While the Xbox consoles might not be a one trick pony, at least managing a solid four or five, it’s clear that their whole act is built on their original showstopper – Halo. Master Chief’s ongoing trials and tribulations against aliens, parasitic aliens, older aliens, and overly familiar artificial intelligences have defined the Xbox brand, and they’re hoping with Halo Infinite that there’s at least one more star performance left in their iconic Spartan.
It’s clear that 343 Industries has really nailed down what Halo is – chunky gunplay, twisting sci-fi mythology, and a atmospheric soundtrack all set the perfect stage for Master Chief. Halo Infinite then will delight the series’ faithful, as it expands, updates, and, most importantly, finally recaptures the spirit of Bungie’s original games.
Note: This is a Review in Progress. We’ve played plenty of Halo Infinite and draw numerous conclusions over it through the course of this article, but we aren’t quite ready yet to give it a score. We will update this page in the next couple of days when we’re ready to do so.
Halo Infinite follows on from the events of Halo 5: Guardians, but throws a new narrative mystery into the mix so that it’s not entirely necessary to know that game’s events. If you’ve not been keeping up with everything Halo, particularly Halo Wars 2, you will still be missing a number of pieces from the puzzle to start with, but every player will come into Halo Infinite with some narrative catching up to do.
We find John (or rather the pilot of Echo 216 finds him) floating in space after a fleet-wrecking disaster. After a quick zap from a Pelican’s battery, our hero is back off to dispatch all those pesky aliens in a range of new, and old, ways. The big bad of the piece is Escharum, War Chief of the Banished, who’s seemingly all set to find a way to fire a damaged Halo, despite it no longer being complete. Unsurprisingly things soon become more complicated, drawing once more on Halo’s sprawling mythology.
You’ve still got an AI friend in the shape of Weapon, who’s moved on from her original function as Cortana’s final solution to Chief’s new gal-pal. Personally I think he’s incapable of being alone but, psychoanalysis aside, she’s a sparky and humorous companion for the stoic John. She also makes for an audience surrogate that asks questions to help people fill in the narrative blanks if they’ve not kept up on the series’ events after Halo 3. His relationship with the pilot Echo 216 still emphasises our favourite Spartan’s lack of humanity and singular drive to fight through desperate situations, while Echo’s rationality and desire to return to his family is nicely played out. This trio form a hugely likeable core, and from a narrative point of view, Halo has never been better.
Halo now gone open world. Landing on the broken Halo ring at Outpost Tremonius, you’re set upon retaking a series of UNSC bases through the open landscape, rescuing UNSC forces from pitched conflict and imprisonment and trying to figure out just what the Banished are doing here. You don’t have a full Halo ring to explore like some kind of interstellar Far Cry, but it’s a much broader and more open than any Halo we’ve seen before. That said, one thing that does feel a bit like a generic Ubisoft game is that capturing FOBs then highlights the various collectables, the Banished strongholds, and priority targets that are in the nearby area.
There is a downside to all that real estate, and thus far it’s the lack of meaningful difference in the landscape. Halo has never really been incredibly diverse, but we’ve had different biomes and weather events to shake things up over the years. So far there’s lots of Halo – so that’s green hillsides, trees, and rocks – and some Forerunner installations to break things up. Even with bases to capture, underground installations to explore in more bespoke feeling missions, and an ever-evolving story to work through, it does begin to feel samey.
Along with the open world trappings, Master Chief’s armour can now be upgraded. Spartan Cores are dotted around the landscape and you can install them in a series of slots to make Master Chief even more formidable on the battlefield than he already is. From simply beefing up his shields, they also include bumping up the abilities of the new Threat Sensor and turn the Grappleshot from a simple traversal device to a destructive weapon in its own right.
The grappleshot is Halo Infinite’s biggest addition to the series’ well established core gameplay, and it’s a highly enjoyable one. Given where we started with Chief – can you remember when he couldn’t run? – the Spartan of Halo Infinite feels like an entirely different character, leaping, swinging, and sprinting around the world with ease. Combined with the more open world, you can attack bases from any direction, grapple to an enemy to deliver an elbow to the face, or use it to grab any of the amusingly numerous explosive barrels to throw at enemies. There’s a reliable mix of the old and new here, and with the updated control scheme Halo feels thoroughly modern once again (though there’s other layouts for those set in their ways).
Despite all of the new additions and changes, Halo Infinite feels absolutely like Halo. It takes the series and remoulds it in a way that feels natural and unforced. When the rhythmic strains of Halo’s main theme kick in you’ll feel like you’re Master Chief, that his mission is yours, and that you can complete it. It’s a credit to 343 how unerringly assured the delivery is.
We have of course already taken an in-depth look at Halo Infinite’s multiplayer component – read our review of that here – with the decision to let it sit as a standalone free-to-play mode sure to ensure the servers remain packed, while it’s raised hackles thanks to its stingy battle pass if you don’t want to put any extra money in. The early launch for the multiplayer mode has already allowed 343 to make changes to the way you gain XP with more fundamental changes to come, and thanks to the pitch-perfect gunplay it’s now starting to feel like Halo multiplayer will be here to stay.
Based on our time with it so far, Halo Infinite is the best Halo package we’ve had since Halo Reach, and finally brings 343 Studios’ work in line with Bungie’s original series.