An expanded ‘open-world’, new gadgets and stripped back story make Halo Infinite the best shooter this year.
This review is based on the single-player campaign only. Halo Infinite’s multiplayer is free-to-play and available now.
Halo Infinite is, without question, the absolute best shooter of 2021. Master Chief’s excursion to Zeta Halo to thwart the Banished is an action-packed thrill-ride with (near) perfect pacing and first-person gunplay other shooters can only dream of. While the story is lacking a certain something, 343 has (mostly) done an admirable job of making sure newcomers and veterans alike can enjoy the science fiction, but without Halo knowledge, players are going to be left in the dark.
I’m loath to reveal much of anything regarding the plot, so instead, I’m just going to go with what 343 has said;
“Set approximately 18 months after the events of Halo 5: Guardians, Halo Infinite follows the Master Chief’s story as he aims to discover what happened to Cortana and stop the Banished on Zeta Halo.”
If you’ve been following Halo Infinite, you’ll know Chief is accompanied by a pilot and a new AI named The Weapon. Both characters bring light and shade to Halo Infinite and a big dose of humanity. Master Chief might be the universe’s greatest soldier, but he’s not much on emotions or human moments.
Positioned as a mystery story, Halo Infinite drip-feeds the plot over the course of 20ish hours, leading to the all-important reveal(s) at the climax. If I’m honest, despite assurances from 343 that Halo Infinite was a ‘spiritual reboot,’ not having knowledge of the previous games left me feeling more than a little confused. It’s not that the end of the game is unsatisfying, it’s just that I was left in the dark when it came to a good chunk of the dangling threads. I’m sure those who know their lore will be fine but newbies might want to read up on what’s happened in the previous games first.
Halo Infinite Review
While the story may not entirely knock it out of the park, the gameplay more than makes up for it.
After a few linear missions to get players into the swing of things, Halo Infinite drops the Master Chief onto the first of several open areas of Zeta Halo. In these areas, the main sequence is clearly marked but you’re free to tackle it whenever you choose. Should you feel like exploring the Zeta Halo — and you should — you can do so to your heart’s desire. You’re never forced to continue the campaign in Halo Infinite, in fact, you’re never forced into anything. Freedom is the name of the game.
Within this first area, you’ll get a taste for a number of the activities on offer across Zeta Halo. Namely, FOBs, Banished Facilities, UNSC Squads, Propaganda Towers, Mjolnir Armories, Spartan Cores, Forerunner Artifacts and High-Value Targets. You can skip any and all of these side activities if you wish, but you’ll be robbing yourself of a whole bunch of Infinite’s best stuff. By completing many of these side activities, you’ll accumulate Valor and with Valor you unlock weapons and vehicles at your FOBs.
Think of the FOBs as an analogue for Assassin’s Creed’s viewpoints. Once you’ve liberated a FOB from the Banished, it reveals a number of other activities and collectibles on the map and it’s yours to command and control. You’re able to fast travel to any you control and while there can grab any weapons and vehicles you’ve unlocked. Late in the game, you’ll be able to call in a WASP that radically alters exploration and combat but Halo Infinite is always at its best when you’re on the ground in Chief’s boots.
You won’t need to collect every item and scour every inch of the Zeta Halo to fully power Chief up, but doing so will give you the skills and practice needed to fight your absolute best. See, the combat in Halo Infinite is more than just aiming, shooting and taking cover. The introduction of Spartan gadgets makes the combat truly remarkable. In the early stages of the game. Chief only has access to the Grappleshot, which is a game-changer in and of itself. But as he progresses, he’ll be able to increase his shield and unlock Thrusters, a Drop Shield and a Threat Detector.
Initially, I thought the Grappleshot was too good to not have equipped so I barely used any of the other upgrades. The fact that switching gadgets means pressing Left and then a second direction on the D-Pad also turned me right off. However, once I got the hang of switching on the fly, using both the Thrusters and Grappleshot in combat become a requirement.
By using these two gadgets in concert, Chief can zip around the battlefield, swing between enemies, melee and stagger them and briefly cloak himself all while taking out entire platoons in a beautiful, blood-soaked bullet ballet. In the final stages of the game, I started adding in the Drop Shield and Threat Detector too and I understood the cadence of combat 343 was going for. That being said, the player is in control of the speed at which they play at all times. Should you want to play a more deliberate, slow style, you’re free to do so. 343 has simply plonked down some toys and said, “Here kid, go make your own fun in the sandbox.”
Each of the gadgets can be upgraded several times with collected Spartan Cores and in doing so, players can radically change the way they play the game. The Grappleshot, for instance, can be upgraded to stun enemies, to allow Chief to deliver an enormous melee to the grappled enemy and to reduce the cooldown between shots. While each of these is a boon for combat, the reduced cooldown makes exploration wholly different. With a fully upgraded Grappleshot, Master Chief becomes a green armoured Spider-man, zipping around Zeta Halo, climbing to the tops of tall mountains and having no restrictions on where he can go.
Wanna climb a sheer cliff face? Go for it.
Wanna hook onto a Brute in a Ghost and hijack it? Do it!
Wanna grapple a gun on the ground and instantly equip it? You got it.
I can’t imagine playing Halo without the Grappleshot and sadly, as this is the first Halo I’ve properly played, I’m not sure I’ll be able to go back to the others. Not unless 343 patches the Grappleshot in.
Grappleshotting around Zeta Halo isn’t the only enjoyable thing about the freeform exploration though. Zeta Halo is an interesting place with strange alien construction and architecture begging to be explored. 343 has crafted an absolutely stunning looking game and it starts with the environments and art design. Whether you’re on the ground, in a WASP or Banshee or speeding around in a Warthog, Halo Infinite looks great. It’s not Forza Horizon 5 great but it’s still very pretty. And it runs silkily smooth for the duration. No matter who congested the screen, how many enemies, how many particle effects or how much action occurs, Halo Infinite drops no frames.
The sense of scale is yet another accomplishment of 343 with Halo Infinite. Zeta Halo feels enormous and being able to see far into the distance makes it seem as though it really is a huge and living world. It’s also really fun to claim a huge mountain and snipe some poor grunt way down below, who never saw it coming.
By and large, there’s very little wrong with Halo Infinite. My own personal gripes about the confusing nature of the story aside, the pacing of the game is very nearly flawless. Oftentimes, open-world games’ narratives suffer due to the player being able to go and do whatever they want without consequence. Somehow, 343 has made it so the campaign never loses its lustre and regardless of what you’ve been doing, be it punching some Grunts or running over some Grunts in a Warthog or even Grappleshotting some Grunts and smacking them into next week…you’ll always want to come back to the campaign and will never feel lost or confused about what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s quite an achievement.
That being said, the final act suffers from a really unfortunate design decision that grinds things to a painful halt. I’m not going to give anything away, but making players go through three “combat-trial”, horde mode style rooms in a row, right towards the end of the game feels like padding. Even with how much I love the combat in Halo Infinite, I could have done without these weird, forced moments with enemies streaming at me from monster closets.
I’ve already mentioned my dislike for the method for switching Gadgets and the same goes for grenades too. To change either, you need to press Left or Right on the D-Pad and then one of the four directions again. It’s clunky, unintuitive and can be a real nuisance in the heat of battle. I know, I know, there are only so many buttons on a controller, but I’m not convinced having to press two buttons to change your gear is the best idea.
Finally, my only other issue with Halo Infinite is that you can’t choose to replay any missions, not even after the credits roll. This means if you missed any collectibles (Skulls and Audio Logs) you’re going to have to start a brand-new game. It’s not ideal.
Even with those frustrations, I have had a fantastic time with Halo Infinite. It’s a smart, well-executed, fast-paced and freeform shooter that puts all of the power in the player’s hands and rarely if ever, puts roadblocks in their way. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the series or someone with an Xbox Series X looking for some aliens to shoot, Halo Infinite is going to deliver.
When Halo: Combat Evolved was released, regenerating health and a limited arsenal were unheard of and that was the game that made it standard across most shooters. Now, with Halo Infinite, I’m certain it’s set a brand-new standard and many shooters from now on are going to look to Infinite for inspiration.
It’s just that damn good.
Even after the credits have rolled and you’ve completed every icon on the map, if you’re like me, you’ll still want to keep playing for the simple fact that there’s nothing else like it. Easily the best first-person shooter of the year and so far, the best of this generation.
Halo Infinite is a triumph.
Halo Infinite was reviewed on Xbox Series X using a digital code provided by Microsoft.