Halo Infinite is a big moment for Microsoft and 343 Industries. For Microsoft, who have been waiting to make a statement with their first tentpole, first-party game of the current gaming generation, it’s a moment to wow old fans and win new ones. For 343 Industries, it’s time to finally prove that being left in charge of the Halo legacy is something that they are worthy of.
We are left with one of the most potentially polarizing games of the year. Where it is good, it is superb, but where it is weak, it is so shaky that many people might be completely turned off the idea of it. This review is strictly focused on the campaign and everything related to that.
You are the Master; you are the Chief
343’s most brilliant move is focusing on the feeling of being Master Chief. The big, green fighting machine has always been one of gaming’s greatest characters. Playing as the Chief has never been as much fun as in Halo: Infinite. Thanks to the new grapple, being the Master Chief feels slicker than ever. Swinging up a wall, using the grapple to snatch up a fallen weapon, grabbing an explosive container and then hurling it at a target, or latching onto an enemy and rushing toward them for a massive strike, they all feel amazing.
The gunplay and weapons are as beautiful as ever. The carnage of combat feels like a dance. It has been years since I have enjoyed the actual moment-to-moment gameplay of a first-person shooter campaign this much. The Chief feels like a tightly coiled spring, ready to explode into purposeful action at any moment. This power fantasy comes through perfectly in the gameplay. In every way, it feels like we are capable of living up to Chief’s legend of being a one-person army, capable of incredible feats against impossible odds.
A wasted world
The biggest downside of the game is, sadly, the open world. Zeta Halo looks fantastic and is an excellent setting for a game, in theory. The massive, artificial world certainly looks striking, but it is devoid of mystery or much imagination. There are no biomes here, just the simple rolling green fields and forests interrupted by structures or the hexagonal building blocks that make up the Halo.
As you play, you will discover Forward Operating Bases that you can take back from enemies. Doing so will mark points on your map that detail armor you can find for the multiplayer segment, Spartan Cores, you can use to power abilities, enemy towers you can smash, or friendly troops you can help to earn points. There are scattered enemies marked with red that you can take out to get new weapon variants, and occasionally larger structures you can clear out.
No matter how much I searched, no matter what massive mountain I ran up, I never really found anything that made me think I had discovered a secret. There were no mysterious caves, no unusual hidden quests. Everything was marked on the map for me in advance, which quickly reduced my interest level in the world.
After playing in it for dozens of hours, I can say that my number one issue with the open world is that it doesn’t serve the story, nor does the story genuinely take advantage of it. Yes, romping across it as Master Chief is fun, but only while there is an enemy to kick in the face. It feels strange for Halo, a series that has done so much and pushed game design forward in so many ways, to enter the open-world genre in a form that lacks any imagination or innovation.
The moral of the story
Halo Infinite’s story also has a lot riding on it, as the Guardians story was primarily met with disdain by much of the Halo community. The good news is that this is certainly not Guardians, even as it tries to repair a lot of the damage done by that entry in the series. The bad news is that players are potentially going to be challenged in new ways.
Without getting into spoiler territory, the campaign is carried, much like the fate of humanity, by Master Chief. Steve Downes delivers a performance that always keeps Master Chief grounded in his humanity. It’s almost extraordinary, the level of subtly and fragility that he can manage to work into an eight-foot-tall killing machine. Sadly, Downes is working against the tide and striving hard to carry two of the most annoying characters in recent times. The Pilot is a constantly scared, eternally whining intrusion almost everywhere you go. Meanwhile, Cortana’s replacement, Weapon, feels like she has been saddled with rejected oneliners from the least funny Marvel movies. The voice actors do an admirable job with what they have, but the script lets them all down, except for the Chief.
Fortunately, the actual story beats themselves can be pretty fun and exciting, even if most of the campaign takes place in two main environments. First, you have the open-world areas, and secondly, you have the underground Forerunner areas. The problem is that both environments rapidly become a little dull and samey. It’s a shame that all those years of development didn’t result in strong environmental storytelling.
If it sounds like I am hard on Halo Infinite’s campaign, it is because I am. I expected a lot from 343 Industries and Microsoft, and I am left feeling somewhat disappointed. With the multiplayer being spun off into a free-to-play standalone with its own monetization, we are now paying full price for this campaign, and it doesn’t live up to the price tag. Yes, the actual gameplay is superb, but that alone cannot carry an entire campaign. Missing features like co-op also feel strange, as that has long been a vital part of Halo for much of the community.
The implementation of the open world is something of a letdown, and it feels like so much was sacrificed just to have something that was marketable but failed to add to the experience in any meaningful capacity.
There is a lot to be said for how Halo feels to play, that even if the world and story can be disappointing, it seems impossible that people won’t have fun being the Chief in this game.
Anyone hoping for definitive proof that the Halo franchise is in the right hands will be disappointed. There are flashes of brilliance here, but also enough areas of weakness to keep the doubters feeling like Halo may never get back to the heights of the original trilogy.
Anybody who wants to just be Master Chief, face-rolling enemies and dispensing some good old-fashioned armor-plated justice to the enemies of man is in for a fun time. Anyone who dared to hope for more will be left feeling a little underwhelmed.
7 / 10
|+||The combat really is incredible|
|+||Steve Downes is incredible as Master Chief|
|–||The open world is underused and underbaked|
|–||The characters that accompany the Master Chief are something of a struggle|