Halo Infinite’s Campaign was released this week, a few weeks after the multiplayer mode, which was delivered early as part of Xbox and Halo’s 20th birthday celebrations. Halo’s new campaign manages to navigate the legacy of great Halo games while pushing the series forward introducing the open world. It has a strong opening third, albeit a little stodgy in the middle, building up to a great finish. 343 had to make a few trade-offs with the introduction of the open-world, which includes less tailored classic campaign moments, plus co-op isn’t there at the start, however, this is balanced out by the sheer amount of freedom that Halo Infinite offers. It’s a solid entry to the series, although I wouldn’t put it right at the top.
In the opening moments, Master Chief is seen fighting against the Bashished, and gets a beat down and thrown into space. Later he’s collected by a UNSC pilot and saved and sets upon finding out what’s happened while he’s been out. The Banished are running rampant, and Chief collects his new AI called The Weapon, given Cortana is now gone. We’re introduced to the Zeta Halo ring, which acts as our main playspace for Halo Infinite. This is a relatively large, open-world map where we take back UNSC bases from the hands of the Banished.
We’re not immediately dropped into the open world. 343 most likely wanted to ease us in gently, and the first few hours of gameplay are in classic close quarters, tightly scripted gameplay sequences, which really nod back to classic Halo Campaigns. Once we have a grip on who we’re fighting, pick up our new buddies, then it’s off to Zeta Halo.
One thing you’ll notice immediately from Halo Infinite is the new tools Chief has been given to navigate this sandbox. Primarily, this includes the Grappleshot, which by this time you will have most likely played around with in multiplayer. There it’s a fun differential, which will allow you to either attack or escape from enemies. Here in the campaign, it’s much more. There’s a verticality to the levels which wouldn’t be possible to navigate without the Grappleshot. The opening environments range from damaged spacecraft and classic sci-fi style environments, and navigating these with the grapple shot is very satisfying, and essential. Not only can you climb high, but you can grab weapons from your enemies too.
Another new element we’re introduced to early on is the mini-bosses. These are Banished with bigger health bars, often shields that offer a challenge when it comes to combat. There are still plenty of Halo battles where you’ll run in, face off against a series of enemies, pick up their weapons and use whatever it takes to clear out the zones. These new mini-bosses have smart AI behind them, they will hide from your attacks, advance on you when you are weak, and are tough to kill. It’s a great example of 343 taking the Halo formula and adding a little something extra to bring this up to modern game standards.
Halo Infinite feels like a mesh of the best of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 3. There is the classic look of Halo: Combat Evolved, and the great feeling of Halo 3. 343 have added hygiene factors like the ability to mantle on edges, running, aim down sights – things that brought with them a negative backlash when implemented in Halo 4 and 5. This time it feels like the audience is much more accepting of these features, given they are standard in many FPS games in 2021.
Once you get through the first few hours, which could be seen as the tutorial area, you are then dropped onto Zeta Halo, and the open world is yours to explore. There’s a sense of Breath of the Wild here with the physics, related to the grapple, being able to fling yourself across the map. There’s a great clip out there at the moment with a player exploding a warthog and then using the grapple to slingshot themselves across the map, and it’s just one example of what can be achieved with the physics sandbox here. Much like Link could in Breath of the Wild with his abilities, we’re likely going to be finding interesting ways to navigate this map for months to come.
Zeta Halo is full of encounters, and bases for Master Chief to take back. There are Banished Strongholds and UNSC Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) to clear out and reclaim. The main issue I found with these missions is that after a short while the gameplay feels repeated, and it gets repetitive. I’m used to running strikes again and again in Destiny, although there I have the loot as the carrot. We have upgraded in Halo Infinite, although these are good and useful, I didn’t find myself motivated to go from one to the other, and maintain my level of motivation all the way through. I felt the campaign stagnated in the middle, even though the start and the end were fantastic.
There are some restrictions on where you can go right at the start, you’ll have to unlock the new zones to progress. This does a couple of things, it helps you not be confused as to what to do and where to go immediately, and also gives you that Halo campaign structure of sorts. A big drawback of Zeta Halo is there isn’t much or any differentiation in the terrain. We don’t have a snow area or a sand area, it’s all pretty much the same from when you get dropped onto Zeta Halo at the start. There is green grass, trees, and blue sky, and that’s pretty much it.
In terms of the story itself, it’s pretty good. I don’t think it lives up to the high bar set by the early Halo games, Bungie’s Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, ODST and Reach. Reach is probably a high point in campaigns, even though the multiplayer in that game wasn’t the best. Halo Infinite represents a big step forward in terms of storytelling from Halo 4 and Halo 5, which is a good achievement for 343. Halo 4 and 5 when off track a little bit too much with 343 trying to make Halo their own, but they made a few missteps. Here they have managed to walk that tightrope of the familiar Halo feels while imprinting their own personality onto the series.
Regarding the gameplay in Halo Infinite, taking back the bases are key and central to the gameplay. Once you capture one of these, then a bunch of new things will open up on your map, plus there’s a series up upgrades you can collect to improve Chief’s armor and abilities. This includes bolstering your shields, also you can add extra effects to the grapple shot, which includes electrocuting your enemies on hit, which is very useful. Completing the open-world objectives gives you Valor points, which you can use to unlock weapons and vehicles that can be immediately summoned from FOBs. You can also use reclaimed bases to fast-travel around the map, which is essential later on in the game as you’ll be zipping all over the map, and it’s going to save you valuable time.
Halo Infinite does well with offering you a sense of freedom in your gameplay, which has been lacking since the Bungie era of Halo games. Given the open nature of Zeta Halo, you have much less of the scripted corridor battles, and they are replaced with skirmishes out there in the wild. One aspect of Halo Infinite I have enjoyed when compared to something like Destiny 2, rather than have a single or loadout of guns and keep using them, I do like the need to finish up enemies and pick up their weapons to use against other enemies. This means I don’t get too attached to my shotgun, or BR, I am having to use the full array of weapons in the game, and this offers variety and the sense that you have to use anything and everything to survive. If I had the choice I probably wouldn’t use the Carbine, but seeing as my AR ran out of bullets, I am going to have to.
It was always going to be a tall order for 343 to create a winner with Halo Infinite. The game was delayed by a year, missing the Xbox Series X launch, although they shipped in the Halo Infinite branded boxes, all the same, demonstrating how close of a decision this was. I think it was a good decision because we have a polished, high-quality Halo game. Its unfortunate co-op is missing from the launch line-up and apparently, we’re not going to be seeing that until next May at the very earliest. Saying that the campaign is good fun, plus it adds in a whole load of new features like the open world, new boss battles, loads of weapons, and the story is pretty good fun and entertaining. As mentioned the game slows down in the middle, but push through that and you have a satisfying ending waiting for you. When you put the two parts together with the campaign and multiplayer, Halo Infinite offers up a great package that speaks to the hardcore Halo fans as well as invites in a whole new audience through its free-to-play tier. 343 have a Halo game they can be proud of.
Developer: 343 Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Platforms: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 8th December 2021