In terms of first-person-shooters, Halo is my comfort series. Regardless of my strength or energy level, the simplistic and precise gunplay never fails to keep me entertained. And if I’m too weak to engage in multiplayer matches, the linear design of the campaigns makes me feel accomplished even if I only beat one level. But that’s not Halo Infinite. Despite 343 Industries including a bevy of accessibility options, the overall speed, open world, and necessity to explore left me physically exhausted and beyond frustrated.
The Master Chief is back to finish the never-ending fight, this time against The Banished. After being discovered drifting through space by a stranded UNSC Pelican pilot, the two land on Zeta Halo to do what Chief does best: ruthlessly murder aliens while delivering stoic one-liners. Yet, unlike traditional Halo games, Infinite forgoes the standard level structure to deliver an experience that finally lets players explore the beauty of Halo without needing to enter The Forge.
To help combat The Banished, as well as the new open setting, 343 Industries provides numerous accessibility tools at Chief ‘s disposal. Options like toggling crouching and maintaining sprinting, full keybind customization, with the added benefit of applying more than one button to an action, and even an auto-clamber and step-up feature which automatically vaults players when interacting with an appropriate space are all incredibly beneficial when playing. During firefights, I was almost seamlessly able to move throughout each encounter, shooting large targets with ease and punching Grunts and Jackals as they attempted to flee. These are the moments where Infinite shines as an accessible game, but the steps to reach these firefights are what causes the most frustration and physical strain.
At its core, Infinite is an open world game with Halo elements sprinkled throughout. You explore, continuously move, and interact with anything and everything that looks suspicious. Gone are the traditional stages, replaced by a Far Cry-esque map that rewards discovery and punishes attempts to only complete the main storyline. Earning better gear, upgrading Chief’s Mjolnir suit like the absolutely necessary upgrade to shield capacity, and obtaining multiplayer cosmetics are all intrinsically linked to the overworld, so much so that I found myself at a distinct disadvantage during numerous fights because I lacked better weapons or equipment upgrades. And while it’s possible to scavenge different guns or vehicles within mission zones, specific variants of useful tools can only be unlocked by completing side events.
When traversing the Halo, players should be on the lookout for Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). When cleared of enemies, a FOB acts as a centralized location within a small area, highlighting new objectives and allowing players to “order” vehicles, Marines, and weapons. It also functions as a fast travel beacon to other FOBs. Yet, the varying loadouts that can be equipped are only purchasable when you’ve accumulated enough Valor.
This is where Infinite left me physically exhausted. Valor is earned through the successful completion of any side or main mission. Objectives like freeing a captured Marine squadron, eliminating a high-value target, which also rewards players with a permanent unlock of a Covenant or Banished weapon variant, destroying Grunt propaganda broadcast towers (like I said, Far Cry), or disrupting small base operations like mining facilities are integral to building a stronger Chief. And while you don’t necessarily need to complete everything, the amount of Valor earned for a single event is so minor that I only noticed an increase in my armory when I cleared multiple objectives.
This formula wouldn’t be too egregious, except Infinite applies an immense level of verticality that not only complicates movement, but forces players with limited mobility and strength to continuously climb on foot or use equipment like the Grappling Hook. While I originally thought the Grappling Hook would be treated as a fun gimmick, I instead found myself forever pressing its appropriate button to not only traverse the landscape, but also propel myself to advantageous sniping or enemy positions. Again, like collecting Valor, you don’t need to use the hook in most situations but having to climb to a jackal as it continuously snipes at you will just lead to an unnecessary death, one which can force you to clear an objective once again.
This overemphasis on movement causes such exhaustion that I found myself repetitively dying, even during minor enemy encounters. This is incredibly upsetting, especially since Infinite’s gunplay is nothing short of spectacular, and even some of the series’ best. Each weapon serves a purpose, and since enemy distance is a huge factor within the overworld, I never used the same loadout twice. Before resuming the campaign, I would always travel to the nearest FOB to select my preferred loadout, that is until I found a different set of weapons better suited for that specific encounter. This constant change of arsenal made every firefight feel fresh, but the consistent resetting of checkpoints as my strength levels decreased throughout each hour played became demoralizing. Even though I enjoyed the banter and quips of enemy forces, consistently hearing Grunts proclaim the need to unionize after killing me over and over made their novelty quickly wear off.
What’s most upsetting is once you move on to a mission, Infinite is incredibly fun. Mission areas are relatively linear, there isn’t an over-emphasis on verticality, and I have the strength and energy levels to completely focus on gunplay. This is the Halo I wanted, but that’s not what Infinite is throughout its entirety.
Infinite is the perfect example of a game which features numerous accessibility options, but their inclusion doesn’t make the game any easier. It doesn’t matter if I can auto climb, select the difficulty, or rebind my keys. And in a time where the industry believes that the addition of accessibility options makes a game accessible, Infinite is proof that the overall design of a game can create insurmountable barriers that cannot be fixed by flipping an option on or off within a menu.
Despite my critiques, I truly and thoroughly enjoyed playing as Master Chief again, but only when Infinite played like a traditional Halo game. I understand and appreciate the need to innovate, but in an industry that seems inundated with open-world games, I would look to the quintessential Halo experience as a reprieve. Its linear approach to gameplay would not only be entertaining, but accessible for my specific needs. And unfortunately, Halo Infinite’s need to stray from the classic formula left me yearning for the accessible Halo that I so desperately desired.