Halo Infinite

Review: Halo Infinite

Become.

A word used repeatedly since Halo Infinite was unveiled. A simple word that 343 chose to make a point to the player – you will become Master Chief in Halo Infinite. Considering how Halo 5’s story was received (and how it deviated away from Chief being front & centre) 343 set the tone right away for their new game in the long-running franchise. “We hear you, we see you, and we’ll do the story right by you, the fan.” In my opinion, Halo’s best campaign has been 4 – humanizing Chief, allowing the player to feel his emotions and reminding you that there is a human being under that helmet, not just a killing machine. It was a different, yet very welcoming approach to the character from their predecessors, Bungie. They set out to put their stamp on the story, and I believe they did with 4.

Unfortunately with Halo 5, they went away from that, convoluting the story and adding in characters that fans of the series had no connection with, and most of all – minimizing Chief’s role (and time with us) in the game. I won’t retread the story or discourse, but without being hyperbolic, it was a narrative disappointment. It also didn’t help that Halo Wars 2, which was not a “mainline” Halo game, had an incredible canon narrative that far overshadowed that of 5, introducing a powerful enemy and satisfying the fans, all without Chief being in the game, proving that good writing and narrative can be possible, even without Master Chief.

Most people are not aware of the incredible depth of Halo’s lore, stretching across games, movies, comics, and books (canon material is what I’m referring to.) Narrative & lore fanatics like myself, who have an emotional connection with Master Chief, Cortana, and the world that surrounds them, have been following this saga for 20 years. We grew up with them, took down the covenant with them, experienced their ups, downs, and heartbreak with them. To say that we have high regard for their stories is an understatement. Halo is not just a game – it’s an entire pillar of gaming that is loved by millions of people like myself.

This leads me to Halo Infinite. If you are reading this, then you pretty much are aware of the turbulent year this game has had. The heartbreaking delay, the (visually) underwhelming reveal last year, and the carousel of Creative leads who have come & gone. Since the delay, 343 has been slowly peeling away the layers of what went wrong, what they have learned, and how they are applying all this to the game. Their communication with the fans has been nothing short of outstanding. Yet, I continued to be apprehensive a bit – cautiously optimistic, but bracing myself to be underwhelmed. So did they follow up on their “become” tagline? Is it what I was hoping it would be?

In the words of Breaking Bad’s Walter White – YOU’RE GOD DAMN RIGHT.

Humanity clings to the belief that a savior will come

Halo Infinite takes place on Zeta Halo, or installation 07. How or why Master Chief ends up there will be experienced by the player, and you find out right away with a white-knuckle introductory sequence and mission to start the game off. You are then introduced to the supporting characters (the pilot and the weapon) and the game ushers you into its beautiful, semi-open world, slowly peeling away the layers of the mysterious ring, and why the banished, the main enemy is in control of it. What is their intention with the ring? Why are they hunting you? What is Chief’s role on the ring, and what is the significance of his new companions? How does Cortana tie into all of this? In the interest of keeping it spoiler-free, that will all be discovered by the player, and in a glorious fashion.

The ring itself is a beautiful, richly detailed world that is begging to be explored. It feels like a map designed around a Halo game, not a Halo game designed around a map if that makes sense. Beautiful lush environments, gaping chasms into the abyss of space, banished & forerunner technology, enemy bases for the taking, secret caves, etc. It’s all there for the taking, and encourages exploration, while slowly liberating the ring from the control of the banished.

Level design is excellent and varied, despite being contained in a single, Pacific Northwest-like biome. Zeta Halo is broken up into islands/sections. You won’t be able to access everything at once, but they are all interconnected via bridges, which you open up as the story progresses. Each of these sections provides a large sandbox area that the player can go through at their heart’s content. A phenomenal job has been done by making the large, exploratory world feel natural in a halo game. Exploring it, even on foot, never felt like a chore. Keep an eye out for some easter eggs on the horizon – Some allude to the backstory.

When the map does open up to you, you are greeted with the tac-map, getting a sense of the layout of the world and where the main mission points are, as well as FOBs (Forward Operating Bases) which are banished outposts previously UNSC bases. Liberating these bases will open up weapon & vehicle spawns, as well as UNSC marine backup. They also provide a fast travel option, which is welcome when you want to get from point A to point B quickly. Besides the FOBs, there are a variety of mission types and collectibles available to you on the map – some of them visible after liberating a FOB. This includes Banished high-value targets, Ransom keeps (bases holding several UNSC marines as hostages) and UNSC squad rescues. Completing these side missions is not integral to the main missions, but they do provide you with valour points, which allow you to unlock better weapons and vehicle options at bases you liberate, such as scorpion tanks, rocket launchers, etc. It’s worth investing time into the optional stuff, as it becomes helpful in higher difficulties.

Collectibles are scattered throughout the world, be it at bases, during missions, or even chance encounters while exploring. These include skulls, audio logs, forerunner archives, Spartan cores, and spartan lockers. The latter of these contain unlocks for the multiplayer, usually being skins or armour pieces. I also URGE the player to collect & listen to the audio logs – they provide some excellent backstory from the different factions/races involved in this game and add another layer to the past & present.

A Hero Will Rise

Spartan Cores are essential for upgrading your suit and its equipment. Some are easy to find, while others are scattered throughout the world. There are five equipment options to upgrade – Grappleshot, shield core, threat sensor, drop wall, and thruster. You’ll unlock each of these as the story progresses, so they won’t be all available to use immediately. Each of these can be upgraded to a more powerful version of itself, such as the grapple electrocuting an enemy, or a second thruster. These equipment upgrades are all permanent and interchangeable during combat depending on the player’s playstyle and the enemies presented at hand. Chief’s suit has never felt more realized than it is now, thanks to these upgrades.

This leads us into combat, one of the pillars of Halo. Excellent gunplay is a staple, and not only is it retained, but refined over previous iterations in the series. Walking into enemy territories, taking them out, and blowing up their equipment has never felt more rewarding in a Halo game, and that’s mostly thanks to the large sandbox space we are provided to do all this, as well as the precision gunplay control. The open nature of the environments, whether it’s a variety of bases or other mission-based locations scattered across the map, grants you more freedom to tackle enemies as you see fit – go in with a vehicle, snipe from a distance, go heavy with a rocket launcher, etc. It’s your playstyle, and you choose how you want to play and perform your task. At your disposal are some familiar weapons such as the AR40, the BR, the M41 SPNKR, the needler, etc.

There are also plenty of new UNSC and Banished weapons at your disposal – the VK78 Commando, Mangler, Stalker Rifle, Skewer, and plenty more. Vehicles include Ghosts, Warthogs, Rocket Hogs, Wraiths, Banished Brute Choppers, Banshees, Wasps, and several others. If you have played multiplayer, you likely have experienced these vehicles & weapons, how they feel, and how strong they are. There is no shortage of destructive arsenal and vehicles for the player.

I also must give a shout-out to my favourite new aspect of the game – the grappleshot. You start the game with it, and it becomes your most used equipment piece by a landslide. In combat, it allows you to grapple onto enemies, culminating with a thunderous melee. It allows you to maneuver around the battlefield like a butterfly and avoid pesky situations, catching your breath and recharging your shield. You can hijack vehicles with it, summon any weapon or environmental pickup to you, and reach high places to get you out of danger. It adds a kinetic layer of movement to the combat not previously available to us and makes it all feel so much better. This doesn’t even include how rewarding it is with the exploration of the world – scaling high peaks and hard-to-reach areas makes on-foot exploration as fun as using vehicles. The verticality and large areas are complemented by the grappleshot, begging to be used to traverse it all. It is truly a game-changer for the franchise in terms of what it offers for combat and movement.

Halo Infinite’s campaign is a successful reboot for the series

The Banished are the main enemy in this game, and their presence on the ring is felt from the second you land on it. They occupy most of the sandbox area you play in and use everything at their disposal to take you out. There is a great enemy variety across different races of the banished and variants of familiar enemies, such as grunts, elites, brutes, jackals, and hunters. Some of these enemy variants require specific tactics to make their disposal easier, such as the grappleshot being effective against the Kigyar shield. These are just the “base” enemy types, and they are formidable in groups, as they always have been. Kigyar snipers also return here to make your life hell, and they do not disappoint in providing a challenge. There will also be new “base” enemy types, one of them being flying skimmers. The rest – I’ll leave it for the player to experience. What I will also shout out is the hilarious banter between the enemies, especially the grunts. They will tease you or wallow in their misery based on the situation they’re in. Their dialogue can be contextual as well, an example being if you escape catching your breath in a battle, you will be trolled and called a coward. It’s comedic relief in the thick of things, and it never wears out its welcome. Banished propaganda towers provide some hilarious content for the player, which I won’t spoil here.

Then there are the elite enemy types, which I will avoid diving into too deep in the interest of keeping this spoiler-free. Hunting these Banished high-value targets is worth chasing down for their modified versions of weapons they use, which will become accessible to you at any of your liberated outposts. They usually have a swath of banished protecting them, and they themselves are formidable opponents, so eliminating them and their counterparts will keep you on your toes and provide a challenge.

Boss battles, new for the franchise, provide a great layer of challenge for master chief, each with their own cinematic introduction, specific weapons, move sets, and monologues. These are demanding, requiring patience, mobility, and maneuvering. They are one of my favourite new entries for this game, and I found myself looking forward to them after every encounter. As you progress, they ramp up in difficulty, providing some white-knuckle experiences. Intensity is also felt based on the arena you’re engaging them in, with some claustrophobic environments adding to the tension. Doom Slayer would be proud of these engagements.

Then there is Escharum, Atriox’s mentor, and the main antagonist we have seen since the game’s reveal. What his motive is will be kept out here, but his exchanges with the Chief, the cat & mouse game he plays, and his constant ways of trying to discourage him during the game are some of the best narrative points it provides. His menacing presence is felt from the outset, and as the game progresses, layers are peeled away that reveals more of his intentions and his obsession with hunting Master Chief down. He relishes in chief’s greatness & reputation but never shies away from attempting to impose his will. Atriox is given a lot of credit for being an incredible antagonist in this franchise, but Escharum is not to be slept on. I hope he is as appreciated by players as I was for his character.

I will not discuss narrative points in this review, as I am a big proponent of letting the players experience it all for themselves. The story satisfies both the hardcore lore fans like myself and the newcomers to the franchise, but the latter to a certain extent. Mainline Halo games traditionally have not filled in ALL the blanks in the game, and that is in large part due to how dense the lore is. Connecting all the dots requires some knowledge of the previous games, which I felt is a nice nod to the loyal fanbase. This is not to discourage the newcomers, as most of the narrative of THIS game will make sense to a certain degree, but I do highly encourage watching a video on YouTube of the entire Halo saga. I personally felt that prior knowledge certainly provides a more enriching experience with everything going on around you, and fills in some gaps – and there will be gaps. I also highly encourage players to hunt down audio logs. They provide a rich background for the story and help fill in said gaps. Like Bioshock’s audio logs, these are not to be missed.

hi-mar-10

Like a Spartan

Master Chief’s personal story here is front & centre. He deals with personal demons, and his emotional conflicts in the game are felt by the player, which is a testament to the writers of the story and script. He has always been a stoic force despite the odds, and although he remains that, his sense of vulnerability and humanity in this game is truly knocked out of the park. Halo 4’s campaign resonated with me the most in the series because of the emotional layers it provided for him. He was humanized, given more dialogue, and no longer a robotic killing machine. In my opinion, this is doubled down on here, and it lands in spades. The writing and voice acting are fantastic, and his interactions and dynamic with his new counterparts really land well.

The Weapon is a great addition to this world. Her charm, humour, and interactions with the Chief feel natural. She respects him as her commanding officer but does not shy away from her curiosity or naivety, asking him questions throughout the game that reveal more of the backstory. She never feels forced or intrusive. The pilot is also another new character that has his own layers throughout the game. He also provides some comedic relief with his back & forth banter with Master Chief, adding another layer of comedy to the cutscenes and between mission parts that were historically serious in tone. He leans a bit on the whiny side at times, which can be slightly irritating, but it is never overbearing. I learned to appreciate him more as the story continued.

Visuals are impressive, so fret not if you were concerned about the visual fidelity presentation from last year. As I discussed earlier, the environmental variety is fantastic, and the level design all fits within the theme of this world. Texture work and fidelity are impressive, character models (including supporting characters and all enemy types) are very detailed, especially Chief’s armour, which is the best it has ever looked. This game will not melt high-end graphics cards, but it is no slouch in the visuals department. Dolby Vision’s HDR is implemented very well, enhancing the environmental lighting and detail. I played the game on quality mode on Xbox Series X, which delivered a steady 60 FPS throughout my entire experience in dynamic 4K resolution. I did not test the performance mode, as I felt that the performance & fidelity were the best of both worlds for my experience.

There are some issues I had, starting with minor pop-in in the distance. I also was not a fan of the loading screens in between some sections. While they are short, they do break the immersion a bit, as this game was given a single shot approach akin to God of War to enhance the emotional impact with Chief. There was also some juddering during cutscenes that I experienced, clearly running at a lower framerate than the gameplay. None of these affect the total experience, as I feel 343 has redeemed themselves from last year’s presentation.

Audio design is also a star in this game. Every weapon fire, explosion, and bullet impact is felt. All key combat sounds are delivered in a clear, impactful, and satisfying way. Vehicle sounds are unique, the wildlife feels alive, the random sounds of cannons shot into space in the distance, and other environmental sounds in the background all enhance the experience. Credit goes to 343’s sound designers, who created a custom-built acoustic stimulation system developed for Halo Infinite, which simulates the way sound travels throughout the environment, reflecting off walls and filtering through doors. And to top it off, the increased spatial awareness provided by virtual surround sound via Dolby Atmos brings life to the mystery and sounds of Zeta Halo.

The soundtrack, composed by Gareth Coker, Curtis Schweitzer, & Joel Corelitz, is wonderful and is a large step right direction of the underwhelming soundtracks of Halo 4 & Halo 5. The iconic choir humming and Halo feel are evident, with the soundtrack capturing the familiar tones but building on it. Chants, string orchestras, and percussions are all here, with epic pieces during certain environmental interactions and contextual tunes for boss fights and combat-related scenarios. The music during combat ramps up and enhances the fights, seemingly providing an extra shot of adrenaline to the player.

I played the game on Normal difficulty, with my playtime being a total of twenty hours and 30 minutes. Normal difficulty is quite a challenge, I must add; this game is not a slouch in that department. I completed 56% of the game. The campaign was completed, the percentage is the total completion of the map objectives & collectibles.

Verdict

If it hasn’t been evident already, I loved Halo Infinite. As a super fan, I cannot compliment it enough with the direction they set out in, and how it was nailed. Playing this game after the ups & downs we’ve had with it over the past 16 months and realizing what a phenomenal job they did with it despite the circumstances, was one of the most gratifying and emotional experiences with gaming I’ve had in quite a long time. Call it bias towards the franchise if you’d like, but my admiration for this series and Master Chief is a pillar of my gaming soul, and this hit almost all of the notes I was looking for out of it. That 343 managed to create this wonderful campaign is a testament to the studio itself, learning from its previous mistakes and applying the knowledge for the better. This is just the beginning of this saga, and I cannot be more excited to experience more of where they decide to take it.

[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: Xbox Series X

Special thank you to Bobby Pashalidis of Console Creatures for reaching out to me and asking me to write this guest review, my first. It was an honour to do this, and I appreciate that it was for this specific game, which meant so much to me for obvious reasons. Having the privilege to play this early and give my opinions on it is not something I take for granted.

Thanks to guest reviewer Mohammad Sabbagh of The Backlog Chronicles for delivering a thoughtful and well-read review of Halo Infinite. Check out his work with The Backlog Chronicles.