Reviewed on Xbox Series X
Back in 2001 my brother and I purchased an Xbox and with it Halo: Combat Evolved.
We must have played through that game over 100 times together, maybe more. The promise of that powerful (for its time) hardware was showcased with huge levels that seemingly offered the freedom to go almost anywhere.
Now, a full 20 years later with hardware I could never have dreamed of back then, those promises of sci-fi grandeur have not only been fulfilled but have surpassed my wildest expectations.
It has been six long years since Halo 5 was released, and after a 13-month delay from its initial announced launch date, I’m happy to say that this is by far the best the series has ever been – both in moment to moment gameplay and from a storytelling perspective.
Xbox is Halo
Xbox owns a number of the world’s biggest gaming IPs, but no series makes people think Xbox more than Halo. It is the main reason I have owned every Xbox console, and a bit embarrassingly is by far my most read collection of books.
With a TV show launching in 2022, Halo has been Xbox’s biggest transmedia IP that originated (following the acquisition of Bungie before the launch of the Original Xbox) and has stayed fully within Microsofts shifting ecosystem.
There was a disconnect though – between that world-building lore and depth found in the novels, versus the campaigns that Bungie created in the first 5 games of the franchise. Since 343i was created and took the reigns, they have attempted to bridge that gap and fill their titles with references and nods you can only fully appreciate by immersing yourself in the additional fiction available, be it books or graphic novels.
Thankfully, Halo Infinite avoids the misfires of Halo 4, which featured an incredible backstory that you did need to read elsewhere to understand the game’s antagonist, The Didact; and Halo 5 which went too far in the other direction and hilariously killed off The Didact in a comic book before it was even released.
Between Halo Wars 2 and a few novels that have been released recently, you can absolutely gain a greater appreciation and understanding for the new big bad threat, The Banished, but it’s not necessary at all to enjoy this proper ending to 343’s initial Halo trilogy. Despite an 18 month time jump from the ending of Halo 5, this game is 100% a sequel to that title.
All the questions you may have had after Halo 5 are answered here with writing that far exceeds that standard of the series, and for gaming as a whole. I cannot overstate just how good the actors do here with the excellent dialogue they’ve been given. Even knowing the major plot beats thanks to data mined spoilers I was still floored to watch how well it all played out. Jen Taylor’s three-headed role as Cortana, Dr. Halsey, and The Weapon is some of the finest work the series has ever seen.
Steve Downe’s Chief is still stoic, and rarely talkative, but he’s much more the Chief from the books with a dry sense of humor and, for the first time, serious cracks in his emotional armor. The events of Halo 4 and 5 have weighed heavily on John 117, and his respect for his fellow soldiers and life in general is beautifully displayed. The Brute Escharum is the main antagonist and Darin de Paul is his usual impeccable self, voicing the most satisfying and fully fleshed-out villain the series has offered up yet. He somehow matches the menace and brilliance that Atriox displayed in Halo Wars 2, which was something I had been concerned about within the lead-up to release.
Being a soldier is all Chief has ever known, and whenever he comes across a fallen Spartan his sense of loss is palpable thanks to the incredible animation work. Blue Team is not here, Team Osiris is never mentioned. This is 100% a Master Chief story and the heart of it is his failure to save Cortana from the dark path she walked in Halo 5. As previously mentioned, Halo Infinite starts a full 18 months on from the ending of Halo 5, and it kicks off in serious style, with everything going wrong.
The UNSC has lost to the Banished 6 months prior, and the newest character, featured in previous trailers quite heavily is The Pilot, who finds Master Chief floating in space. He claims that The Banished have won, and he is desperate to leave and get as far away from them as possible. Chief being who he is though wakes up from his six-month-long space nap and immediately starts tearing apart The Banished’s operations on Zeta Halo. This is the mysterious ring featured in the Forerunner trilogy books that were published before Halo 4 was released. You don’t need to know that though to be able to fully enjoy this story, it just adds flavor for those of us that do.
Cortana has made this place her base of operations, and both the UNSC and The Banished are on the surface trying to stop her, though never while working together. I did a short video on just who The Banished are earlier this year Just Who Are The Banished? in case you have no idea who these war-hungry maniacs are. Early on in the campaign Chief recovers The Weapon an AI that was designed to contain Cortana so that the UNSC could delete her once and for all. Chief, The Weapon, and The Pilot team up together as they desperately try to figure out what happened to Cortana while stopping The Banished from completing whatever their plans are on Zeta Halo and saving every UNSC member they can locate along the way. The cutscene camera movements, while a bit stuttery at times are smartly crafted and add a real sense of quality to the game that permeates every single aspect of it. The 13-month delay appears to have been worth it as this is a highly polished title, with no area shining more brightly than the gameplay itself.
Halo’s Sandbox Perfected
343’s Halo games have generally faltered in one area. Halo 4 had a solid story and good gameplay, but the multiplayer was weak. Halo 5 had great gameplay and a weak story, but excellent multiplayer. Halo Infinite finally gets it all right, as the early release multiplayer has been fantastic, and the campaign nails that classic ‘Halo’ gameplay better than any game has ever done before for me.
The biggest and most successful new addition is the Grapple Shot (not hook, because you shoot this thing into targets like a maniac). 343 nailed the physics and feel of it as many of you will already know from the multiplayer. From a campaign perspective, having it on hand all the time is a game-changer. Coupled with upgrades that result in a very short cooldown, it becomes a masterstroke of game design, making world traversal an absolute delight as you poke and prod into the sandbox and discover just what’s possible.
Indeed, this is the furthest away from the floaty tank feeling of Bungie’s classics that things have ever been, yet it still retains the heart of what makes Halo so incredible to actually play.
Much discussion has been had on the nature of this more open Halo – is it as ‘open-world as it may seem? The answer is multifaceted, but in a nutshell, it’s as open as you, the player, wants it to be.
It’s tough to describe but Creative Lead Joe Staten has been adamant that it’s not an open world in the sense that people think of games as being and I have to agree with him. There is so much more of a focus here that lets you choose exactly how you want to play, and for me, that meant doing every side activity I could find before touching the next main mission. For others, it could mean playing the widest, yet still linear Halo campaign yet. The best part of this is that you get to decide just how deep you want to go.
Halo has dabbled with various equipment setups before starting with Halo 3, Reach, and 4. Halo 5 attempted to put these power-ups as innate abilities and the campaign felt great thanks to the new toolkit. Halo Infinite does away with a few moves while adding in 3 new ones. Gone are the ground pound, Spartan Charge, and ADS hover of Halo 5 and instead we gain the aforementioned Grapple Shot, the Threat Sensor, Drop Wall, and returning thruster abilities.
A first for the series is an upgrade tree that operates on a new in-game resource known as Spartan Cores. These are found throughout the map in crates that either shows up when you use the scanning pulse (down on the d-pad by default) ability or if you capture a Forward Operating Base (more on that in a bit).
I played through the game in my review run on heroic difficulty and found that focusing on the upgrades gave me a huge advantage in the tougher fights over others playing early. One colleague I spoke with had serious trouble with a later stage boss (and there are many bosses, but we’ll get into that in a bit) that I took out on my first try. The key difference wasn’t player skill but instead, it was the fact that I had fully upgraded all 5 ability slots. Your shield strength is that 5th slot I hadn’t mentioned yet, and with how hard enemies hit it was the first one that I maxed out to rank 5.
Each ability gains things like strength, cooldown reduction, and also unique perks such as your Grapple Shot stunning enemies you hit with it through a jolt of electricity. Electricity joins kinetic, plasma, hard light, and heavy as a new ammo type with a few guns and the new dynamo grenade helping you chain damage and stun-lock vehicles to your heart’s content. Those ammo types do matter now as littered through each level and the open-world are ammo refill stations that match each type. Also new to the series is the fact that plasma weapons are now replenished simply by walking over them, and you no longer have to do the plasma weapon dance where you constantly discard one with 80% charge if you find the same gun at 85%. It’s a welcome change and one that was long overdue.
You’ve seen all but one of the guns in the game’s multiplayer already, but the Scrap Cannon makes its debut here after being shown in detail on an Inside Infinite blog post earlier in 2021. The Banished love their big heavy molten chunks of metal hitting you in the face, and this is the deadliest version of that yet. Many classics return and are joined by both entirely new and reimagined versions of older weapons in by far my favorite choice of weapons yet in a Halo title. Vehicle wise things are a bit limited in comparison to something like Halo 3, but everything (outside of driving the Brute Chopper) feels both incredibly powerful and well-balanced. Your grapple shot isn’t just for maneuvering as you can also pull weapons and fusion coils (big glowy things that come in three varieties) to you which became key for taking down tougher enemies as the game went on.
New to the series are named bosses who feature health and shield bars. If that concept concerns you, don’t worry. Every single one of these fights was fun, which I thought was an impossible task for a Halo title. The series has tried bosses before, but rarely with much success. The fact that they nailed the various types here is a testament to how well designed this game is, with these named foes having distinct movesets and capabilities. Thankfully, there is a new way to get weapons and vehicles to prepare for some of these encounters.
Forward Unto Dawn
FOBs or Forward Operating Bases litter the map, and according to a stream on the day of my writing, were added in during the last year of development per Joe Staten. You are tasked with taking out The Banished guarding them, which starts nice and easy and by the end is downright impossible. Once you do though the base is yours and you can use it as both a fast travel and call-in hub. Call in what exactly? Well, any weapons and vehicles that you’ve unlocked of course! To unlock things there are two systems at play. The first is known as Valor and this is an experience bar you fill up as you do any and every type of objective on the map and, by the end of my playthrough, I had unlocked all but the last few items.
The other way is to defeat HVTs or high-value targets on the map – these become available as you secure each FOB. Those HVTs are carrying weapon variants, which are similar to the REQ system weapons of Halo 5 though rarely as exotic. Through the Valor and HVT system, you will eventually unlock variants for every (if not every close to) gun in the main game, outside of carriable turrets. Some of these are ridiculously powerful, but that is balanced by them having lower than average ammo reserves. It’s a fun wrinkle added to things, and there are some incredible-looking weapons and vehicles tied to main game bosses that add in even more fun.
Other mission types litter the TACMap such as key Banished facilities which all feel custom made, though they do follow similar patterns. This is a focused open world, and I never felt like I was getting the Ubisoft cut and paste treatment on the whole. Even things that were mostly similar in setup were greatly aided by just how varied your gameplay options are and how incredible it feels to play. This is the best feeling first-person shooter of all time, at least on console, and after completing it all I wanted to do was start up another run-through on legendary.
Incredible Music and the Series’ Best Voice Acting Yet
I would wager to say that one of if not the most iconic things in the history of the Xbox platform is the music of the Halo series. Every game has its unique take on things, but the classic monk chant still sends a shiver up my spine every now and then. To tackle by far the biggest and longest campaign yet 343 has enlisted the help of three brilliant composers. Gareth Coker of Ori and Immortals fame, Curtis Schweitzer whose work on Starbound is one of my favorites, and Joe Corelitz who had worked previously on titles such as Gorogoa and Death Stranding. Here, they all contributed to something very special. They hit upon what makes Halo music so familiar, but much like the gameplay it is taken in new directions and brought to incredible heights. I’ve found myself sitting at the main menu screen or hiding to the side during a fight just so that I could keep listening to the score.
The best music in the world can’t save bad dialogue, a problem that plagued parts of Halo 5. Thankfully, the writing in Halo Infinite is in my opinion some of the best written and acted I’ve seen in a video game. I was stunned at how well-acted Chief, Cortana, The Pilot, The Weapon, Escharum… just everything was really. Master Chief has always been a man who chooses his words wisely, but Halo fans definitely have some surprises in store here, and he finally felt real to me in this game. His persona from the books was rarely ever matched by his video game counterpart, and seeing it finally happen has been a very nerdy dream come true.
The sound effects in the game are incredibly punchy with various states depending on the distance you are away from the source. It was actually a bit jarring going from the more muted multiplayer mode into a Dolby Atmos-enabled headset, but the work the audio team did is another thing that is as good as anyone else in the business, perhaps even the best I’ve heard overall.
Great Graphics & No Major Bugs but I Do Hope Co-op Comes Soon
There’s been a lot of ‘concern’ around Halo Infinite. Following the delay, there was a lot of commentary and speculation about just what kind of state the game was in? As we’ve found out, it was actually “fully playable” at the time of delay, but between adding a few things and tightening up some key areas they had a lot of time to polish it up, and at least for my playthrough, it seems to have paid off wonderfully
I had zero major bugs outside of a known one that was listed in the review guide and isn’t something most people would ever do in-game (fast traveling while dead can force you to close the game and load it back up).
Outside of one instance of a marine spawning within one of the four weapon lockers (and why four in this single-player game hmm…) I experienced no graphical issues either. This is a very pretty game, and performance on my Series X on a VRR enabled display felt pristine in both the 4k (Dynamic Resolution Scaling) 60fps and Lower resolution 120hz performance mode.
For the video footage, I captured it all in quality mode, but the majority of my playthrough ended up being in the 120hz performance mode which felt incredible. Without a Variable Refresh Rate enabled display it was rough as the framerate is not consistent, but if you have an HDMI 2.1 VRR capable display that isn’t a large OLED then it is the way to play. 4k/60fps with Dolby Vision HDR is the way to go though if you have a big beautiful expensive as hell TV as the resolution does lower enough where it would be quite noticeable there.
The elephant in the room though is the lack of co-op at launch, with no clear date of when it’s coming in the future outside of a nebulous “Season 2” in May 2022 (though it IS coming). Like everyone else, I was extremely sad when they announced its delay, but after experiencing this campaign – I get it. This is nothing like all 7 of the other mainline entries and figuring out the best way to implement co-op deserves whatever time it needs because this game is enormous. I can beat Halo 1-5 in roughly 3-6 hours each solo on heroic, this game took me just around 18 hours and that was with me ignoring some of the collectibles as the campaign progress will not carry over to the retail version of the game.
I still hope they implement co-op soon, but for now, I mainly hope they figure out a better way to do it than something like Far Cry in which only the host gets progress or State of Decay 2 at launch which suffered from severe desynchronization issues. One complaint people have had about the multiplayer side of the game is a lack of built-in customization, and I’m happy to report that there is a very large number of multiplayer cosmetics to be found on Zeta Halo during the campaign in “Mjolnir Lockers”. These litter the map and will unlock various items for your multiplayer spartan once opened in the campaign.
As you may have noticed, I don’t have any major negatives for this game. Looking back over the years I’ve been playing Halo – all 20 of them – this is the dream Halo game I always wanted.
Let me explore the ring, solving mysteries and discovering new ones, with the signature gunplay and vehicular freedom that Halo is known for, with an extensive world to discover, one Mjolnir boot in front of the other.
343 have taken the extra time given to them to craft something special. This is the start of a journey that should take us through the entire generation, and for me, it is the best starting point imaginable.
An epic campaign that is everything true fans of the series have wanted since our nostalgia-driven brains started to really appreciate just how cool levels like the Silent Cartographer or Two Betrayals could be with modern tech.
In a year packed with sub-par launches for some of the biggest first-person shooter franchises, it really feels good to simply say this:
Halo is back. I for one, welcome the return of the king.
This title is available on Xbox One, Xbox Series, & PC through the Windows Store and Steam. It is available on day one on Xbox Game Pass.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC|
|Release Date||December 8th, 2021|
|Publisher||Xbox Game Studios|