To say the pressure was on 343 Industries to deliver a meaningful campaign for Halo Infinite is an understatement. Many fans were disappointed in the narrative direction of Halo 5: Guardians when it was released back in 2015. Featuring a short campaign, Halo 5 was nowhere close to what fans had expected it to be. Thanks mainly to the marketing campaign surrounding the game. Many fans, myself included, were hesitant about the promises being made with Halo Infinite. 343 needed to truly deliver a compelling narrative while finding a way to make Halo feel modern in its design. The result is that Halo Infinite feels like what Doom (2016) was for ID Software: a brand new beginning.
Bringing The Gameplay To The Future
Halo was undoubtedly one of the most influential FPS games in history. Virtually every one of the biggest FPS games today were influenced by Halo. But that begs the question, how do you reinvent the wheel when you helped create the wheel? While mechanically, Halo 5: Guardians was a great Halo game, it felt like other games had taken the FPS genre so much further.
New IPs like the phenomenal Titanfall changed how we moved and thought about locomotion with its wall running and mech-based action. Meanwhile, games like Wolfenstein: The New Order revived the classic Nazi killing FPS with a compelling narrative and characters. Halo needed to move beyond being a ‘clear room full of enemies and progress to the next cut scene’ type of game. Halo Infinite manages to maintain the classic appeal of what fans love about Halo while also bringing a whole new dimension to the gameplay itself.
I cannot understate how much of a game-changer the grappling hook is to the gameplay. Combat is no longer trying to cycle through weapons and melee-ing your way through endless waves of Grunts. Instead, it is about using the environment around you as a weapon. Every surface can now be used to your advantage. While Halo Infinite‘s open-world design is definitely a step in a new direction for the franchise. However, the big change is the sheer verticality of the levels within Halo Infinite.
Whether you are clearing enemy bases for side missions or traversing through the main campaign. There is an incredible variety of ways that you can approach each combat scenario chief will find himself in, and Halo‘s sandbox only makes this even more fun. Retreating from a large group of enemies to then grapple a power weapon off a rack then take to the high ground to rain down rocket fire upon your enemies never gets old. This is the most kinetic Halo‘s combat has ever felt, period.
Master Chief has always felt firmly planted to the ground, an unstoppable force of pure metal. Yet the addition of the grappling hook changes that. Add in a host of new weapons at the Chief’s disposal and you have a recipe for a good time. I have always enjoyed the weapon variety in Halo. But Infinite does a fantastic job in making every weapon feel incredibly unique from one another.
The VK78 Commando offers a DMR-style experience but with a much higher fire rate and was fantastic at disposing of grunts in a quick and efficient manner. While I often found myself running the Commando with a Mauler which is a slug-styled shotgun pistol, Infinite encourages you to try different weapon combos through enemy susceptibility.
The Sentinal Beam, which is a laser beam-styled weapon, feels borderline useless in PVP. Yet in the campaign, it quickly became my go-to when I could find it. It can quickly drain an opponent’s shield. You can follow this up by switching to a more kinetic weapon to finish the job. The combat has you constantly thinking and swapping weapons and that is a great thing.
Halo Expanding To An Open World
I was admittedly incredibly nervous about Halo expanding to an open world. Open-world design leaves itself open to repetition and can make even the best mechanics feel stale if you spend too much time doing the same tasks with a different coat of paint over and over again. The beauty of Halo Infinite is that it truly offers a choice to the player in how much of the open-world you wish to engage with.
The main missions in the campaign are streamlined so if you want a more traditional Halo experience you simply traverse from mission marker to mission marker. The side missions offer a deeper glimpse into the world you are exploring. Along your journey, you will find audio logs from both the Banished and UNSC forces that add depth into the world around you. So if you are a lore fan, or like me, and are incredibly hooked on the combat loop, it offers you more time in this intriguing and exciting world.
This is part of the reason I think the open-world design of Halo Infinite is so brilliant. When I play a game like Far Cry, it feels constantly like the game is pressuring you to complete every outpost, side activity, and objective on the map. With Halo Infinite, I never felt this pressure. It felt like I could engage as much or as little as I wanted with non-primary objectives. It is an approach I hope more open-world games will take notice of.
Many open-world games have compelling narratives but feel simply overfilled with busy work in order to pad out the game time. For someone like myself who is addicted to the combat loop, I am going to retake every outpost and clear every marker on the map. Not tying mainline story progression to these side objectives allows players to experience the world of Halo in the way they want to.
One Versus A Million
The Covenant has long been the main enemy that stands between Chief and victory. Very few games have made killing henchmen as fun as Halo has with shooting grunts in the head. The introduction of the Banished, the main enemy faction in Halo Wars 2, offers a unique spin on classic Halo cannon fodder. But it’s different now, with the addition of boss fights complete with health bars and unique weapons and abilities. Players will find themselves with every enemy in the repertoire being thrown at them. From energy sword elites to sniper jackals, to Jiralhanae with jet packs and rocket launchers, all your classic foes are here but with a twist. They are limitless.
While Chief historically is no stranger to overcoming the odds to complete his mission, in Halo Infinite they truly test how much you as the player can handle. In some combat scenarios, you can be dealing with upwards of 15+ enemies all packing different forms of weapons and abilities. Trying to prioritize and pick off the most dangerous targets first can be challenging. To add, you never quite know when you could be ambushed. One moment, in particular, was when I stumbled across what appeared to be an empty camp that contained an audio log to collect. However, when I went to pick up the audio log, I was stabbed in the back with an energy sword by a cloaked elite. This then caused me to check every corner and not trust any collectible laying in the open for me to pick up.
A Story Worth Fighting For
Admittedly, historically, I am not the biggest Halo campaign fan. I have always thought that they were fun experiences that I would enjoy in co-op with my friends and partake in the wackiness of the game’s physics. I never had a Halo narrative that hooked me in and made me not able to put the controller down. Halo Infinite managed to do this, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much the narrative of Infinite pulled me in.
A big driver behind me falling in love with this game was the voice acting performances by the entire cast. Steve Downes delivers possibly one of his best performances as Chief. While Jen Taylor does a fantastic job in delivering a comedic leaning tone as The Weapon. She plays in relief to Chief’s stoic tone. The banter between these two characters adds a layer to Chief that makes him feel more “human” than he ever has before. Taylor especially deserves a nod as being able to make her performance as The Weapon completely different in its delivery than when she previously voiced Cortana.
It was actually hard to believe that they were voiced by the same actress. When talking about performances it would be criminal to not mention Darin De Paul’s performance as Escharum, the second in command of the Banished. His cruel actions are backed by a harsh and barking vocal delivery to make him a truly intimidating villain for Chief to square off against.
While Escharum is a formidable foe, he is not the only force working against Chief. The odds have always been stacked, but in Halo Infinite it truly feels like it is Chief against the world. This is coupled with Chief feeling less invincible than before. While he can still take an ungodly amount of punishment, Chief isn’t the biggest player in the world of Zeta Halo.
343 has done an incredible job making Chief feel like a more fleshed-out character in Halo Infinite. There are intense emotional moments between him and the Weapon, as well as the Pilot that shows a vulnerable side to Chief. This is reminiscent of how Machine Games managed to make an in-depth and compelling character out of BJ Blazkowicz in Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. Every main mission felt like it pushed Chief forward as a character while also offering narrative twists and turns that took me by surprise. Once I started playing, this narrative had me hooked and no other Halo game outside of Halo: Reach has ever done that.
Beauty In Open Spaces
The world of Zeta Halo is stunning. When Halo Infinite was first revealed over a year ago, it did very little to impress me. After spending my time driving, flying, and grappling through the world, it has really won me over. When you experience the open world for the first time it is stunning. The ring is filled with wildlife, massive mountain ranges, and other landmarks. Amidst all this beauty, the Banished have flooded the world with their filth as massive factories and outposts stick out of the landscape like pillars of death. It feels reminiscent of Saruman’s corruption of the world of Middle Earth. With his army of Uruk-Hai and the massive industrial machines he needed to operate his army. The Banished deliver the same effect, as they try to dissect the world of Zeta Halo for their own selfish goals.
The world is also accentuated by a compelling and orchestral soundtrack which has been a staple of the world Halo since the franchise’s inception back in 2001. However, Halo Infinite‘s soundtrack is exceptionally good, I mean Halo 3 levels of good. During emotional cutscenes, the music does so much heavy lifting in carrying the tone in a moment. It can take what would truly be a sad scene and turn it into a gut-wrenching emotional moment. While there is no shortage of incredible gaming soundtracks, Halo Infinite is no doubt one of the best soundtracks this year.
On a technical level, I walked away incredibly impressed with the quality delivered in the overall experience of Halo Infinite. In a world of broken and disjointed AAA releases, I was pleasantly surprised at the technical quality of Halo Infinite. Through my time with the game, I had zero crashes on Xbox Series X, no framerate drops, and very few hiccups in general. Outside of a few weird physics glitches that would see Grunts get catapulted across the map like bouncy balls, but that is the kind of jank I am here for. The campaign experience of Halo Infinite was incredible from front to back. It felt like a breath of fresh air to not have a game hampered by technical issues.
Halo Infinite Brings The Franchise To The Present
Halo is back, and 343 has truly delivered a story that is worth celebrating and experiencing. Whether you are a long-time fan of the franchise or looking to dive into your first Halo game. Halo Infinite is a bold step in a new direction for a franchise that felt incredibly stagnant during the last generation of Xbox. While it is disappointing that I won’t be able to experience Halo Infinite’s campaign in co-op on December 8th. When all is said and done, Halo Infinite is definitively one of the best games I played this year and is a strong finish to an incredible year of gaming in 2021.