Halo Infinite is a well-designed and lovingly crafted shooter. 343 Industries has said that this is a 'spiritual reboot' of the series, and it feels like it, from top to bottom; a return to form. I don't speak for the multiplayer, but the campaign. Yes, there are many missing features, but to someone who isn't a drooling fanboi, this hits the spot. They've optimized for the right thing: gameplay. Depending on future improvements, this might end up ranking in my favorite games. This feels like a more conventionally designed game than something unique, but I still had a blast!
Moment to moment gameplay is the most fun of any Halo I've played. The weapons are varied, effective, and feel awesome to use. The vehicles are useful, though the Warthog is as bad as it always was. Many things are more convenient. In previous games, I'd hunt around for plasma weapons, trying to find one with the most charge left. UNSC technology has improved to the point where, in the field, Chief can charge up one plasma weapon with another of the same model. Level design includes ammo crates, so you don't even need to walk around to top off. Enemy encounters are frequent and not quite the same. Grunts swarm you, jackals try to hang back and get one good shot, elites have better equipment, and brutes can do almost anything. Sometimes drop pods come, usually full of brutes that immediately run at you. If you try to run, it doesn't feel like you're going faster, despite the streaks that appear on your visor that want you to think you're breaking the sound barrier.
My favorite weapon is the mangler. It's kind of like a shotgun, but focused. I've been able to reliably kill jackal snipers with it (one shot), but manglers have an arc. It also has low muzzle velocity, so it's ineffective against fast aerial attacks. (For those, I recommend the beam weapons they drop.) Being of brute provenance, the mangler has two blades mounted near the front, granting improved melee damage. My other weapon is a plasma sword, used for when those mangler blades don't get my message across clear enough.
The main innovation is the grappleshot. If this game was instead named Halo: Grappleshot Evolved, I wouldn't complain about it. I press a button, and I'm slamming into an enemy, flying up a cliffside, or claiming a ride. It's a useful tool in almost any situation. Being able to exit a banshee in midair, and hijack another while falling gives me a rush. Grappleshot usage in the final boss fight is not negotiable: you need to be proficient with it. There are three other tools that you can use, but you need to swap them out and can only deploy one at a time. The only other that comes close to being handy is an invisible enemy detector. High ranking elites (with plasma swords) always activaet active camouflage when they see you. There is almost no refractive blur, and you have to squint to see it, so a defeat device is useful. The other two tools aren't worth thinking about. Chief has a scanner, which isn't one of the four (why?), and it's useful for seeing what's behind walls and hills.
This campaign picks up soon after the events of Halo 5: Guardians. That's the only mainline Halo game that's not on PC, so I haven't played it. I imagine that it will be in the Master Chief Collection at some point, but I'm not upset over it. While its multiplayer was eventually good, its single player campaign was never good. Trailers showed a robed Master Chief looking for the truth, and getting pwned by another Spartan, but that never happened in game. It turns out that Cortana didn't die at the end of Halo 4 (cyc!), and she ended up being the queen b*tch of the universe. (And for that matter, the bad guy from that game didn't die either.) The only cool thing about Guardians is that you visit the Arbiter at his place. Unfortunately, he and his buddies been hitting steroids hard like every other sangheili. ("But all the cool elites are doing them!")
I noticed that 343 had some annoying tenets of story telling: resolve important plot points in novels, avoid playable boss fights, and have all the cool fights in cutscenes. I have a new rule: if there's shooting in a cutscene of a shooter game, I'll ask WHY AM I NOT PLAYING THAT!? I bought a game, not a movie: I'm the one who should be shooting! Guardians opens with a Power Rangers movie, and almost immediately cans the bad guy from Spartan Ops, all in cutscenes of course. Infinite opens with Master Chief shooting at a boarding party, then gets pwned by the bad guy from Halo Wars 2. Why was that not playable? Does 343 not have the balls to kill the player? (Bioware did! Even Bungie did!) If this game is so bent on reliving nostalgia, call it "Current Mission: Survive", and it would be brilliant because you're expected to lose. If self-immolating gamers ended up beating him on legendary or something, end the game right there. Congratulations, hero, you broke the game: here's everything. Roll credits and skip to the end with everything complete and collected. Oh, you don't understand what that post-credits thing was about? Too bad! You should have played it the way it was meant to be played!
In the first hour, six months have passed, and you discover that Cortana has died this time. (For realsies this time, OK guys?) Her minions have inexplicably gone away, too, at least as far as we know. Chief picks up a new blue AI babe, and has landed on a ring world infested with aliens. Haven't we been here before? We've been reset! Fine, if that means we don't have to deal with Guardians anymore, I'll forgive that premiere cinematic boss fight, but only a little. Personnel and material from the UNSC Infinity (the ship destroyed in the opening cutscene) are scattered around a destroyed part of the ring. How any survivors have managed to remain this long is puzzling, considering the dozen or so large enemy ships off in the distance. The enemy sub-boss was certain that you had died, and everyone makes it clear that his boss (the one that "killed" you) has also been killed. It made me wonder if reports of everyone's death have been greatly exaggerated.
Breaking convention with the entire series, Halo Infinite is an open world game, for the most part. Important story missions are traditional linear levels, but they are book-ended with go-wherever-you-want intermissions. Territory control is done by capturing "forward operating bases". These serve as hubs where you can call vehicles, get weapons, gather a squad, and fast travel to. I knew that I could fast travel between them, but I rarely did, especially when aircraft appear. Enemy bases exist, but you don't capture them, and enemies still spawn near them even after I have all nearby bases and keep wiping them out. Speaking of spawning, I've had enemy banshees despawn when looking at them. While there are collectibles scattered around the map, the most important ones are highlighted and are often unguarded. Not content with merely breaking open world ground, Infinite is loaded with boss fights. Playable boss fights. In fact, there's one guarding the
door elevator to the outside when you begin the game.
In between boss fights, the campaign mostly has you killing space allens, doing errands for your AI babe, and plugging in new batteries. The story itself isn't terrible, and has some touchy feely moments. The main boss takes after 4's bad guy, and while he isn't as much of a Saturday morning cartoon villain, he still likes to monologue. There's lots of 'meanwhile, in the villain's lair' type cinematics, but it's unclear as to exactly what brought them here. (One could assume revenge, but you can get that anywhere.) They appear to be scavengers, but Forerunner stuff is rather scavenge-proof.
This is Installation 07: Zeta Halo. I've read the wikis on this place. Lore-wise, this the most peculiar halo to me. The current set of halos (7 of them) are the new array. That means there was an old one, a set of 12. Eleven of those got destroyed, and the Forerunners refurbished the surviving one into the new array: that one is this one. They did a lot of unethical research and experiments here of all kinds, including experiments on human subjects. I was expecting revelations on that front, but I never came across anything like that, not even a reference to it. Instead there's an entirely new alien species imprisoned on this ring. Everyone keeps saying that 'this ring is different from all the others', but it's not clear exactly why; maybe it's this new species? And for that matter, why do the villains want to activate this ring? They have to know it would kill everyone (including themselves) for thousands of light years around. That's not a secret anymore. You don't fly around space for years and be stupid: space doesn't work like that! Do they want to cut off their body to spite their face? In light of zero answers to this question, that's what I'm assuming.
The art direction in Infinite is phenomenal. Early previews had a very clean, blocky art style for everything. After the Craig incident, they made things grittier, but not enough to call it Call Of Duty. Because of the grappleshot, I'm always getting up close to everything. I saw literally nothing where I thought 'why does this look like that'. Every surface has detail. I've complained before about Forerunner structures being boring brutalist concrete monoliths. Infinite's Forerunner walls have exquisite art deco-like designs with occasional gold inlays, sometimes reminiscent of the random lines on Cyberpunk 2077 marketing material. Even the ring's hexagonal prism substructure has a metallic crystal texture.
Enemies look just like they did Halo 2, but with the HD filter cranked to 3840. Elites look like they quit the steroids cold turkey. They are the agile, athletic warriors that they were always meant to be. Grunts are small and huggable, and resume their comic relief routine. In fact, there are propaganda towers scattered around the game that broadcast this grunt making sorta fourth wall breaking observations. Grunts will flee if they see others around them killed. Jackals are bird people again (instead of sorta-lizards), and they've learned to speak english! Several times, I've played around with them, popping their shields, and watching them flee while panting pathetically. Brutes are back, looking more like Halo 2 than 3. I liked their look in 3, because they looked more like bears instead of gorillas. Bosses are designed with care and are visually interesting. Take our friend Jega, for example. Elites have an unassailable sense of honor, to the point where they'd rather bleed out than see a doctor. However, Jega is a cyborg; how interesting.
Sound design was likewise excellent, from explosions and guns to audio log pickups. My 7.1 surround sound system was used to its fullest potential. I was able to locate where sounds were coming from, and nothing faded in or out by slight movements. I could tell when I was near a pickup by its pinging sound, and I located many by sound direction alone. The campaign has lots of sweeping orchestral and choral scores. The multiplayer discards that for post-rock. I've ragged about how I love synthwave, but post-rock is my second favorite music genre. Since Zeta Halo is a bucolic place, I want its wide open meadows and canyons to come with post-rock, but I didn't hear any during the campaign. Shame. I want open world games to go all in on post-rock, not only for how it can conjure wondering a lonesome landscape, but how it can foreshadow an epic fight.
343 claims (promises?) that Halo Infinite is a 10 year game, in that it will get updates and support for 10 years. In reality, I expect that it means they will keep the servers on at least that long, but release a sequel after 6 years or so. Hopefully they will release meaty singleplayer content often (yearly?). Infinite had a lot of stuff cut during development, so 343 should have lots of ideas for future missions. I suspect that the area around the endgame road and house is DLCville. (It's mapped out, but inaccessible.) To the south, there's a large guardian crashed into the ground, so a DLC there might resolve plot threads from the last game. (This is 343: don't hold your breath on in-game plot resolution.) The UNSC Infinity had 24 Swords of Sanghelios members on board, so any update involving playable elites (and maybe the Arbiter) might have Chief locating them.
The main complaint I have (aside from the opening cutscene and no post-rock in the campaign) is that the game is poorly optimized. My RX 6800 and 4k 144hz monitors should be plenty to make this game look its best, if my Ryzen 1800X is up for it. I discovered that my RX 6800 has 10% more power as an Xbox Series X console, but Infinite runs on Xbox One (a much less powerful system). Lowering every setting I could find (and disabling framerate limiting) didn't raise the framerate one bit (30-40 FPS). Updating drivers doubled my framerate (60-70 FPS, settings still didn't matter), but I feel that it can be much faster. This game always wants HDR output on. This lead to a desaturated image (a gray filter). I worked around this by playing on my second monitor, which is duplicated to my definitely not HDR capable sound receiver.
Initial load times are long, often around 5 minutes, so I watch Youtube on my other monitor to pass the time. Come on, I have this loaded on my NVMe drive. In 5 minutes, you could read the entire game directory from a hard drive into a RAM drive with time to spare! In fact, this game only takes up 47-ish GB on disk, and I have 64 GB RAM! Granted, subsequent load times are much shorter. When transitioning to and from story missions, I noticed that the room was the same. Why did there have to be a loading screen? It could have been covered up by adding things to the room so there's a reason to walk around it, and having the doors locked while the AI babe unlocks the next area. That way, you'd only see a loading screen on initial start and (maybe) during fast travel.
Halo 1's 20th anniversary was (sort of) Infinite's release day. The more I think about it, the more I think Infinite wasn't made by 343, but by people who grew up playing the Bungie trilogy; the kind of people who talk about the old Halos like how old men talk about their old cars. (Yes, I'm aware of the outsourcing.) I wonder if they built the Halo they remembered in their hearts, like they took a photo of it through their rose-tinted glasses, then built that game down to the last detail. I don't have any Halo nostalgia, but Infinite feels filtered through nostalgia. Parts are downright magical: some remade music tracks sound almost at home in a fantasy game; maybe that's how Halo always sounded like to the composer. Wash, rinse, and repeat for other parts of Infinite. (Maybe Infinite is what Halo always looked like to the asset artists and modelers, etc.) I fear that in 10 or 15 years, nephews whose first videogame was Halo 4 (when they were 11) will start making Halo games. (They'd have nostalgia for that.) I wonder which will win out in the long run: Bungie's designs or 343's reimagining.
If you like shooters, is this worth sixty dollars? Yes. Is it worth it if you loved Halo way back when? Very yes. Just as another spaceman said: to Infinite and beyond.