Halo Infinite

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action
Publisher: Xbox Games Studios
Developer: 343 Industries
Release Date: Dec. 8, 2021


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PC Review - 'Halo Infinite'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 6, 2021 @ 12:01 a.m. PST

When all hope is lost and humanity’s fate hangs in the balance, the Master Chief is ready to confront the most ruthless foe he's ever faced.

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Halo Infinite was supposed to be a launch title for the Xbox Series X, the first time a Halo title would launch alongside a console since the Original Xbox in 2001. There was the usual surge of anticipation alongside some trepidation, since 343 Industries hasn't been the best steward for the series since Bungie left for Destiny. Then came the E3 2020 reveal, which came off rather poorly and was enough to delay the game to 2021. The announcement and the worldwide woes meant it was too late to pull back marketing on some of the materials, so the branded chips and energy drinks were a cruel reminder to fans.

As 2021 rolled on, news varied wildly. The bad news was that the campaign co-op, local multiplayer, and forge modes would be delayed. The good news was that the campaign would release as scheduled in the final month of the year. The great news was that multiplayer would be separate, free to play, and release a month earlier after some beta tests. Much like the game's campaign, what we have here is fractured, so we can only look at the two big pieces that PC players can access right now.

That all starts with the multiplayer which, for many, is the main attraction of any Halo game. The mechanics go for a "back to basics" approach compared to what was seen in Halo 5: Guardians. The controls return to the classic Halo approach, where you click in the analog stick to melee instead of using a bumper, so it feels more intuitive for longtime controller players. All of the weapons are stock, so there's no way to get tweaked versions of weapons via add-ons. Movement is fast, and the time to kill is much longer than other titles due to recharging shields. Melee feels strong, and that's good news for those who employ the fatalistic strategy of running toward an enemy while unloading a clip and then bashing them in for a kill. For those who were very active players during the Xbox and early Xbox 360 days, this will feel like home.

The team also utilized some multiplayer mechanics from Halo 4 and 5. Clambering is essential when you see how it is integrated into the level design for shortcuts. Sliding isn't anything new, but it feels fresh because of how you don't expect someone to drop down at the last minute to blast you. Equipment is important, and enemy detectors and repulsor blasts are lifesavers. The grappleshot is a game-changer because it lets you reach elevated locales or pull yourself toward a foe for an unexpected melee kill. It also looks cool when you use it to hijack vehicles or grab weapons out of the air. With both old and new mechanics combined, the Halo experience is easy to get into, and it's addictive enough to keep playing even though the playlists are randomized, so you jump into modes that you might not initially care for.

The 10 multiplayer maps, from the neon-filled Streets to the shiny facility that is Aquarius, slots in nicely with the many modes. There's the regular Slayer mode — Halo's parlance for Deathmatch — along with Capture the Flag with one- and two-flag variants. Strongholds is a typical territory capture mode, while Oddball has you holding on to a skull for as long as possible. In Stockpile, you ferry power cells to your base, but those are exclusive to the bigger 12v12 team battles instead of the 4v4 Quick Play battles. Although there are some maps that you'll dislike, none are too difficult to play. This is especially evident in objective-based modes, where the time between hotspots is short, the choke points are minimal, and the spawn locations ensure that you won't get spawn-killed but are never far from the action.

For those not well versed in multiplayer or will get stomped in ranked mode, Infinite provides plenty of opportunities to get better and have fun. The Academy mode offers a practice mode against bots that can be toggled on the fly and firing ranges where you can get familiar with the 20 different weapons. Players will always have multiplayer options in Infinite. For one thing, there's cross-play between console and PC players, and Academy mode lets humans play against bots; it's a huge positive considering how rare bot matches are in big first-person shooters.

However, there are a few things that sour the multiplayer experience. If you're looking for a specific gameplay variant, you'll need to drill down several menus to find it. If you want to play a round of Slayer on Behemoth, that means going into a mode like Quick Play, going to Game List, scrolling to the specific listing of Slayer on Behemoth, and tweaking the options before starting. It isn't the most intuitive place to find things, and it can worsen if/when more maps are added.

Another concern is the lack of local multiplayer for classic split-screen play. The options are there, but nothing occurs when you try to execute them on the Series X or PC. As mentioned at the start of this review, this is something that's planned for the future, but its presence in the options, even if it isn't so easy to find, is a big tease for those who have fond memories of the days before Xbox Live. We did not get to check out LAN play, so that might work out for those who want to relive the days of pre-broadband.

Another bugbear in the multiplayer experience is the progression system. The game features a Season Pass, and while the current season lasts a whopping six months, access to past seasons won't expire, so that's encouraging for those who thrive on cosmetics but don't have the time to dedicate before the next set drops. The current XP gain is very slow. The development team modified this so participating in a match grants 50XP, which translates to completing 20 matches to level up. Weekly challenges dole out more XP, but they're varied and grindy enough that progression feels slower than expected. At the time of this writing, the team implemented another fix that grants more XP for the first match with smaller XP gains in subsequent matches for the day, so it shows that the team is dedicated to improving the experience in a timely manner.

The initial season is dedicated to Halo: Reach, but the designs and small armor pieces aren't distinguishable when you're in battle, so those who depend on outrageous and distinct designs as seen in the likes of Fortnite or PUBG will come away disappointed.

For those not interested in the multiplayer aspect of Infinite, there's the campaign that's just as meaty and lore-heavy as fans have come to expect from the series. It starts with a cut scene that shows the final moments of a battle aboard the USMC Infinity, where Master Chief is duking it out with the leader of the Banished, Atriox. He ends up on the losing end of that fight and is cast into space for some time until he is found by a Pelican pilot, one of the few survivors of that skirmish. After regaining his bearings, the Chief continues the fight against the Banished, this time on the incomplete ring of Zeta Halo with his AI companion, Weapon.

As in many of the series' prior entries, the story works, and the twists keep it fascinating. Lore junkies are going to eat up the stuff in the campaign and what's gleaned from the audio logs. However, one thing that you might not be expecting is a sense of emotion coming from the characters. The Pelican pilot's anxiety about going home is palpable, as is their frustration that there's always one more battle. Weapon's enthusiasm is almost infectious. Even though Master Chief is stoic, there's more character coming through in this entry, so he isn't a human robot. This is something that 343 has been toying with over the last few major series entries, and it seems like it has a better grasp on how to evoke that with the smaller cast.

Even with the knowledge that this is set 18 months after Halo 5: Guardians, you feel like you're jumping into the story without knowing the background. The mysteries are eventually revealed, but you'd be forgiven for feeling lost at the beginning. Unless PC players have Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and do cloud streaming or also have Guardians on their Xbox One, there's no way to organically play through the story to become familiar with characters like Weapon. Every other Halo entry is on the PC, so the exclusion of Guardians is a tad strange.

The game's opening moments take place aboard a Banished ship. The fights with brutes, grunts and the like trigger memories of past fights, and the same strategies and tendencies all come flooding back. The slightly open spaces with corridors and ramps bring back the idea that you have more than one viable approach to clear out enemies, and there are plenty of opportunities to try out the cornucopia of weapons.

The big change in combat is the grappleshot, which you have from the get-go. Initially, it's nice to use it to easily reach higher spots. Eventually, you use it to pull weapons from afar or pull in barrels to use as makeshift grenades. Experiment more, and you'll grapple Jackals to get them to raise their shields or use it on floors and pillars to make a quick getaway from foes. As in in multiplayer, this tool changes the makeup of combat in a positive way, with the only drawback being that you'll ignore things like the drop shield or booster because the grappleshot is so versatile.

The Banished ship invasion is lengthy, as is your initial landing on Zeta Halo, but after some skirmishes and a boss fight, you reach the open-world portion of the game, which gives you plenty to do beyond going from one campaign mission to another. That starts with the forward operating bases, which you can take over to create fast-travel spots, a place to select weapons, and access to vehicles and extra Marines. You'll encounter spots where Marines have been captured or pinned down, and rescuing them grants you access to those Marines. Destroying propaganda towers and taking over points of interest on the map provide points to unlock new stuff. Going after high-value targets give you more points and unlock weapon variants to use in battle. Most spots also contain collectibles, like skulls for gameplay variants, audio logs, and Spartan points to power up tools and shields. Beyond those spots on the map, you'll find random enemy and Marine patrols wherever you go.

There's a good amount of stuff to do in Infinite, even if the world isn't as large as in most modern open-world titles. You won't travel for long, since the spots are close to one another, and you get free rein over how you want to fight and how you want to get there. For example, you can go through the front door to attack a large vehicle depot, or you can use the grappleshot to scale walls and sneak around before causing a ruckus. The versatility works well to keep the game engaging, and the fact that everything earns something useful means that the spots aren't just there to keep you busy. It also helps that you uncover the hotspots organically by stumbling upon them or taking over a base.

The prospect of an open-world Halo game might be enticing to some but worrying for others. The good news for the latter group is that those things are optional. Except for overtaking the first base, you can ignore other bases, Marines, and high-value targets. The mission-critical spots are marked, and while completing the other spots can make the game easier, it's not going to be impossibly difficult because you skipped those spots. Even though there are a few missions that use the open world, at least half of the story-based stuff takes place in interiors that gently funnel you to the next spot, but you can ping the world to see where you should go if you get lost. In short, the game still looks and feels like Halo, so the game's identity isn't lost by moving to bigger spaces.

For those who pay attention to playtime, the campaign lasts around 12-15 hours, depending on skill and whether you're making a beeline for the campaign-specific missions. That sounds pretty long nowadays, and it gets longer if you save every Marine platoon, capture every base, and take down every major point of interest and high-value target. Those things are plentiful enough without feeling like a chore. The world remains playable long after the game's ending is achieved, so players can find every skull, audio log, and collectible without having to restart the campaign.

There are a few issues that players may have with the campaign mode. Compared to past Halo titles, there's not much diversity in the environments. You can excuse that from a narrative standpoint with The Banished, since they're a splinter of The Covenant and not a new threat. You can also argue that since Zeta Halo is an incomplete installation, the wooded fields and streams are the only biomes that were close to completion. When you compare these to older Halo titles, it starts to feel limited.

Those looking for definitive endings will be disappointed, since the game leaves things very wide open by the time the credits roll — and even more so after waiting over 20 minutes to watch the post-credits sequence. Finally, unlike most other Halo titles, dying in Infinite comes with a loading screen. It isn't an egregiously long screen, but they may throw you off when compared to the near-instant loads from before.

The Halo series has always excelled in visual presentation, and Infinite on the PC is no different. The texture work has received lots of love, as everything from the rocks to the weapons look clean, and there are only a few instances where vegetation looks pixelated. The lighting is top-notch, especially when you enter darkened facilities and floor lights are your only source of illumination, and the reflections look superb. It may not be ray-traced, but the dull reflections on the metallic walls and crystal-clear ones on Master Chief's helmet visor show that classic techniques can still produce some magic. While PC players have been spoiled by frame rates in The Master Chief Collection, it's still impressive to see a brand-new Halo game run at 60fps with minimal drops.

The sound is equally as impressive. All of the weapons sound like they did before but are punched up a tad to be more impactful. Considering that the story goes for something more emotional compared to the first few Bungie entries, the performances are quite good. The musical score takes the classic recognizable bits from Marty O'Donnell's soundtracks, but the new stuff fits in so well that you wouldn't notice. The tones match perfectly, and each piece does a great job of evoking mystery, sorrow, and the drive to keep shooting.

No matter what your focus is, Halo Infinite is a blast. For multiplayer fans, the gameplay is rock solid. The back-to-basics approach works well to keep longtime fans engaged, and the game is easy to pick up and play to hook newer fans. Campaign fans will enjoy that mode despite a few issues, since the open-world setting allows for some breadth in approach while retaining the familiar mission structure and flow. Infinite should be on your Christmas list, despite the lack of other big features at launch, like co-op, Forge, and local play.

Score: 9.0/10

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