How do you even view Halo Infinite as a whole? Not just any Halo game, this Halo game – one that was supposed to herald a new generation of Xbox but was moved from the launch window; one who did not lack public control over its tumultuous development process; one that hasn't even come out but has already been at the heart of several internet dominant conversations; and above all one that aims to revive a totemic first-person shooter series after a period of metabolic dormancy.
There are so many expectations for the Halo Infinite's armored shoulders that you'd think it would break apart in a pile of pixels. Every single player will come into this game with their own predefined definition of what it is and what it stands for. I fucking did it.
So, yeah, let's get the easy part out of the way:
Halo Infinite, officially released Wednesday for Xbox and PC, is the seventh mainline Halo game and the first in six years after the 2015 divisive Halo 5: Guardians. Infinite continues about a year and a half after the events of Halo 5 a, but does not deal with these events beyond a few superficial and temporary moments of exposure. And turning away from the game's most notorious misstep, the story of Halo Infinite is told solely from the perspective of longtime serial hero Master Chief.
When played the full game as Mr. John Halo himself, Halo Infinite feels less like a proper sequel to Halo 5 and more like a sequel to the venerable original trilogy when the series was under Bungie's supervision. Sometimes it plays like a greatest hits album with iconic set pieces from Halo, Halo 2, and Halo 3 (whose tracks, since Joseph Staten, a key creative force behind Bungie's trilogy, was introduced last August to spread Halo Infinite Finish line). You're once again a six-foot-tall super soldier walking around a ring-shaped space station with a bright blue artificial intelligence, hoping to save the galaxy from zealously religious aliens. We've all seen Hollywood bungle fan service. Halo Infinite gets to the point by winking and nodding, not just for the sake of the wink and nod. These moments are really exciting because of their own merits and they never exceed their greeting. Fan service is apparently more fun when you can actively deal with it.
But even if you are right in "What's a Halo?" Camp there's a lot to like about Halo Infinite. The shooting is a blast, thanks to a deep bank of enemy classes and an even deeper arsenal of creative weapons, complemented by a Bond-worthy toy to play with. The key to them is a grappling hook, an item that honestly should be missing from any video game. Amid a trend of open-world gaming where quantity is more important than quality – and throwing the player into worlds with boring, repetitive tasks – Infinite's open-world space feels refreshingly focused. All of this, plus it's more sophisticated than most games made on this scale. And to finally bring last year's infamous graphics debacle (hi, Craig) to bed, Infinite is amazingly gorgeous.
In other words, the question is not whether Halo Infinite is any good. It is. This is where it is most worthwhile to measure: Was it worth the wait? And does that mean Halo is really, really back?
Of course, the expected waiting time for Halo Infinite has unexpectedly been cut by several weeks. You probably already know the rough lines: On November 15th, the 20th anniversary of Halo: Combat Evolved, developer 343 Industries surprisingly released the multiplayer mode of Infinite before its planned debut on December 8th on Xbox and PC. It's technically "a beta", but come on, can you describe a recently released beta as smooth? Plus, you can already be spending hundreds of dollars in very real money on it. Make no mistake about it: Halo Infinite is out already.
In fact, you may have already spent many (many) units of the ephemeral currency of life, time, playing it. Halo Infinite's multiplayer mode is a first for the decade-old series and is completely free to play. (The campaign is available for $ 60 or as part of a Game Pass subscription for $ 10 per month.) As with most games based on this model, you can use your avatar, a 26th century super soldier Century known as Spartan. with different cosmetic options that cost different amounts of money. Add to that an industry standard Battle Pass that brings out sweeter and more frequent rewards if you choose the premium version.
The entire model has generated some cacophonic feedback, to which 343 Industries made minor changes in response, an ever-evolving, real-time process that we have documented extensively here at Kotaku. If there's a debate about the multiplayer portion of Halo Infinite, you can find it there, right in the progression system and in the cosmetics section. The fundamentals of Infinite – the weapons, the equipment, the maps, the modes – have received almost universal praise, a prevailing opinion that I personally agree with.
Yes, this is still an advertisement, but it adequately captures the feel of Infinite's hectic big team fights.
Multiplayer shooters live and die by the strength of their weapons. In addition to remixed versions of about a dozen classic Halo firearms, such as the rapid-fire assault rifle and the burst-fire combat rifle, there are a dozen more that are completely new to the series. A single shot sniper rifle fires spiked projectiles that kill enemies in one blow, even if you nail someone in the foot; another fires electric projectiles strong enough to short-circuit tanks. Most of these weapons, except for one – a functionally useless pea shooter called Devastator – are balanced so that you always have a chance to fight. Halo Infinite's multiplayer is structured so that victory is mostly within reach.
Yes, there are some notable weaknesses (right now, for example, you can't choose whether to play deathmatches, just deathmatches, and the custom game options are a little peckish) but nothing that qualifies as a deal breaker.
For a fuller review of Halo Infinites PvP and an in-depth look at what it does (and doesn't) right, I urge you to read Stella Chung's in-depth multiplayer review on IGN. Let me leave you with just one point: there's a unique Halo puzzle – it's late, you're getting tired, you're playing one last match, you run the table, which feels great, so say "fuck it" and play Another round, but you totally flopped and obviously can't go to bed completely mad, which, um, now you're stuck in an Ouroboros cycle that keeps you up until dawn (it was worth it) – that was missing in the last two Halo games. It's clearly present in Halo Infinite. My eyes, they are so cloudy. You've been with us for weeks.
Halo Infinite's campaign starts coldly with Master Chief absolutely getting his ass reached out to him. The UNSC Infinity, the human flagship that serves as the base of operations in Halo 4 and Halo 5, is stormed by a splinter faction of Alliance forces known as the Banished. (This faction plays a role in the 2017 real-time strategy game Halo Wars 2.) Their leader, a brute named Atriox, knocks out Chief the snot and then drops him … into space, assuming he's KIA.
This stunned the mind to me. They tell me that the strong and astute leader of an accomplished militant group would make the stupidest tactical mistake in history – that he would simply accept the death of the badass Master Chief of all time, rather than, I don't know, double knock the body, burn it and drop the ashes into a pool of caustic acid, then invent an interdimensional transit device and recreate the struggle across the multiverse to ensure that no possible versions of Chief can come back from a possible reality and seek revenge? For real?
Usually the chief is responsible for this.
Six months later – and you may have seen this game in the creepy E3 2019 trailer – Chief, still very much alive but floating unconscious in space, is rescued by a character known only as a pilot. This enviable bearded man wakes Chief (in a player tutorial sequence taken straight from Halo 2) and points out what the duo are up to next: a Halo ring that broke on his belt for reasons unknown. Chief and the pilot head to the surface to find an artificial intelligence unit called the Weapon. Apparently, she can help them track down Chief's former AI partner, Cortana – who, as you may recall, at the end of Halo 5, announced intent to commit essentially genocide on a galactic scale.
This intrepid trio encompasses the heart and soul of Halo Infinite with their penchant for jokes and interpersonal dynamics. The pilot is the grounded and constantly reacts to the hideously insane events of Infinite with the incredulity and uncertain determination we would all surely feel in the same situations. Meanwhile, the gun, which should be wiped out before the events of Infinite, spends much of its screen time thinking about its existence, why it's still there, and what plans it screwed up to give it a second chance in life and personal mystery boost for Halo Infinite.
Master Chief is a little more enigmatic than the other two and the clear driving force behind the mystery that is at play. It's obvious at first glance that he knows more than he admits, even though you literally spend most of the game behind his eyes. So this represents a certain dissonance. Chief not only hides his secrets from the pilot and the weapon. He hides them from you too.
Microsoft made a review build of Halo Infinite available to Kotaku on condition that we do not reveal the "ultimate fate" of any of the main characters. I wouldn't dream of it, but it's irresponsible to consider Halo Infinite without acknowledging the serious emotional transformation Chief is going through. At a striking moment he pulls such a cold-hearted train that it is almost difficult to keep playing as him. In others he's more human than ever, the cracks in his fancy Mjolnir armor almost showing a real person underneath.
Over the years, Master Chief has (rightly) built a reputation as perhaps the quintessential Badass Space Marine trope. After all, this is the man known for one-liners like "Asking is not my strength," the man who stoically returns his bomb to the Bund, the man who works steadfastly on a pedestal unless it is if he and his friends come in between, at this point: watch out.
However, Halo Infinite plays a Master Chief who is in touch with his feelings. He often offers volleys of comfort and words of wisdom. At some point he openly admits that he is feeling out of order, that he is legitimately feeling some master grief. Can you imagine the stoic, badass Space Marines saying so much in the mid-2000s? Maybe I'm a little overly optimistic, even borderline naive, but it gave me a glimmer of hope that this particular era of gaming, short-sighted and bleak as it was, would be done once and for all.
So what are you actually doing in Halo Infinite? Pfft, simply: You shoot aliens! Of course, there's a little more to it than that (you sometimes drive a vehicle or press "X" to interact with fancy computers of the future), but that's the essence.
Unlike every previous Halo game, Halo Infinite is not a linear first-person shooter. But it's not an open world shooter either, as some pre-release chatter might lead you to believe. It takes up minimal space, both linear and structured, sometimes expansive, sometimes strictly limited. (To outline some rough expectations: the cold open is completely linear, the middle part takes place in wide spaces with a number of optional goals, and the final act culminates in a series of subsequent linear missions lasting several hours.)
Far Cry, it's not that.
When Halo Infinite stays on the rails, it feels like a time machine. Gone are the glittering landscapes of Halo 4 and Halo 5. In their place are layers between the forward-looking brutalist structures that defined most of the original trilogy. Some combat chambers seem to stand out from even the most timeless stages on a wholesale scale.
During the over a dozen main missions you play through distinctive recalls to some of Halo's permanent set pieces: activating a gravity lift in an alien ship ("Truth and Reconciliation", Halo 1), switching off two hunters in a circular pavilion over an underground ("The Silent Cartographer") , Halo 1), survive crowds of enemies while driving a gondola over a bottomless abyss ("Regret", Halo 2), control a fleet of destructive vehicles while attacking an enemy fortress ("The Ark," Halo 3) and awakens a slumbering ancient enemy who threatens galactic stability (lmao pick a halo).
These set pieces are interrupted by a soundtrack, partly composed by Gareth Coker of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, which seamlessly combines Marty O’Donnell's timeless score with reinterpreted interpretations of the theme. (Infinite includes original compositions as well.) It would be a lie to say that I didn't immediately feel like being transported back to 2007 when those halo crescendos kicked in. The nostalgia here is incredibly strong.
The Valor menu even looks like a Battle Pass.
Less well known are the open segments, although anyone who has played an open world shooter will immediately understand the structure. Explore at will between the main missions. Rescue groups of imprisoned Space Marines or capture exiled bases of operations. You can take out mini-bosses, each with their own dossier containing a gruesome backstory. Completing these tasks grants you a portion of the XP called Valor; Every 100 (sometimes 200) valor that you earn, you level up, unlock new weapons and other weapons, so that you can further customize your equipment at all bases of operations you have conquered. Yes, even Halo Infinite's campaign has some kind of Battle Pass. (It doesn't cost anything extra, don't worry.)
You can go further into Explorer mode and find audio logs that fill the narrative gaps between Halo 5 and Halo Infinite, or cosmetic options for multiplayer: weapon skins, armor skins, emblems, banners, and the like. I haven't seen anything on the scale of armor sets. I haven't seen what the cosmetic options look like either, as the trial copy of Kotaku provided by Microsoft is completely separate from the popular multiplayer mode, which prevents me from testing them on my avatar. The review copy will also delete my save data a few hours after this review went live. At this point I have to restart the game and start all over again.
I haven't used every optional activity, mostly because of this whole "clearing my saved data" thing. But I plan to restart Halo Infinite from scratch – in a completion run, mind you – as soon as the retail version goes live. That in and of itself should tell you how addicting this stuff is.
Halo Infinite shines moment to moment thanks to the suite of tools at your disposal. You get a nifty grappling hook, yes, but also a portable shield wall, engine, and movement tracker that reveals threats, all of which are tied to relatively short cooldowns. In the world of Infinite, you can find skill points to increase the effectiveness of each skill.
These skills aren't just gimmicks; To survive the most hectic firefights, they must be used all the time, even on the standard difficulty level. When you're nailed down and in place, you may need to drop a shield wall, charge your shields, and then quickly grab onto a nearby ledge. In a dark room full of invisible enemies, you may need to use a threat sensor and quickly run away from nearby enemies that you haven't seen. The only thing better than a fascinating set of devices is a well-designed game that will force you to use them all.
As much as Halo Infinite advances based on what it has, it stumbles because of what it lacks. In August, 343 Industries announced that the Infinite campaign would not be playable cooperatively at launch, but that the feature would appear sometime in the next year, an absence that can be felt sporadically. Halo is a co-op game through and through. Has always been. (Halo 5 was the first time the series didn't have a local split screen, but at least it was cooperatively playable over the Internet.) Going alone is suuucks, and not always because of a lack of camaraderie.
Hunters, imposing armored space monsters with cannons as weapons, make it especially insane to face yourself. Whenever I came across a pair of these wankers – hunters always appear in pairs – I groaned audibly. See, in order to take out a hunter you have to shoot him in the back a fair number of times. But in Halo Infinite they can turn on in no time and always seem to know exactly where you are. Instead of a teammate who could serve as a distraction (thank you, brother !!!), I've often resorted to miserly tactics just to drop by. No fun! (The fact that the Infinite Hunters roar like Skryim's dragons is no longer fun to face.) Also, some of the boss fights feel for two-player tag teams and are therefore a challenge that can be tackled alone.
Halo Infinite's first real boss can fuck right away.
That's right: Halo Infinite is full of boss fights. You have to credit the game that no one is just a ball sponges, as you can find in comparable modern first-person shooters like Far Cry, Borderlands, Wolfenstein or even Halo 5. Every single boss requires their own strategy … would be much easier to deal with with a partner. The invisible elite who can kill you with a hit or two wouldn't be so frustrating if you could have one person nearby setting up a threat sensor and another in the corner to spot headshots. The duo of tower-bearing brutes wouldn't be so painful if, funny idea here, you could fight them two against two instead of one against two.
These encounters also have little emotional weight and reduce the tension of any showdown. The Halo Infinite villains are a grumpy bunch, and not because they're all out for galactic domination. (OK, maybe a little bit, because they're out for galactic domination.) Microsoft's embargo agreement, once again, limits how much or who I can talk about here. But I will generally find that no villain is more or less interesting than your typical one-dimensional bully.
Escharum, the major villain who littered the Halo Infinite trailers, key frames, and other pre-release marketing materials, is the most egregious culprit. Atriox's mentor, Escharum, takes responsibility for leading the exiles to the surface of the ring. But all of his modus operandi seems to be about beating up Chief and taking his meal money to see who is stronger, like an insecure kid who leans way too much into a bland machismo.
Escharum mainly talks to Chief about blurry holograms that exaggerate his stature.
In fact, at one point, Escharum goes so far as to stage an increasingly tense series of arenas made up of reclaimed UNSC bases just … because? Because of? It feels strange and petty and also makes little logistical sense. Although they take place on different floors of a towering Alliance structure, all of these outposts are built on suspiciously earth-like sedimentary mounds. And then there's the matter that Escharum, allegedly a seasoned military commander, is actively sentencing hundreds of soldiers to certain death in order to pursue an effective pissing competition. For a game that is otherwise so lovingly detailed, this sequence seemed completely out of place, little more than a gap between the story beats. (My tangible insight is that I now really hope that one day Infinite will add a revitalized iteration of Firefight, Halo's legacy Horde mode.)
I kept expecting revelations, a shocking twist in the late game to justify Escharum's whole deal. It never did.
Infinite's most memorable set piece isn't one of the greatest. No, it's one of his smallest: a mausoleum of whispered recordings, each a Cortana speech from Halos' past. In a unique muffled moment, Halo Infinite shows how at best it can be both so grand and so intimate. At some point during development, 343 Industries wisely recognized that Halo Infinite could never escape the legacy of its predecessors, and therefore embraced it wholeheartedly.
Last year, 343 Industries pulled the curtain back on Halo Infinite's campaign, due to be released over the holiday season, in a July 2020 digital showcase that was supposed to cause a stir for Xbox Series X. The setback was quick and severe. Much of the criticism has centered on what people viewed as flat textures, as immortalized in a viral still image of a low-resolution brute character model teasingly dubbed "Craig" by the community. (The current campaign build of Halo Infinite now has an ironic Easter egg referring to Craig.)
Within a month, 343 delayed Halo Infinite and brought in Halo veteran Joe Staten to help develop the campaign. Infinite's creative director Chris Lee left the project shortly thereafter, with Bloomberg finding that his role had been "marginalized" after Staten was onboarding.
In short, it was a chaotic time, but at least publicly slapping 343 Industries by the line that Infinite likely wouldn't have been a complete disaster, even if it hadn't changed course in response to public reaction. In a recent interview with Eurogamer, Staten noted how “(the core design of Halo Infinite) decisions were made long before I got there … we've just spent a year trying to double what was already great about the campaign to make it even better. "
I have no idea how the campaign seen last year would have been received, whether it would have performed as well as Infinite or completely missed the mark, as so many vocal watchers have confidently predicted. (For what it's worth, I can say the initial debut looked pretty good!) I also don't know how the current form of Infinite is being received by newbies as it seems to require at least a modest understanding of the player's serial knowledge . I don't know if longtime fans will love it, or if any widespread admiration will be drowned out by cynics who view Infinite as little more than a cash-grabbing stroll into the past.
Don't walk into the sunset on me, Master Chief!
I know this: As a longtime Halo devotee, it's so, so good to be back in a Halo that really feels like a Halo. I've been playing these games for two decades now, damn it, man. The time was, somewhere in the era before (and just after) Halo 5, I could imagine reaching a point where I would record or leave it on the show. Now? Absolutely not.
How do you even view Halo Infinite as a whole? I'm not sure you do, not least because 343 Industries stated that Infinite is not the end of a long drawn out development process, but the beginning of an ever-evolving game. (See: seasonal model, upcoming cooperative and creative modes, the tiniest hint of rumored story expansions.) Master Chief loves to gossip about "ending the fight". But the fight never ends. What if Halo Infinite is what we get as a result? Bring it on.