To infinity and beyond…
Guns, grenades and melee. For me, that’s at the core of what makes Halo, well… Halo. Add in great enemy AI and expertly designed encounters, that’s when you get a great Halo game. That’s exactly what the original trilogy delivered and what was missing from the previous two iterations in the series. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed 4 and 5, but 343 Industries didn’t seem to quite nail the game’s core elements. Now, over six years after their last release and an underwhelming first gameplay reveal, they’ve delivered. Not only that, with Halo Infinite, 343 has added to the series formula and set up things wonderfully for whatever comes next.
Combat very much evolved
For long time fans, the story picks up a while after the events of Halo 5 and (without any spoilers) looks to right the wrongs of what came before. I’m quite confident in saying that it does exactly that while (surprisingly) delivering some heartfelt moments in the process. Special mention to the score, it really does add to these moments and the epic ones later on in the campaign. Kudos to Gareth Coker and team. If you’re new to the series, these bits of the story won’t hit you in the same way, but there’s still a perfectly serviceable story to keep you invested until the credits roll. Basically, it’s Master Chief against The Banished in a battle to save the world. Spartan 117 doing what he does best. Again.
The gameplay is the highlight though. It’s so good. As mentioned before, it’s that excellent Halo formula, refined and evolved to modern day standards. The gunplay is as good as anything from the Bungie era, with each firearm feeling different and uniquely useful. Throw in a couple of new grenade options and satisfying melee goodness, the classic Halo trifecta has never been better. A key part of this is the introduction of the grappleshot. One of five abilities, it introduces new combat and traversal to Master Chief’s repertoire. The four other ones are decent too (I’ll leave you to discover yourself), but aside from using them once or twice immediately after you get them I doubt most players will switch from the grappleshot. For example, I used it a lot on enemies to bring me to close to them, get a melee or grenade in and then swiftly get out. It didn’t work every single time, but the fact I could do that in a Halo game and it worked so well… It’s a thing of beauty.
Halo goes open world (kind of)
Another almost constant use of the grapple shot for me was to get around the newly introduced open world. By that I don’t mean Halo Infinite has gone all Far Cry. It’s not as big and the side missions you do mostly add value to the main ones. Zeta Halo is more like open world-lite. Giving you that grand feeling without overwhelming you with pointless fetch quests. Instead there’s nice mix missions, including the taking over of FOB (forward operating base), rescuing UNSC soldiers, taking out special targets and destroying Banished bases. Each one rewarding with something meaningful to aid you as you complete Master Chief’s journey. Take down the Banished and capture an FOB, you have somewhere on Zeta Halo you can restock ammo, change weapons and even call in vehicles. Additionally, a new fast travel point. If you rescue enough UNSC soldiers, you’ll find them hanging around at FOBs and even join you on missions. Kill a special target and you’ll get a fancy version of their weapon waiting for you at an FOB. You also have a few collectibles you can pick, either upgrading your abilities or offering up multiplayer customisations. There’s a clear benefit for you to tackle these missions. The only slight negative is that they do lose a bit of their appeal once you do a few (I did around 50%), but it’s up to you if you want to complete them or not. Either way, I found them to be a welcome addition as the encounters with the Banished remained consistently fun.
A fun challenge and technically sound
The key reason why these encounters are continuously fun is the enemy AI. I’d go as far as saying Halo Infinite is the benchmark for other first-person shooters in this area. From the low-level grunts to the high ranking elites, the Banished move and attack in unpredictable yet believable ways. especially on the higher difficulty settings. I played the campaign on Heroic, finding each mission to be a nigh on perfect balance between challenge and fun. If co-op was in from day one, I would’ve gone for Legendary if I could’ve! In any case, I found myself actively trash talking after taking down enemies, especially after tough battles, feeling a great sense of satisfaction in the process. The Banished even throw out some great lines when taking you on, letting the squad know where you are and what to perhaps expect next. When they kill you, they scream and shout with immense pride. It’s crazy and hilarious, but genuinely adds to the gameplay experience. Whoever worked on the enemy AI and banter at 343 deserves a raise!
I would also say the same for the team that worked on the visual side of things. Don’t get me wrong, Halo Infinite isn’t the best looking game ever, but it does use the power of the Xbox Series X to good effect. After the lacklustre visual showing in July 2020, you can tell 343 put the hours in to improve matters. The typical indoor Halo locations look great, with suitably high textures and great lighting. It’s Zeta Halo that steals the show though, looking wonderfully epic throughout. It’s straight up picturesque at times, with the most impressive thing being the scope of it all. You can literally see enemies and battles going on at the other side of the map. Elsewhere, big or small battles, Halo Infinite runs impressively too. Quality mode aims for 4K/60fps, while performance mode looks at serving up 1440p/120fps. Both succeed for the most part, with some slight drops in resolution to keep things running at the target frame rates.
It’s fair to say, at its core, Halo Infinite’s multiplayer portion delivers. The switch to free-to-play doesn’t mean a drop in quality. It takes the best parts of previous multiplayer iterations, mixes them up and throws out what you’d expect from Halo in the current market. The Battle Pass (challenges in particular) and timed events need some work, but given the speed at which 343 has made updates so far there’s evidence to suggest things will only get better. While they do there’s an insanely fun multiplayer game to play and enjoy solo or with friends. I’ve been playing it since the beta launched to everyone almost every evening and have been having a blast. In a year where similar multiplayer offerings have launched with issues galore, it was refreshing to see 343 nail it with Halo Infinite’s multiplayer from day one. At the time of writing, cheaters don’t seem to be a thing and the game remains generally quite well balanced. Customisation, earning vs. paying for them seem be okay too. I haven’t seen too many complaints. People will have their preference of modes and maps, of course, but the core gameplay is quite simply a joy. Fast paced action based around guns, grenades and melee. Easy to pick up and play, but put the hours in and you’ll find there’s plenty of depth there to take your Oddball game to the next level. I’m certainly trying while getting blown up by the SPNKr!