“The missions change. They always do.” –Master Chief
In the chaos resulting from Cortana’s actions in Halo 5: Guardians, a former faction of the Covenant known as the Banished attack the UNSC Infinity, led by the warlord Atroix, attacks and destroys the UNSC Infinity. Atroix defeats the Master Chief and casts him out into space, where a UNSC pilot, Fernando Esparza, locates him. Their Pelican is captured by a Banished warship, prompting Master Chief to board the warship and disable it. While the Master Chief is working to take out the warship, a beacon is received, hinting at the presence of a “weapon”. Making his way through the cavernous interior of Zeta Halo’s massive interior, Master Chief locates the source of the signal and finds a Cortana-like AI calling herself The Weapon. She explains that her original directive was to delete Cortana and then herself, but somehow managed to survive the process. The Master Chief retrieves her and fights his way to Zeta Halo’s surface, defeating the warlord Tremonius in the process. After clearing out a Banished camp, The Weapon explains that the Banished have taken over UNSC outposts on the surface of Zeta Halo and suggests that clearing them out will give them an advantage as they make to ascertain how many survivors remain from the UNSC Infinity’s destruction. This is Halo Infinite‘s campaign after two-and-a-half hours of gameplay, marking the first time a new Halo’s been available on PC at launch since Halo: Combat Evolved was released, and while 343 Industries’ previous instalment, Halo 5: Guardians, was met with cool reception for introducing a meandering, convoluted story, Halo Infinite makes a bold effort in returning the franchise to its roots. The end result, coming six years after Halo 5: Guardians, shows that for their part, 343 Industries had been successful; the story continues on with the dynamic between Cortana and Master Chief that Halo 4 had portrayed, while at the same time, placing the events on a Halo ring that the series is named after. With a promising new narrative and a return to an iconic setting, Halo Infinite‘s campaign is off to a strong start; everything about Halo Infinite is faithful to the original aesthetic, while at the same time, properly bringing Halo into the modern era.
At the heart of Halo Infinite is a responsive and smooth movement system. In earlier Halo games, movement felt sluggish and slower. Players were limited to walking and jumping. By Halo: Reach, sprinting was added as an armour ability, and this subsequently became an integral part of the game in Halo 4. However, contemporary shooters have very evolved movement systems: Titanfall seamlessly combines wall-running with standard movement, and Battlefield introduced the idea of being able to vault over fences by jumping near them. DOOM similarly implemented a ledge-grabbing feature, where players could automatically catch onto and pull themselves up a ledge if their jumps landed them nearby, and DOOM Eternal further improved this mechanic, making it possible to move around a map in a creative manner. Halo Infinite enters this realm by introducing the grappling hook, which allows Master Chief to latch into and pull himself towards a surface quickly. In addition, Master Chief can also grab onto an enemy with the grappling hook and rappel in for a quick kill, or else pull nearby items close. The grappling hook of Halo Infinite is an upgrade over DOOM Eternal‘s meat hook, which similarly extended gameplay options. A more versatile movement system in Halo Infinite means that map designs can be more creative, allowing keen-eyed players to fully utilise their environment in order to be successful. Together with a visceral and tactile combat system, Halo Infinite is a winner in gameplay: firefights feel immensely satisfying, and the game makes every effort to communicate the results of a player’s actions clearly. Red hit markers are used to let players know when they’ve scored a kill, allowing for attention to be redirected to a new target. The firearms are diverse and unique, creating an environment where picking one’s weapons matter again. Halo Infinite also marks the first time the series deals with boss fights in a traditional manner: before Master Chief can exit Zeta Halo’s tunnels, he must first fight Tremonius, who has a larger health pool and stronger energy shields than standard enemies. The introduction of proper boss fights in Halo adds variety to the game and punctuates moments of exploration and classic firefights with with platforming and strategy. Mechanically, Halo Infinite is built on solid foundations, adding enough new features to modernise gameplay while at the same time, making the core elements of a high standard. In the knowledge that the basics in Halo Infinite are nailed, I can focus my attention on exploration and progression into the story.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Whereas Halo 4 presented a humanity filled with a newfound confidence, Halo Infinite‘s humanity is scattered, hunted and defeated. This is emphasised for the player’s benefit right at the beginning: the UNSC Infinity, mightiest of humanity’s vessels, is under siege, and Master Chief himself is being ragdolled by Atriox despite putting up an impressive showing. The atmosphere Halo Infinite conveys, of humanity being forced onto the backfoot, is consistent with the feeling that originally accompanied the original Halo games.
- The first mission is set inside a Brute warship, and right out of the gates, I am reminded of Destiny‘s Cabal, whose gargantuan frames and utilitarian ships share parallels with the Brutes’ designs seen in Halo Infinite. Long characterised as a barbaric, war-like species, Brutes favour aggression and strength over finesse, and while Brutes tend to look down on humanity, they aren’t above picking up human weapons off their foes on the battlefield. Here, I wield the Mangler, a mainstay Brute sidearm that fires massive spikes at foes. The weapon is extremely powerful and handles similarly to a slower-firing version of the Halo: Combat Evolved pistol, but with a lower firing rate and projectile drop to balance things out.
- The UNSC assault rifle in Halo Infinite is the MA40, an evolution of the MA37 seen in Halo 5: Guardians, which is itself a successor to the assault rifles seen in earlier games. An all-around performer, the MA40 is a fast firing weapon with less spread than its predecessors. It is able to hit targets further away with greater reliability than its predecessors, and carries enough ammunition to, in conjunction with grenades, make short work of a crowd of Grunts and Jackals. During this first mission, the entire setting is in the narrow corridors of a Brute warship, bringing to mind how Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 both started in claustrophobic spaces (the Pillar of Autumn and Cairo Station, respectively).
- The tradition was broken in Halo 3 and Halo: Reach, but Halo 4 has players start in side the Forward Unto Dawn. I actually enjoy these missions because Halo has always excelled in presenting wide-open environments, and coming from the narrow confines of a starship, or the vast caverns Forerunners had built, into a pristine bit of wilderness has always been the most breath-taking moments of a Halo game. Halo Infinite is touted as being a ways more open than any of its predecessors, allowing the game to capitalise on the wonderous setting, but for players beginning their journey, one must get through the first two missions.
- While this can feel a little arduous, the first two missions actually act as an opportunity to familiarise oneself with Halo‘s newest toy: the grappling hook. This versatile tool has multiple applications, ranging from reaching hard-to-reach places to being able to pull distant items closer. One particularly amusing feature is the fact that the grappling hook can actually latch onto enemies and stun them, leaving them open to attack. When used in conjunction with closing distance, the grappling hook behaves a great deal like DOOM Eternal‘s meathook.
- The Revenger is a new weapon that fires searing plasma bolts over short distances: projectiles arc and are affected by gravity. This weapon is powerful but cumbersome, and I found its utility to be in softening up groups of enemies before finishing them off. Unlike earlier games, plasma now deals damage to players for a few moments after it is discharged, and it takes a few moments for the plasma to evaporate. This shows how far Halo‘s come: small details like these bring Halo Infinite to life, and also alters the ways players approach the game in subtle ways.
- The Needler makes a welcome return, and like its predecessors, it is capable of super-combining to create devastating explosions that can kill even Brutes. Once Master Chief reaches the warship’s control room and finds that he is unable to cleanly disable the tractor beams holding Esparza’s Pelican in place, he decides to destroy the ship instead by overloading its engines. The Brute warship begins disintegrating, but the Banish seem unfazed. In the end, Master Chief cannot make it back to Esparza, but fortunately, Esparza is around to pick up up outside the warship’s wreckage.
- Halo Infinite doesn’t allow players to replay completed campaign levels, and while this decision does seem strange, it appears that 343 Industries was focused on making the core experience solid first, before adding back long-standing features. Like co-op, 343 Industries is suggesting that being able to replay campaign missions to completely collect audio logs, Spartan Cores and other items will be added later on. For me, this is perfectly okay, since I do not expect I’ll be finishing Halo Infinite‘s campaign so quickly that I’ll be replaying missions again for completeness’ sake.
- After Master Chief retrieves a new communique, Esparza consents to drop him off on Zeta Halo, feeling that whatever weapon Master Chief might be able to acquire could be helpful in getting them both home. Contrasting the utilitarian interiors of the Brute warship, Forerunner architecture is angular, smooth and features plenty of clean lines. In this second missions, Elites are encountered for the first time, and like their classic incarnations, equip energy shields and side-strafe to evade attacks. Classic techniques like the plasma pistol overcharge and any headshot will quickly dispatch them, as will seven Needler rounds.
- During the open beta, I was a little underwhelmed by the Pulse Carbine: this weapon is basically the Storm Rifle from Halo 4, but fires in four-round bursts rather than on full automatic. The burst properties were quite unknown to me in the beta, but now that I’ve had a chance to get into the campaign, I’ve found that it handles like the Battle Rifle: a single burst at close range will kill weaker enemies, and a burst will also disable a Jackal’s shields. Three bursts will drop an Elite’s shields. The weapon initially appears tricky to use, but the weapon has a very unique property: the plasma rounds travel faster the further they are allowed to travel and the plasma rounds weakly lock onto targets, making it a superb medium range weapon.
- This past weekend marks the halfway point from the start of December to Christmas, and this past weekend, I enjoyed my first-ever day off since 2017. I ended up using that time to fully finish the Master Grade Kyrios, a process that took five hours from start to finish, and altogether, I thoroughly enjoyed the build. The kit is incredibly detailed, feels solid and looks amazing. Yesterday, I spent most of the morning waiting for new beds and mattresses to arrive, and then by evening, I attended the company Christmas party at a local Italian restaurant. Dinner started with Arancini (stuffed rice balls), Tuscan Bruschetta (a flatbread with tomato, basil, olive oil and a dash of vingear), and a Caprese Salad. The centrepiece was grilled Chicken Parmesan with seasonal vegetables and potatoes, which was superb.
- After dinner and a desert Saltinbocca, there was a live show, as well. I didn’t arrive home until half an hour to midnight; while I’d been quite exhausted from a longer day, it was also a great chance to get out and celebrate with the team: I had the chance to converse with people I’d not met in-person previously, since we’d been working from home, and the food was fantastic: Italian food is something I don’t have often, and when done well, different dishes have completely different, vivid flavour profiles. With this Christmas party in the books, I only have one more week of work left before my winter vacation begins. I anticipate spending this time handling the remainder of the furniture delivery and assembly, as well as hitting IKEA to pick up any smaller items we’ll need for the new place.
- In the spare time I have, I’ll aim to continue on with my blogging and wrap up what remains to be written about. This naturally will extend to include Halo Infinite: I am hoping to make a bit of headway into the open world and check out Zeta Halo for myself. Here, I’ve found the Stalker Rifle, a cross between the Beam Rifle and Covenant Carbine from earlier Halo games. This weapon is actually a joy to use, being a highly reliable solution for longer ranges than the automatics and burst fire weapons. In earlier Halo games, I always carried a good medium range weapon and then paired it with whatever the situation demanded. For now, I am holding onto the assault rifle and pulse carbine to fulfil the role of a solid medium range solution.
- As Master Chief progresses through Zeta Halo, armour upgrades and Spartan Cores will be found. The latter unlock acccess to different abilities that augment the Mjolnir armour’s functionality, while the latter improves an ability’s functions. The approach taken in Halo Infinite brings to mind the likes of Far Cry, which has similar mechanics. For now, I’ve found that the grappling hook to be an ability I am making extensive use of, so I’ll probably focus on getting this one fully upgraded before looking at the other abilities.
- A few weekends ago, shortly before Halo Infinite was due to launch, uncivilised and counterproductive discussions were occurring on social media, to the point where people were issuing threats against those who disagreed with them, led moderators to temporarily put a hold on all discussion. It was actually shocking to see people defending this level of negativity: someone actually went so far as to claim that excessive negativity is a “human right” because it’s supposedly the “the only mechanism by which people can campaign for, and achieve change and improvement”. This is soundly untrue: change and improvement comes from people acquiring the skills needed to make a tangible difference, and then working hard to reach a point where said change and improvement can be implemented.
- As it stands, excessively negative individuals have no inherent value to society. This holds true for those who tear down game developers, and it certainly holds true of those who pull anime apart pixel-by-pixel. Criticism is only valuable if it offers a course of action, such as a suggestion for improvement, and in their absence, defenders of negativity are not meritorious of consideration for the simple fact that their aim isn’t to be constructive, but rather, to gain notoriety. Here, I square off against Tremonius: the two Jackals accompanying him can be a distraction, so I finished them off first, before using the Skewer against him. The presence of boss fights in Halo Infinite is a first, but I found this first one to be most enjoyable, a change of pace from the usual firefights.
- Once Tremonius is beaten, Master Chief will board the elevator and ascend to the surface of Zeta Halo. Players will be greeted with a verdant evergreen forest and blue skies, but there’s little time to enjoy the scenery. This forward operating base is crawling with Banished, and Master Chief must clear them out. However, even if one is short on ammunition after the fight with Tremonius, there’s a plasma turret up on the cliff overlooking the Banished-held territories below. This turret handles similarly to the turrets of older Halo games and will make short work of foes, at the expense of reducing mobility and forcing one into third person mode.
- After clearing out the first group of enemies, I came under fire from more Banished on the cliff above. They’re standing closely to a bunch of fusion coils, so I ended up burst-firing the assault rifle to set these off, allowing me to easily clear them out without needing to close the distance. This area is meant as an introduction to the sort of world Halo Infinite offers players, suggesting that for a given problem, there are always several solutions one can utilise to complete their goal. The only thing that Halo doesn’t do well is stealth, but beyond this, having a semi-sandbox is going to be quite exciting.
- After realising the power that amassed fusion coils can provide as a force multiplier, I ended up reaching the platform, waited for the Banished to arrive, and then detonated one of the fusion coils. Upon exploding, these created a chain reaction that cleared out the entire launch pad, leaving a handful of stragglers that could then be mopped up without much effort. In this way, I ended up taking this forward operating base, which, according to in-game documentation, is an area where players can fast travel to, resupply and link up with allied forces.
- While the possibilities are quite varied, I think that my approach now will be to finish off the side quests and unlock as much of the map as I can before pursuing the story missions. This way, I will have the best possible amount of armour abilities unlocked for the campaign ahead. Here, I’m wielding the Hydra Launcher I picked off Tremonius; this weapon was introduced in Halo 5 and is described as a multiple missile launcher. I’ve only used it to one-shot Brutes, since it handles more like a shotgun than an anti-armour solution. However, unlocking a forward operating base does mean I gain access to more weapons, and this means I’ll be able to kit myself out with my preferred weapons before attempting whatever lies ahead for me in Halo Infinite.
From my two and half hours of time spent in Halo Infinite, it is early to say what themes and motifs Halo Infinite covers. However, I can say that what I’ve experienced has been fun so far, and as such, 343 Industries’ decision to delay Halo Infinite by a full year was a decision that proved wise and appropriate. When the game was showcased in June 2020, it was met with mixed reactions: on one hand, the gameplay and mechanics looked amazing. However, the visuals proved to be a point of contention: Halo Infinite did not particularly look like a modern game, and while the world assets and the lighting looked sharp, textures were still quite lacking. Realising the potential for disaster on account of all the memes that followed, 343 Industries astutely took Halo Infinite back for additional work rather than insisting on a 2020 launch. The end result speaks for itself; Halo Infinite is the smoothest-playing and best-looking Halo game made to date. Textures are more detailed, character models are less uncanny, and overall, Halo Infinite feels precisely what one would expect Halo to be. While the game does have a few flaws (the inability to replay campaign missions, absence of co-op mode and a poorly thought-out progression system for the multiplayer come to mind), overall, once I set foot on Zeta Halo and captured Tremonius as a forward operating base, all of these issues melted away as I began considering what my next actions should be: I can continue to clear out areas of the map and make travel easier by finishing the side missions, or I can press forward with the story and see how The Weapon and Master Chief’s experiences unfold, delving deeper into the secrets that Zeta Halo contain. One thing is for sure; seeing the distinctive curvature of the Halo ring on the horizon, rendered using modern game engines, is an absolutely astounding sight to behold.