I am a big fan of the Halo series yet I never had the opportunity to try out Halo 5 due to not owning the right console. As such it was nice for me to see Halo returning in such a big way and making the latest title available to PC, allowing me to experience one of my favourite game series once again. Halo Infinite already technically released a few weeks ago due to the multiplayer going free-to-play and being considered a different product to the campaign. I’ll go over it here of course but I’m a single player type of guy so this review will be focusing on the offerings from the campaign mostly overall. So let’s see if Halo Infinite can help bring the franchise back into the light of relevance in the shooter market.
The story this time around is actually a kind of soft reboot as it takes up fairly back to basics storytelling for the Master Chief. Years after the ending of Halo 5 which had Cortana return from the dead and become corrupted in her thinking the big AI uprising threat that Cortana had boasted about was ultimately brought down and now a new threat has emerged, The Banished. These band of ruffians, led by previous members of The Covenant, seek to control the local Halo ring in order to have what is effectively the biggest gun in the universe held against the heads of their enemies. It’s up to the Master Chief to stop them and to uncover more about the secrets of Zeta Halo and what makes it so different from the rest of the giant space doughnuts. The story, as you might have deduced, goes back to basics for a Halo game and that may spark some curiosity from those invested in the franchise. Halo has always worked best when it was the central story of a lone badass fighting against hordes of aliens and this refreshing simplicity certainly helps to bring about those nostalgic ideals, especially if you’re a big fan of the original Halo: Combat Evolved.
Unfortunately however I feel this is one of the weakest stories in the franchise due to a variety of reasons. Firstly we don’t actually get to understand what The Banished really are or what they want from their actions within the game. You can of course read about their backstories in other parts of the franchise such as novels and the RTS game Halo Wars 2 however if you’re coming back into the series here (which seems to be a big part of what the marketing of this game is trying to go for) you will be left very in the dark as to what the antagonists of this game are actually all about. Secondly the game is a big fan of hiding details in audio logs and hidden data pads, no doubt due to the bigger focus on open world gaming this time. This means that unless you go out of your way to scavenge and search you may miss out on incredibly important plot details that make the future actions of several characters make more sense. Hiding story details in collectables is fine and all but you must ensure that the narrative you are trying to tell as a whole still works even when the player does not find these secret audio logs. Finally this title ultimately feels like a middle-part story as a lot of plot details are revealed throughout the adventure that will have dire consequences for the series as a whole but are never explained to you in this title. At worst it’s outright sequel bating with threats of brand new enemies and earthshattering conclusions to big events that we don’t ever find out about or have that much investment in. Truly this feels a bit like a Halo 5.5 more than anything resembling a complete new narrative and that is a shame due to the amount of changes they are trying to focus on for this series. I also found it a bit laughable that they tried to make Master Chief more emotionally investment in the lives of dead soldiers he finds as it really doesn’t mix well with the stoic badass approach they place on him throughout the rest of the game. Either make him an unyielding alien crusher like the Doom Slayer or give him actual emotional investment and care for people, you can’t really mix both.
Presentation wise the game looks quite nice. The open scenery and polished look the interiors of forerunner structures have make the game certainly look like a modern day title. I also love the new lighting engine as it makes the vistas of the game look astounding from the right angle and helps to emphasise the difference when you enter enemy strongholds as the menacing red glow will immediately put you on edge. The music, while nothing too spectacular, does use memorable tracks from older titles that brought a smile to my face and they are used effectively in the right setpieces to bring about a feeling of excitement and adventure. Voice acting too was absolutely great and all the actors gave really good performances with the new character of ‘The Weapon’ being a particular standout due to their naïve nature and funny dialogue. However while the game does look very pretty I am disappointed by the lack of diversity in the environments of Zeta Halo as it ends up being either one of two environments; Lush green forest/fields or metallic interiors with no real changes inbetween. This makes all of the levels in this game feel a bit lifeless and aside from one or two memorable encounters I couldn’t really tell you any standout moments or places within this world that I will remember as the years go by. With this being the first ‘open world’ setting you would think they would want the places you visit to be drastically different to help give the playing space it’s own unique feel with different locales and places of interest but it all just seemed a bit bland to me. It’s a shame as there are some really good looking pieces of art direction here but in the end this new environment will probably be forgotten about fairly quickly and the levels in particular will not be remembered past the gameplay that they offer.
Speaking of gameplay this is where Halo Infinite shines as the new stuff it offers makes for a really fun and engaging playstyle that I enjoyed greatly. Every game should come with a grappling hook, enough said. The small additions such as the return of the basic sprint function and swappable equipment abilities make Chief feel very dynamic and at higher difficulties you will absolutely have to use all of the items you have available to you in order to effectively combat your enemies. It even includes an upgrade system to allow you to make your abilities stronger by finding ‘Spartan Cores’ hidden around the map giving a nice incentive to explore. The biggest addition as I already mentioned however is of course the Grappling Hook that adds such a big change to how you play the game that at times I felt like I was playing Spiderman: Space Marine Edition. It allows you to of course pull up to ledges and get around the environment quicker but it also allows you to grab onto enemies, stunning them and allowing you to perform a shockwave melee attack that damages and stuns all nearby foes, grab equipment and weapons from afar and even steal some weapons from certain enemies, hijack vehicles from afar and it is even used in some simple platforming puzzles that they introduce at various points in the game. While I do wish it had more of a ‘swinging’ function I still really enjoyed what they did with this and it helps to really speed up the gameplay and allow for more unique combat encounters.
This has been counterbalanced by the fact that this game features much larger combat arenas and a greater number of enemies to face, leading to this feeling like one of the most difficult Halo games to date which was good as it is nice to have a decent challenge against your new arsenal of abilities. I will say however that I did not enjoy the boss fights as many of them ended up just being 1-2 hit kills upon you and inbetween their attacks being swarmed by normal enemies which led to a frustrating gameplay experience, the final boss is a particularly egregious example of this. The open world of the game helps to connect the story missions together and certainly has a lot of side activities and hidden thing to keep you busy, from enemy strongholds that you can liberate and make your own base to defeating certain boss creatures to gain access to unique variants of certain weapons. I also liked how the more bases I established in the game the more reinforcements and equipment I had access to as it really helped to make the open world feel a lot more diverse and alive. However even though I did enjoy this aspect I still felt that once I finished the story I didn’t see much point in going back to explore it more and that I feel is a big failure in trying to create an engaging open-world environment that you are pushed to explore and find out more about.
As for multiplayer much has been said already about the offerings this time around so I will be brief. The actual gameplay itself in the PvP environment is top notch as games are balanced for all players due to the removal of loadouts and yet the matches still remain fast paced and exciting due to the great movement system and new equipment you can use. I do wish that you could always use the grappling hook however as I pretty much defaulted to grabbing that in every match as quick as possible due to just how much it opened up gameplay for me. The problems however come from the fact that at the time of this review so much of what Halo games pride themselves on, forge, good custom games, a variety of playlists, diverse maps and a great replay and theatre system, are all either completely absent or are shadows of their former selves. Not to mention the microtransactions, awful armor customisation and terrible progression system which has already caused many people to stop playing the game.
The Theatre and Replay system is a complete joke with unintuitive controls and terrible timeline systems that make it incredibly difficult to just see what you are doing within a match. The playlist debacle is already slowly being addressed but still having the inability to choose whatever gameplay mode you want to play is insulting and what is even worse is the fact that some of these modes are being time-gated to specific events only which is an absolute travesty. I really miss Infection mode and the lack of it, especially in custom games, is unacceptable. The fact that 343’s offering of classic Halo games in the form of The Master Chief Collection not only has these but it also has a Custom Games Browser, something that this game sorely needs, is shameful. The lack of Forge is also noteworthy as it means one of the biggest aspects of the Halo franchise, the dedicated mapping and custom game community, are out of luck until they are added and leave little incentive for them to go to this title over sticking to The MCC which also even has official modding tools to make transitioning even more of a bad move. I am aware that most if not all of these problems will probably be fixed or added down the line but unfortunately by that point most of the people playing the game will have moved onto other titles and the general gaming audience will consider the game old news by that point which will stagnate the game’s shelf life and result in a split community between this and the superior MCC.
All in all then this Halo title is a mixed bag. While I love the moment to moment gameplay and think that the new additions to the combat sandbox were great choices I ultimately felt that this game felt at times unfinished and in other times like it was a stopgap for a bigger Halo title. I don’t know if this game will have single player DLC to address the story concerns but even if it does hiding most of the answers to your plot behind yet another wall of paid content is an insulting insinuation. At the moment I don’t think I would suggest buying the game unless you are a die-hard Halo fan and only try the multiplayer for the sake that it is free. If you have the Xbox Game Pass for either console or PC then this is still worth checking out as you do get access to all the content on the pass however otherwise give this title a wait until it becomes something worthy of the title ‘Infinite’.