Don’t tell my co-workers, but I’m writing this review in the wee hours of the morning, just a couple of hours separated from Halo Infinite’s review embargo. I’m overwhelmed, frankly. I don’t know how I got here. Through a combination of luck and conviction I happened to end up in a position to write a review of the sixth and arguably most important entry in my favorite video game series. That stew of insomnia, procrastination, and incredulity might explain why I feel so confident in publishing a sentence like this next one on the front page of Fanbyte.com:
Halo Infinite does The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild better than Breath of the Wild does.
This game was supposed to come out in November 2020 alongside the release of the Xbox Series X and S. After an announcement, a trailer, a contentious gameplay slice, a yearlong delay, a surprise multiplayer launch, we sit here in December 2021 and I’m telling you that Halo Infinite Actually Does Some Interesting Shit.
I can’t believe it either.
Everything The Light Touches (And Some Stuff It Doesn’t)
Halo Infinite feels like the child of two radically different parenting styles. The open-world aspect of the game features a map filled with Stuff To Do. There are outposts to capture, high value targets to eliminate, and difficulty-altering Skulls to collect. It is just as easy to find something to do as it is to get distracted and complete something entirely different on the way there. The map is big, but not Far Cry big. Whereas some areas in open-world games can start to feel procedurally generated by a particularly boring algorithm, Zeta Halo’s terrain is varied but considered in its construction. If you see it, you can, unsurprisingly, go to it.
The other part of the game, which surprised me most, is the part that is just a normal-ass Halo game. There are levels that look and feel like traditional Halo missions, with impossible architecture, ridiculous set pieces, and powerful proper nouns (like Silent Auditorium). The beauty of Halo Infinite is not that it’s an open-world Halo game: It’s that it is an incredibly good Halo game with an open world. It plays like a game made by a team with immense reverence for the franchise, its history, and for a player base soured by Halo 4 and 5. The open world serves as a vessel for the game’s story — a big playset with a bunch of toys asking to be bashed against each other.
Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule asks a very good question: “What does it mean for a world to be alive?” It answers that by putting the beauty of revival and rebirth in stark conversation with the unending march and deteriorative force of time. Building Tarrey Town is rewarding not just because you get to watch a community grow, but because you are helping a group of people reclaim normalcy. The century between conflicts in Hyrule has allowed its residents to reframe, rethink, and rebuild. On Zeta Halo, the relative grace that time affords doesn’t exist. The UNSC has been routed by the Banished and within a matter of months the beauty of the ring is soiled by its invaders’ leadership: Atriox and Escharum. In their return to Zeta Halo, Master Chief and The Weapon (Chief’s new AI) are not given the benefit of navigating a space that has grown slow and contemplative. It is very much a “win now or lose” situation.
Master Chief and his allies are outnumbered and outplanned, facing an enemy on turf that is unfamiliar and calculated in its construction. Halo Infinite constantly reminds you of just how dire the situation is — every other Spartan you come across in this game has been unceremoniously killed. Every marine you encounter is bound to an explosive energy prison. Your only friend is a guy that’s been sleeping in a Pelican floating in space for a couple months. It highlights the things that made Halo: Combat Evolved so transcendent when it was released and reimagines them in ways that are unbelievably satisfying to experience.
They also give you a grappling hook.
Hooked On Triangles
Every video game should have a grappling hook. Titanfall 1? No grappling hook, totally fine video game. Respawn added a grappling hook when they made Titanfall 2, and guess what? Incredible video game. Just Cause? No grappling hook, mediocre video game. Give Justin Cause a grappling hook in the second game? That’s right — you get an incredible video game.
Halo Infinite’s grappling hook (called the Grappleshot) is the single most important mechanical addition to the series’ formula since Bungie gave Master Chief the ability to dual wield in Halo 3. 343 puts on a first-person shooter level design masterclass across the expanse of Zeta Halo, creating spaces that make use of Master Chief’s newfound verticality. It makes navigating the game’s combat arenas and open world varied and satisfying, creating a nearly infinite (ha) number of ways to approach a situation. Is there a Jackal chewing through your armor with sniper fire? Grapple over to some cover, recharge your shield, then hook your way up the cliffside to punch that weird little bird-lizard in the mouth. Out of ammo with four Brutes bearing down on your position? Use your Grappleshot to grab a Plasma Coil and toss it at ‘em like a softball.
Halo (specifically Halo multiplayer) has always been about the “Golden Triangle.” That’s the interplay between guns, explosives, and your melee attack. The Triangle was an important component of previous campaign entries, but Halo Infinite forces the player to interact with the systemic interplay that the game’s multiple energy, ammo, and weapon types provide. One of the biggest ways it does this is by handing the Banished access to the tools that were previously exclusive to Master Chief. The bosses in this game (yes, there are named bosses in this, the sixth Halo) have energy shields to chew through using Plasma damage before they can take big damage from Kinetic or Shock weapons. By so closely mapping the tools and systemic interactions present in the multiplayer to campaign, Infinite creates scenarios that feel unique every time you enter a combat encounter. There will be just as many 360º no scope montages on YouTube recorded in the campaign as there are in the multiplayer. I can guarantee it.
Finish The Fight
The word “reimagining” usually doesn’t instill that much excitement in me. Usually it’s a synonym for “we made the graphics better,” but Halo Infinite manages to spark the same excitement in me that I felt when I played Combat Evolved for the first time at my neighbor’s house. It’s like 343 built the whole game out of “The Silent Cartographer” and “Long Night of Solace.” The game gets in and gets out (the story is ~12 hours long, depending on what difficulty you choose and whether or not you mainline the story quests or explore the open world), and provides a checklist that allows you to set goals that feel rewarding when you get a few done in a single play session.
The fight still goes unfinished, though. Halo Infinite’s campaign won’t launch with a cooperative mode, and it won’t get one until May 2022 at the earliest. For a game with so many opportunities for mischief, I am counting down the days until I can run around Zeta Halo with three other Masters Chief — all grappling and bouncing and flinging in unpredictable ways. If you’ve considered waiting until you can hop in with a group of friends, however, I urge you to take your initial plunge alone. There is a unique beauty to this game’s exploration and combat puzzle design that shines in a very particular way when you are the one calling and executing all the shots.
The present and future of Halo are bright. Halo Infinite is simultaneously a complete package and one that has me begging for more. If the upcoming fights are like this one, sign me up to finish them.
This game was reviewed using code provided by Microsoft and played on an Xbox Series X.