Halo Infinite - Welcome Back Master Chief - Campaign Review
Xbox Series/One, PC
There is a lot that can be said about Halo, about its impact on console gaming, about how the last couple of entries have been disappointing in a few ways, about how Microsoft relies too much on it for branding. This is inescapable. For better or worse, through intention or just luck, the Master Chief’s own career has been something of a metaphor for the Xbox its self. In fact it is fair to draw a correlation between both the Xbox and Halo in terms of success. A great Halo means Xbox is doing well, or is it the other way around? Regardless the two are linked in ways like no other franchise, putting a huge amount of pressure on each entry to succeed.
In walks Halo Infinite, hitting a resurgent Xbox ecosystem, carrying all the pressure, expectations and hope that only a franchise as big as this can ever expect to have. The road to release was long, there were multiple hiccups and road blocks on the way and there are still features that need to arrive. None of that matters though, because John-117 is back, better than he has ever been and ready to climb the summit once again.
That Halo Infinite was under pressure to perform was an understatement, originally intended to release alongside the Series X, Microsoft and 343 made the massive call to give the team an extra year of development after a poor reaction to initial gameplay footage. That was clearly the right call because what players have now is perhaps the definitive Halo experience, hitting all the right notes to keep long time fans happy, while at the same time not throwing hurdles in the way of new players.
Perhaps the first, and in my opinion, most notable achievement people will notice is that somehow 343 has brought the wonder back to Halo. It is palatable, you can taste the sense of the unknown from the very first mission. The way the story unravels, new locations are unveiled and enemies revealed, everything feels exciting and new in a way that the franchise hasn’t felt since the first game. This is a brand new beginning for the franchise in so many ways, yet somehow retains everything that made Halo so loved in the first place. There is no doubting this is a Halo game, all the hallmarks are there, but at the same time it is exciting and new and the fact that 343 has managed to achieve that is worth celebrating.
The combat, is for the most part, what you would expect from Halo with a few new wrinkles to get your head around. For the longest time Halo’s weapons never seemed to evolve, to improve. I think that is simply a case of Bungie getting it so right in the first game there was little need to improve things. In Infinite things have taken a huge leap forward. The old faithful Battle Rifle, Pistol and AR are present and correct, feeling as cool as they always have, but it is the new weapons that steal the show. From the Forerunner tech beam and shock weapons to the new plasma and kinnetic weapons, every single weapon has its place and is fun to play with. Yes, even the Plasma pistol. 343 has also finally made it possible to reload Plasma based weapons, so there is no need to drop Plasma rifles and pick up a new one. A welcome change that was a long time coming.
These new weapons feed into combat in wonderful ways. It is more important than ever to carry a varied arsenal where possible. This is because enemies feel tougher and smarter than ever. Unless you are a dead-eye shot, kinetic weapons like Shotguns or rifles are pretty hopeless against Jackel shields, but a plasma rifle makes short work of it. Shock weapons are great against robotic enemies or vehicles, Forerunner tech is the best way to take down big enemies like Hunters and the old faithful bullet based weaponry is perfect for Grunts and unshielded brutes. Every weapon has its place and mixing up what you are carrying based on current needs is essential to success.
There is one thing, more than anything else that mixes up Halo Infinite’s combat and sets it apart from the previous titles and that is the grappling hook. This one little addition makes such a huge difference to how you approach encounters. Hit and run big installations, zipping in and out to let your shields recover. Use it to reach the perfect sniper’s nest. Hijack an incoming Banshee as it is attacking you. It is just so much fun to use I can’t wait to see how people incorporate it into gameplay. The big thing for me is it added a sense of verticality to combat that was never present in previous games. Now, the combat space needs be considered in a different way and tactics adapted to suit. I honestly can’t express just how much the grappling hook adds to things, except to say that it is something I want in every FPS from now on.
Much has been made of the open-world sections of Halo Infinite, leading to worry that it would copy the Ubisoft formula with a tonne of useless things to do. Thankfully that is not the case at all, the open-world moments serve as a breather between the main, traditionally linear missions that Halo is known for. In the open world, you can hunt down key enemies for upgraded weapons, free UNSC soldiers from captivity, take down key enemy installations and unlock new forward bases that allow for weapon restocks and fast travel. Each of these encounters feels unique and balanced, none feel like they are simply a cut and paste job. Terrain, enemy makeup, weapon availability and UNSC presence all changes, making each little encounter unique and satisfying. What’s more, if you don’t want to engage in any of this, you don’t have to. It is completely optional and isn’t required to finish the story.
Speaking of the story, I am going to keep things brief to avoid spoilers. There is a great tale here, one that is both familiar but with enough twists and turns to make things feel fresh. Perhaps the most impressive part of the entire story is the interplay between the three main characters, Master Chief, Weapon (the new AI) and Echo-216 (the pilot from the trailers) this trio are together throughout the entire game and share some wonderful moments. This has also lead to the Master Chief being more relatable, even showing emotion on ocassion. The events of Halo 5 have changed him and there is doubt where there was none before. Speaking of Halo 5, the writing team on Infinite have done a great job of taking the events of the fifth game and giving them more meaning, somehow improving the story of both games in the process.
There are some little problems that pop up here and there in the game however, things that hold the game back from perfection. There are a couple of encounters that just feel unfair. One in particular sees the Master Chief locked in a tiny room with a gigantic Brute wielding a one-hit kills hammer. This section was massively frustrating and it felt like luck, not skill, that got me through. The other thing that really stuck out to me was the AI of the UNSC soldiers. They seemed nothing more than dumb cannon fodder that sometimes can’t even hold the gun in the right way. This is even more disappointing when I consider just how good the enemy AI is and it feels like a missed opportunity to improve an area in Halo that has always been subpar.
Finally, the big one that needs mentioning. The only thing really holding me back from giving this a perfect score is the fact that co-op is still missing and won’t be arriving until May next year. Co-op is such an important part of the Halo DNA that it is no surprise that the one Halo game not to feature couch co-op is widely considered to be the worst one. I want to be able to sit in front of my giant tele with my kids and take on the Banished together, but alas it isn’t to be just yet. It is a bummer, but one that will be eventually rectified.
Halo Infinite had huge expectations to live up to. 343 Studios had yet to nail the entire Halo package and its much-publicised delay must have had the Xbox executive team worried. I am pleased to say that in all areas (bar the missing co-op) that Infinite has met and, in some cases, exceeded those expectations. The campaign runs at about 15-20 hours depending on how much of the open-world you engage with and it is a joy for the entire time. The tight combat the series is known for has only been enhanced and the story will keep fans both new and old glued to their consoles. Halo Infinite shows the future is bright for the franchise and gives hope that there is an even better game to come. The Master Chief is back and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.
Halo Infinite was reviewed on the Xbox Series X with code kindly supplied by Xbox Australia.