Just over six years after the release of Halo 5: Guardians, which included a year delay from the expected launch alongside the Xbox Series X|S, Master Chief finally returns with Halo Infinite. This is the third mainline Halo game from developer 343 Industries after the very successful Bungie developed titles. So, after an initial critic and fan unease with the reveal of Halo Infinite in 2020, which played a part in its delay, has the wait for the next instalment been worth it?
I’ll start by giving context to my history with the Halo series. With the Xbox Series S being my first Xbox console, I have no nostalgia for the 20-year-old Halo series. I briefly played Halo: Combat Evolved on its release on the original Xbox at a friend’s house back in my teens. I wasn’t much of a fan of First-Person Shooters back then, and while I was impressed by what I had seen, it did not make me want to leave the PlayStation ecosystem in favour of Xbox.
However, to fully appreciate Halo Infinite, I made it my goal to play through every mainline Halo game before its December 2021 release. Before I talk about the latest game, here’s what I thought of the previous titles in the series…
I was very grateful that all the games are available on Xbox via Game Pass, with all of them, except Halo 5: Guardians, conveniently packaged within the Halo: The Master Chief Collection. This collection includes both the updated Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 Anniversary editions, which include graphical enhancements and beautiful glossy cutscenes, as well as Halo 3, 4, Reach and 3 ODST.
Playing Halo: Combat Evolved I could appreciate what a showcase it would have been for the original Xbox. The shooter played like no other that a console had seen at the time, with open levels, the inclusion of vehicle combat, and an embedded story that introduced the world to the legendary space-marine – Master Chief. The game still plays great, even by today’s standards, however, the repetitive level design, especially in interior locations, was such a grind and shows the limitations of the old consoles. Oh, and don’t get me started on the final mission with having to escape in the Warthog against a countdown timer – I nearly rage quit trying to drive that bloody vehicle!
Halo 2, thankfully, offered much less repetitiveness with its indoor environments; however, it was still sometimes confusing as to which direction I was meant to be going in. The story was a big improvement and introduced The Arbiter who you played a large portion of the game as, though I was always eager to get back to Master Chief and I was surprised at just how abrupt the ending was.
Halo 3 is a very special game and my favourite of the entire series. I literally completed it within 24 hours, I was that hooked. The missions were the perfect length, there were impressive set pieces throughout, and the story was an epic conclusion to developer Bungie’s Master Chief trilogy.
Bungie may have been finished with Master Chief, however, they also produced two further Halo games – Halo 3: ODST and Halo Reach. Despite focusing on new protagonists, I still wanted to play these to see everything that Bungie created for the Halo series before handing over the reins to developer 343 Industries.
Halo 3:ODST is very much a side-story and while the campaign was told in a very interesting way, I found the New Mombasa location to be quite dull and empty, though I really did enjoy the interaction between the ODST troopers. Halo Reach, which is a prequel to Halo: Combat Evolved, was truly excellent. The visuals were a big improvement over previous titles, making the overall experience very cinematic. I also really enjoyed the mission variety which even included some space combat. Unfortunately, the Spartan squad lacked any personality.
Master Chief returned in Halo 4 for the first Halo game from 343 Industries who had a lot of pressure on them to deliver after the successful Bungie Halo games. Initially, I was unimpressed with Halo 4 but, on reflection, it has grown on me post-completion. Whilst playing, I found that it started slow and the new enemies, weapons and environments were uninspiring, making it feel like a combination of sci-fi tropes. I think the main problem was that large portions of the game were set in interior locations which lacked the same visual design as the original trilogy. The story, however, was great and was much more personal by predominantly focussing on the relationship between Master Chief and his AI partner, Cortana.
Halo 5: Guardians takes quite a drastic departure for the series by introducing you to a new squad of Spartans led by Spartan Locke who must track down Master Chief who has gone rogue on the hunt to find Cortana. Even during the elements of the game where you play as Master Chief, you’re supported by Blue Team making the game feel more like a squad-based shooter, where if you die, your team-mate can heal you. The new Spartan squad feel more like Power Rangers, with them looking rather shiny and playing a lot faster with abilities such as the ground-slam. Unfortunately, the story was very lacking, and both of the 343 Industries Halo games felt much more linear than the Bungie games, with them spending far too much time in internal environments.
There was a great deal of apprehension from Halo fans in the lead up to Halo Infinite. It was known that the development of the game had its troubles and, of course, this was justified with the further year delay of the game. Halo is easily the biggest franchise for Xbox and Halo Infinite needed to deliver to ensure the series remains relevant. 343 Industries, therefore, shaped Halo Infinite to be reminiscent of Halo: Combat Evolved by having it set on a Halo ring, known as Zeta Halo, with its woodland terrain and introducing for the first time, an open world to explore. This was by far a very smart move by 343 Industries as Halo Infinite feels and plays much closer to the original trilogy of games and creates an extremely fun sandbox world to adventure in.
I’ll begin by stating that the campaign story is an excellent return to form – I had my concerns that the open-world sandbox would negatively impact how the narrative is told but thankfully it doesn’t. It would have been really helpful for 343 Industries to have included a story recap at the start of the game, as Halo Infinite does a poor job of initially explaining the set-up and history of Master Chief, his relationship to the game’s antagonists, and what his actual mission is…
I won’t go into full story details, as there is too much context to have to explain it all, but basically Master Chief is on a mission to neutralise Cortana who, during Halo 5: Guardians, rebelled against her creators by taking control over ancient Forerunner weapons known as Guardians to subjugate the galaxy. Also, fighting against both Cortana and the UNSC (United Nations Space Command who Master Chief is an Officer for), are the Banished, a coalition of alien races led by the Brute Atriox who at the beginning of the game attack the UNSC command ship Infinity and defeats Master Chief, hurling him into space in the process.
Six months pass and you are introduced to the UNSC pilot code-named Echo 216 who recovers Master Chief adrift in space. While Echo-216 wants to flee, Master Chief insists on continuing the fight against the Banished, which ultimately ends up with you travelling to Zeta Halo, which is under Banished control, to locate and delete a new artificial intelligence called the Weapon, who is designed to imitate Cortana. The main story threads circulate around the relationship between the three characters – Master Chief, Weapon and Eco-216 – and again feels very personable, much like Halo 4’s story, and does an excellent job of further humanising Master Chief as a character.
Halo Infinite is easily the strongest and best-presented narrative within the new trilogy, and also includes some really compelling villains too. However, I was a little disappointed that story elements and characters of Halo 5: Guardians make no appearance, except via a couple of audio logs, and it feels as if this game should have just been a direct sequel to Halo 4 and Halo 5:Guardians might well have never existed. Also, for players that have always enjoyed playing the campaign with a friend, campaign co-op has been delayed and won’t release for another six months! This is a huge shame as for a lot of fans, playing campaign co-op is a staple of their first playthrough of a new Halo release.
Previous Halo games, especially Halo: Combat Evolved, also had open external environments, however, Halo Infinite goes way beyond this and creates an open-world map to explore with plenty of side activities and collectables to find. This map is split into different sections as the ring has been fragmented in places, and therefore you don’t get to explore the whole map from the offset, but it gradually expands as you proceed through the campaign.
The world is incredibly reminiscent of Halo: Combat Evolved with the terrain being largely covered in woodland and mountainous regions, however, the tranquil scenery is harshly broken up with abstract Forerunner platforms and buildings that produce a visual identity of nature meets space-age technology. It also feels very alive with birds and animals that live on Zeta Halo, as well as the ample amounts of Banished enemies to fight. You’ll find areas of the environment that have been scorched by fire or become a mass graveyard of destroyed ships. There are also plenty of quiet spots of beauty with waterfalls, lakes, mountain peaks, and mysterious ringed artefacts to locate.
Zeta Halo, at times, can look pretty, however, for the first time since having my Xbox Series S, I really wished I had a Series X instead. Graphically, I was quite disappointed with the open-world environment. Environmental textures, especially trees and vegetation, look rough, lighting isn’t very dynamic, and when you take to the sky in either a Wasp or Banshee the pop-in is considerably noticeable. Resolution on either Quality or Performance mode is only 1080P on the Series S – not even 1440P, which the Series S can often easily perform at.
I can’t compare how it looks on the Series X but I would expect the 4K resolution to definitely improve the visuals, even just to make the textures sharper. It’s not even that the open-world element of the game is rendering a variety of different environmental biomes as there is only one terrain. This is all especially disappointing seeing as Forza Horizon 5 which, arguably, has its own large open world, looks absolutely stunning on Series S and features countryside, volcanic regions, rainforests and towns.
Thankfully, within the internal environments of Halo Infinite, the game visually improves. Lighting and particle effects are much more apparent, and textures are smooth and crisp. Unfortunately, much like the lack of environmental variety within the open-world areas, indoor structures also lack variety and are very much just shiny corridors and rooms with hints of red and blue lighting. I was also surprised that cutscenes within the game don’t run smoothly, somewhat spoiling the rather excellent storytelling taking place. I can’t help but feel that even after the year delay, Halo Infinite needed at least another six months of polish and, especially after six years of development, I expected much more environmental diversity within the game.
Visual disappointment aside, the same can’t be said for sound and music design within Halo Infinite. Its musical score is beautiful, impactful and epic. It draws on, once again, rekindling the magic of playing Halo: Combat Evolved. At times you will be traversing the world in silence, just taking in the sound of bird song, but then you’ll come across a squad of enemies and the score will kick right back in to get your adrenaline pumping for the battle ahead. I always come away from the game humming the main Halo theme and other music from the game, which just goes to show how memorable the soundtrack is.
The real highlight of Halo Infinite is how brilliantly it feels to play the game, it’s first-person shooting at its finest. This is easily the Halo game where I’ve swapped between weapons the most, as each has its own advantage to taking down different enemy types, and it’s just good fun to change up your style of gunplay. The greatest addition to your arsenal is technically a tool that can also, once upgraded, act as a stun weapon too, and that is the Grappleshot. Being able to grapple across the environment, use it to pick up weapons and explosive cores, and shoot it into enemies to swiftly propel yourself towards them to follow up with a melee attack, is the utmost fun I’ve had with a shooter.
Nothing is more satisfying than having an enemy drive at you in a Ghost for you to shoot your Grappleshot at them, and then boot the enemy off it to claim the vehicle as your own. The open-world sandbox of Halo Infinite would not be nearly as endearing without the use of this tool. It adds so much variety and style to the gameplay and adds an element of verticality that hasn’t been present in a Halo game quite like this before.
You also unlock three other equipment tools within Halo Infinite – the Threat Sensor, which reveals the location of enemies; Drop Wall, a shield deployed in front of you to protect you; and the Thruster, which gives you a rapid dodge mechanic for rapidly evading attacks or getting to cover. I barely used these other tools as I didn’t want to give up the use of the Grappleshot as I had become so quickly reliant on it for traversing the world and evading enemy gunshots.
As previously stated, Zeta Halo is packed full of side activities and collectables to find throughout its world or, if you rather, you can just mainline the campaign missions instead. Doing the side content is well worth it though as you can locate Spartan Cores which are used to upgrade your equipment tools or can be used to strengthen your shield. You will find small enemy encampments called Forward Operating Bases (FOB) that are located around the map that, once taken over, will be manned by UNSC soldiers, acting as small bases for you where you can change your weaponry and call in a vehicle for Echo-216 to drop off.
The choice of weapons and vehicles that you can select at these bases will improve over time by unlocking them through Valor gained from completing missions and activities, though the only vehicle worth unlocking is the Wasp, as the ground vehicles in Halo Infinite still handle as awful as the previous games and because of the rocky terrain of Zeta Halo, you will be forever getting stuck on the environment. The captured FOBs also act as fast travel points so you can quickly travel between different areas of the map, not to mention they also unlock points of interest on your map that are nearby.
These points of interest include squads of UNSC prisoners who need Master Chief’s assistance; Mojolnir Armory Lockers that contain exclusive cosmetics for multiplayer; High-Value Targets that are most-wanted Banished warriors who drop unique weapons; and the Spartan Cores as previously described. If this isn’t enough content to keep you busy, you can also search the map for audio logs that give you some lore content; Skulls that offer gameplay-changing modifiers; Propaganda Towers that once destroyed give you a small amount of Valor; and by far the meatiest challenges come in the form of Banished facilities that offer a sizeable base full of enemies where each base has a particular component that needs to be destroyed to shut the base down. These offer the most challenge outside of the mainline missions and are great fun in utilising your arsenal to destroy the bases in a variety of different ways.
It is a shame that none of the side content links to an actual story quest of some sort. It would have been exciting to come across an injured Spartan that asks you to take out one of the High-Value Targets that has injured them. It just seems that a lot of the activities has been added to pad out the game, rather than creating unique and compelling content. In total, Halo Infinite is easily the biggest Halo game at around 23 hours for full completion, however, if you are just focussing on the story missions then it should only take you between 8 and 9 hours, which is a normal Halo campaign length.
To me, 343 Industries have succeeded with Halo Infinite in two of the most important gaming aspects, its brilliant gameplay and story. Graphically it may be underwhelming, on the Series S at least, and it could have at least done with six months more of polish, but this was easily the most fun I’ve had with a Halo game since Halo 3. The open-world setting of Zeta Halo breathes new life into the series and gives players the freedom to explore with plenty of opportunities to fight the Banished in whatever way you wish, whether on foot, via ground vehicles or by air. It is incredibly satisfying to be attacking a base from the sky in a Wasp and then exiting the vehicle to drop towards the ground, firing off some shots with a rocket launcher, before then using the Grappleshot to zoom in on hitting an enemy with a melee attack, all before actually landing on the ground.
This is a major return to form for the Halo series and it’s great to see Master Chief back to finish the fight!
- Brilliantly told campaign story, with excellent character and enemy interactions
- Incredibly fun open-world sandbox gameplay
- The Grappleshot is a great addition to the arsenal
- Plenty of side activities and collectables to find
- Lack of varied environments and locations
- No initial campaign co-op
- Graphically unimpressive on the Series S with cutscene framerate issues
- Open world is lacking compelling side story content