Halo Infinite was the most exciting game on my list for this year, and in the span of 30 or so hours, I finished what is arguably the worst chapter in the Halo franchise. I hated it. I loved it. I am upset.
343 Industries captured the very essence of Master Chief within the fast-paced, high-octane gameplay of Halo Infinite. It is the most fun I’ve ever had in a Halo game. But once you realize that 343 Industries brutally murdered a promising narrative and replaced it with a lazy attempt to provide an entry point for new fans, the credits have already rolled and you have a sour taste in your mouth.
Halo Infinite is a massive disappointment and a complete betrayal of Halo fans’ trust and confidence in 343 Industries. It could have been one of the best Xbox Series X games, but it failed.
How Halo Infinite fails Halo fans
I hate Halo Infinite’s story — it’s by far the worst entry so far. You might be thinking, what about “Halo 5: Guardians?” Halo Infinite makes Halo 5: Guardians look like a masterpiece. Halo Infinite is the Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain of the Halo franchise — excellent gameplay, terrible story — or the Rise of the Skywalker of the Halo universe. Yes, it’s that bad.
Despite how divisive Halo 5: Guardians was, there was an active story being told. Cortana had gone rogue and Master Chief hunted her down. Sure, the entire game felt like a glorified chase scene, but it was the first act in a potential three-act epic. At the end, we see Master Chief, Spartan Locke and the Arbiter coming together to fight in a war against Cortana. That concept, at the very least, was so interesting to me. However, Halo Infinite fast forwards from that event to 18-months later.
In Halo Infinite, the UNSC finds itself stranded on Zeta Halo in a war against the Banished, a splinter group of the Covenant that featured prominently in Halo Wars 2. The new villain is Escharum, the ruthless Warchief of the Banished, and Master Chief has to fight him alongside The Weapon, which is basically a discount Cortana. For all intents and purposes, the promising story that was to follow Halo 5: Guardians came and went. It’s not featured at all in Halo Infinite apart from passing references. The war with Cortana, the Arbiter, and Spartan Locke don’t show up. Everything we know about those 18-months are explained through audio logs you find in the open world.
While I was upset that Halo Infinite fast-forwarded the most interesting part of the Halo narrative, I was excited to see how 343 handled the aftermath. It was rough. Halo Infinite actively sets out to retcon the major story beats in Halo 5: Guardians by explaining them away through passive cutscenes. The developers wrote off important beats and emotional arcs lazily in an attempt to bring about a new era of Halo, one that’s cheaply made and feels like it’s meant to appease the fans.
But as a die-hard Halo fan, Halo Infinite delivers the most boring story in a Halo game. Almost nothing important or notable happens from beginning to end. There are almost no character arcs, each character feels like a foil for Master Chief, and it completely disrespects Cortana’s character arc from the previous games.
Ironically, 343 ended up in the same spot it was in at the end of Halo 5: Guardians — at the end of Act 1 of a story with no additional pay off. 343 claims that Halo Infinite is going to last a decade and update it with story content, but that’s nothing but an empty promise right now, and what we have right now is a boring Halo experience. 343 should have had the guts to follow through with Halo 5’s narrative despite the divisiveness. I guarantee you that whatever would have come of it would have been infinitely better than Halo Infinite.
One thing that Halo Infinite does that interests me is humanizing Master Chief, but it doesn’t go far enough. I am sick and tired of these games tiptoeing around John-117’s emotions with a blank helmet stare. There is so much more to this character that these games never get right. Halo Infinite does a better job than most, but come on, it’s not going to kill your fan base for Chief to stop acting like a stoic 80’s film character for more than a minute.
We can all go around saying that Halo Infinite needed more time in the oven, but that’s not the issue here. It needed a different recipe entirely. Halo Infinite attempts to act as a soft-reboot of the current events, thereby making it easier for people to jump in. However, the concept of the story was flawed from its inception. There’s quite literally nothing to jump into in Halo Infinite’s story. You’re just beating your head against a bunch of Banished until you inevitably win. But it lacked the gravity, gravitas and grandeur of any of the previous Halo games. The stakes have never felt more meaningless.
I understand that Halo Infinite has had a rough development and needed to launch to promote the Xbox Series X, but it was not worth it to release like this. Even the concept of making Halo Infinite a live-service game is flawed, because that just can’t function with an active narrative. It’s because of that idea that Halo Infinite feels like one glorified mission as opposed to a fully fleshed-out campaign.
I vehemently believe that there’s nothing that 343 could do in the next ten years to redeem Halo Infinite. Prove me wrong, 343. Please.
Master Chief has never felt this good
Mechanically, Halo Infinite is the best Halo yet, and that hurts to say considering the story is hot garbage. But nothing beats grappling-hooking across an enemy base to land on a group of enemies, drop a shield and tear into them with the ridiculously overpowered Arcane Sentinel Beam.
There were very few moments where I wasn’t having fun playing Halo Infinite. The grappling hook is the best thing that ever happened for the franchise. Additionally, the new guns, vehicles, equipment and fluidity of Master Chief’s controls all come together to create a wonderfully fun experience. And while 343 has created the best Master Chief experience yet, they have not perfected it.
For example, the grappling hook and the dodge should have its own separate buttons. I shouldn’t have to play Dance-Dance Revolution on my D-Pad to access my movement abilities. This makes maneuvering around Brutes with Gravity Hammers quite difficult, especially since they move like the Flash on steroids. The other abilities include a proximity sensor and the drop wall, both of which are very useful in combat. Ironically, there’s one piece of equipment available in the multiplayer that doesn’t make an appearance in the campaign: the repulser. But I suppose 343 thought they were running out of buttons on the D-Pad, even though they should’ve made the equipment menu into a wheel dial that freezes the game upon activation.
The open world is a bit of a mixed bag. It captures that Halo spirit, but gets quickly repetitive, saving groups of marines, taking out high-value-targets, and capturing forward operating bases. It almost feels like a Ubisoft version of Halo which I wouldn’t be too upset about if the entirety of the game didn’t look the same. There’s only one biome, and it features three things: grass, pine trees and mountains. Despite its repetitiveness, I love calling in warthogs and rolling up to an enemy base with marines and tearing shit up. The idea of an open world feels good for Halo, but it needs to iron out the kinks.
What Halo Infinite does get right is its boss fights. Almost every boss in Halo Infinite was cleverly designed to be as intense as possible and unforgettable. That’s quite an achievement for a franchise that never really had traditional boss fights. Even the bosses found in the open world were incredibly fun to tackle because you have so much freedom to decide how to approach them. However, the last boss of the game felt lazy and uncoordinated. From their attacks to checkpoint placement, the last boss is crap.
As far the levels go, they also feel quite repetitive. There is a stretch where it felt like I was running through the same Forerunner facility through several missions. There is no flair or creativity in the missions. It just felt like I had to get from Point A to Point B, which ultimately made each mission forgettable.
Halo Infinite feels like a test for the Halo franchise. Unfortunately, I would say that it failed for the most part. Even though the core gameplay is outstanding, everything around it is subpar and it’s backed up by an all the worse story.
Why do Halo Xbox 360 games look better than this?
Halo Infinite still looks like crap — I would be scared to see what the game looked like a year ago. I don’t know how Halo 5: Guardians, released in 2015, looks more like a next-gen game than Halo Infinite, which arguably looks worse than the Xbox 360 version of Halo 4.
From the uncanny human models to the uninspired world-design, Halo Infinite is the worst looking Halo. That’s not even from a graphical perspective, just pure art design. There are three notes in this game in terms of world design: the Banished bases, Forerunner architecture and the Zeta Halo overworld. Those three are not enough to carry an entire Halo campaign. The very first Halo saw Master Chief barreling through rainforests and snowy mountains on a Halo ring, two biomes that don’t appear in Halo Infinite.
There aren’t epic Halo moments like seeing a Scarab crawl into your rear-view mirror, or a moment where Master Chief does something wild like nuking an enemy ship with their own bomb. Halo Infinite lacks the grand scale and cinematic vision that the other games had. Even when cutscenes play, almost everything in the surroundings fade to black as the camera focuses solely on the characters, which is a bit jarring.
While I did play a review build of the game, the cutscenes also seemed pretty janky, with slight stutters here and there, which broke the immersion. I understand that Halo Infinite runs on the new Slipspace Engine, and the developers might not have fully mastered it, but it needs more time to mature.
What Halo Infinite gets right
There are very few things that Halo Infinite does completely right, so I’ll just be brief.
Firstly, Steve Downes (Master Chief) and Jen Taylor (The Weapon, Cortana, Dr. Halsey) do a phenomenal job playing their characters as always. The soundtrack of Halo Infinite is the highlight of the game, especially when the main theme kicks in during epic moments like rushing toward the House of Reckoning. The audio logs are entertaining to listen to despite my complaints of their inception. I like how you can grab Spartan Cores and other collectibles in and out of missions. Oh, and I love Superman-punching folks with the grappling hook — best Halo invention ever.
I wanted Halo Infinite to be a direct sequel to Halo 5: Guardians — a story that sees Master Chief team up with his old foes in a fight against an old friend. It would have been an epic, sad tale about Chief coming to terms with losing Cortana to the dark side during a high-octane adventure that revolved around saving the entire galaxy. The fact that we will never see any of that saddens me.
Regardless of what 343 says or promises for the future, Halo Infinite is a shit show right now. It’s filled with open-world content that disguises the grossly short filler-like campaign that has nothing to offer but a passive narrative told through audio logs and visual echos. Sure, Master Chief is the most fun he’s ever been to play, but what’s the point of putting the player in an aimless sandbox with almost nothing to look forward to?
I don’t want 343 to work on Halo Infinite for the next ten years because I know that they could never give Halo fans what they deserve. The idea that Halo Infinite is a “spiritual reboot” of the franchise is a joke. Yes, we’re back on Halo and The Weapon is basically Cortana, but that is the only resemblance to the grand epic that is the original Halo. Halo Infinite is a shallow attempt to bring new fans onboard a butchered franchise with no current direction.