REVIEW: ‘Halo: Infinite,’ – Brings A Blend Of Old And New (XSX)

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Halo Infinite - But Why Tho

Halo: Infinite is an open-world, first-person shooter(FPS)/action game developed by 343 Industries and published by Xbox Game Studios. When a lone pelican spacecraft running low on power and time discovers Spartan -117, The Master Chief, floating in a field of space debris, the lone surviving pilot believes he may have found the one man who can get him out of the dangerous star system he is trapped in. Instead, he soon finds himself being dragged back to the nearby Halo ring as Master Chief insists they return to finish their fight with The Banished.

If you played Halo 5 and the above setup for Halo: Infinite leaves you a bit confused, it’s ok. You didn’t forget the last act of the previous entry, nor did you miss a side entry in the series that bridges the gap between the previous game and this one. Due to the less than stellar reception that the previous two games received, the developers decided to put a bit of distance between this game and those that came before it. While some questions concerning Cortana and her war against humanity are addressed here, the disassociation between the two stories is easily my biggest complaint about Halo‘s campaign. Seeing Chief have to lead humanity against his closest friend promised an emotional battle that I was looking forward to. But, despite this partial abandonment of the previous storyline, Halo still matters. So, let’s talk about what this entry adds to the storied franchise.

After an initial introduction that features Master Chief battling his way through interior areas filled with long corridors that periodically expand into larger battle arenas, Halo: Infinite delivers its single biggest change to the franchise. It opens up into a sweeping open-world as Master Chief returns to the surface of the nearby Halo. And while there is plenty to see and do on the surface of the ring, 343 Studios has wisely decided not to go overboard when it comes to side content here.

One of the biggest complaints I hear many people voice about open-world games is the feeling of being overwhelmed by side content. Of opening the map screen and seeing the image before them drowned in countless icons designating activities the player can participate in. I know I’ve felt this way often, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why I rarely venture into the open-world genre of games. Happily, Halo: Infinite opts not to overwhelm its player with so many options that most of us aren’t going to do anyway. Rather, 343 Studios keeps the game focused on a few different activity types that highlight what Master Chief has always been about: kicking alien ass. They do this while also making the objectives feel like they are important enough to warrant the Chief’s attention. Missions like saving imprisoned marine squads, capturing forward operating bases, confronting named enemies, and finding Spartan Cores to improve his armor’s utility(more on these later).

Halo: Infinite takes the pressure off of players even further by making anything not directly connected to the storyline optional. A player could run straight from one story point to another if they wanted to. Aside from gathering Spartan Cores, nothing in the wider world has any impact on Chief when he is clearing out one of the story locations full of  Banished soldiers.

It is these story-connected bases that provide the best of Halo: Infinite‘s gameplay. While the open-world encounters are solidly designed as well, there is a level of polish and balance that developers can bring to these controlled settings that can’t be done in the open exterior setting. But I also can get easily overwhelmed by ever-shifting volleys of fire coming from all directions and distances, so that might also be part of why I prefer the more controlled interior battles.

But whether outside or inside, 343 Industries has outfitted its iconic emerald-clad soldier with several new abilities. The biggest ability that has been added to master Chief’s arsenal is the grappling hook. Used for both navigation and combat, the grappling hook adds a sense of speed and maneuverability to The Chief’s arsenal, while not changing how it feels to play as the iconic character. Latching on to a Brute to pull Master Chief to the foe so he can deliver a melee strike followed up by a couple of quick shots to finish the job feels like a perfect evolution to the character’s hit them hard and fast mentality.

Along with the grappling hook, Master Chief also employs a thruster, a portable scanner to detect hidden enemies, and a deployable shield. While these are all useful tools, they never saw nearly as much application for me as the grapple hook did. The reasons for this are twofold. First, the grapple hook is cool. Secondly, the inclusion of these new abilities overwhelms the Xbox controller a bit. To swap between Chief’s special abilities the player must press right on the D-Pad, and then press the direction that corresponds to the ability they wish to enable. Trying to do this in the middle of a firefight almost always resulted in death for me. Unless I’d taken momentary shelter around a corner or had some other form of haven, the need to keep one of my thumbs off its stick for that long almost always resulted in death. This left the other three abilities mostly relegated to scripted moments where I had to use one of them to get through a fight.

One final note about Halo: Infinite‘s combat. Since its presence on Xbox Game Pass will probably cause players who are not only new to Halo but the FPS genre as well to give it a try, you should go into it knowing that this is a fairly challenging game. I played through on normal difficulty and several boss fights left me thoroughly frustrated. If it wasn’t for the game’s mid-boss fight save points I never would’ve beaten several of them. Halo is also the only FPS I generally play. Which tells you how often I dust off my skills. So if this is your first foray into shooters in a while, or ever, dropping it down to easy might be the way to go.

The other significant element that Halo: Infinite brings to the Halo formula is the aforementioned Spartan Cores. While the player receives a couple of these early game to get them going, most of these cores are found in the wider world of Halo: Infinite. These cores allow Master Chief to improve his four special abilities, as well as his shields. This adds a light RPG element to Master Chief’s journey that allows the player to improve those abilities they feel most drawn to, or beef up their shields to keep themselves fighting.

Halo: Infinite’s visuals take full advantage of the Xbox Series X’s impressive hardware. With everything from lighting to explosions and character models all looking gorgeous, this game ranks as arguably the prettiest experience I’ve had on my new gen hardware. The only rival it has is Forza Horizon 5. And just being compared to that graphical powerhouse is praise in and of itself. And the game delivers all this visual goodness with little to no impact on gameplay. I rarely noticed any hiccups with the gameplay no matter how many enemies and explosions were surrounding me.

The last element I want to touch on here is the story of Halo: Infinite. Setting aside the awkwardness of the game’s time jump from Halo 5, I thoroughly enjoyed this journey. The story has an emotional weight to it I wasn’t expecting. While Master Chief remains the unstoppable juggernaut he’s always been, during several of the game’s quieter moments Spartan -117 lets his guard down and we get to see the wear and tear that everything he’s gone through is beginning to do to him. This is especially true whenever Cortana comes up in the conversation.

My only major complaint with the campaign is with one of the story’s major villains. The over-the-top mannerisms and speech of this particular character felt completely out of place in this game. His eccentric personality comes across as feeling more appropriate for a member of Batman’s rogue’s gallery than Master Chief’s.

When all is said and done, Halo: Infinite delivers an amazing entry into the franchise. While it doesn’t manage to take the top spot on my personal list of favorite Halo games(Remember Reach!) it is easily in my top three. And with Xbox looking to keep players engaged with Xbox Game Pass I can only imagine that we will be getting more stories with the Chief as he continues his fight against the Banished. If 343 Industries can keep what comes next to the same level of fun and polish they have established here, I will gladly pick up my trusty Battle Rifle anytime they have a new mission for me.

If you are wondering about But Why Tho’s thoughts on the multiplayer side of Halo: Infinite, keep your eyes on the site for our focused multiplayer review coming soon.

Halo: Infinite is available for Xbox One, PC, Xbox Series S/X, and through Xbox Game Pass.


Halo: Infinite
  • 9.5/10
    Rating - 9.5/10
9.5/10

TL;DR

When all is said and done, Halo: Infinite delivers an amazing entry into the franchise. While it doesn’t manage to take the top spot on my personal list of favorite Halo games(Remember Reach!) it is easily in my top three. And with Xbox looking to keep players engaged with Xbox Game Pass I can only imagine that we will be getting more stories with the Chief as he continues his fight against the Banished. If 343 Industries can keep what comes next to the same level of fun and polish they have established here, I will gladly pick up my trusty Battle Rifle anytime they have a new mission for me.

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