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Halo Infinite Review – Incredible But Tragic

Halo Infinite Review

Halo fans, myself included, have eagerly and sometimes impatiently awaited the arrival of Halo Infinite. 343 have finally delivered the follow-up to Halo 5: Guardians more than six years later. At this point, many are relatively aware of the immense, time-consuming challenges development studios face when creating massive AAA projects. While little is known of what occurred behind the scenes during these last six years, it’s evident that the direction shifted significantly at 343. Having played the entirety of Infinite’s campaign and spending nearly sixty hours across flights and the current state of multiplayer, I strongly believe the game could’ve used more time in development. Development is ongoing, but I’d have much preferred a more complete package on day one.

I must preface that there’s much I love about Halo Infinite. The years 343 have invested are not in vain. Infinite is unequivocally the best core gameplay experience I’ve had since Halo 3. Gunplay has never felt better. Weapon balance isn’t perfect, but great at launch, most of the new weapons introduced are fantastic, and the new equipment has capitalized on the sandbox and player creativity remarkably. Halo Infinite is downright fun to play. I’m utterly addicted to the multiplayer despite its awful progression system and lack of content. Master Chief’s latest fight with alien adversaries also successfully brings some fantastic new ideas to the franchise.

Halo Infinite

Halo Infinite’s story is a predictable mystery. The unraveling of events may not be as apparent to some, but if you’ve invested a fair amount of time into this franchise over the last 20 years, you’ll have it all figured out before the halfway point. That isn’t to say there aren’t some thrilling sequences, and the moment-to-moment experience across the open world is outstanding. While I believe Infinite relies a bit too heavily on nostalgia, Master Chief’s adventure across Zeta Halo is an impressive blend of the new and familiar.

Building a Mystery

Beckoning memories of Halo 2, Infinite’s opening is intense, tragic, and beautiful. Eighteen months after Halo 5, the USNC Infinity is attacked and totally destroyed by a new, Brute-led faction called the Banished. Hope is seemingly lost as remaining human forces crash land onto Zeta Halo, and the Master Chief is tossed into deep space. Six months later, a lone pilot rescues Chief and wakes him up aboard his pelican. Shortly after, the small craft is abducted by Banished forces, creating the perfect scenario for Chief to save the day.

Infinite’s two opening linear missions are a lot of fun and quickly introduce your new foes and mechanics. Once you step foot onto Zeta Halo, the campaign begins to shine. Infinite features an open-world playground rife with Banished forces.

Through completing side missions, you’re rewarded Valor which marks your progress and unlocks new tools to wage against the Banished. You can create your desired loadout and fast travel between captured FOBs at any given time. Infinite encourages experimentation and player freedom through the arsenal of weapons, vehicles, and equipment. I’ve had a blast mixing up my loadouts, piling five marines into a Razorback, and blazing into Banished bases to unleash hell.

You can choose how to approach every scenario. Whether that’s sniping from afar or destroying everything in a Scorpion. Shooting the many enemy types in Infinite never gets old. There isn’t a singular way to kill any enemy, and along with factoring in the variety of ways to use your equipment, battles are endlessly fun.

Toward the end of the game, some of the side missions begin to feel a little repetitive. Banished bases are fun to conquer. They’re all laid out differently, but there are only a few different objectives across them all. I love the inclusion of High Value Targets. They serve as mini boss battles and carry rare weapon variants. There are some useful ones like a Skewer with explosive spikes, the old lock-on rocket launcher, and others with faster rates of fire compared to their regular counterparts. Aesthetically, they look exactly the same, only they’re all painted white. Different colors or Banished trinkets akin to rare weapons in Destiny would’ve given them more character. UNSC weapon variants are unlocked as you increase Valor, most of which feature interesting changes like a long-ranged AR, a BR with a faster fire rate, and a sniper with a larger mag and reticle. I would’ve preferred for more legacy weapons to return in Infinite’s campaign, but these variants are still fun ways to mix up gunplay.

Capturing Forward Operating Bases reveals all the points of interest in the surrounding area aside from Skulls. The TACMAP functions well and is helpful in finding what you’re looking for, but it primarily equates to working through a checklist like any other familiar open-world game. However, there were moments I stumbled upon a new cosmetic item for multiplayer or groups of endangered marines that resulted in more memorable gameplay experiences.

Halo A.I. has always been excellent, and that reputation remains in Infinite. Enemies react accordingly to your actions, and each type presents specific challenges in firefights. Although, Marine A.I. can be hilarious. They’re mostly functional and are actually capable of surviving big battles. However, unless I physically move them out of the way, they get crushed and die every time I call in a vehicle at a FOB. It’s probably a minor glitch that needs to be polished, but I hope it doesn’t change. It doesn’t affect gameplay, and it’s funny every time.

Halo Infinite

While I intend to play again on Legendary, my first run was on Normal. It was as moderately challenging as I’d anticipated, but I could sense that the campaign can be best experienced on Heroic or Legendary. The higher difficulties will undoubtedly give more incentive to your equipment, notably the Drop Wall and Threat Sensor. Fortunately, the complete equipment arsenal is unlocked through the first few main missions. Each piece is upgraded with Spartan Cores scattered around the world. As cliche as collecting items for upgrades can be, I enjoyed seeing more of the world as I went after them.

Game-Changing Grapple

Every upgrade provides a significant advantage in combat, but none compare to the grapple. It’s a literal game-changer, and I can’t imagine playing future Halo games without it. It’s made for the freshest and most exciting gameplay addition in franchise history between grappling terrain for traversal, highjacking vehicles, and grabbing weapons and equipment from afar. The First Strike power kick upgrade is particularly badass, and I also can’t express how satisfying it is to grapple and throw fusion coils.

Zeta Halo itself is gorgeous. The ring is packed with stunning views and settings between mountains, valleys, vast fields, rivers, lakes, and caves. Before release, I’d hoped to see multiple biomes like deserts, snow, or a more tropical area, but Infinite sticks to a Pacific Northwest setting akin to Halo 1. Narratively, it makes sense, given you’re exploring a chunk of a massive ring. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for story DLC in the future that could lead to other diverse areas.

Whether on foot or by vehicle, all of it is fun to traverse. There aren’t any invisible barriers. You’re free to explore every inch of what 343 has created. There’s always something to shoot at, and the multiple objectives and collectibles keep you busy. The excellent score of both classic and new tracks powerfully enhance quiet, haunting, and explosive moments. Zeta Halo evokes how I felt crash landing onto Halo in Combat Evolved. The sense of the world’s mystery and wonder is present throughout.

Having been a fan since the franchise’s debut, it’s an awesome feeling to have the idea of freely exploring a giant ring world realized. Fast travel’s a much appreciated feature, but it feels a little dated in Infinite. Load times are a bit lengthy. They may vary depending on your hardware, but I play on a relatively powerful PC and often wait nearly thirty seconds to bounce between areas of the map. Load times have generally improved in many open world games with the onset of this generation. Infinite’s currently behind in that regard. Overall, the open-world aspect of Halo Infinite is a bold, successful, and fun new addition. However, I find the story to be disappointing.

Every review is subjective, but this portion of my own is the most personal. Halo Infinite isn’t poorly written; it just feels like a mix of familiar tropes and uninspired characters with a dash of backpedaling. I’m not going to compare 343’s stories to Bungie’s. To a degree, I have enjoyed aspects of Halo 4 and 5’s campaigns, but neither has impacted me emotionally in the ways that both Halo 2 and 3 have.

Suffice it to say, I haven’t been heavily invested in the narrative 343 has written since 2012. Don’t get me wrong, I was stoked out of my mind for the release of Halo 4. However, my interest in the narrative dwindled by the end. While I’ve always loved Chief and Cortana’s relationship, I’ve admired it as an aspect, not as the focus. My outlook on the narrative up until this point is harsh, but I am an optimist at heart. I disliked Halo 5’s story. However, going into Infinite, I was excited to see what was next.

The trilogy of 343’s Halo games reminds me much of the most recent Star Wars trilogy. It feels disjointed as if the narrative arc was determined in real-time rather than carefully planned in the beginning. I’m not a narrative writer, and I can’t begin to fathom what it’s like to write a video game, much less a trilogy, but this tale makes for a safe and underwhelming conclusion.

Disengage Soldier

Halo Infinite’s primary theme seems to be about identity. It’s about what makes each character who they are and the events that motivate their actions. While the arcs for each of the characters work, it’s all too familiar. Most of the supporting characters are one-note. Unfortunately, the pilot is the tense and timid companion initially seen in the game’s reveal throughout most of the story. Like Chief, I feel compassion for the guy, but his fear of the situation overstays its welcome. The Banished leader’s motivation to conquer Zeta Halo is understandable, but his generic pride and rage leave no room for nuance, resulting in a rather disengaging opponent. Other classic enemies and an “even greater threat” are suggested throughout the story but never explored. Unless 343 are saving them for future DLC, their mere tease is disappointing.

There’s also an odd dichotomy between the story and gameplay. The sense of scale in the open world feels vast, but the narrative feels smaller and more personal. I love intimate stories with smaller casts, which works in Infinite. I think I just miss prominent personalities like Captain Keyes and Sergeant Johnson. Obviously, they’re gone, but characters of their nature have always juxtaposed Chief in great ways.

As much as I appreciate and regularly quote Chief’s iconic one-liners like “I need a weapon” and “Finish the fight,” their inclusion in Infinite honestly feels derivative. I’m down for fan service, and I definitely felt a swell of emotion hearing Steve Downes utter them again, but they’re sort of cheap tricks induced by nostalgia. However, Chief does have a lot of badass new dialogue, and his demeanor in Infinite is much more in line with his presence in the original trilogy. I believe it’s Steve’s best performance to date as he rides the line of stoic and vulnerable spectacularly.

Fortunately and most importantly, 343 have nailed the dynamic between Chief and his new A.I. companion code-named “The Weapon.” The Weapon resembles Cortana but is more happy-go-lucky and naive than Chief’s former companion. She’s also voiced by Jen Taylor, adding to the familiar nature between the two. Witnessing them get to know one another as they navigate the ring and fight back against the Banished is endearing and enjoyable. The campaign’s presentation is also impressively cinematic. Gameplay transitions seamlessly into cutscenes as 343 have opted for a one-take style camera movement like the recent God of War. It’s well implemented but often interrupted by loading screens between the open world and interior locations where most of the main missions occur.

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343 are insanely talented. While I don’t love Infinite’s story, I don’t believe it’s objectively bad. There are bound to be Halo fans that love it. If I suspend my gripes, and frankly, my bias, Halo Infinite is a fun adventure that genuinely makes you feel heroic. That’s ultimately all I can ask for in a Master Chief story.

In terms of gameplay, the majority of the linear missions equate to destroying big targets or running through linear forerunner facilities. If a player intends on forgoing the open-world activities and blazing through the main missions exclusively, I imagine they’ll feel let down. While I love the open-world addition to Infinite, it doesn’t necessarily benefit the narrative. It’s essentially filler content between the less exciting missions that further the plot. Infinite’s campaign is never boring to play, but while the open-world gameplay excels, the more traditional main mission structure is underwhelming.

Performance is predominately strong from beginning to end. I’ve experienced very few frame drops, and I’ve only had the game crash twice at a particular Banished base. There’s quite a lot of texture and terrain pop in when flying high across the map. Most of my visual settings are set at ultra, but some are set at high or medium. The pop-ins may be a result of that.

I Miss My Buddy

I can only imagine the difficulty 343’s facing in developing campaign co-op. Its absence will be sorely missed at launch, as conquering Zeta Halo with a friend is going to be amazing. The thought of flying a Wasp while a buddy drives a Scorpion into a Banished base equipped with grapple hooks and an assortment of weapons will inevitably lead to chaos in all the best ways.

On the other hand, Infinite’s multiplayer is incredible but in a concerning predicament. A slew of issues plagues an otherwise exceptional core gameplay experience within a free-to-play model. Currently, the state of multiplayer has the Halo community confused. Much of the multiplayer goes directly against the series’ tradition, with the only benefit being its availability to the masses.

Fan favorite game modes, notably Slayer, are missing at launch. The game is in dire need of more content, especially with the long delay of Forge. Halo has long thrived on community-created content, and its absence at launch is sorely missed. Fortunately, 343 recently announced they’re adding Fiesta, SWAT, and Free-For-All before the end of this year. It’s reassuring because fans and myself were concerned that other beloved game modes would be tied exclusively to timed events like Fiesta.

I’m not opposed to a battle pass system, especially one that never expires after purchasing it. I only wish armor sets and coatings were unlocked through specific objectives in both campaign and multiplayer. Fortunately, there’s plenty to unlock through Infinite’s campaign, but it only requires going to the markers on your map and grabbing them. I believe this is where challenges can greatly benefit multiplayer.

halo infinite player numbers double battlefield 2042

Thankfully, 343 have already drastically accelerated the rate at which players rank up the battle pass through general experience granted match to match. I’d much prefer a more traditional progression system that awards experienced based on individual performance with challenges serving as a means of expediting it.

The prices of everything available in the shop are wild. Prices are certainly subjective, but I’d be more inclined to spend $20 collectively on three or four coatings rather than it be the total price of one. There’s a lot of potential with the shop. I believe it’s possible to maintain free-to-play Halo multiplayer, but many changes to the progression system, additional modes, and playlists are necessary to maintain it long-term.

The arena maps are all equally outstanding. There are plenty of varying layouts, settings, and biomes to keep things interesting match to match. Meanwhile, the BTB maps aren’t as exciting. They’re all fun to play on, but they look nearly identical. I’d love to see more atheistically diverse maps in the future.

Theater mode and custom games are currently struggling as well. Frame drops and other visual glitches perpetuate playback, and the theater HUD remains on screen if you choose to display your player HUD. It’s a surprising error that shouldn’t be present given how long theater mode has existed. Many regular features of custom games are missing. Most notably, the ability to spawn with random weapons, the options to save created modes, and more.

Sadly, more and more cheaters are popping up in multiplayer. 343 were aware of the possibility with a free-to-play model and the inclusion of crossplay. There’s plenty of evidence online, and I have definitely encountered a few myself. I consider myself to be a competent Halo player. I’d rather play well and lose every match fairly than lose to a cheater. It’s unacceptable and a common tragedy of modern multiplayer shooters. We can only hope 343 implements an effective anti-cheat system shortly, as well as an in-game report system.

Accessibility is King

On the bright side, Halo multiplayer is more accessible than ever, resulting in fast and guaranteed matchmaking. It’s also a lot of fun to watch. Halo pros are already establishing a unique meta through the game’s smooth traversal. Jumping, sliding, and incorporating the grapple and repulsor make for crazy plays. It’s gonna be cool to see what players pull off over time.

Another brilliant addition are the bots, gun range, and training mode. Bots will never perform exactly like actual players, but they’re impressive and serve as a great way to warm up in training mode before jumping into multiplayer. 343 have shared they intend on adding more weapons to the game over time, and the gun range is perfect for getting a feel for them.

I’ve played the game on controller and mouse and keyboard extensively. Both function beautifully, and 343 have provided the means of mapping your key binds and button mapping to your preference. They’ve also included exceptional accessibility features such as UI narration and visual options like enemy and friendly UI colors. A major option I love is the ability to offset your weapons. I don’t mind their default state, but having the choice to shift them up, down, left, or right is an excellent quality of life feature.

Halo Infinite

Infinite’s presentation is pretty stellar between character models, weapons, and environments. There are only a few odd visual aspects present. Most notable is the character lip sync. The animations are strong, but they playback in a slower framerate than the rest of the game. On PC, I maintain around 75-90fps. Meanwhile, characters’ mouths animate somewhere around 30. It isn’t game-breaking, but it’s admittedly a distracting hiccup.

Lighting’s hit or miss. There are moments, usually around sunrise and sunset, where the game is stunning. Nighttime is quite lovely as well. However, midday tends to look a little flat. I trust it’s rather complex to properly light a ring world with a real-time day and night lighting cycle. Digital Foundry does an excellent job describing these aspects in their Infinite breakdowns. Neither negatively affects gameplay, but they prevent Infinite from being a significant visual standout

For the most part, audio is killer. 343 has shared the work they’ve put into the sound design years before launch. Guns, grenades, melee, general physical movements, and environments sound incredible. Firing weapons in campaign sound particularly impressive in the wide-open world. Major standouts are the various satisfying jingles that play every time you complete an objective. I think they may be the best jingles since any Zelda game. I love them so much.

I want to highlight other performances in the A.I. Listening to grunts, jackals, elites, and brutes talk to each other is really entertaining. They’ll argue, talk about you, and appropriately react to your actions. Hearing a grunt scream at you to not kill the grunts or having a brute say something like “Show me why the covenant called you their demon!” is so sick. Your fellow Marines are also hilarious and ready for a fight. They remind me much of their demeanor in Halo 1, and I’ve loved rescuing and fighting alongside them on Zeta Halo. I can’t applaud the audio team and writers enough for their work.

Teamwork Makes The Dream Work

There’s one massive issue hindering the entire gameplay experience. You cannot fully hear anything happening behind you in both campaign and multiplayer. I’ve lost count of the number of times this glitch has gotten me killed in both experiences. I wear an excellent pair of headphones. I’ve tried altering every audio setting there is, and nothing has solved it. Many players have voiced the same complaint online. This probably sounds ridiculous, but I don’t think enemy A.I. can hear anything behind them either. I have a clip of me flying a Wasp at ground level directly behind a jackal until a grunt nearby finally saw me. I can’t believe it hasn’t been resolved during development, especially after multiple flights leading to launch.

Fortunately, 343 are passionate about the Halo community and are the best at redemption. Halo 4 and 5 aren’t generally beloved by all, but 343 never gave up on refining both titles over time. In my eyes, the Master Chief Collection team are heroes for what they’ve achieved since it launched in 2014. Halo Infinite’s gameplay is the best the franchise has been in a long time. 343 plans to support this game over the next ten years, and it has unlimited potential to be one of the all-time great multiplayer experiences.

I’ve shared many gripes I have with Halo Infinite. I’ve shared them meticulously because I love this franchise and want it to continue succeeding. Beyond them all, I absolutely love playing it. The campaign’s open-world gameplay is phenomenal, and I can’t wait to play through it again on legendary, especially with a friend in the future. Despite my disappointment in the narrative, the lead performances are strong, and the presentation is cinematic. I’ve been playing Halo multiplayer with my friends for nearly twenty years. We’ve kept up with the Master Chief Collection over the years, but Infinite is the most addicted we’ve been in a long time. It’s far from perfect, but I can’t wait to see how Halo Infinite evolves over the coming months and years.

***PC code provided by the publisher***

The post Halo Infinite Review – Incredible But Tragic appeared first on COGconnected.

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