Halo Infinite Campaign Review - Combat Evolves Once Again

Halo Infinite is 343 Industries’ best attempt at capturing the magic of Bungie’s original game, Halo: Combat Evolved. Taking a more classic approach to characters, the world, the story and more importantly the gameplay, Halo Infinite is both a love letter to the past and a new look towards the future. Taking place a few years after Halo 5: Guardians and shortly after Halo Wars 2, most of it offscreen, Infinite starts off with the Master Chief floating in space, having been defeated in a devastating battle atop Zeta Halo, the game’s new open-world setting. Rescued by a nameless Pilot, the Master Chief makes his way to the surface and retrieves a new AI with the purpose of imitating Cortana and locking her, called ‘The Weapon’, who was left unarmed in the game’s prologue for six months. Together, Chief, the Weapon and the Pilot embark on a new adventure to stop the Banished from uncovering the Halo ring’s secrets while meeting new foes and demystifying the sudden disappearance of Cortana, who went evil at the end of the last game.

Ever since Bungie left the Halo franchise in the hands of 343 Industries, fans have been divided on the direction the latter has taken the franchise in. Halo 4 was a radical departure from the simpler design of the previous games, and Halo 5’s campaign was, in my opinion, an absolute mess, although quite ambitious. Halo Infinite takes things back to their basics. Some would say too basic. Taking huge inspiration from the second level of Halo Combat Evolved, the game is in many ways a spiritual reboot while closing off the story from the last two games. At the same time, Infinite is the start of a new saga, with new characters and enemies with ties to the original trilogy as well as the Halo Wars games.

Welcome to Zeta Halo

Let’s start with the big one then - the open world. Halo campaigns have always been known for their linear nature, and Infinite stands in stark contrast to those. However, Infinite is not an open-world game in the traditional sense. Players are given the option to rush through the main story campaign should they choose to do so, with the open-world activities sitting there merely for passive progression. There are two reasons that I ever found myself playing through those passive activities - the gameplay is fun, and the rewards you get can genuinely help during the campaign with slight difficulty spikes. In total, finishing the game took me 23 hours, with maybe 4 of that lost in the side missions. That’s quite good, and to my delight, quells my concerns with the franchise going in the new, often fatigued direction.

How ‘linear’ is Halo Infinite? A decent amount, at least for the main story. The game’s opening hour is extremely linear, with a familiar start as the previous games. After an hour or two, Zeta Halo opens up. Most missions can be broken into two types - Purely linear, and lite traversal. It’s usually a combination of the two, making some missions relatively long based on the players’ performance in the open-world segment. So a mission can begin in the following way - travel through the map to select locations for objectives, enter a structure, follow the linear path, then exit the structure going back to free roam. There’s a good balance between the two, making it so that players can tackle the campaign any way they like.

The incentive for completing side missions is passive, so playthroughs can take anywhere between 15 hours to upwards of 30. However, I found myself compelled to do side activities which included taking over Forward Operating Bases (or FOBs), following bounties, controlling strongholds, collecting audio logs, collecting ‘Spartan Cores’ (which can be used to upgrade Chief’s abilities). When unlocked, the FOBs also act as fast travel points which can come in pretty handy as main missions are usually placed apart by long distances. The FOBs also allow the Chief to craft and deploy weapons along with vehicles. Doing side activities like taking on bounties will unlock new higher tier weapons, which can be equipped at FOBs.

The FOBs are essential pit-stops to deploy new and classic vehicles like the Warthog, the Mongoose, the Razorback and more. Once captured, the FOBs are populated with UNSC Marines, who will follow the Chief on vehicles to missions. You can also rescue captured Marines across the map, which when done reminds me of ‘The Silent Cartographer’ from Combat Evolved.

However, unlike the original game, don’t expect to see many different biomes or environments. The entire game takes place either in lush outdoors or inside Forerunner facilities. Also, say goodbye to specific vehicle heavy missions. Thanks to the free-form open nature of the game, no mission will ever force Chief to stick to using a specific weapon or vehicle. That decision blends everything together and as a result, the game loses some of the uniqueness in its mission design.

Unfortunately, there is no way to replay missions from the campaign, and there is no way to save the game either. There is a ‘load game’ functionality though, so it’s unclear whether the absence of different save states or mission replay is only restricted to the review build. That’s quite possible as the review build’s save progress won’t be carrying over to the final game.

Combat Evolves Again

The core gameplay in Halo Infinite is better than ever, with the grappling hook being the best design decision 343 could have made. While it may look quite basic, the grappling hook serves many purposes, all of which make combat and traversal a ton engaging and fun, especially once it is upgraded. The grappling hook can be used to propel Chief forward, grab weapons and equipment from far away, get the Chief closer to enemies, and much, much more. Other than that, the combat is classic Halo, with the dual weapon system and a select number of grenade types and equipment at your disposal.

As you progress through the story, you’ll unlock new equipment types such as thrusters, deployable shields and a threat sensor. You can also just tap a button to send a pulse around your immediate surrounding to see objective markers, weapon and vehicle outlines and more.

Battles in Halo Infinite can get tense pretty fast, so all of that equipment is going to be useful. I just wish switching between them on a controller was easier, as I lost many fights due to animation switching and a small lag between switching grenades/equipment. That’s why I would switch to keyboard and mouse for the more intense sections, and controls for that by default are great. You can also switch between different controller profiles, as well as customize it completely, which is neat. And no, you can’t plug in a PS4/PS5 controller and expect it to work on the PC port. I tried.

Halo’s enemy design (along with its AI) has always been good, and you’ll be fighting familiar enemies and their variants in Infinite. Sure, there are some new enemy types that basically boil down to discount Monitor-like flying robots, but the enemy variety is more intrinsic. Take Brutes for example - there are multiple types. The standard brutes are fine, but then there are charging Brutes (hello Craig!), and some higher variants of those. Infinite’s combat makes it so that standing behind a shield is instantly punishing, which is where the grappling hook comes in. You’ll be flying around the battle arena, grabbing nades and flammable canisters and throwing them around quite a lot. While it’s fun, it’s also quite hard if you ever find your shield to be depleted, at which point you’ll be using your grappling hook to take cover and just run from enemies. I died quite a lot in Infinite, and I was playing on the normal difficulty. A lot of those deaths were due to the lack of my ability to quickly move out of the way and find cover with my shields down.

The same goes for the more focused fights in the boss battles, all of which feel unique thanks to the different skills the bosses possess. Some will just charge at you, some need to have their shields taken down, some will be invisible for the majority of the battle. Each boss fight requires a somewhat different tactic and that’s fun. At its core, the combat and traversal are simple but great, which is why picking fights at random outposts never got tiring.

Halo Infinite PC Performance, Bugs and More

I played the game on my PC, which is equipped with an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X CPU, NVIDIA Geforce RTX 2060 Super and 32 GB of RAM. Compared to the console space, my PC is relatively close to what the Xbox Series X offers in terms of pure hardware. I played Halo Infinite at 1080p, with the various graphical settings being a mix of high and ultra. With that, I saw framerates reach 100+ fps in indoor levels, and just hovering around 60-70 in the outdoors. That framerate would drop to the mid-50s when the action ramped up, leading me to lower certain passive settings to ‘medium’.

While that sounds fine, there are some core issues here that prevent the game from being as smooth as it can, and it’s not due to it being “too demanding.” The main issue is being animations for certain elements run at a non-native rate (below 60 fps) so regardless of how much hardware you throw at the game, it always feels a little jittery. Camera motion, lip-sync, Chief’s combat animations (reloading, throwing grenades, etc) are below 60 fps, making “smooth” gameplay impossible. These issues can, and should, be fixed by 343 easily.

There are other issues with checkpoint saves, which can occur at inconsistent times. One time, in the first mission, I got stuck in a save-point loop right before falling to my death. That required a mission restart, instantly destroying my last 20 minutes of progress. Then in the larger missions, checkpoint saves can occur seemingly at random, so dying can either boot you back to the start or continue from a more fair point. As far as bugs go, I never ran into any. This is a polished experience if you can look past the performance/animation issues.

Halo Infinite’s Story Is Simple But Effective

I love the relationship between the main trio, with the chemistry between Chief and the Weapon bringing a smile to my face. The Chief has always been a man of few words, but due to the inquisitive nature of the Weapon, he emotes a decent amount here. If the Master Chief was known for his slick one-liners, now he spouts two-liners, but still in his signature deadpan way. The Chief’s relationship with Cortana has always been a staple of the series, and his new relationship with the Weapon is just as good, if not better. The Pilot is a much needed human element, being an untrained UNSC member who grounds the Chief’s war with the Banished. He is the voice of reason, and the evolution of his rocky relationship with Chief is the heart of this story.

The antagonists though could have been better. Escharum, Atriox and the Harbinger are intimidating but underwhelming. Atriox’s presence is felt throughout the game, but don’t expect him to be a big part of this campaign. He’s more like Thanos from the MCU, whose looming presence lasted long before he actually made any appearance. Speaking of which, as a Halo game that is geared towards welcoming newcomers, all of them will be lost in trying to figure out just who the hell Atriox and the Banished are. I’ve only played the mainline Halo games, so the sudden importance of Atriox (from the Halo Wars spinoffs) threw me off. Of course, fans of the series will no doubt be keen to know what happened after the end of Halo Wars 2, but that’s not the focus of this game.

That’s a major factor in making the conclusion of this game feel anti-climatic, but then there’s Cortana. The mysterious disappearance of Cortana is the driving factor for Chief, and the resolution of that storyline is handled well enough. With that said, the jump from Halo 4 to Halo 5 and now to Infinite is quite rocky. Each time the central threat has been changed. Each time 343 seems to switch its goals. The only narratively consistent thread is Cortana’s rampancy and eventual betrayal.

Verdict

When all was said and done, Halo Infinite’s story left me going, “Wait that’s it? That was the whole game?” That’s not to say that there aren’t major revelations in Infinite, because there are some. But there’s a reason why the game isn’t called Halo 6, and it’s apparent that the campaign in Infinite is a new starting point for 343 Industries. It passively concludes the story from its previous games, mainly Cortana’s betrayal, and sets up a new saga for the future. At the centre of Halo’s new future are Master Chief, the Pilot, the Weapon, (some of) the Banished and a new, mysterious race. With Halo Infinite being a ‘platform’, it may be that 343 Industries will continue the story in some form of expansion like Bungie’s Destiny games. In either case, I don’t want to see fans waiting another five years for the sequel, but when it does arrive, it’ll be a new experience that, like this one, welcomes new and old fans alike.

Review copy provided by Microsoft.

Halo Infinite releases on December 8 on PC (Steam, Microsoft Windows Store), Xbox One and Xbox Series X platforms along with a day one release on Xbox Game Pass.

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