vast swathes of it feel pretty desolate. Making use of vehicles is crucial to getting about, and this element of the game feels spot on. Much like the original, the environments are designed to allow you to get the most from them, whether that’s at the wheel of a Warthog, Banshee or Scorpion. The use of vehicles within an FPS is something that Halo pioneered, so it’s brilliant to see them playing such an important part here.
Alongside the main missions, there are numerous other optional side objectives you can complete. These include taking control of fob points, storming strongholds, assassinating high value targets, destroying Banished propaganda towers and more.
When you take control of a fob point, you will receive intelligence of other points of interest in the area, which are uploaded to your handy TacMap. You can also stock up on weapons and have Echo 216 drop vehicles to you, more of which you will unlock as you play. Insight into the events leading up to Halo Infinite are provided through data logs which can be found scattered across the world. You can also acquire new armor for the Multiplayer mode, as well as Spartan Cores which upgrade the Master Chief’s gear.
This is another way in which Halo Infinite breaks new ground. For the first time, you can upgrade gear ranging from your shield to Master Chief’s latest toy, the grappleshot. Other gadgets are introduced, such as the threat sensor (handy for detecting invisible Elites) and the thruster, however they will rarely get a look in. This is partly because using the D-Pad to switch between them, especially in the heat of battle, is clunky to say the least. Only when you have remembered the two direction sequence to equip each piece of equipment, can you quickly and safely pull off the change. This same problem is replicated when trying to switch grenades.
The grappleshot is somewhat of a master stroke, as it adds to the sense of freedom whilst reinforcing the fast paced nimble gameplay which Halo has always been famous for. It allows you to climb mountain faces, commandeer banshees, pick up energy coils which can then be thrown back at enemies, and much more. I found it particularly useful for getting away from enemies who sprinted faster than the Master Chief does.
On that note, all of the familiar Covenant foes return, each with their own traits, strengths and weaknesses. Choosing the most effective weapon to take down each enemy is as well balanced as ever in Halo Infinite, that basic level of strategy running right through the FPS DNA of the game. For the first time in a long time, I enjoyed using pretty much every weapon at some point in the campaign (even the new ones).
The key difference to the enemies you encounter in Halo Infinite is the doubling down of boss battles. There are numerous stronger enemies, each with shields and health bars. These encounters are hit and miss, some being an enjoyable battle of wits whilst others are a frustrating grind. This has been toyed with in previous games in the series, but never to this level. Being honest, on balance they don’t add much value to the game.
We’ve all had a little more time to get familiar with the Halo Infinite Multiplayer, but the fact still remains that it’s brilliant. I haven’t had as much fun with the multiplayer since Halo 3, which mirrors the agile and free flowing combat experienced in the campaign.
Unfortunately, Battle Pass issues persist with a grind heavy progression system and extortionately expensive price tag for in game items that is impossible to justify. However, 343 Industries have been listening to fans, and tweaks have been made to lessen the XP grind which is a step in the right direction. Despite all this, it doesn’t detract from how fun the numerous Multiplayer modes are to play.
Despite falling into some of the same traps as its predecessor, Halo Infinite is a huge step in the right direction and something of a correction course. Overall 343 Industries have delivered on their promise to return Halo to its roots, whilst breaking new ground, and it’s much better off for it.
Halo Infinite is available for download from the Xbox Store