In 2001, Halo: Combat Evolved launched for the original Xbox on release and overnight, singlehandedly put Xbox on the map. It is fitting then, that here, 20 years later, in what has been a stellar year so far for Microsoft and Xbox Game Studios, sees it ending in the crescendo of Halo Infinite – a game that in some ways is very much a spiritual reboot of that 20 year old game, even if it isn’t a literal one.
Hungry for more Halo? We have additional Extended Play videos at the end of the article!
Disclosure: I have been working with 343 as part of the Forge Council, a small group of Subject Matter Experts helping 343 with feedback on that singular element of the game.
343 have had a couple of goes at Halo since they took the reins following series creator Bungie’s departure. Halo 4 was a beautiful game, with an interesting narrative, but the huge improvement in visuals came with restrictions in gameplay variation and scale, and the multiplayer was not Halo’s finest hour.
Halo 5 on the other hand, reversed these issues for me – the campaign was a bit of a lore-heavy narrative mess, but the multiplayer was frankly, excellent. As many pundits have repeatedly stated, Halo Infinite feels like, more than ever, the one 343 needs to get just right.
There’s been a lot of doubt as to whether the folks at 343 are up to the task following a rough showing last year. The Multiplayer flights changed that conversation almost overnight, and now the real concern only remain for the Campaign itself, as the multiplayer launched in “beta” as a surprise earlier this week.
I’ve been playing through Halo Infinite over the week or so, and today I can share some initial impressions of the first 4 levels of the game.
Now, me using the word ‘levels’ may have you raising an eyebrow – “isn’t this Halo “open world”?
Well, yes and no – Halo games have always followed a very linear structure, with the levels themselves often being vast compared to other first person shooters. In turn, this allowed for different approaches to combat encounters, varying tactics and playstyle. Player freedom is paramount, and suffice to say, 343 have really leaned into this.
In Halo Infinite, that traditional linear path through the story still exists and the game eases you into these new, more expansive elements with a deft hand. One section where the level opened up and revealed the world of Zeta Halo had me pause for a moment just to drink in the view, but the moments preceding it were pure Halo action.
The game kicks off in serious style with humanity and the UNSC seemingly defeated by the Banished, a faction introduced in the excellent and woefully underrated Halo Wars 2. The Pilot, after what seems like weeks alone and adrift in a beat-up Pelican, finds the Master Chief floating in space and powers him back up.
Brave New World
The Pilot is an interesting character, losing the usual ‘duty first’ attitude that the Master Chief exudes with abundance, and replacing it with something altogether more human. Brohammer, (as I shall ever refer to him as) is a broken man, haunted by the losses he has suffered, and only wants to return home, in the hope of seeing his family again. When the Chief insists on taking the fight to the Banished, he is angry and openly hostile to the idea.
In short, he is afraid. The Banished really are a force to be reckoned with, and this is made clear right from the start. The Pilot bore witness to this defeat, and he doesn’t believe victory is possible. Not even with a battle hardened Spartan in tow.
Then we have Escharum, the big bad for this game, and right hand Brute to Atriox, the antagonist from Halo Wars 2. This guy really doesn’t mess about, and while I’m sure a showdown is inevitable, I admit as a character, he makes me nervous. Utterly ruthless, and in command of The Banished overall, this really is going to be a fight worthy of the Master Chief.
The other new (besides the Banished themselves) and overly twee character is “The Weapon” – an AI created to contain and delete Cortana. There’s a lot of mystery here, with locked files in her subsystems and questions yet to be answered. When the Chief is pushed for answers, he remains stoic and tight-lipped. No change there then. She, whilst seemingly capable and intelligent is also purposefully being kept in the dark. She claims she succeeded in her mission…but there’s more here to uncover.
I look forward to discovering more as I continue through the story, but I love this new take on story telling throughout the game. Comms chatter, audio logs, and frankly, some really incredible cutscenes are just sucking me in. Halo lore fans will be in their element here.
For new players, it also reminds me of Combat Evolved and the questions I had back then. Following the introduction of the Pillar of Autumn and Captain Keyes, players had a lot of questions. You’re certainly better off knowing what came before, but in some ways, I found myself asking the same questions I did back in 2001. Why am I here and what the hell happened?
The other piece of good news for die-hard Halo fans is this is a Master Chief story through and through. And the Chief himself, as hard as he is to read through his MJOLNIR armour, seems…lost. Lonely even? His relationship with Cortana and the destruction she has seemingly wrought upon the galaxy seems to weigh heavily on him, and it’s translated in his movements, his voice and his actions.
A Walk in the Park
The other big character is Zeta Halo itself. The feeling of being on a Halo ring again is tantalising, and Zeta Halo is full of mystery and intrigue, not to mention packed with enemy outposts, UNSC FOB’s and points of interest through-out, with more than a fair few collectibles.
It’s a vast area, and at this point, I’ve only explored a fraction of what’s out there. The game is bright, crisp and colourful – in short, it’s very, unashamedly Halo, and while it’s not the prettiest game in the world, the art and material quality is top notch. It’s the best Halo has ever looked.
The FOBs (Forward Operating Base) can be reclaimed from the Banished, and then act as loadout and fast travel points for the Chief. Every action you take, from clearing FOBs to saving Marine squadrons earns you Valor, which enables the Chief to grab more unique and desirable equipment from the FOBs before he sets out.
It’s a handy way to get around, but I found myself more often than not walking or using a vehicle to get around, because there’s a lot hidden out here, and I don’t want to miss a thing.
Alongside the glorious grappleshot, which is such a natural and joyous thing to use you’ll wonder why it was never added sooner, there are other new toys to play with and upgrade throughout the campaign.
I’d only unlocked some additional shield enhancements and a threat sensor in those first few hours of play, but there’s more to find and add to my arsenal. Swapping between equipment is a little clunky, and does take some getting used to.
Upgrades are obtained via finding Spartan Cores, recovered from fallen Spartans and their armour. It’s handled really well, and you can feel the Chief’s respect for his comrades when he comes across these fallen heroes.
Another new addition to the game are boss-fights. Halo has occasionally dabbled in this kind of thing before, but they’ve gone all out here. These are fleshed out battles against some of the Banished’s top bad guys, from Jetpack equipped Brutes to Active Camo Elite Enthusiasts.
They change up the gameplay significantly, with unique movesets and abilities the player will have to overcome. They are also challenging – I was quite comfortable playing on Heroic difficulty until I encountered an Elite that utterly kicked my arse.
The rest of the Convenant regulars are here, but with unique differences, from new armoured versions to different behaviours across the board. It’s familiar, but it does feel remarkably fresh, and it won’t take long before you settle back into that Halo run’n’gun groove that the series has always done so well.
The grunts are even funnier than in previous outings, and had me chuckling to myself on more than one occasion. I know new enemies were shown off in the gameplay preview from 343, but I haven’t bumped into them just yet.
The missions I’ve played so far have kicked off a big mystery, and right now, I have a lot of questions, and not a lot of answers. I’m loving the feel of being out on my own in this most wonderful of video game universes, the vistas and sounds of Zeta Halo washing over me as I make my way from small USNC outpost to large Banished installation. I love the modern feel and sound of this new take on Halo.
Mostly, I love being here again, back with new friends and old enemies, adding my own chapters to a saga I’ve been playing for 20 years.
A friend of mine said Halo wasn’t just a video game, but an energy, felt across a legion of die hard fans, that love the series for a million different reasons. Critics might bemoan some graphical features here and there or say the story perhaps still relies too much on knowing what came before.
For me, the timeless ’30-seconds-of-fun’ gameplay loop of Halo is back with a vengeance here, and for many of you reading this, that’s all you need to know.
Preview Code was provided by Microsoft and was played on Xbox Series X.
Want more Halo Infinite?
Then check out our Extended Play series of videos below, where you can enjoy my dulcet tones guiding you through some of the opening missions. Apologies in advance!