Halo Infinite review: Master Chief hits and misses

Laurent Giret

Halo Infinite, the biggest Xbox exclusive of this new console generation, will be released in two days on Xbox and PC, and it’s undoubtedly going to be in a lot of gaming conversations this holiday season. The game already had a soft launch on November 15 with the release of the free-to-play multiplayer mode in beta, but 343 Industries still has a lot to prove with Halo Infinite’s Campaign following a disastrous reveal last year.

I won’t go into too many details about Halo Infinite’s difficult birth, but this obviously the most complicated project 343 Industries has worked on. We shouldn’t ignore the additional complexities caused by a worldwide pandemic, as well as multiplatform release on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. Halo Infinite is the first Halo that doesn’t launch as an Xbox exclusive, and 343 Industries promised a “PC-first experience” with plenty of advanced settings for power users.

Microsoft’s Xbox Game Studios division is currently on a winning streak with the release of critically-acclaimed Microsoft Flight Simulator on Xbox Series X|S consoles, Psychonauts, 2, and Forza Horizon 5. All these games have been available on Xbox Game Pass on day one, and Halo Infinite’s Campaign will also launch on Xbox Game Pass on Wednesday. Forza Horizon 5 recently got a record-breaking 10 million players in its first week, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Halo Infinite’s Campaign break another record this month.

Halo Infinite Master chief the weapon

The game of a generation

For many hardcore Halo fans, Halo is Xbox and Xbox is Halo. 20 years after the release of Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox console, Halo remains the most popular Xbox exclusive franchise, even though its popularity started to wane after 343 Industries replaced Bungie as the new Halo developer. Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians didn’t reach the same cult-classic status as the original Halo trilogy, even though these games were far from being forgettable.

As someone who has played all Halo games except for the Halo Wars RTS spinoffs, I’d say that there’s something truly magical about Halo. I’ve never paid too much attention to the lore or even the multiplayer modes, but I’ve completed the different campaigns many, many times and I feel like I’ll never get bored playing them again and again. These games are exceptionally fun in co-op, and I’m sure many Halo fans remember pulling an all-nighter with their friends or family to finish a Halo campaign.

This Halo magic probably started to wane with Halo 5: Guardians, which was the first Halo game to drop support for split screen co-op. Unfortunately, Halo Infinite’s campaign won’t support co-op at launch, and 343 Industries doesn’t expect to deliver it until May 2022 at the earliest. I think this is going to disappoint a lot of gamers who grew up with Halo, and I’m really scratching my head at 343 Industries’ choice to delay this feature to next year, especially since Halo Infinite had a full additional year of development time.

Halo Infinite Warthog

The most ambitious Halo campaign ever

Halo Infinite is the most expansive Halo game 343 Industries has ever made, and it’s set approximately 18 months after Halo 5: Guardians. At the beginning of the game, the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) has been almost obliterated, and Master Chief himself has been left to die in the cosmos by Atriox, the Brute leader of the Banished faction previously seen in Halo Wars 2.

The Pilot, a new character previously seen in previous Halo Infinite videos, eventually rescues Master Chief, who soon acknowledges his new mission: stopping the Banished on Zeta Halo, a giant space ring created by the ancient Forerunner alien species that the Banished now want to use as a weapon. As humanity is on the brink of extinction, Halo Infinite is a story of revenge with a Master Chief that probably seems more vulnerable and human than ever.

Halo Infinite has a lot of in-engine cutscenes, and the writing is generally very good. There are some really likable secondary characters including the Pilot and the Weapon, Master Chief’s new AI companion you’ll discover early in the game. The Weapon has an innocent, almost naive personality that doesn’t prevent her from being a trusty and reliable companion for Master Chief. The Pilot represents the normal human being feeling the pressure of teaming up with a super-soldier, and his few moments of vulnerability will sometimes lead the Master Chief to crack the armor.

343 Industries didn’t lie when it said it created the biggest Halo campaign ever, and Halo Infinite is the first Halo game to introduce a semi-open-world structure. Once you set foot on Zeta Halo, you can explore the ring at will between the main missions, and there are quite a lot of optional objectives to complete. It’s highly recommended to capture Forward Operation Bases (FOBs) on the map, which will reveal key Banished structures, High-Value Targets, and local UNSC forces to rescue.

FOBs also serve as a rallying point for UNSC marines, and they let you call in vehicles and customize your loadout. By rescuing marines, capturing FOBs, destroying Propaganda Towers, and more, you’ll earn Valor, a resource required for unlocking new weapons and vehicles at your FOBs. Killing High-Value Targets on the map will also grant you more powerful versions of the game’s weapons you can request at FOBs.

Throughout the campaign, you’ll also be able to unlock and upgrade new abilities for Master Chief with Spartan Cores, which are found throughout main missions and across Zeta Halo. There are five abilities to upgrade including your shield and the Grappleshot, which is probably the greatest addition in the game. The Grappleshot almost makes you feel like Spiderman, and it’s a great defensive and offensive tool: You can use it to grab weapons and explosives on the battlefield, but you can also use it against enemies and vehicles.

In addition to the Grappleshot, you’ll also unlock Threat Sensors, the Drop Wall, and the Thruster ability throughout the Campaign. All these abilities have a cooldown time, which can be reduced with Spartan Cores. Overall, I found the Grappleshot far more useful than the other abilities, and it’s a really addictive gameplay mechanism even though the range is quite limited. When fully upgraded, the Grappleshot will stun grappled enemies with a shockwave blast that can also affect surrounding opponents, and the results can be quite devastating.

Overall, I think the gameplay in Halo Infinite is very solid. Movement and shooting feel great, and there are several new weapons in the game which are also available in the free-to-play multiplayer mode. The game’s main missions are also generally solid, with some challenging boss fights that require some strategy. You can still be insta-killed by invisible Elites with an energy sword, or armored Brutes using a Gravity Hammer. The Brutes have been missing from Halo since Halo: Reach back in 2010, and it’s a nice comeback after many Halo fans disliked the robotic Promethean enemies introduced in Halo 4 and 5.

Halo infinite zeta halo

Is Halo’s DNA still there?

As a big fan of the old-school Halo campaigns, I’ll admit that I wasn’t very optimistic about Halo Infinite going the open-world route. I’m sure that a lot of comparisons will be made with Ubisoft’s Far Cry series, but Halo Infinite doesn’t really go as far. I think you can probably ignore most of the secondary objectives on Zeta Halo, though you may really want to find enough Spartan Cores to fully upgrade your shield and Grappleshot.

If you do want to clear out all the secondary objectives on Zeta Halo, rescuing marines or destroying Banished facilities can eventually become quite repetitive. Except for secondary objectives, there are not a lot of things to do on Zeta Halo, though there are a couple of audio logs and Forerunner artifacts to discover. Fortunately, there are no Far Cry-like hunting or crafting mechanisms, and the wildlife on Zeta Halo remains quite discreet.

I think 343 Industries deserves credit for experimenting with a slightly different formula with Halo Infinite’s Campaign, but the lack of co-op support at launch is probably going to hurt the game a lot. Actually, I’m not sure how co-op will work on this semi-open world with a progression system. Do you share Spartan cores with your teammates when you find one on Zeta Halo? What happens when you join the game of someone who’s fully upgraded Master Chief’s abilities, will you be disadvantaged against enemies? I guess 343 Industries still has to figure this out.

Will there still be people interested in playing Halo Infinite in co-op in six months when the hype is over? I’m not sure, but after spending almost 20 hours to finish the campaign on my own, I’m not sure I want to do that again with my friends. I’m sure speedrunners will prove me wrong, but the familiar expectation that you can beat a Halo campaign in less than 10 hours has somewhat been lost for me.

Halo infinite marines

Multiplayer is still very much in beta

Following a series of technical previews, Halo Infinite’s multiplayer mode launched in beta last month, and it’s free-to-play on Xbox and PC. This is a first for the Halo franchise, and the timing seems great in a year when both Call of Duty: Vanguard and Battlefield 2042 failed to woo gamers. Unfortunately, Halo Infinite’s multiplayer mode seems unfinished despite the multiple beta tests, and many basic features are missing at launch.

The main issue that made me quickly lose interest in the game is the lack of playlists: As of today, the Quick Play, Big Team Battle, and Ranked modes all force you to play objective-based modes, and players who only want to play straightforward Slayer team deathmatch matches can’t do that. I can appreciate the other modes (Capture the Flag, Domination, Oddball) from time to time, but being forced to play these modes when you just want to play Slayer matches isn’t fun at all.

Fortunately, 343 Industries said that it’s planning to add Fiesta, Tactical Slayer (SWAT), and Free-For-All playlists before the end of the year, but not having these options at launch makes no sense to me. “A Social Slayer playlist (with multiple variations) is also in the works (we see this request the most), but we won’t be able to get that one ready until after the holidays,” explained Halo Community Manager John Junyszek on Twitter last week.

Since launch, many players have also complained about the challenges-based progression system, which instead of rewarding the best players in a match, forces them to play in a way they don’t want to. 343 Industries tried to address that last week by increasing the XP payout for the first 6 matches of each day, but this probably won’t be enough.

Halo Infinite’s first Season will last for six months and there’s plenty of time to right the ship, but it’s unfortunate that the game didn’t nail the basics at launch. A lot of players would also like to see an option to disable Xbox and PC crossplay to avoid cheaters, and 343 Industries has yet to address that. It’s worth mentioning that Halo Infinite also supports mouse and keyboard input on Xbox, and Xbox Series X players also have a 120FPS mode that can give a competitive edge in multiplayer.

Microsoft ends 2021 on a high note

In many ways, 2021 looks like a cornerstone year for Microsoft: We have several Xbox exclusive games in GOTY conversations, we now have Xbox Cloud Gaming available on Xbox consoles, and the Xbox Series S was the best-selling console on Black Friday according to a recent report. Halo Infinite was expected to be the cloud spectacle to wrap up an amazing year for Xbox, but I wouldn’t call it 343 Industries’ “masterpiece” just yet.

If the semi-open world campaign has more highs than lows, the lack of co-op at launch may really kill the fun for many Halo fans. The multiplayer mode also lacks very basic features at launch, and it’s unfortunate that 343 Industries didn’t fully deliver the goods for the 20th anniversary of Halo. I can’t help but think that the developer should have delayed (again) Halo Infinite’s campaign to next year to bring us a flawless multiplayer experience this fall. If multiplayer playlists are coming soon, the Forge level editor mode has unfortunately been delayed to after May 2022.

Even though I feel frustrated by Halo Infinite’s missing features at launch, I do love the gameplay and this is undoubtedly 343 Industries’ best Halo game so far. I feel like Halo Infinite is also a good entry point to the franchise for gamers who never played Halo before, and if you have Xbox Game Pass, you just have to give it a try. The game probably needed to spend a bit more time in the oven, but Halo is still alive and kicking and Halo Infinite is one of the best shooters you can play this holiday season.