This review deals strictly with the single-player campaign, we’ll be reviewing the free-to-play multiplayer side of Halo Infinite separately.
When it comes to Halo
and the Xbox
brand, the two have often been interchangeable. As one of the first major exclusives released for the original Xbox console some twenty years ago, Halo: Combat Evolved
broke new ground when it came to the console first-person shooter. Striking visuals, pitch-perfect controls, and a sci-fi setting that had all the trappings of something destined to become iconic.
With each subsequent release, Halo would grow in size and scope, harnessing the power of new hardware and emergent technologies. The Xbox 360
, Xbox One
... and now Xbox Series X|S
. Halo’s multiplayer would also, for lack of a better term, evolve. Four-player split-screen, as pioneered by the Nintendo 64
a few years earlier, would pave the way for online connectivity in Halo 2
and a new era for competitive gaming via Xbox Live.
Halo’s closeness to the Xbox brand isn’t something to be taken at face value. Even though the series and universe is very much its own thing, Halo’s orbit has always been around Xbox the Brand™
. The creation of 343 Industries
, a new studio focused squarely on Halo post Bungie
’s Halo 3
, led to the bombastic cinematic Halo 4
and a relatively smooth changing of the guard. Whispers of movie and TV spin-offs followed, where multimedia endeavours brought the series to a bit of a bump in the road -- Halo 5
on the Xbox One.
Halo’s closeness to the Xbox brand isn’t something to be taken at face value. Even though the series and universe is very much its own thing, Halo’s orbit has always been around Xbox the Brand™.
Just like the console and wider Xbox brand, a mix of old and new was required to get things back on track. As Xbox refocused its efforts on games and services like Xbox Game Pass
, so too would Halo.
Which brings us to Halo Infinite
, the latest entry in the synonymously Xbox franchise. A game that not only features a cinematic campaign but a free-to-play multiplayer component built on the classic Halo framework. It also arrives day and date on PC
and console, as well as being a part of Xbox Game Pass. Playable on a standard PC rig, an Xbox One, or high-end Xbox Series X, there’s scalability here that’s impressive. You can even fire it up on an Android
phone and play over the cloud.
As per our recent hands-on with the campaign
we noted that as a spiritual reboot of sorts, it delivers on that promise -- that classic Halo feel “but through a modern lens that invokes
the original as opposed to outright copying it”. Moving the franchise forward whilst keeping it in line with where Xbox is today. A multi-platform ecosystem that lets you jump around bits of hardware to game in much the same way Master Chief
’s new grappling-hook opens up exploration and combat mobility on Zeta Halo.
On that note we’ll avoid any more rambling preamble; Halo Infinite’s campaign is great. It’s action-packed and memorable, with the scale of both the environments and non-corrodoor-based encounters being polished to the point you can almost taste the hard work that went into nailing its flow. If such a thing were even possible.
Long story short, playing Halo Infinite feels right
. Responsive, smooth, fluid, and with weapons that are as numerous as they are useful. From the melty Sentinel Beam to the always-fun Needler to the high-powered UNSC rifles and detachable mini-guns. Enemies, too, are distinct, and not only in terms of their look but also in their dynamic behaviours.
Armoured Grunts act a lot more aggressively to the cowardly non-armoured variants. Soldiers will flank and react to what you do. Not only with that classic “jump away from an incoming grenade move”, but they’ll change weapons and tactics based on what sort of firepower the Chief be rockin’.
Long story short, playing Halo Infinite feels great. Responsive, smooth, fluid, and with weapons that are as numerous as they are useful.
All in all Halo Infinite is a return to form, with new gadgets and weapons slotting in nicely. The grappling-hook is wonderful, to the point where it overshadows stuff like the deployable shield. It really needs its own dedicated button.
There is a catch though.
One that goes back to the very idea of Halo and Xbox being interchangeable. And that is, it’s not finished. Originally planned as a launch title for the Xbox Series X console, pandemic delays and the scale of building a new Halo game on a brand-new engine has seemingly gotten in the way of Halo Infinite hitting its full potential. Although the word ‘unfinished’ is one tied to bugs and glitches, for Halo Infinite’s campaign it comes down to one thing. The jarring, glaring absence of co-op.
This is not to say that it doesn’t work as a single-player adventure, because it does, but the sense of repetition creeps in rather quickly when you don’t have the spontaneity of someone else there causing havoc using Halo Infinite’s wonderfully bombastic physics. Currently the co-op is slated for a mid-2022 release, so it’s not something you’d consider “coming soon” either, which is a shame.
No co-op aside, Infinite’s campaign is traditional; a string of mostly linear missions broken up by cinematic sequences and dramatic turns and reveals for Master Chief and his AI companion dubbed ‘The Weapon’. The story is a very straightforward stop the bad guy as the Master Chief setup, with the dual-setting of alien structures and lush environments adding to the nostalgic feel. Lore-wise it continues from the events of the Halos of Yore, but the back-to-basics premise sets the scene for a new Master Chief tale.
The addition of non-linear objectives and open-world style activities like assassination missions and clearing out and claiming operational bases are executed well. Unlocking new weapons and vehicles via UNSC street-cred is a simple system, but again, it all feels designed and better suited for co-op. The repetitive nature of the types of side-missions means that the combat is left to pick up all of the slack, and the vehicle physics are kind-of tailor made for multiplayer. Driving a Warthog with AI UNSC soldiers is, well, boring.
It’s a good thing then that the combat here is great, bolstered by impressive AI. Some of the series’ best in terms of tactical opportunities and challenges. This is the
reason you’ll feel the absence of co-op, there’s room not only for planning but reacting to and building on top of action through
action. That is, having a co-op buddy causing some grenade carnage whilst you flank or fly through the air. Speculative talk sure, but a good co-op mode has a way of elevating structural repetition to new and greater heights.
The addition of non-linear objectives and open-world style activities like assassination missions and clearing out and claiming operational bases are executed well. Unlocking new weapons and vehicles via UNSC street-cred is a simple system, but again, it all feels designed and better suited for co-op.
Speaking of heights, the architectural grandeur of both Zeta Halo and the alien structures in Halo Infinite are awe-inspiring. Plenty of moments where you tilt the controller or mouse, look up, and get a real sense of the sheer size of things. This plays into the combat too, with vertical movement, jump pads and elevator pads adding to a combat flow that has you always moving or stopping for a moment to recover behind some cover. On the Xbox Series X environment detail is impressive to be sure but the true star of the show -- visually speaking -- is the lighting and how it highlights the details you see in all of the materials.
From the weathered look of weapons to the scuff marks on Master Chief’s imposing armour to the strange metals that make-up certain ships and structures, Halo Infinite is packed with detail. And best of all, at least on Xbox Series X and PC (both were tested for this review), it all runs at a smooth 60fps with little in the way of hiccups or stutters. With all the cinematics rendered in real-time the one area where Infinite falls short is in the character department. From the Master Chief’s Cortana
-like AI companion to the new Banished big-bads, and even the human Pilot that rescues Chief from deep-space, the facial animation regularly flirts with some of the stuff seen in Mass Effect Andromeda
. Overly busy mouth and eye movements, like a tech demo gone wrong.
In the end though it’s hard to fault what 343 Industries has accomplished with Halo Infinite. It’s very much the spiritual successor it purports to be -- with forward thinking design and elements that flow in a way that reminds you of the timeless nature of the fluid, stylish combat of old. The lack of co-op is something you feel, but in terms of cinematic spectacle this is the Master Chief carrying the flag once more for Xbox. Albeit in that new-school form of being able to jump in and, well, play anywhere.