Halo Infinite is the latest entry in Microsoft and Xbox Game Studios’ iconic Halo series. The original Halo: Combat Evolved that came out in 2001 basically defined how the first-person shooter genre would work on consoles going forward, but in recent years the series has felt a bit stagnant and lifeless, despite its enduring and ongoing popularity.
I’m happy to say that Halo Infinite is a breath of fresh air, frankly breathing new life into a series where many gamers had written off the new entries. With choice improvements clearly inspired by refinement seen in other games and even other genres around the industry, the game seems determined to move forward and not just do more of what has come before.
An adventure on Zeta Halo
In Halo Infinite we return to the life of Master Chief as he finds himself fighting The Banished inside, around, and on top of the Zeta Halo, some time after the events of Halo 5: Guardians. While Guardians told a narrative that jumped between multiple characters, Infinite’s story never shifts it’s perspective away from Master Chief (also known as John-117) with the developers at the helm this time preferring to tell players a cinematic, well produced and most-importantly character driven story about some people that we actually start to care about.
While I won’t get into details on what happens to specific central characters, when, or why, I will say that this is probably the most I’ve liked John-117 in any Halo entry, and that is largely due to his interactions with new characters The Pilot and The Weapon, both of whom give the central character more opportunities to express himself regularly.
The entire Halo Infinite adventure is also punctuated with a magnificent soundtrack by Curtis Schweitzer, Gareth Coker and Joel Corelitz, who have both composed new tracks and played with existing musical leitmotifs with a clear reverence and enthusiasm for the series’ greatest classics.
Halo Infinite is Halo Evolved
Speaking of classics, let’s address the elephant in the room. Halo was created by Bungie, rather than the current developers at 343 Industries. I am in fact one of the rare Xbox players that thinks Halo 4 was actually fairly good. I’m also one of the ones that thinks Halo 5: Guardians was exceedingly bad. Honestly both felt a bit like they had ‘cover band syndrome’, either not iterating or worse, iterating strangely and trying to be like other popular shooter games of the era with little success.
Halo Infinite on the other hand redefines what Halo is with a confidence never before seen from the studio, taking the familiar and still-popular combat gameplay and showcasing it in all-new contexts that come hand in hand with the broader scope introduced by an explorable open world. The developers over at 343 Industries have obviously been paying attention to gameplay refinements found in modern day classics like The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild, Assassin’s Creed Origins and Doom Eternal and have used what they have learned.
After you arrive in the sandbox that is the Zeta Halo, you largely have the freedom to do whatever you want. There’s no fall damage, you have a grappling hook and the rest of the universe moves on Master Chief’s schedule. While I wondered if that was a good design call at first, I ultimately found myself glad to have the freedom to explore Zeta Halo at my own pace, going after the many extra collectibles, enemy encounters, bases and propaganda towers whenever I felt like it.
Exploring and completing the extra objectives is not only a lot of fun, but is rewarded. You’ll find Spartan Points that can be used to power up Master Chief and earn valor that will allow you to requisition things like new vehicles and weapons from the UNSC. It’s all well worth doing, despite being a bit time consuming.
Shooting enemies is the puzzle
As you explore the sandbox and continue your way through the story, you’ll not only be invested in the fresh character moments but find yourself in areas that would traditionally be a ‘puzzle room’ in another sort of adventure game, but because this is Halo, you’ll end up fighting foes to get the door open with the help of your Halsey AI instead. These fights will feel familiar to anyone who has played Halo before, as they tend to take place within the smaller indoor areas within the larger map.
What makes these fights more interesting is the nature of The Banished, a group of former Covenant scavengers that will make use of whatever weapons and equipment they can get their hands on. Basically, for the first time in the series, the enemy aliens will sometimes be firing UNSC guns back at you. Along with newly invented weapons, this expanded armory adds both much appreciated variety and another source of fresh ammo.
In some battles I would feel the occasional bit of frustration with the controls for selecting different grenades or types of equipment, but it never got so bad that the issues would sour the experience. Overall the combat encounters and weaponry are still very satisfying, and I’m already ready to play through them all again on the highest difficulty level — although I may wait for when the co-op mode update arrives in 2022.
Xbox Live fire exercises
As you explore Zeta Halo you can find ‘Spartan Lockers’ which will unlock cosmetic changes for use in multiplayer, which are well worth seeking out. Halo Infinite’s free-to-play multiplayer mode is, in my opinion, the best the series has seen since the very best days of Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST over a decade ago.
Combat is just as fast and fun against other players as it is in Halo Infinite’s single player mode, but it is let down by both a lack of varied mode playlists and issues with the battle pass progression model used at the moment. The developers at 343 have promised that they will implement fixes in the future.
If you’d like to read a more in-depth review of the Halo Infinite multiplayer experience, legendary spartan Jacob Woodward has written one, which you can find here.
While it could’ve been an absolute disaster thanks to such a fundamental change in ‘the recipe’, it’s a testament to how seriously 343 Industries have taken the development of Halo Infinite that despite all the changes, the game never stops feeling like Halo. The best shooter series is back, and it feels like it never skipped a beat in the first place. Whether you’re new to the series, or a wary returning veteran, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.