Halo Infinite Review: Hail to the King

Halo Infinite is the best Halo game that 343 Industries has made so far. That's a sentence that I hoped to be writing when Halo Infinite was first announced all the way back in 2018, and while it took longer than expected for the game to arrive, 343 has really done a bang-up job on all fronts this time around following the maligned Halo 5: Guardians. Across both its campaign and multiplayer offerings, Halo Infinite finds a way to push the franchise forward in new, meaningful ways while also staying true to what Halo was when it first arrived on the scene 20 years ago. The final product is a game that is simultaneously seeping with nostalgia while also feeling like the next-generation of Halo that we have been waiting for. 

Halo Infinite's campaign is by far the biggest departure that the latest installment in the series boasts this time around. Rather than containing a mission-by-mission structure that has been seen in virtually every Halo game up until this point, Halo Infinite lets players loose as Master Chief on the mysterious new locale known as Zeta Halo. This location is where nearly the entirety of Halo Infinite takes place, and as such, the game as a whole is more akin to other open-world shooters that we have seen in the past. While there are still primary missions that you'll have to take part in over the course of the campaign to see the story through to the end, there are a number of other objectives off the beaten path on Zeta Halo that you can look to take on in your own way. 

In a general sense, the shift to this new open-world style in Halo Infinite has its own benefits and drawbacks. The thing that I found to be best about the format is that it allows players to utilize the vast number of weapons, vehicles, and other tools that have always been present in Halo in ways that you haven't been able to before. This series is one that has always been known for its sandbox nature, as it allows for much more experimentation compared to many other first-person shooters. Because of how open-ended Halo Infinite now is, the way you can approach certain combat situations is greatly different when compared to what we've seen in the past, which is a great thing. 

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The other big change to combat, as you would surely expect, comes with the tools that you're given. 343 has brought back a number of iconic weapons to Halo Infinite that we've seen before in the series, but it's also added a fair number of new ones as well. While there are a handful of new guns in the game that I have grown fond of (the Shock Rifle, Mangler, and Skewer, to name a few) the shining star of Halo Infinite is the Grappleshot. This wrist-mounted grappling hook that Master Chief now equips is far and away the single coolest item in Halo Infinite. Taking that praise one step further, I think the Grappleshot is easily the best item that has ever been given to Master Chief in the history of the Halo series. 

The reason why this equipment item is such a big deal is because of how it changes literally every combat encounter you'll find yourself in. Not only can you quickly grapple from one point to the next, but you can also latch on to enemies, pick up weapons from afar, or use it in unconventional ways to open up your opponent's defenses. And while this all might seem like relatively basic uses for the item, it's something that you'll use far more frequently than you might realize. It took me a couple of hours to get the hang of using the Grappleshot in Halo Infinite, but after becoming more acquainted with it, it's something that I used constantly and completely changed how I approached combat in a Halo game. 

Speaking more to the downsides of Halo Infinite's open world, the biggest issue that I have with it is that much of it feels too cookie-cutter when compared to other games in the same style. When it comes to side objectives, specifically, most of what you'll be doing is simply saving fellow Marines, taking down an enemy base, or finding collectibles. There's very little variety in what Halo Infinite offers with its side content, making the process of trying to 100% the game pretty dull.

Even though there isn't a whole lot to do in the world of Halo Infinite outside of simply shooting various Brutes and Grunts, the game's overall look and presentation never made me disappointed in the shift to this open-world style. Halo Infinite is a gorgeous game through and through, with the final product being one that is a far cry from the reveal demo that disappointed some fans in 2020. It's clear that 343 really wanted to get back to the roots of this series with Halo Infinite, and from a visual standpoint, the studio did an excellent job. 

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In addition to the visuals, audio remains a constant high point in Halo Infinite. Not only is the beloved music that has been present in this series from day one back again to send chills down your spine, but the new tracks that have been added feel like ones that have always been around. Even outside of music, the sound effects that are heard in Halo Infinite are beyond excellent. The Halo series is one that has always had a number of unique sounds with its guns, vehicles, and enemies, but the clarity and depth that Halo Infinite has when meshing all of these noises in the midst of a battle is really wonderful. 

To touch on the story of Halo Infinite, 343 has put together a narrative that has more of an emotional center than nearly every other entry in the franchise. Much of this is because the story tears away many of the other side characters that have been present in the series up until this point and instead opts to focus almost exclusively on Master Chief. New faces do pop up in Halo Infinite as well, though, and many of them are endearing. The Banished, which are the new antagonists in the game, also make for some of the more compelling villains that Halo has seen in a very long time.

At the end of the day, what Halo Infinite really succeeds with is putting Master Chief front and center. After Halo 5 largely set Chief to the side, Infinite puts a spotlight on him not only to showcase his constant bad-assery, but also to show how the events of everything that has happened in the past have affected him. The version of the character that we're left to follow over the course of Halo Infinite is more layered, somber, and remorseful than we've ever seen, and voice actor Steve Downes gives one of his best performances to date. In short, Halo Infinite is a game tailor-made for Master Chief fans and stands as one of the Spartan's best arcs yet.

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After you've had your fill of Halo Infinite's campaign, multiplayer is likely the game mode that you'll find yourself returning to the most. Fortunately, the multiplayer that is featured in Infinite is among the best that I have played in the past few years. 343 hasn't necessarily reinvented the wheel with the arena-style combat that Halo Infinite contains, but it's still the most engrossed I have been with Halo since the Xbox 360 era. 

Much like the campaign, 343 found a way to perfectly mesh the new with the old in Halo Infinite's multiplayer. All of the new weapons, equipment, and other additions that have come to the game feel right at home in a multiplayer context, and better yet, they're even more fun to utilize than in the campaign. Grappling onto a Banshee that is flying overhead only to then hijack the pilot and kick them to the ground hundreds of feet below is still exhilarating no matter how many times I do it. Conversely, even all these years later, there's still something to be said for pulling off a no-scope with a sniper rifle from a far distance. 

I also have to say that I think Halo Infinite is relatively balanced at the moment, which is something that surprises me out of the gate. While I do think that some guns in the game could use a buff (the Ravager, in particular, is awful), 343 has released a product that is surprisingly polished at this point in time. Perhaps that shouldn't be as shocking as it is, but in 2021, it seems like multiplayer launches rarely go this smoothly from a gameplay standpoint. 

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(Photo: Xbox)

Maps are an important thing in nearly any multiplayer game and the ones that have been included in Halo Infinite so far are all largely great. Standouts such as Streets, Recharge, and Highpower have quickly become some of my favorite Halo maps in recent memory and are locales that I don't see myself getting tired of any time soon. Perhaps my only suggestion moving forward is that 343 comes up with maps of varying sizes, specifically when it comes to 4v4 game modes. At this point in time, too many of the maps are of what I would call a medium size, which makes me miss the smaller arenas from previous Halo games that more easily devolve into pure chaos. 

343 seems to have also really gone the extra mile with multiplayer this time around, especially in ways that it didn't really need to. Along with the basic multiplayer modes, Halo Infinite also features bots that players can square off against if they'd like to improve their skills outside the confines of online play. In addition to this, a new tutorial and a shooting range where you can test out all of the different weapons that Halo Infinite are also featured. The shooting range, in particular, contains a number of different challenges that you can compete in simply if you're looking for some extra fun. Again, none of this necessarily needed to be included in Halo Infinite, but it's cool that 343 added these features for those who might find them beneficial. 

Despite my current addiction to Halo Infinite's multiplayer, there are a couple of areas where it could absolutely improve. For starters, in its current form, 343 doesn't allow players to specifically select the game modes that they would like to play. Rather than diving into your own preferred game types, Halo Infinite is structured in such a way that you can simply only choose whether or not you want to play in a 4v4 or 12v12 match. Upon making this decision, the actual mode that you then end up experiencing is left up to chance. So if you're someone who just wants to play Slayer with your friends, well, you might get forced to play Oddball or Capture the Flag instead. This is something that 343 has already said it will be changing soon enough, but it has been an annoying component of the game's multiplayer in this "beta" phase. 

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Since Halo Infinite is also now a free-to-play title with the multiplayer component, it's clear that 343 is still trying to find its footing with certain aspects of the game. Perhaps most notably is the battle pass, which has undergone a number of revisions in the short time since multiplayer went live in mid-November. At the time of this writing, 343 seems to have found a way to speed up the way in which XP is now given to players to level up said battle pass, but the system as a whole still feels unsatisfactory. Essentially, XP is only given out by completing random challenges or finishing games, meaning that your actual performance in said games doesn't matter whatsoever. To play a match where you carry your team to victory while going 25/5 and only being rewarded with 50XP at the end of the game feels almost like an insult. This is the one area of the battle pass system that I think needs to be fixed sooner rather than later. 

Lastly, I do have to call attention to the fact that Forge being left out at launch is still a bummer. This is something that 343 clearly communicated would be happening long before Halo Infinite ever released, but Forge has been a very integral part of Halo multiplayer over the years. To know that we might have to wait untill long into 2022 before it ends up arriving in the game is still a disappointment, even if we already prepared for this in advance.  

It has taken over six years for Halo Infinite to release, but after such a long wait, 343 has given fans the game that they've been holding out for. Although it might not win many points for originality, the latest entry in Xbox's flagship franchise has again verified why Halo is one of the most popular gaming properties on the planet. Even though this series is now two decades old, Halo Infinite proves that there is still plenty of creative juice left in the tank to make Halo feel fresh and relevant in the modern landscape. In simplest terms, Halo is back. 

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Halo Infinite releases later this week on December 8th and will be coming to Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC platforms. Early access to a review build of the campaign was provided by the publisher and the game was reviewed on an Xbox Series X console.