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December 8, 2021
Xbox One, PC
I rumble along in the armored cocoon of my Scorpion tank, scaling an elevated path to the Banished stronghold. With each explosive cannon blast, the outer sentries prove they’re not much of a threat, but my foes have prepared for this approach, and the narrow mountain path hits a blockade. While my marines disembark and charge ahead, I grapple up into the nearby hills and begin to pick off Jackals with a unique variant sniper rifle – spoils of an earlier conquest. But no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and I’m eventually scaling the outer fort wall and dropping into a nest of entrenched Brutes, as the familiar rattle of my assault rifle begins to clear the way.
Halo Infinite walks a narrow line between old and new and does it with as much success as I’ve seen from a game. As one of the most recognizable “feels” of play, it’s confidently nostalgic and rooted in an established legacy, ably recalling the earliest games in the series. Whether it’s the satisfying stick of a plasma grenade, the haughty cries of a sword-wielding stealth Elite, or the gradual discovery of a mysterious Halo ring, Infinite is an homage to Combat Evolved, 20 years after that first release. Simultaneously, 343 Industries’ new game charts its own course. Equipment like the incredibly satisfying grappleshot, open-world elements that inject increased opportunities for exploration, and freeform base assaults that challenge players to think creatively – all of these and more help the formula stay fresh and relevant. The balancing act works, and this is the best a Halo game has felt in over a decade.
Master Chief’s latest adventure opens in media res, with his defeat at the hands of a Brute warlord and the destruction of the UNSC Infinity. It’s a reset of expectations about where the story was going after the last game and a figurative teardown of the complicated fictional framework that defined the previous two series entries. Master Chief awakens six months later, with a new, more naïve AI companion at his side, and sets to work doing what he does best – overcoming insurmountable odds one bullet at a time.
The resultant story is relatively simple, as he unwinds the mystery of what happened during his absence, but the narrative is tinged by vaguely mystical overtones about the absent Cortana and the long-forgotten secrets of the Halo. While some questions get answers, Infinite revels in its head-scratching perplexities, and even fervent lore enthusiasts may reach the conclusion with a resounding “huh?” That, too, keeps to the old Halo form, but this time I found much more to enjoy in the genuine character moments of hope and resilience, and I could have used a bit less bewilderment.
Halo Infinite’s production values are through the roof, with breathtaking outdoor vistas and imposing cathedral-like interiors. The score is impeccably paced, emotionally powerful, and perfectly poised between familiar motifs and surprises. Likewise, the voice actors turn in powerful performances that elevate these sci-fi figures and communicate humanity and loss. In action, everything moves and crackles with tension and excitement, from weapon flashes to vehicle explosions.
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Combat plays like a dream, and whatever else a player might enjoy or dislike, the action should motivate players to complete a playthrough. Each gun brings something rewarding to the table, and enemies are fierce and challenging, especially as you make a run at that vaunted legendary difficulty setting. In particular, boss fights on the more demanding settings are tense and exciting – a rare feat in first-person shooters. The new equipment, particularly the grappleshot, has a transformative effect on gameplay, leading to more mobile and vertical play. Battles carry a constant sense of movement and momentum, and I couldn’t wait for each subsequent encounter.
The new open-world and progression elements borrow heavily from established successes in that genre, and there’s nothing profoundly innovative about the gradual takeover of a zone. But the battles feel so good that I didn’t mind too much. I especially enjoyed the larger bases and outposts, which encourage creative thinking in how you approach routing the bad guys. I also loved the small moments of discovery – hidden weapon caches on a mountaintop or caves that hold the last weapons of a doomed Marine squad.
Infinite’s accompanying multiplayer suite is free-to-play, and it warrants a similar level of enthusiasm to the lengthy campaign. Whether in tense ranked matches, desperately running to capture a flag in quickplay, or smashing Warthogs together in 24-player Big Team Battles, the core competitive shooting is fast and enormously fun. The “fair start” mentality is a breath of fresh air in a multiplayer scene dominated by games with earned weapons or mismatched classes; here, if you win an exchange, it’s because you scavenged the right gun and fought the best engagement.
Slow multiplayer progression systems, limited character customization, and individual weapon and grenade balance all need a good bit of adjustment in these early weeks of play. Those elements hurt my enjoyment of an otherwise rewarding match-to-match experience. But those features have already been tweaked since launch, and may be significantly different weeks from now, so there’s a limit to how much I want to tear the game down when the actual multiplayer battles are so much fun.
Like many, I’m sad that Halo Infinite doesn’t offer cooperative multiplayer at launch, if only because it’s been a bulwark of the series’ identity. It’s a disappointing omission, but I have to judge the game before me, not the features I wish might be there. And by that measure, Halo Infinite is a rousing success. Whether you want a big, mysterious sci-fi adventure or a chance to engage with some intense PvP, Halo Infinite nails the shots where it counts and heralds a new era for one of gaming’s most recognizable mainstays.
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Summary: 343 Industries captures the magic, embracing series traditions without being held back by them.
Concept: Conquer alien enemies one firefight at a time in this return to the classic feel of one of gaming’s most familiar mascots
Graphics: Breathtaking environments, popping weapon effects, and grand science-fiction aesthetics combine to impressive effect
Sound: A magnificent score merges old and new musical themes, while the voice talent turns in top-notch emotional performances
Playability: Excellent gunplay is accompanied by a newfound sense of mobility and speedy traversal
Entertainment: A big game with a lot to offer through long-term multiplayer engagement and subsequent campaign plays; the whole thing feels rooted in legacy, but looking to the future
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