Halo Infinite isn’t quite everything I wanted it to be, but Master Chief’s long-awaited return is still a triumphant step in the right direction for 343 Industries. The studio has taken the legacy it inherited from Bungie and finally crafted an entry that lives up to that reputation. It doesn’t drown itself in needless exposition or directionless evolutions to the classic formula – it’s Halo through and through, right down to the graceful gunplay and masterful musical cues. From the moment I stepped foot on Zeta Halo I felt at home, losing myself in an emotionally compelling narrative and a sense of mechanical prowess that expands upon the series’ core in all the right places. It feels so good to be back.
Master Chief is tired. The war that began in Halo 5: Guardians has been lost, humanity beaten back by The Banished as only a small number of personnel remain aboard the ring that was once destined to bring about the galaxy’s destruction. Our space marine has spent six months floating in orbit, clutching the empty vessel of a friend he was unable to save. Cortana is gone, the war is over, and suddenly there is nothing left to fight for. Halo Infinite is a game about accepting that loss, and finding a purpose when the conflict you’ve been indoctrinated to perpetuate has faded away into nothingness. The narrative isn’t at all what I expected, focusing on a small number of characters and their struggle against an enemy that simply believes it is doing the right thing, fighting for a cause much like you did.
Your enemy is The Banished, a faction that first emerged in Halo Wars 2 and now calls Zeta Halo its own. The campaign follows Master Chief as he attempts to thwart its reconstruction, falling into a conspiracy that will inevitably reveal the true fate of Cortana and the operation of higher powers yet to be unveiled. Infinite is clearly the start of something more for the Halo universe, concluding the Reclaimer Trilogy without ever acting like it never happened. In fact, the events of Halo 4 and 5 are touched upon extensively, even if it’s clear that 343 Industries wishes to move onto a new journey, one that is infinitely more personal and aware of the strength that comes from building upon a cast of small yet excellent characters.
The Weapon sits at the centre of this – an artificial intelligence programme designed to replicate Cortana’s inner workings and destroy her, all while succumbing to its own deletion in the process. Her mission was a success, but for some reason her presence lingers on as she’s taken under Master Chief’s wing and given an opportunity to discover her own humanity. Their relationship is immaculate, a touching, reserved examination of loss and companionship that delves into the trauma of our hero’s upbringing and the hesitance of allowing himself to be vulnerable. What was once a faceless spectre of violence is now a flawed, broken man who is tired of saving the world, no longer a tool to be abused and put through his paces over and over again until all he sees is red. The Weapon grounds him, making him caring, dry, and sarcastic in a way that Chief has never been before.
How the story is framed makes all the difference. Master Chief towers over every cutscene, the camera lingering over his frame and making fellow characters look miniscule by comparison. The Weapon often flickers in the palm of his hand, glancing over the scene alongside him as they work together to defeat their adversaries and return home. There’s also a pilot who accompanies you, a cowardly man who fled from the war and views Chief and his companion as his only way off Zeta Halo. He’s excellent, helping to express the absurdity of Chief’s willingness to throw himself into harm’s way when this isn’t a battle worth fighting. He’s lost so much and doubts himself, knowing who he’s failed in the past and the anxiety that comes with repeating such mistakes in the future. Aside from a smattering of audio logs spread across the open world, these are the only main characters in the entire campaign and it shines thanks to such restraint. You aren’t saving the galaxy, you’re saving yourself – and Halo Infinite leans into these lessened stakes in so many compelling ways.
As for the world itself, it doesn’t ask you to be a Ubisoft-esque icon janitor as I was expecting. Halo Infinite doesn’t take place across the entire ring, but a fraction that has been split off from its original place in the midst of destruction. You’re exploring a piece that is slowly being repaired, now occupied by endless hordes of The Banished seeking to take it for themselves. This approach means everything across the map has its place, whether it’s Forward Operating Bases and Outposts waiting to be conquered or subtle collectibles and upgrade materials that can be found by either scanning the map or relying on your own intuition to comb the environment. This freedom complements the linear campaign missions that bridge the narrative together perfectly.
It’s a shame these missions can become rather samey, relying on attractive yet ultimately derivative Forerunner architecture that quickly devolves into repetitive strolls through long corridors. The narrative, dialogue, and sheer variety across each firefight pulls it along, but those looking for the globe-trotting qualities of past games will be underwhelmed here, desperate to return to Zeta Halo’s surface to explore of their own accord. It feels like these missions were stuffed into the campaign to help accommodate a more ambitious narrative, instanced away from the open world in a way that can feel sudden and uninspired. It’s one of the only gripes I have with the campaign, which is otherwise one of the series’ strongest ever. There’s so much choice in how you approach each situation, facilitated by a greater focus on traversal and combat arenas that reflect this experimentation.
Master Chief can earn a number of different gadgets throughout the campaign such as a grappling hook, deployable shield, threat tracker, and more – all of which can be upgraded to dish out additional damage and perks that make harder encounters that much easier. Propelling myself towards an oblivious Elite with my grappling hook before whacking them in the face, throwing down a shield, and engaging in a lengthy firefight that uses all of my potential abilities is such a thrill, Halo Infinite accommodating an immediate change in playstyle as I constantly react to the environment around me. It feels like the wide open levels of Combat Evolved with a much greater level of nuance, never punishing the player for trying something new or approaching situations again and again with a new layer of creativity. It’s spectacular, and the tightly designed world helps it shine.
Given it’s already out in the wild, you likely know that Halo Infinite’s multiplayer is free-to-play, and it’s rather brilliant. 343 Industries has taken a back-to-basics approach this time around, opting for a small selection of modes and playlists that strike a perfect balance between appealing to hardened veterans and curious newcomers. Nobody is left behind as the series evolves into something new, and that’s a grand achievement to be celebrated. Slayer, Oddball, Big Team Battle, and countless other classics return, with weapons spawning across the map alongside classic loadouts that encourage sharp reflexes and teamwork to emerge victorious in each match.
It just feels fantastic to play, yet it does have a handful of shortcomings right now that I hope will be addressed. The battle pass and overall progression feels stilted – the debut season is set to last until May 2022 with just a handful of events sprinkled in to help spice things up. Aside from some attractive cosmetics and player customisation, it feels painfully dry compared to its contemporaries, and 343 Industries will need to make some major changes if it hopes to give Halo Infinite a level of staying power to compete with the likes of Apex Legends, Destiny 2, or Fortnite. It has the foundations of something excellent, but right now I can’t help but feel the missteps are holding multiplayer back from greatness.
Despite these flaws, the multiplayer is still one of the finest shooters out there. Nothing beats grappling onto a Banshee, tearing the unwilling pilot out of the cockpit and raining hell down upon an opposing enemy base to subsequently take it for yourself. Every match is filled with moments that feel scripted, but are a result of the game’s systems combined in such bizarre and fascinating ways. After what feels like a decade of absence, Halo Infinite is a return to form for classic shooter action that helped define multiplayer on consoles, and the game leans into that attitude of nostalgia as much as it pushes forward and leaves it behind. Halo as a live-service experience does fill me with worry, but that’s easily outweighed now I’ve seen the model in action and where it might go from here.
Halo Infinite was worth the wait, and 343 Industries has managed to dispel all of the doubts that formed after countless delays, underwhelming trailers, and a sense of aimlessness that expressed that perhaps Master Chief should be put to bed once and for all. By stepping away from the convoluted lore and abundance of changes made throughout its tenure, the studio has been able to craft something meaningful, an emotionally resonant journey across Zeta Halo that uses excellent worldbuilding and touching character interactions to build a triumphant campaign that sets the stage for an exciting future.
If the campaign will continue to be built upon with similarly intimate stories revolving around Master Chief and The Weapon then I cannot wait to see them, since the potential here for expansion is limitless. Multiplayer is spectacular, even as it struggles with teething issues associated with becoming a live-service model. At its core the punchy gunplay, reactive movement, and reliance on teamwork remains, and that’s all Halo Infinite needs to become a winner. As someone who grew up as a blubbering fangirl, it feels so good to see Master Chief deliver an adventure that is once again worthy of his iconic status.
Score: 4.5/5. Xbox Series X review copy was provided by Microsoft.
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