I thunder into the armored cocoon of my Scorpion tank and climb an elevated path to the Banished stronghold. With each explosive cannon blast, the outer sentries prove that they pose no real threat, but my enemies have prepared for this approach and the narrow mountain path hits a blockage. As my Marines disembark and charge forward, I grab onto the nearby hills and begin picking out Jackals with a unique sniper rifle – loot from a previous conquest. But no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and eventually I climb the outer fortress wall and drop into a nest of entrenched Brutes, as the familiar rattle of my assault rifle begins to clear the way.
Halo Infinite walks a fine line between old and new and does it with as much success as I’ve seen in a game. As one of the most recognizable ‘feelings’ of play, it’s confidently nostalgic and rooted in an established legacy, ably reminiscent of the earliest games in the series. Whether it’s the satisfying stick of a plasma grenade, the haughty cries of a sword-wielding stealth Elite, or the gradual discovery of a mysterious Halo ring, Infinite pays tribute to Combat Evolved 20 years after that initial release. At the same time, 343 Industries’ new game is charting its own course. Equipment like the incredibly satisfying grappleshot, open-world elements that allow for more exploration, and free-form base attacks that challenge players to think creatively – all this and more help the formula stay fresh and relevant. The balancing act works, and this is the best a Halo game has felt in over a decade.
Master Chief’s latest adventure begins in media res, with his defeat at the hands of a brutal warlord and the destruction of the UNSC Infinity† It’s a reset of expectations of where the story went after the last game and a figurative teardown of the complicated fictional framework that defined the previous two series entries. Master Chief awakens six months later, with a new, more naive AI companion by his side, and goes to work doing what he does best: conquering insurmountable odds one bullet at a time.
The resulting story is relatively simple, as it unfolds the mystery of what happened in his absence, but the story is tinged with vague mystical undertones about the absent Cortana and the long-forgotten secrets of the Halo. As some questions get answers, Infinite revels in its mind-bending bewilderment, and even fervent lore enthusiasts can come to the conclusion with a resounding “huh?” That, too, sticks with the old Halo form, but this time around I found much more to enjoy in the real character moments of hope and resilience, and could have used a little less bewilderment.
Halo Infinite’s production values are through the roof, with breathtaking vistas to the outside and imposing cathedral-like interiors. The score is impeccably paced, emotionally powerful and perfectly balanced between familiar motifs and surprises. Likewise, the voice actors deliver powerful performances that elevate these sci-fi figures and convey humanity and loss. In action, everything from thrills and excitement moves and crackles, from weapon flashes to vehicle explosions.
Combat play like a dream, and whatever a player likes or dislikes, the action should motivate players to complete a playthrough. Each weapon brings something rewarding to the table, and enemies are fierce and challenging, especially when you run on that vaunted Legendary difficulty. The boss fights on the more demanding environments in particular are tense and exciting – a rare feat in first-person shooters. The new gear, especially the grappleshot, has a transformative effect on the gameplay, leading to more mobile and vertical play. Battles have a constant sense of movement and momentum, and I couldn’t wait for each next encounter.
The new open-world and progression elements borrow a lot from established successes in that genre, and there’s nothing deeply innovative about the gradual takeover of a zone. But the fights feel so good that I didn’t mind. I especially enjoyed the larger bases and outposts, which encourage creative thinking in how you approach the bad guys. I also loved the little moments of discovery – hidden weapon depots on a mountaintop or caves with the last weapons of a doomed Marines team.
The accompanying multiplayer suite of Infinite is free to play and guarantees a similar enthusiasm as the long campaign. Whether it’s thrilling ranked matches, desperately running to capture a flag in Quickplay, or smashing Warthogs together in 24 player Big Team Battles, the most important competitive shooting is fast paced and massively fun. The “fair start” mentality is a breath of fresh air in a multiplayer scene dominated by games with earned weapons or mismatched classes; here, if you win a trade, it’s because you’ve collected the right weapon and fought the best battle.
Slow multiplayer progression systems, limited character customization, and individual weapon and grenade balance all require a lot of tweaking in these early weeks of play. Those elements hurt my enjoyment of an otherwise rewarding match-to-match experience. But those features have been tweaked since launch and could be significantly different from now on, so there’s a limit to how much I want to tear down the game if the actual multiplayer battles are this much fun.
Like many, I regret that Halo Infinite didn’t offer co-op multiplayer at launch, if only because it was a stronghold of the series’ identity. It’s a disappointing omission, but I have to rate the game for me, not the features I’d like to have. And in that respect, Halo Infinite is a resounding success. Whether you want a big, mysterious sci-fi adventure or a chance to take part in an intense PvP, Halo Infinite takes the shots where it counts, ushering in a new era for one of gaming’s most recognizable pillars.