Review: Halo Infinite’s campaign is a solid experience despite repetitiveness
December 8, 2021
Halo is a household name when it comes to first-person shooters. Anyone who is old enough to remember the halcyon days of the original Xbox remembers grinding out hours of multiplayer matches in Halo and Halo 2. In fact, it’s Halo’s mechanics that directly influenced the general idea of regenerating life that is so often used in shooters today, supplanting the health pack almost entirely.
But it’s 2021, and things have progressed a lot since Halo’s early days. We live in a world of Call of Duties, Battlefields, Fortnites, and Overwatches. While Halo certainly has the name recognition to keep it a titan of the FPS genre, no game survives without modernizing its formula these days. How would Microsoft and 343 Studios build a Halo for a modern generation? Halo Infinite is their answer.
Welcome to the Open Ring
Halo is the latest franchise to get the open-world treatment. Individual levels and environments have been ditched for one seamlessly connected ring world. You’ll be weaving in and out of buildings, speeding over hills and flying through the air with vehicles, hunting down weapons caches, and saving NPCs.
The open-world formula fits Halo’s combat quite well. Halo has always taken a somewhat sandbox approach to the FPS genre. Classic Halos focused on scavenging and adaptation and an open-world just turns that up to 11. You’ll find yourself stumbling on enemy encounters just as often as you’ll find yourself stumbling on weapons and power-ups, depending on what path you take to your objective.
And it’s this pathfinding that makes Halo Infinite’s open-world such a gem. Simply put, Halo Infinite’s open world is one of the most open we have seen since Breath of the Wild. If the goal of an open world is to allow you to go anywhere and do anything, Halo Infinite accomplishes that and then some.
A lot can be done just with Halo’s base tools. For example, you can get to an objective on the top of a mountain by following a winding path, or by hopping in a Banshee, flying over it, and jumping out. 343 also did a fantastic job in creating lots of alternate paths and routes to the main objectives of the game.
Grappling Hook? GRAPPLING HOOK!
But on top of all that, there is the new addition of the grappling hook. This is what really opens the game up because you can grapple on to basically everything. You can only stand on relatively stable and flat terrain, but you can grapple onto basically any surface, and since you can grapple in mid-air that means you can effectively scale basically any wall. If there are any frustrating invisible barriers blocking your progress, I didn’t encounter them. Again, this is something that has only really previously been accomplished by Breath of the Wild, and that alone makes Halo Infinite worth checking out.
The grappling hook adds quite a bit to battle, too. You can use it to quickly zip around battlefields in order to prioritize certain enemies. Latch onto a ledge in order to pull yourself up to a long-range assailant and take them out with a quick melee strike. Or, if you are really nasty, you can use it to pull enemies toward you, or wrench items from their hands. Combining the grappling hook with certain weapons, like the energy sword, is truly addicting, making you feel like a sci-fi Spiderman more than a boots-on-the-ground commando.
It’s very clear that 343 put a lot of coding focus on the grappling hook because if you can think of a way to use it, you can use it. If there’s an item in the distance, you can grapple it to you. If there’s an enemy speeding by in a vehicle, you can grapple on and hijack it. Combine this with other items and abilities, like the drop wall that grants you an instant shield, or the thruster which basically acts as an instant dash, and you’ll find yourself pulling off insane acrobatic maneuvers that you’ll be clipping and sharing with your friends.
Does everything feel a little familiar?
Unfortunately, Halo Infinite’s open-world isn’t perfect. While it is certainly compelling from a gameplay standpoint, it’s one of the least compelling open worlds from a visual standpoint. Everything is either a shade of green, a shade of brown, or a shade of grey. We get that there is supposed to be a certain “style” of Halo ringworlds, but to be honest, Infinite’s environment kind of looks like someone spliced a bunch of Halo 2 maps together and gave them a texture and model upgrade. You’d think that you’d see some variety when you storm enemy bases and play through some of the game’s biggest set pieces, but no. You’ll just be walking through yet more corridors of grey.
And this hampers single-player exploration quite a bit. While we hate to keep going back to the Breath of the Wild comparison, Breath of the Wild always gave you a destination by making sure that there was something that visually stood out no matter where you were standing on the map. Halo Infinite fails in this spectacularly. It’s very easy to get lost and most objective points look nearly identical to each other, which makes exploration feel a lot more like wandering aimlessly. Wandering aimlessly can be, and most of the time, is fun, but when the time comes to actually progress the story, the player is often met with those “what the heck was I doing” moments that take the wind out of the sales of open-world games.
Halo Infinite also falls short when it comes to enemy variety. While its bosses are impressive and interesting, its standard enemies don’t feel different enough to really vary up combat encounters. You’ll mostly be fending off wave after wave of small dudes with guns and big dudes with guns, regardless of their visual differences. This can sometimes make the single-player campaign feel like more of an endurance test, which subverts the general idea of a “go anywhere, do anything, adapt on the fly” open world campaign.
A Different Tale of Master Chief
Halo Infinite’s story does enough to keep you coming back to the campaign, however, largely due to its vastly different tone. Previous Halos have always relied on a sort of military jingoism that played well in the early new millennium but might fall flat in 2021.
Infinite’s story of reclaiming Zeta Halo still has the general formula of a super-soldier going on an impossible mission, but everything that surrounds Master Chief seeks to humanize him, rather than aggrandize him. The Pilot, for example, is a recurring character who is the furthest thing from a super-soldier. He just wants to survive to see another day, to see the end of this conflict. He’s not a coward, but he’s not gung-ho about the battle, and that alone is enough to break the air of battle bloodlust that sometimes surrounds Master Chief.
The Weapon, Chief’s new A.I., also does a lot to spice up the story. While she is similar to Cortana, she and Chief don’t have history. This leads to disagreements, which make both her and the chief question their behaviors. In fact, I would say that this is the most introspective we have seen Master Chief in a Halo game, mimicking his portrayal in novels and other ancillary media. He is just a little bit more vulnerable while still retaining his super-soldier status, and that goes a long way toward making him feel more human.
For all the good that the Halo Infinite campaign does, its luster begins to wear off as you near the halfway point. You’ll shoot through another corridor, clear another enemy group, hijack another vehicle, and realize everything feels just a little bit too samey.
It’s about this time that the plot gets cold feet, too. Instead of hammering home the new antagonists’ motivations, Halo Infinite waffles around and keeps everything feeling a little bit more arcadey. It feels, to a certain extent, that 343 didn’t want to commit to anything that might polarize the fanbase, like the plot of Halo 5. Unfortunately, the attempt to have their cake and eat it too didn’t come off unnoticed. In the end, Halo Infinite feels a bit more like a serialized TV show, with everything coming full circle and the status quo mostly being maintained.
Additionally, the PC version of the game is not particularly stable. It has a habit of crashing, sometimes in the worst areas like boss battles. Nothing makes you want to put a game down more than having to retread all your progress just because of a crash.
The Price of Entry
This brings us to the biggest question. Is the campaign worth $60? The multiplayer is free and FPSes tend to live and die by their multiplayer. So, is this single-player open-world quest through another ring world worth the price of entry?
Yes… but we say that with trepidation. Frankly, the large open world that can be scaled nearly everywhere with the grappling hook is enough to justify the price, but that’s not going to be the case for everyone. If you are looking for a mind-blowing story, you aren’t going to find it. If you are looking for beautiful and varied environments, you aren’t going to find it.
However, if you are looking for what is essentially the best of Halo mechanics in an open-world setting, then that’s exactly what Halo Infinite is. The only question you have to ask yourself is, do you really want that? Or were you here for the multiplayer all along?
- Open world that is fun to explore
- Grappling hook allows you to traverse basically any obstacle
- More humanized Master Chief and character work in general
- Vehicles and special weapons feel like pieces that solve bigger combat puzzles
- Genuinely fun boss fights
- Non committal story
- Repetitive enemy encounters
- Uninspired environment design
- $60 price tag for the campaign only