Halo Infinite review — 2021’s biggest game surpasses expectations

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I never loved Halo. I won’t bore you with my history with the series. What’s exciting is that I do love the franchise now. That is thanks to Halo Infinite’s fun multiplayer mode and satisfying campaign. On both sides of the Halo Infinite equation, the takeaway is that 343 Industries has updated and modernized a familiar formula without abandoning that core Halo feeling. In other words, everything in this package is Halo-ass Halo.

And yet if it were simply another Halo, I wouldn’t have had as good a time with it. The changes that 343 made expand the boundaries of Halo by wisely leaning into its strengths. For the campaign, those expansions include a larger playground to explore and new tools that inflate the possibility space. The multiplayer has similar emergent moments, but 343 also gave it an extra coat of polish. The gunplay feels amazing, the synergies between different weapon types is more pronounced, and now you have equipment like the grapple shot that enables even more creativity.

For this review, I am considering Halo Infinite as a unified product. That is difficult because — well, it isn’t all that unified. Anyone can get the multiplayer for free right now on Xbox or PC. To get access to the campaign, you need Xbox Game Pass or to spend $60 on the retail release. But despite the disparate business models, everything here makes up Halo Infinite as it is launches today.

All that said, let’s start with a focus on multiplayer. I played multiplayer on PC and Xbox. I played the campaign exclusively on Xbox Series X.

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Above: Come out, come out, wherever you are, Craig!

Halo Infinite’s multiplayer makes it easy to find the fun

Infinite is the most fun I’ve had with Halo multiplayer, and it’s my favorite competitive shooter since Titanfall. What is odd is that most of the magic is the same elements that has always made Halo special. That includes fun weapons, great vehicle action, and a slower-paced movement that makes engagements more deliberate and thrilling. The higher time-to-kill in Halo is something that takes some getting used to, but it also makes each encounter with an opponent an opportunity for a story.

In Halo Infinite, you do not simply spot and kill an enemy in a blink of an eye. Instead, you need to have a plan and you need to be able to think on your feet. A one-on-one battle can last 15 seconds, which is an eternity when your auto rifle runs out of ammunition.

But this is what I mean about Infinite leaning into Halo’s strengths. Instead of shying away from that longer time-to-kill to edge closer to something like Call of Duty or Battlefield, Infinite gives you more ways to approach its elongated fights.

You now have something like the grappleshot, which synergizes well with close-range weapons like the energy sword or the shotgun. The challenge — especially if you’re playing alone — is learning the map. You need to know where equipment and weapons spawn.

Getting over that learning curve is easy, however, if you play with friends. And the best thing about Infinite is how accommodating it is to group play.

Between the 4-player-team Quick Play and the 12-player-team Big Team Battle, you will probably be able to get everyone on your Discord into a match. And since the game is free-to-play with full cross-play (and cross-progression), you don’t have to leave anyone out.

This combination of qualities has made Halo Infinite one of the best hang-out games I’ve played in years.

Multiplayer could use some new modes and some more options for how you play. It also needs better progression. But that stuff is a huge afterthought for me because I’m simply enjoying playing the game too much.

Halo Infinite’s campaign has a few minor flaws

Let’s start with the bottom line. As a single-player campaign, Halo Infinite is great. For me, it borders on something even beyond that: one of the best Xbox games ever made. In hindsight, I bet I will remember it that way. Right now, though, its shortcomings are still too fresh. But those shortcomings have little to nothing to do with the actual execution of this project. Instead, those complaints are about the things Halo Infinite doesn’t even attempt.

Halo Infinite is, simultaneously, an ambitious work and one that 343 obviously stripped down to its essential parts. If you’ve watched a trailer, you know what the game looks like. On the parts of the Zeta Halo that you explore, everything is either forests or futuristic steel structures. Sometimes the game does a combination of the two at the same time, and that looks cool.

The outdoor environments never wore out their welcome for me. I am disappointed that 343 didn’t include more variety, but what is here is solid. The bigger issue is when you get into the interior corridors of dungeons. To progress the story, you have to enter these large complexes. And they begin to look indistinguishable from one another.

Near the end of the game, I was definitely seeing the same room multiple times.

Above: “WHERE’S CRAIG?!”

The designers can get away with some of that because a halo is inherently an infinitely repeating structure. It makes sense that it would use a lot of copy-and-past. And yet, as a player, it begins to feel routine.

Even with those concerns, though, I was almost always enjoying exploring the game. Discovering a new installation of the enemy (known as the Banished) is always exciting. And 343 does just enough to make each base feel unique even if they tend to fall into a handful of buckets in terms of what you need to do.

My other issue with Halo Infinite is the equipment. The game has a straightforward character-progression system for Master Chief that involves finding and improving special abilities like a speed dash, the aforementioned grappleshot, a drop shield, and more. All of these things are useful in their own way but switching between them is cumbersome. It requires multiple inputs on the D-pad, which takes a lot of getting used to during combat.

What’s more likely is that you, like me, will upgrade the grappleshot and choose to use that to the exclusion of everything else. Sure, I start a battle with the shield, but I immediately switch back to the grapple hook for the rest of the encounter.

Of course, this is also barely an issue because the grappleshot is fantastic. It’s great for exploring the world quickly, and it’s useful for closing distance on enemies or getting out of a firestorm.

Everything else about Halo Infinite is great

By pairing Halo’s combat with a larger open world, 343 has built something special. This is a “two great flavors that go great together” situation. The exploration gives you more opportunities to use the vehicles and the grappleshot. It also creates breathing room for building up tension and anticipation.

You can always go to the next main marker on your map to keep the story going. But if you stop and look around, chances are you’ll see something you want to investigate. And capturing small forward-operating bases (FOBs) will unlock some key, optional objectives on your map.

But whether you are approaching a massive tower on the horizon or a fortified base you didn’t even know existed, the journey up to the attraction is an event in itself. I would always spot high-level targets or weaknesses in the enemy’s defenses. Often times, the opposing forces would spot me coming and begin to raise their defenses while verbally harassing me.

All of this builds up that tension, and then suddenly a game of Halo breaks out.

Above: I don’t care if I have to fly over every inch of this map — I’m gonna find you, Craig!

Once you are in combat, this is pure Halo. You’re synergizing weapons together by taking down shields with a Pulse Carbine and then finishing them off with a kinetic Mangler shot to the head. You feel big, heavy, and powerful as Master Chief still, but you also have more movement options available than ever thanks to the grappleshot.

Also, thanks to the open-world nature of the game, you can take a vehicle from one side of the world to the other. So if you want to drive the Ghost you just jacked from an enemy over to a high-value target 5 kilometers away, you can do that.

Sure, some things you end up doing don’t make much sense. Who the hell are the propaganda towers for — the prisoners of war locked up in Banished camps? But even if it’s silly, it’s still fun. And the more bases you take over and propaganda towers you take out, the more valor you unlock. And this enables you to get bigger and better ordinance from your FOBs.

By the end of the game, when I was looking to finish up some key spots on the map, I finally unlocked a Wasp so I could fly anywhere in the world. At that point, I had also unlocked a massive arsenal of UNSC and Banished weapons through a combination of earning valor and taking out the high-value targets.

The biggest compliment I can give to the game is that even after I rolled credits, I wanted to keep exploring. And I want more. I don’t know what 343’s plans are for the future, but this foundation is so strong that I’m desperate to see what is next. And hopefully whatever that is will take us to other parts of Zeta Halo that might have snow, lava, and more variety.

Less is more, and Halo Infinite embodies that

You can tell when playing Infinite that someone, likely game director Joseph Staten, came along with a scalpel and did some heavy editing. This likely led to some of my issues with the lack of variety. But it is also, obviously, an overall net positive. Infinite only ever has you doing stuff that is fun and cool. And that laser-like focus on what works extends to the story and characters as well. This is a tiny tale about a handful of characters. And while I don’t think it nails every beat, it’s definitely something I ended up invested in because the motivations and stakes were so clear.

The pilot that rescues Chief at the beginning of the game just wants to go home to his family. Baby Cortana (known throughout this game as “weapon”) wants to understand why Chief doesn’t trust her. And Master Chief wants to understand what happened with the original Cortana while also dragging the pilot and Baby Cortana with him into a fight that he feels he cannot abandon. It’s basic stuff. The dynamic between the three is reminiscent of Star Trek‘s trio. Chief is Kirk always running into battle, the pilot is McCoy ruled by passion, and Baby Cortana is Spock — kinda childlike and unable to think outside of her logical programming.

Look, it’s not a perfect one-to-one, but the point here is that Halo Infinite works with a small cast to deliver big narrative punches. And like the core gameplay, it works well.

I want more

Consider me a Halo fan now. I was never really looking forward to Infinite. But now that it’s here, it’s so much more than what I was expecting. And I think that whatever 343 does next will be even better, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting it.

In the meantime, I’ll be spending a lot more time with the multiplayer. And when co-op comes to the campaign, I will definitely dive back into that as well.

But as it stands today, this is a statement release for Xbox Game Studios. In a year when it has released a number of GOTY contenders (Psychonauts 2, Deathloop, Forza Horizon 5, and Age of Empires 4), Halo Infinite stands above even that crowd.

Halo Infinite is available December 8 for Xbox and PC. Microsoft provided a download code for the purpose of this review. 

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