Halo Infinite Review – Six Years For This

Halo Infinite is a really fun game. You can shoot people’s grenades in their hands and blow it up in their faces, you can make an electronic explosion by zapping aliens with your grapple hook, you can spawn in troop transports and drive into story missions with six marines carrying rocket launches, sniper rifles and shotguns to cover your back. You can interrupt someone throwing a grenade so that they drop it on their friend, who panics and runs into a group of other friends and blows them all up.

Unfortunately Halo Infinite is also completely unfinished. You can have a dogfight with a bunch of spaceships only for them to despawn halfway through it, sometimes enemies won’t notice you’re attacking them and continue doing their idle patrol, if your vehicle slips upside down you might even get a nice view under the map. From some vantage points I could even see through the environment.

And despite being open-world, the environments always look too similar to each other; You have the grassy terrain and the forest terrain and then the grassy forest terrain, so there’s not a whole lot of variety while exploring a planet-sized ring world, for some reason. In previous Halo games we’ve seen lush jungle temples, swampy marshes and snowy mountains – sometimes all within the same title – on Halo rings, and on other Forerunner structures we’ve seen expansive desert canyons and fortresses within them. It’s kind of a shame we don’t get that in this game’s open world, when those environments featured in the more linear (but still open-ended) missions of the previous games. There are hints of other biomes around, like an area of dead foliage surrounding a big excavation site that could have really been exaggerated into a whole biome of it’s own, and this narrow rocky ravine between two of the game’s zones. But neither of these are large or prominent enough to merit exploring or looking at after the first time you see them.

I will say I love how much verticality is in this game’s open world. I mean, sure, games like GTA, Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption and Fallout all also have verticle worlds… But none of them have a grappling hook. The grappling hook is this game’s version of “enhanced mobility” that FPS games have been unhealthily obsessed with for the past decade. Only in this game, that mobility is actually fun. If you upgrade the cooldown on it, you can literally scale mountains that are 90-degree angles by using your momentum to throw yourself further up than you will fall before you can fire the hook again. There’s also a distinct lack of invisible walls around cliffs and other high areas, allowing you to just run straight up there to admire the view. And while you can climb mountains in pretty much any other open-world game, it is the speed at which you can do it without the game interrupting your journey that makes Halo Infinite feel so freeing. It’s certainly not as in-depth as dedicated RPG’s or other open-world sandboxes, but it’s certainly nonrestrictive, which I find admirable.

So by far and wide, although it is not perfect, the open world in Halo Infinite is its biggest strength. Unlike Halo ODST’s open world, there’s also stuff to do in this one aside from feeling the atmosphere and story missions. Sure, it’s the same 4-5 copy-pasted objectives all around the map but I only found two of them to be weak. For minibosses, you just fight some normal guy with a really big health bar who will either carry a unique gun that is insanely powerful or a peashooter. They’re not very fun in of themselves but at least unlock cool new weapons for you to use. The next weak point is the exploration for collectables and upgrades, mostly because the map will just show you where they are and allow you to place a waypoint right on top of them, and because the game has a designated button for just showing you where everything is within a given area. The rarest collectables that modify gameplay, the skulls, thankfully don’t adhere to these rules though.

But I always found rescuing marines to be an extremely fun endeavour. Fighting alongside them is so fun, especially when you load 6 of them into a warthog and drive it into an enemy base where the one guy with the rocket launcher just destroys everything and looks as though he could do it all blindfolded. There’s also one large alien base per zone that is basically a mini-mission; you generally go in, blow some stuff up and then your friend tells you life just got easier for all humans on the ring. They’re by far and wide more fun to complete than any of the story missions and, just like the best of previous Halo missions, are incredibly open-ended. The ability just to approach these bases from any angle – be it insanely risky or highly calculated – is great and fits right in with what the design behind Halo has always been about. This one time I parked my buddies on a mobile rocket turret outside the base, zipped inside and opened the gates before proceeding to drive at 60 miles per hour around their walls blowing everyone up. The next base I did, I took what felt like 45 minutes slowly sniping my enemies from a distance before deciding to even set foot inside. And the one after that, I spawned in an air vehicle and just did a bunch of bombing runs before touching my objectives.

I also like a couple of subtle additions to the game that increase it’s difficulty in interesting ways. The main one is that enemies can switch weapons by picking them up off the floor or cycling through their own inventory, which is so simple and yet something we haven’t seen before. You might think you’re safe from that sword-wielding guy until he whips out a gun that fires eight projectiles at once with the range of a rifle. Similarly, you may think you’re safe having closed the distance between yourself and a Brute with a harpoon gun, until he whips out his damn shotgun and whoops your ass with it. It means a lot of the time you’re encouraged to beat the different enemy types at their own game, while also maintaining the feeling that each enemy has a role that can be countered, as this mechanic doesn’t always apply to lesser foes like the Grunts and Jackals.

It’s also nice to see enemies can also pick up environmental objects to throw them at you, and even better to know you can use the grappling hook to intercept those objects and toss them right back. While you’re in the open world, particularly when assaulting large compounds of enemies, all these mechanics come together and create the perfect blend of fun and unpredictability. Some of it you can control and logically approach, and sometimes you’re going to get a grunt who has grenades strapped to his hands thrown at you from thirty yards away by a big dude.

But since I mentioned the story, I suppose now I have to talk about it… In this game we fight a bunch of aliens called the Bansihed who, unless you played the spin-off RTS game Halo Wars 2, you won’t know anything about. Their leader beats the crap out of Master Chief in the opening and then is never seen again because he “dies” offscreen thereafter. So the game goes to an awful lot of effort to establish two new villains simultaneously and doesn’t really succeed at convincing you of either one of them. But then, surprise, the dude from the intro is revealed to be alive in a post-credits scene… What?

Then we go to a Halo ring that was featured in both the finale of Halo 5 and in Halo Wars 2, where Cortana went with an army of giant robots to take over the galaxy. Once there we find all her robots went away and that she died offscreen between games. And despite it having no bearing on the new semi-retconned story, outside of the introduction of one new character, we’ll spend half of the game’s cutscenes learning about what an evil person Cortana used to be… What?

Halo Infinite also follows this completely bananas trend that 343 have set for themselves wherein crucial plot elements happen off-screen and thus we, the players, get all the glory of having no context about what’s happening. It started in Halo 4 where, unless you read the books or a bunch of promotional material, you had no idea who the hell the main villain was or what he wanted. Then Halo 5 introduced around seven new characters, none of which you are expected to know anything about unless (you guessed it) you read a bunch of lore books. Now days the Banished are the problem; In Halo Wars 2 we literally left them stranded on a big alien planet and destroyed their mothership, but in Halo Infinite they’re just zipping around the whole galaxy and have even gone as far as to beat humanity in a war. Hell, you can listen to audio logs of characters from 343’s other games losing the fight against them. Why does all of this happen off-screen, when the whole original Halo trilogy was about a losing war?

Lazy writing. It’s that simple. If this was like a DOOM game where the story is often secondary to the gameplay experience then I wouldn’t be so harsh on it, but the Halo franchise has always been very story-driven and so I feel it deserves to be criticised a bit harsher. It’s a shame 343 Industries consistently drops the ball in this department. They clearly have talented writers, but their expertise always seems to be within the small-scale character moments that amplify the emotional stakes. And while I appreciate that – it definitely being the best part of Halo 4, for example – you do need some expertise in the space opera department when handling stories of this size and with these colossal stakes.

Anyways, now the Banished are on the Halo ring because they’re helping some other aliens called the Endless rebuild it so they can kill all humans. Who are the Endless? Well they’re older than the Forerunners and more dangerous than the Flood (so I’m told), but all their enemy types are so much easier to kill than the traditional Banished enemies, so who knows. It’s basically the plot of Halo Combat Evolved with extra steps, which also occasionally takes the time to tell you about all the cool things that happened between the games that you never got to see or play for yourself.

And don’t get me started on the level design! By God, the awful, awful level design. Look, if you thought Halo Combat Evolved didn’t have enough grey hallways and that Halo 2 wasn’t linear enough, then you’ll love this game for combining the most linear level design with the most uninspired interior environments I’ve ever seen in a Halo game. Most main story missions take you out of the pretty open world and into these kind of bland, uninspired corridors where the sandbox is never at it’s best because it’s all designed around being used in wide-open spaces. The result is a game that is nonsensically pulled between the most boring story missions Halo has to offer and some of the best free-form overworld gameplay the series has ever seen. I say “nonsensically” because there’s no reason the game should be pulled in these two directions when one aspect of the gameplay is so overwhelmingly better than the other. If I had to guess, I’d chalk it up to this game’s troubled development.

Speaking of, this game was in development for like 6 years. In the span of two of those years, Halo Infinite lost two of it’s directors and an executive producer. It was supposed to launch a year early in 2020, until fans relentlessly mocked how unfinished it looked at E3 and it was (thankfully) delayed. Then, for some godforsaken reason, they decided to launch the multiplayer earlier than the rest of the game in December 2021. They said it was a beta, but since you could go ahead and buy microtransactions during it and that the servers never went offline to correct the game according to fan feedback before an official release (which did happen during a previous test flight), this was essentially just a premature launch that was called a beta to avoid backlash for it’s the unfinished state.

The multiplayer is free to play. But when the first battle pass came out you had to wait until level 81 to unlock your first helmet without paying real money for it. The only way to level up is through challenges that disincentivise players from playing logically and often leads to people intentionally prolonging the game and getting themselves in unfavourable situations to get their challenges done. Since then a Christmas pass came out with a handful of free unlockables like… shoulder pads. Great, I guess? I’m sure everyone will look at my Spartan and go “hey, that guy has some badass shoulder pads”. Also, the experience per game has been increased to somewhat offset how little you would have normally received if you didn’t complete specific challenges. And while it’ nice 343 Industries have acknowledged these faults, they’ve also only really put a bandaid on a cut requiring stitches. There’s not enough to unlock without paying real money, and the way you unlock what little you can is fundamentally flawed.

The game launched in a state where you couldn’t even choose what game mode you wanted to play. You couldn’t even pick to play slayer, which is just Halo’s version of team deathmatch. What’s worse is that even now – almost a month on – you still can’t select a lot of modes. There was a big controversy about people just wanting to play slayer where a developer and a fan had a back and forth that went something like this:

I’m sorry, Brian, but if after six years your team wasn’t ready to provide a “kill X amount of people to win” game mode that you just click from the main menu, then why on earth did you guys launch the game early? Sounds kind of dumb!

As of now you can pick to play slayer in the menus… Hurray, we achieved the bare minimum! You can also pick to play variants of it like fiesta and swat, which is nice. But you still can’t choose what other game modes you want to play. If you want to play capture the flag, oddball, control or any other mode, you just have to queue into quick play and hope you get the game mode you want. It’s actually pathetic that they launched the game in this state in 2021, after six long years. The fact it’s a highly monetized AAA game makes it more insulting. Maybe if they didn’t intentionally release it early and hide behind “it’s just a beta” for three weeks I’d have more sympathy for them. I guess the project spent more time in hell than development.

And given all the fuss it has caused, I think making the multiplayer a free to play, separate experience was ultimately a bad thing. Especially because it means that the $60 price tag applies only to the campaign experience. The vast majority of the fun I had was in the campaign, but by no means should it be priced that high if that price doesn’t include the multiplayer. Hell, pricing it at $30 would probably be generous as campaign coop and theatre mode are all announced, but not due to arrive for another nine months (at least) because of how detrimental this game’s development has been. The fact that 343 Industries isn’t even hiding that you’re paying full price for half of an unfinished experience is laughable.

So… Halo Infinite’s campaign is overpriced, but fun as long as you don’t engage in the story missions too much and instead walk around the Halo ring doing your own thing. And the multiplayer is fun so long as you don’t engage in the predatory, monetized progression, and pray you get into the game mode you want to play. And look, even though the gameplay is up there with the best the series has to offer, the fact my enjoyment of this game is accompanied by these annoying caveats means it simply isn’t that good as a whole product. It’s actually just sad and a bit lame. Think of all the money that went into this game, and think of where else it could have gone.

Would I recommend Halo Infinite? No. Look, I enjoyed the campaign, even with its flaws, but it’s simply not worth the price they’re selling it for. Since Microsoft rarely puts anything on sale on the Xbox Store, I’d recommend buying this game on Steam if it ever goes on sale there and after a few more patches have come out. Under those circumstances, sure, knock yourself out and have some fun in the campaign.

As for the multiplayer… Yes, the multiplayer is free, but I’m still going to try and nudge you away from it: Recently they released a collection of 3 cosmetic items – none of which were armour pieces – based on a community meme called Mister Chef. During the Steam Winter Sale, these items cost more money than the Master Cheif Collection, which contains 6 full Halo games and their multiplayer, all of which is still being supported. It’s absolutely ludicrous and predatory. Stay away from it. Make a stand. For the love of God, keep at arm’s length from this free to play, pay to do anything else money generator for the time being. If you must play it, I urge you not to give them a dime; truth is, no one cares anymore if your Spartan looks badass because everyone will know you didn’t work your ass off to look that way, you just paid for it.

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