It has been a long time coming for Halo Infinite and 343 Industries. The developer, whose sole purpose is to make Halo games, remains stuck in the shadow of Bungie. While Halo 4 was an enjoyable experience that laid the groundwork for the future of the franchise, Halo 5: Guardians was, well…
The less we say about that game, the better.
It led to a spiritual soft reboot for Halo Infinite. A chance to return the series back to its roots and reconnect the characters with fans. This idea to “reboot” Halo gave 343 the opportunity to bring the franchise into the modern era of gaming. Adapt Master Chief for a present-day audience and prove that he’s not a relic of a prior age.
The result is 343’s best Halo game to date. Halo Infinite is an achievement delivering the core Halo gameplay we all know and love. They absolutely nailed the gunplay, enemy interactions on the battlefield, and core gameplay loop into an experience that’s worth playing. Halo Infinite represents some of the best things about video games in 2021. Unfortunately, it also represents some of the worst things about video games in 2021.
What’s present in Halo Infinite is great, but it’s missing some key features
Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. Halo Infinite is an incomplete game. Co-operative gameplay, the Forge system, and level selection are not available at launch. On top of that, there are plenty of examples of the game feeling underdeveloped.
Zeta Halo, our setting for Infinite, suffers from a severe lack of environmental variety. The appearance of a gorgeous and inviting open world is shattered by the fact that you’ll encounter the same landscapes and buildings ad nauseum.
In addition, the game’s optimization, at times, leaves a lot to be desired. I played this game on both Xbox Series X, as well as an Nvidia RTX 3080 powered PC. Console performance was top notch. The framerate ran smoothly, the visuals were impressive, and the colors popped well on my television. I was hoping for an even better performance on PC, but was let down. Slowdowns were experienced, though they were far more frequent before updating drivers.
Overall, the only real benefit from playing on PC was being able to use the mouse and keyboard control scheme. With the amount of information, keybindings, and abilities, it’s a little overwhelming and awkward at times using a traditional controller.
The biggest flaw with Halo Infinite is the fact that the game doesn’t seem sure what it ultimately wants to be. The open world was heavily touted leading up to the release. In reality, however, it honestly felt like I was only in the overworld for, at most, 50% of my game time. That feels like I’m being generous too; halfway through the game, the story missions almost exclusively take place inside forerunner architecture.
The lack of variety can be draining at times, but the gameplay of Halo Infinite more than makes up for it, almost carrying the game at times on its back. Thankfully I can go back after the credits roll and do more open exploration.
Putting the team on its back
343 Industries has absolutely nailed the gameplay loop. Whether in the open world or traveling through linear corridors, Halo Infinite is an absolute blast to play. The strategic gunfights constantly challenged me, requiring quick thinking not just in terms of battle strategy, but weapon arsenal as well. Honestly, this wouldn’t have worked so well if not for the fact that every weapon in Halo Infinite’s campaign has a purpose.
There was never a time I picked up a weapon and wondered what its purpose would be. Even those that have been much maligned in multiplayer, and I’m looking at you specifically shotgun, were found to be useful.
What’s most impressive is how the game isn’t afraid to make your weapons better than you recall from the multiplayer experience. It feels like certain guns, even with a mouse and keyboard setup, have had their aim-assist tuned a little bit. While another explanation is that I’m simply better with weapons such as the Pulse Carbine, I can assure you that’s not the case. My experience with the Pulse Carbine in multiplayer solely consists of throwing it in the garbage. I’ve asked friends, too, and they all feel the same thing: every weapon feels better in the campaign compared to multiplayer.
What’s doubly impressive is how your abilities factor into gameplay and firefights. Things have been scaled back a bit since Halo 5: Guardians. The result is skills and abilities that feel like a natural evolution of Halo 3’s equipment. Like weapons, each ability is going to have its own purpose or use, especially in boss fights. Having said this, none are going to be as important as the Drop Wall for providing cover.
More importantly, though, is the fact that none are anywhere near as fun as the Grappleshot. Its versatility is unmatched. The ability to grapple to create separation, snag an energy cell as a free grenade, hijack vehicles, or steal weapons simply never gets old. It’s the best design decision 343 made and the game is infinitely better for it.
For as satisfying the skirmishes are, enemy interaction is even better. Playing Halo Infinite with subtitles on was one of the decisions I ever made. Do it not for the nonsensical story (more on that later, don’t worry), but instead for the constant enemy trash talking. Grunt smack talk is an absolute delight that left a constant smile on my face. Yes, this includes when far stronger enemies were shooting or throwing objects at my face. Or when I’m being flanked. Or when I’m being sniped by jackals. What I’m trying to say is that the
Covenant Banished are enemies that are full of personality and intelligence.
With that, it’s time to address another elephant in the room: the story. Being a spiritual reboot of the franchise, Halo Infinite does a good enough job of not punishing newcomers to the franchise. The basic premise is pretty simple: Master Chief and humanity good, mean strong alien bad. Little nuggets of nostalgia are present for Halo veterans as well, but once you progress further into the story, those nuggets become crucial plot points.
Additionally, it’s doubly a shame because the first half of the story is great overall work. Not necessarily with The Banished villains, who come off as generic muscle aliens, but the characters at play.
The relationship between Master Chief, The Weapon, his new AI partner, and the Echo 216 pilot is incredibly enjoyable. It manages to paint Master Chief particularly in a more humanizing light and grounds the narrative with humanity and emotion. The game does an excellent job of portraying these characters together and I desperately want to see more of it.
Then it decides we’re done with that and tries way too hard to put a pretty little ribbon on the 343 story arc that was better left in the past.
Halo Infinite often feels like it doesn’t know what it wants to be.
Ironically, the game’s soundtrack absolutely loves to call back to the familiar score we all know and love for the first half of the game. It’s as if to remind us that we’re still playing a Halo game despite Infinite’s attempts to move the franchise forward. Contrast that with a second-half soundtrack that’s new, refreshing, and at times emotional as it accompanies story beats requiring knowledge of past Halo titles beyond mainline games.
It goes beyond just the story, though. I already talked about how the open-world gameplay eventually, when concerned with the main story quest, turns into traversing through corridors.
Infinite’s three acts all feel like three different games; there are platforming sections in the opening missions that are never seen again. It’s as if someone was inspired by a handful of games, such as Doom Eternal, Breath of the Wild, and the original Halo trilogy, and tried to make everything work. There feels like a clear lack of centralized direction found in the game, causing it to have an identity crisis.
The world of the Zeta Halo ring feels like the biggest victim of an identity crisis. On the surface, your objectives, map markers, and quests make you feel like you’re playing any generic open-world game that’s been released in the past handful of years. I already talked about the lack of variety when it comes to landscaping. It feels like we’re missing some of the locales teased in Infinite’s debut trailer.
Again, though, the gameplay loop of Halo Infinite does all of the heavy lifting. The intelligence and personality of your enemies make engaging them in an open environment an absolute delight. Despite its shortcomings, however, Infinite is an absolute treat to play throughout.
I can’t help but wonder, though, what another six or so months in development could have done for the game. Or even, dare I say, another full year. There’s so much untapped potential within Halo Infinite. Even though it’s billed as “the start of the next ten years of Halo,” I’d prefer to get 10 years of updates and new features. Instead, it feels like ten years to get everything that should have been baseline.
Ultimately, your opinion on Halo Infinite is going to depend on what you’re looking for from it.
If you’re wanting to see Halo gameplay return to its roots and deliver a core experience you remember from over a decade ago, then Halo Infinite is exactly what you want. The gameplay in a Halo game hasn’t felt this good since Halo 3. Master Chief is definitely back and better than ever and it feels good to step into his shoes once more. This is the game you’ve been waiting forever since 343 took up the mantle of continuing the Master Chief saga.
If you’re wanting to see the franchise move forward in the ways that other old-school FPS titles have, then you’re going to feel some disappointment. For every step forward Halo Infinite makes, it also takes a step back. There’s a solid foundation here for an open-world environment that marries well with the traditional Halo gameplay loop. Everyone feels right at home: Master Chief, your abilities, weapons, enemies, vehicles. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted from a Halo game. I just wish it wasn’t pushed aside later in the game for linear corridors and story nonsense.
If you’re someone that is dying to get tinkering in Forge mode or exclusively plays the campaign on co-op, then this isn’t the game for you because those features don’t even exist yet. It’s incredibly disappointing to see and docks the overall opinion of the game.
If you’re someone that’s looking for a good FPS to play, Halo Infinite won’t do you wrong. There are better titles out there for sure, especially within its own franchise. Infinite isn’t able to help 343 Industries escape the shadow of Bungie, but it allows for the opportunity to do so in the future. The future of Halo is bright and in good hands, provided the direction is there.
There’s a lot of good to be found within Halo Infinite. You just have to be willing to put up with its shortcomings.