Hands on review information
Time played: N/A
Platform: Xbox Series X
Anyone familiar with Halo’s Master Chief will know that the 7-foot Spartan is a man of few words. So, in the spirit of John-117, I’m going to cut right to the chase – Halo Infinite’s campaign has the potential to be the greatest entry in the series to date.
That might sound hyperbolic, blasphemous even to those who still regard ex-developer Bungie’s titles as the crème de la crème of Halo campaigns. But after completing the first four missions of Halo Infinite’s campaign, which releases on December 8, 2021, trust me when I say that the game’s single-player experience took my admittedly cautious expectations and fired them into the stratosphere.
The ghost of Halo 5: Guardians’ monotonous and uninspired campaign – which has loomed over developer 343 Industries like a dark and ominous cloud since 2015 – has finally been exorcised. The horribly convoluted story, drawn-out gunfights, and meaningless characters are gone. In its place is a game that captures the very essence of Halo: Combat Evolved and delivers something that the original title never feasibly could – genuine player freedom.
Halo Infinite price and release date
- What is it? A first-person shooter and the sixth mainline entry in the Halo series
- Release date? December 8, 2021
- What can I play it on? Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
- Price? $59.99 / £54.99 / $AU79.95
Brothers in arms
While I won’t delve into too much of Halo Infinite’s main story elements (though I will say I was hooked from the opening cutscene), I do want to talk about Halo Infinite’s three newest cast members: The Weapon, The Pilot, and Escharum.
Halo veterans will instantly gravitate towards the game’s new AI companion, The Weapon. She oozes charisma and almost feels like a familiar face due to her similarities to Cortana. She isn’t just a carbon copy, though. The Weapon is a lot more easygoing than her holographic counterpart (especially given Cortana’s dramatic character shift in Halo 4 and Halo 5) and has a habit of bringing out a more playful side of Master Chief that players have rarely seen.
The new AI is noticeably more naive than Cortana ever was, too, and like you – the player – she’s slowly trying to piece together everything that’s happened since the Banished – a powerful army consisting of Brutes and Covenants – defeated humanity’s forces, the UNSC. From her witty interjections to her thoughtful observations, it feels great to have a little voice inside Chief’s head again.
The Pilot, similarly, is also strangely likable straight away. Desperate to return home to his family, The Pilot gets embroiled in helping Chief take down the Banished and seems like he’ll add some grounded perspective to the super-soldier’s relentless pursuit of duty. Although the Pilot plays more of an ancillary role early on, I’m excited to find out more about how his story progresses as the game goes on.
And as for Halo Infinite’s antagonists, the Banished? Well, let’s just say I can’t remember the last time I was truly intimidated by an enemy in a Halo game. That was until the guttural, grave tones of the Banished leader Escharum graced my presence. He’s one terrifying Brute and establishes himself as a formidable foe early on.
Halo Infinite’s story is very promising, then. But I’d argue that the series’ lore isn’t exactly the main reason why so many players fell in love with the original game 20 years ago. No, it’s the moment-to-moment gameplay that really cemented Bungie’s first-person shooter into the annals of video game history. And I’m happy to report that it’s better than ever in Halo Infinite.
Halo Infinite’s campaign begins in a typically linear fashion as you mow down waves of animated Grunts, burly Brutes, and deadly Elites onboard a now-ravaged spacecraft. However, you’re quickly introduced to a number of new gameplay mechanics and design decisions that have a dramatic effect on how Halo fundamentally feels and plays.
The first change seems rather insignificant, but it’s something that I never grew tired of during my hands on. You can now pick up various explosive canisters and lob them at enemies. We’ve been blowing up red barrels and the like in video games for years, but being able to grab and throw these environmental hazards into the face of an onrushing Brute is incredibly liberating. And thankfully, there’s a handy way to grab these volatile canisters from a distance, too.
The Grappleshot, which has already been rightly lauded in Halo Infinite’s multiplayer, is quite simply a revelation. You can pull weapons and canisters towards you; scale previously impossible heights and buildings with ease; fling yourself around corners to escape danger, and pull yourself towards enemies for a satisfying beat down.
The Grappleshot adds so much player freedom and traversal options that it’s hard to imagine how Master Chief and the Halo series as a whole ever coped without it. Not once does it feel shoehorned in or unnecessary. Instead, it’s something that never fails to evoke a sense of giddy satisfaction when you use it to open up a new level of verticality to Halo’s combat that hasn’t been possible before.
From the vault
After a familiar introduction and getting used to Master Chief’s new toys, the game’s world – and what you can do in it – opens up. Much like that moment where Link stands atop the Great Plateau in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Halo Infinite’s Zeta Halo will likely evoke the same breathtaking reaction in many players – it’s yearning to be explored and is arresting in its beauty.
When you step out into the game’s first open-ended area and see countless enemies dotted around the environment and strewn into the distance, Halo Infinite presents its first opportunity to really flex its legendary sandbox muscles.
You’ll have various weapons and Spartan abilities at your disposal to help you eliminate the enemy, but how you approach it is entirely up to you. Perhaps you want to pick off The Banished from a distance using a long-range weapon? No problem, use the Grappleshot to reach a higher vantage point and have at it.
But what about those stragglers inside those buildings? Your trusty Assault Rifle should be able to deal with them along with some well-timed melee attacks. Under fire from enemy reinforcements? Drop a shield and turn the tables on your foes. A large group of Grunts incoming? Chuck a blazing-blue plasma grenade into the mix and watch them scatter.
These constant moments of freedom offered to the player are immensely satisfying, which is facilitated by Zeta Halo’s massive scale and the new tools of destruction like the Grappleshot.
This blank canvas that Halo Infinite almost gives the player unsurprisingly leads to the sort of in-game moments that you just want to share with others. A personal highlight of mine was throwing a plasma canister at a bunch of Brutes who were disembarking from an aircraft and watching it detonate upon impact. Sadly, I couldn’t capture that moment on my Xbox Series X due to playing a preview build, but rest assured, I let out a few enthusiastic expletives when it happened.
A walk in the woods
But how does Halo’s open-world work in a series that has, traditionally, always driven the player forward in one clear direction? Well, there are still story-focused missions to complete, but this time you’ll have a number of optional side activities that you can tackle.
The most important of these side activities revolve around capturing Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). Clear a bunch of enemies from a FOB, and not only will you reveal more areas of interest on the map, you’ll also be able to use your new outpost to call in vehicles, weapons, and marines to help aid you in battle. However, to call in the best equipment, you need to earn Valor.
Valor can be earned by completing various missions such as taking down high value targets, overthrowing Banished strongholds, and rescuing captured marines. You can also find Mjolnir armor lockers that contain cosmetic items that can be used in multiplayer, datapads that expand upon the game’s lore, and Spartan Cores to upgrade your abilities.
The more Valor you earn, which essentially acts as a sort of reputation meter, the more firepower you can bring to the Banished forces. And when you’ve got a Razorback full of marines and a SPNKR rocket launcher on your back, the odds can shift in your favor considerably.
Now, I’ll admit, the above gameplay loop might sound all too familiar for an open-world game. But Halo Infinite’s focus on player freedom and sandbox gameplay is the perfect match. You don’t have to do these missions, but I naturally found myself seeking out every target, stronghold, and marines in need of help because the gameplay is so expertly-tuned that every encounter felt fresh and exciting. We’re not just climbing up elaborate towers and jumping into wheelbarrows full of hay here.
For the story-focused missions, the game cleverly reverts more to type and has you moving through awe-inspiring internal structures and completing objectives as you go. It’s classic Halo, then, but it feels unmistakably new at the same time.
Halo Infinite’s rewarding gameplay and captivating story are underpinned by truly top-class sound design. It may seem superfluous to some, but Halo Infinite sounds absolutely phenomenal. I’ve always had a penchant for good audio, but it’s as though Halo Infinite was specifically designed to get the most out of Dolby Atmos and spatial audio. It’s a heavenly listening experience.
From being able to pinpoint enemies with astonishing accuracy to hearing bullets whizz by Master Chief’s head and impact your immediate surroundings, the audio team has done a sensational job at making Halo’s alien universe feel more alive than I ever imagined. The game’s audio can sound unnervingly real at times, too, as though you’re actually embodying Master Chief himself as you walk around the ring’s hostile surface. In a game that wants players to feel like the super soldier himself, that’s the highest compliment I could possibly give to the sound design team.
But it’s not just the guns and environmental effects that make you feel grounded in the world. The frequent chatter from the Banished forces is also particularly noteworthy. You’ll hear Brutes, Jackals, Grunts, and Elites conversing, squabbling, and subsequently celebrating should you fall in battle. No matter how many times I died (while playing on Legendary, that happened a lot) there were countless humorous one-liners from shellshocked Grunts that made me smile. It just helps bind everything together.
Out of the shadow
So Halo Infinite sounds superb, but what about those underwhelming visuals that we saw during the campaign’s first reveal in August 2010? Candidly speaking, Halo Infinite isn’t the graphical tour de force that some players may be expecting, but the new Slipspace Engine that 343 Industries developed in-house is certainly no slouch.
Halo Infinite is, unquestionably, a gorgeous-looking game that also delivers rock-solid performance. Yes, some parts of the environment can look a little rough around the edges, and the infamous Brutes that birthed all those “Craig” memes can still look rather crude when zoomed in up close. But they honestly pale into insignificance. The lighting, textures, HDR implementation, and particle effects are all extremely pleasing to the eye, along with the game’s animations. It might not have the cinematic flair of Call of Duty: Vanguard, but there’s more soul to the visuals and strong art direction throughout.
From a technical perspective, it’s worth noting that load times are practically non-existent, framerate drops were extremely rare, and environmental pop-in when driving around the game’s world was also minimal during my time with the game. There was one occasion I can recall where some barricades, enemies, and incidental scenery suddenly phased into view, but that was an anomaly, not the norm.
Finish the fight
In 2021, there are so many games that try to make the player feel like they can do almost anything, but Halo Infinite really lets your imagination run wild. I never once felt like the game was designed to hold me back. Quite the opposite. It actively encouraged me to try outrageous things at every opportunity, all at the expense of the Banished’s forces.
There’s still more to uncover before Halo Infinite’s campaign release date, of course, but I can’t recall the last time I felt so enthused to return to a game I’d been assigned to review. While I won’t deny that I have a natural affinity for Halo – which I’d argue makes me an even harsher critic than those who don’t – there’s something irrefutably special about Halo Infinite. If you’ve dabbled with the game’s multiplayer, you’ll already have an understanding of why Infinite is shaping up to be something truly remarkable.