Very rarely does a game come around that once I’ve played it and loved it, I go on to deem it one of my “Soul Games”. To me, a Soul Game is a game that makes you feel like you’re eating your favorite comfort food. Mom’s mashed potatoes, Grandma’s Gnocchi with some meatballs and garlic bread on the side, your favorite slice or three from your hometown pizza spot of choice. To me, a soul game is something special. Something you savor and go back to when you need a pick-me-up. My personal soul games are Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal, Jak II, Spider-Man PS4 and Halo Reach. Today, I can happily, gleefully, enthusiastically add Halo Infinite to my short but sweet list of soul games.
So let me get this out of the way right now before I get way, wayyy too into it: Halo Infinite is a very good video game and you should go play it right now.
As I’ve previously covered, Halo Infinite is 343 Industries newest entry into the legendary Halo franchise, the first in 6 years since Halo 5. In my own humble opinion, Halo 5 was good but not Halo good, at least in my opinion. I really think Team Osiris’s story should have been a side game endeavor, leading to a proper Halo 5 focusing on Blue Team and only Blue Team. What we got was a heavy dose of characters we didn’t know or much care about (aside from Buck, Buck is the best and always will be) and a small sprinkling of characters that we’ve known and cared about for years, finally making it into a mainline game (Fred, Kelly and Linda). Halo Infinite is a major course correction, simplifying and boiling down the franchise into its most base components, on the surface level at least. I do believe this was necessary for the 90% of players who do not indulge in the extended universe material. Halo 5 was filled to the brim with characters who have wikipedia pages longer than Santa’s naughty or nice list, it was time to neaten up the playroom. That’s not to say, however, that they’ve written 20 characters out and killed them off screen, I’m sure the rest of the gang will be reintroduced here and there between DLC, comics and novels. It won’t be required reading, but it will be there for those who want it and that’s what I love about Halo’s extended lore. If there’s a character you like, there’s a story for them somewhere to find and read about.
Getting back to the game, 343 has taken that “30 seconds of fun” mantra that Bungie operated under in the past, and elevated it into an entire game. They’ve taken the most fun parts of Halo: Combat Evolved, and turned them into a semi-open world theme park. These parts are as follows:
- Explore a mysterious ring shaped superstructure.
- Explore the mysterious ring shaped superstructure with cool vehicles.
- Kill everything that isn’t human.
- Reload, repeat.
The key difference this time is instead of 11 or 12 mostly linear levels, where you go from point A to B to get to the next cutscene, you’re dropped onto the surface of Zeta Halo and basically told “Go nuts, have fun and save the universe”. You’re given a map and some objective markers, some bases to capture, some most wanted style enemies to eliminate, and some main campaign story missions to slowly pull the thread of what happened to the UNSC and what’s going on with Zeta Halo. The beauty of the game is that you’re given these loose objectives and set free to accomplish them however you want. See that big Banished munitions factory that’s crawling with enemies? Will you hop that fence and mix it up with every single bastard in there face to face? Or will you roll up in a tank and wipe the floor with everything that breathes within firing range? You could go through the front door, or hop over through the back wall. You could even grab a Banshee and drop in from above, ODST style. Plenty of other games have done this in the past, but it’s something special here thanks to the polished Halo gameplay loop that we know and love.
Now, open world fatigue is a real thing. I can’t tell you how many open world games I’ve started and never finished, just because there’s too much to do. I get overwhelmed, I take a break and then I never go back. Luckily, Infinite’s structure is…let’s call it “focused”. You’re here to shoot bad guys and learn story lore. We don’t need 27 side quests tasking the god damned Master Chief himself with killing wild boars for their pelts, or any other typical open world game quest you could come up with in a quick MadLibs session. We’re here to do a job and get that job done, we’re just allowed to do it in any way we want, and I appreciate that. I appreciate that Infinite respects my time by not barring me from the story by making me do uncharacteristic busy work, I’m looking squarely, directly at games like Assassin’s Creed for contrast here.
To save you some time and the trouble of parsing out the incoherent ramblings of a caffeine addled, sleep deprived, yet enthusiastic and happy Halo fan I’m going to break this review down to important bullet points and expand from there.
What I Liked
Gameplay Loop – Where do I even begin? Like I said earlier in this review, Infinite is Halo boiled down to its most fun aspects and juiced up to the stratosphere. The play loop has been perfected here, gear up, drive around, shoot and repeat. Everything you love about Halo has been dialed to 11. It’s like coming back to elementary school after summer break to see they’ve put in a brand new, way nicer playground and the entire class loses their collective minds.
Visuals – The visuals in this game… let me just say I’m eternally thankful that I managed to snag an Xbox Series X in time to play this game. When you finally land on Zeta Halo after fighting your way through red and grey interiored Banished battleships for an hour, boy it’s something special. I’ve seen an article elsewhere complaining that Infinite’s opening linear section is boring and ugly, and brother I think that’s the entire point. Infinite makes its mission statement clear the second you set foot on to the ring. You’ve spent an hour fighting through a boring, industrial, endlessly repeating linear ship interior, so when you finally make landfall and are presented with a breathtaking environment ripe for exploration, you’re floored. This juxtaposition was absolutely intentional, and it worked. The extra year of development time absolutely paid off for this game and I hope other developers follow suit in the future. It’s clear that 343 was self aware enough to understand that the fans weren’t happy and they could do better, so they pulled up their big boy armor pants and got to work. It paid off big time.
What I Loved
Armor Aesthetics – Halo looks like Halo again. In Halo 4 and 5 the Spartans looked more and more like techno organic space ninjas and I gotta be honest, I didn’t really like it. Thankfully, here in Infinite the Spartans are back to looking like walking, talking proper war machines. The armor options in multiplayer are super pleasing to look at, just a pain in the ass to obtain.
Skill Trees and Equipment – I never ever thought I’d see any kind of skill tree in a mainline halo game, but here we are. Admittedly I don’t think I used any equipment other than the grappleshot during my entire playthrough, but it was nice to have the option to switch over to a drop shield or speed booster whenever I might need it. I’m sure that all of the equipment becomes necessary on harder difficulties, but the grappleshot is the main attraction for most people, which brings me to my next point….
THE GRAPPLESHOT – Halo Infinite at times feels like a Marvel What If episode, titled “What If Master Chief Got Bit By a Radioactive Spider?” What we’ve got here is a two ton hyper lethal super soldier with the ability to nimbly swing like an armored airborne arachnid, and the results are, dare I say, Amazing? The grappleshot has been done in other games, specifically Titanfall 2, but combining this idea with Halo? Well honestly its like getting chocolate in your peanut butter, a perfectly winning, fun as fuck combination, yum yum yum yum.
The Villain – Escharum is, if not a great villain, a great rival. His scheme may be a bit muddled and objectives unclear,but none of that matters. What matters is Escharum has a Doctorate Degree in talking shit. This guy waxes poetic and puts on an absolute clinic about talking shit. I love it and I love him. Every time his bald ugly face would appear before me as a gigantic bombastic scary red hologram, I would relish the moment. This guy’s entire day is built around figuring out where Chief will be next and making sure there’s a hologram projector there waiting for him, specifically so he can talk even more shit to Chief’s face. He wants the smoke and it’s your job as humanity’s greatest savior to deliver it to him.
Propaganda Grunt – Halo Infinite’s undisputed breakout star is of course Propaganda Grunt. Scattered around the ring are propaganda towers that you must destroy, which is typical open world game fare. However these towers are run by a particularly hilarious Grunt DJ who puts me in stitches every time I get near one of the towers. Seriously, I almost don’t want to finish getting them all just so I can continue to hear his insane ramblings. Propaganda Grunt spinoff game when?
The Voice Cast – Jen Taylor, Steve Downes and Nicholas Roye deliever an incredibly entertaining trio dynamic. We’re used to only having Chief and Cortana throwing technobabble back and forth, it was refreshing to have Nicholas Roye’s Echo-216 as an everyman voice of reason throughout the campaign. Jen Taylor delivers an incredibly nuanced performance as both Cortana and The Weapon. Its incredible to me that she can voice two characters that are a carbon copy of one another, yet you can distinguish both of them by the tone of voice alone. I could listen to Steve Downes read a phonebook aloud and it would still be incredibly bad ass and Infinite is no different, the voice of Master Chief is as epic and imposing as ever. Incredible work all around.
What I Didn’t Like
The Other Villain – The Harbinger is a tease for games to come, nothing more nothing less.
Non-Replayable Story Missions – This is supposedly being rectified in a future update, but as it stands, not being able to go back and do a cool story mission again for fun or for collectables really sucks. By the time I realized they hid skulls in the game again after being absent in Halo 5, I had already finished the introduction missions and had no way of going back to claim them. What’s more, the skulls you do collect and unlock can’t even be used unless you start an entire new game. This was clearly not thought through and I hope and pray they fix it sooner rather than later.
Brushing Past Story Elements Under the Rug – I’ll save the specifics for my spoiler discussion article, but some big, big ol’ shit happened in Halo 5 that barely factors in Infinite and that makes me feel bad, man.
The Warthog – The Warthog in Infinite feels like it’s made of paper and the wheels are carved from butter. I more often than not opt to not even use it to get around just because it’s very likely it will flip or float too far off a jump and get hung up on a very small tree or bush. I much prefer the weight and feel of the Razorback variant. If they could make the standard Warthog feel more substantial like the Razorback it would be incredible, but as it stands it feels like you’re driving around in a balloon animal.
Hope For The Future
To sum it all up, Halo Infinite stuck the landing. We’ve started a new journey with old friends and new. Infinite is clearly the first step into a larger more expansive narrative, the question on my mind though is, how will 343 carry on from here? There’s two possibilities, either this is all the story we’re getting for the next 5 years, or there’s going to be semi-regular DLC drops. 343 hasn’t exactly confirmed that Infinite will be any type of live service game, but they had said in the past that Infinite is now the “platform” for Halo going forward. I’m hoping that this is true and we get some more story content sooner rather than later. 343 has tee’d themselves up for a grand slam series revival, but we’re just not sure yet if they’re going to take the swing or not. I would be as happy as a Grunt in shit if we get regular episodic story drops, but only time will tell.
Another thing I would love to see is the return of some sort of Spartan Ops mode. We’re working hard to make our Spartans look nice and spiffy, let us team up with our friends and take on quick missions, or maybe even big ones. I just want to shoot aliens with the boys. Please 343, make it happen.
343 has created an amazing playground, now it’s time to use it to its full potential. I have much, much more to say about Halo Infinite so stay tuned for some more thoughts soon!
See you on the ring, Spartans.