When you look back at the history of video-based media, how many games or movies come to your mind with such an iconic theme song that it always evokes a particular feeling whenever you hear it? A theme that you immediately recognize and that conjures specific scenes or gameplay moments you are so fond of? Off the top of my head, I can think of two: The Imperial March from Star Wars and Halo’s invigorating battle soundtrack. Halo is back, infinitely better than Halo 5, and along with it, its recognizable music. I suggest you set the perfect mood and open the link above, and then come back and read my review of Halo Infinite. Start from the beginning because I linked directly to the battle music part (but that is also a good choice).
Now, is it even worth getting in the mood? If you ask yourself, I hope you do not mean my writing 😉. I hope you ask that question because you are anxious for a good game but afraid you might get disappointed. When I read and watched many reviews from known media outlets, I found very different opinions and wasn’t sure what to think. IGN mainly had positive things to say and was very upbeat in their Halo Infinite podcast episode. In contrast, the Germany-based Golem.de website found rather harsh words for some parts, mainly storytelling and the new AI (more on that later). The most common denominator among all of them was the excellent feeling combat. Looking at the complete experience, I think I land somewhere in the middle between Great and Mediocre, and if you are still curious, I will tell you why.
The Nerdy Bits
Let me start with the boring part and talk about the game’s technology. As always, the fine folks over at Digital Foundry have released a bunch of excellent in-depth videos covering Halo Infinite’s engine. Like this incredible work from John Linneman about the campaign, Tom Morgan’s performance analysis on Xbox consoles, or Alex Battaglia’s examination of the PC port compared to Xbox Series X. All of them spoiler-free. If you are curious about all the fine details, check their videos. My opinion will be much shorter and superficial in comparison, as seen through the eyes of a tech enthusiast, but ultimately a regular gamer with a relatively average Sony 4K TV (and sometimes a 27 inch LG gaming monitor).
Halo Infinite looks good. It is not a spectacular showcase as everyone had hoped, but it is a good-looking game, and it beautifully conveys Halo’s art style. 343’s in-house engine "Slipstream" renders futuristic-looking indoor Forerunner architecture as well as a vast Open World, laced with details. You will navigate flat, open areas, ridges, big and small hills, and huge mountains. There is a lot of verticality in this game, and Halo Infinite can also display some incredible vistas and foresight into the distance.
During your traversal, you will find pure and untouched nature, discover remnants of ancient monuments, the Forerunner structures mentioned above, and, sadly but inevitably, signs of struggle, places of war littered with debris, death and destruction. No place looks alike – outside. However, there is only one biome: the forest area and its open plains and mountains.
Inside structures a typical for Halo. Their layout repeats rather often and contains little for variety. It is best to see the inside of a building as being a "different biome" to the Open World. That is how the game achieves "variety".
But this is not all there is to say about the technology. A game consists of more than just graphics. Bad audio can ruin the experience just as much. Or terrible input handling (aka Tomb Raider 2013 on Xbox). Let me discuss the listening experience first.
In a word, Halo Infinite sounds fantastic. The soundtrack is unquestionably excellent, as linked to in the introduction. Weapons sound punchy as well, even a Grunt’s tiny Plasma pistol that shoots the green shit Will Smith complains about in Independence Day. The most satisfying are the human weapons, though. They just kick your ears, much like a performance car’s exhaust. That is one part that makes the combat so entertaining.
The final piece of the audio puzzle is the voice acting, something I highlight in all of my reviews. If a game wants to tell a story that you can listen to, it better has high-quality voice actors. Halo always has, and Infinite continues the tradition, with Steve Downes as Master Chief and Jen Taylor doing triple-duty, bringing Dr. Halsey, Cortana, and Chief’s new AI to life. As good as Steve Downing is, you hear that he isn’t the youngest person anymore. Nevertheless, he gets to add more depth to Master Chief this time around than in the previous installments. It is subtle, but it is there. The "supporting" cast performs admirably as well, of course. To me, the biggest standouts are the Banished leaders, Darin De Paul as Escharum, and Ike Amadi as Atriox. I cannot say if some audio editing tricks have helped their performance. All I can say is that they could rival any Death Metal vocalist if it were all them. Both convey so much strength and power through their voice that it makes these hulking characters appear even more menacing.
Second to last, let me say a few words about how Halo plays as a shooting game. No type of shooter is enjoyable if the input is delayed or imprecise. Halo Infinite comes through on every front, using the gamepad or keyboard and mouse. Let me explicitly commend 343 for adding keyboard and mouse support to the Xbox version. You can configure it to your liking, and even mouse buttons are supported. It works flawlessly and feels perfect. It is direct, without any form of input lag. You move the mouse, and the image changes instantly. However you want to play Halo Infinite, it will feel just right.
Lastly, thanks to the SSD, loading times are short, so getting into the game or respawning from death is almost instant. There is one thing that bothered me, though. During some missions, you will encounter loading screens when traversing from the Open World into a structure or the other way around. I understand the need from a technological perspective. As a player, I would have preferred if 343 had found a way to make the transition more seamless, even if it were a bland elevator ride. Add a bit of conversation to it, and there you go. It is not like this never happens in the game anywhere else. You can cross the vast world without interruption, but entering a dedicated mission-building breaks the immersion for a brief moment. I found that jarring every time it happened.
Now let’s get into the most extensive section of this review. Here I will discuss how 343 integrated the Open World, how combat feels, game mechanics, what I think of the story, the game’s difficulty, and other parts that you repeatedly experience while playing the game. Do not worry; the only spoilers I like are on cars.
Pew, Pew, Pew
The core element of a Shooter is the shooting, so let me start with that. As already revealed, it is terrific. Everything I have mentioned in the Technology section blends nicely, and there is even more. Halo Infinite also has very satisfying hit feedback and a death sound, something I enjoyed a lot in Ghost Recon Wildlands. Every shot that hits the mark produces a distinct noise, like hitting an expensive leather couch with a baseball bat. Every kill is accentuated with a crunchy pop that informs you of success, no matter the tool you choose. Apart from sounding satisfying, this is vital information in the heat of a battle. On top of that, you get new toys to play with that add more depth than ever before. Now combine the input response, the audio, new gameplay mechanics in a blender with the enemy AI, and you get a tasty package of action that just feels right. Halo Infinite combat makes you want to go back and play some more.
As good as this all sounds, not everything is perfect. The new toys, an enemy scanner, a deployable shield, thrusters for dashing, and the most significant addition, the grappling hook, are all triggered by a single button, and it requires two additional presses on the D-Pad to select the equipment. I think this is too complicated. I never used the thrusters because it was just too much work in the heat of a battle. Besides, the grappling hook is way more flexible, can get you out of the way just as fast, and even gets you farther away from a dangerous situation. You get to use the 1-4 buttons on a keyboard to select what you need, which is slightly better but still not optimal. Every function should have its own button, but that limits the number of features you can implement. I would say to remove the flashlight and the dash. Then you could assign two dedicated directions on the D-Pad for the shield and scanner. The grapple should stay on the bumper because you need your thumbs on both sticks for navigation when you employ it. Another "feature" that could be removed is the crouching mechanic. A Gordon Freeman ventilation system-crawler isn’t really Master Chief’s style. If I recall correctly, I was only ever required to use it in the first level’s tutorial section and during the escape from the exploding ship (also mission one).
Welcome to Dying
Let me preface the rest of this short section the following way. I am an experienced shooter player. I have spent a lot of time playing Counter-Strike in my youth. I even experienced the higher ranks of the ESL for a short period (despite me 😛). I have played Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament to provide examples of faster shooters. In short, I know how this works. But, I also grew up and started playing games more for their story than their mechanics, and this is where I am coming from.
I want a decent amount of challenge, so I don’t get bored, but I also want it "easy" enough to progress the story efficiently. I find Easy too little of a challenge and Normal already a tiny bit too much. About 40% through the game, I switched to Easy because I was frustrated with how slow things were going and how often I was dying. Some enemy types are just so powerful.
I have watched a few videos on YouTube of someone playing on Legendary out of curiosity. I wanted to know how to best approach the game’s challenging skirmishes. Admittedly, I must adjust my playing style and incorporate a more tactical component. My need to push the story forward makes me reckless. Halo Infinite wants you to experiment with weapon types and vehicles (at least in the Open World). Unfortunately, as much as I like the combat, I have little patience for such things.
I have read and listened to many comparisons with Ubisoft-style games, and most conclude that Halo Infinite isn’t that. On the one hand, this is true. But on the other hand, it also is not. What do I mean by that?
Unlike in Ubisoft games, Halo’s world is not level-gated. Halo Infinite is not an RPG, and, therefore, later sections in the game do not require your Master Chief to be at a certain level. You do not gain experience by killing enemies that you invest in some form of a skill tree. You do not hunt animals or perform other activities to acquire resources for crafting. You can upgrade aspects of your armor to get a benefit, but none of it is required to continue progressing the story.
Those are the key differences to Ubisoft releases. There are also similarities, however. According to other reviewers, Halo Infinite does not play like a checklist you cross items off. I disagree. The map isn’t littered with uninteresting question marks out of the gate, so technically, this is true. Here comes the But. It still is a kind of a checklist the more you do – and you involuntarily will. It is unrealistic to expect players to avoid anything along the way purposefully.
I have to admit, though, that all the activities are specific to the game’s narrative, not just random busy-work. You and the remaining forces of the UNSC are stranded on a partially destroyed Halo ring where you are at war with the Banished. Within that framework, you support scattered marine troops in their fight against enemy forces, you kill high-value enemy targets – think world bosses – and you get to destroy Banished outposts. These are large installations with a ton of enemies and specific objectives. Most of the time, you blow up silos or sabotage production lines.
You have two ways of discovering the activities because none of them appear as question marks on your map. You can wander around aimlessly or regain control over UNSC forward operating bases, FOBs. Once you have done that, other activities around that base appear on your map, together with more bases to liberate. With each base under your control, more icons appear. And your checklist grows longer.
One of the first Open World missions leads you to a FOB so that the game can introduce you to that mechanic. Once you have completed this mission, you can simply follow the main story objective. While I would generally recommend precisely that, there are benefits to at least clearing the FOBs. First, audio logs at each FOB contain more story bits that help you piece together a bigger picture. Second, among the new icons on your map are locations of armor upgrades. You should definitely invest the time to collect a few of them. I strongly recommend upgrading your shield and grapple hook.
The Open World is a double-edged sword if you ask me. You can completely ignore it if you wish, as it does not influence the pre-determined ending of the game. It does, however, provide a few benefits if you indulge in its activities. Every rescued marine squad gets you Valor Points. Every destroyed Banished propaganda tower, odd-looking loudspeakers where Grunts insult humans in a very entertaining fashion, gets you Valor Points. Those do not appear on your map, though, so you must find them yourself.
The more points you have, the more vehicles you can request at a FOB or stock up on standard UNSC weaponry before your next mission. Towards the end, you can get yourself a tank and blast your way into Banished outposts or hop into a WASP and exterminate big and small bugs from the air. A Warthog or other vehicle transports full of marines can clear out enemies pretty efficiently. Unfortunately, Master Chief does not get to ride shotgun. Sierra 117 is the chauffeur, not the VIP passenger.
I found road trips around Zeta Halo rather unenjoyable until I unlocked the WASP. Halo’s vehicle physics has always been laughable, in my opinion, and Halo Infinite stays true to its legacy. Everything with wheels feels like it is driving on soap – all the time. There is no traction at all, and vehicles slide around randomly. The only fun things to ride are the Ghost, the giant alien tank, and the WASP. Their controls are intuitive and make sense to me. Everything else drives like 💩, and controls are counterintuitive. If you are used to driving games like Forza, prepare yourself for some frustration.
On that note: equally frustrating are the constantly dropping Banished reinforcements during your exploits on Zeta Halo. Liberating some marines? Be ready for additional dropships. Laying waste to an outpost? Bring some extra ammo for each sub-goal you complete. There will be drop pods, always on time when you push a button or blow up a reactor. Clear out the enemies, go to the next button, rinse and repeat. If you do too much simultaneously, you will find yourself surrounded by groups of enemies, one of the reasons why the game can be challenging at times. I find this a pretty lazy way of adding playing time. Such gameplay decisions were what drove me away from Gears Tactics. Let’s call it by what it is: a wave mechanic.
Some of Halo Infinite’s story missions throw waves at you too, but I minded them much less than those drop pods. It is customary in a boss fight or leading up to a boss to exterminate several groups of ever stronger growing enemies. I did not mind that. Out in the Open World, though, it was more annoying than entertaining.
Your Friend the Weapon
How about something funny, a sign of comic relief after this waterfall of negativity? No, not the pilot, who is supposed to be that. I mean Grunts. Don’t get me wrong. Grunts are jerks. Like small dogs, they bark the loudest. Unlike small dogs that sometimes look more like rats on a leash, Grunts have a bulk load of funny commentary. The one I remember best was while I was driving sliding around in the Warthog, and came past one of those bullies. Its comment was, "Normally you suck, now you suck in a car". I had to pause the game and laugh. Grunts are fantastic, basically the game’s highlight, and it is so satisfying to shut those foul-mouthed creatures up for good.
Every type of enemy has its own character traits. Jackals are egotistical assassins, Elites are honor-bound warriors, and Brutes are… well… brute force (I couldn’t resist). Listen to their dialog, and you’ll notice the differences.
The more important characters are your newfound friends, though, and the Banished leaders. I have mentioned the pilot already, so let me start with him. He is supposed to be the comic relief (to use that phrase again) but is generally considered a constant annoyance by some reviewers, especially the German ones. The biggest complaint is that he supposedly reminds Master Chief repeatedly that his plan is folly, bound to fail, and they are doomed. While I agree that the pilot is a bit over the top one-dimensional for my taste, I cannot confirm the constant nagging that is supposed to happen. I would have liked to see more growth in his character the more he got to experience Chief and his accomplishments. It is one thing to be skeptical and have reservations at the beginning. After a while, he should acknowledge that Master Chief is not the type that fails and be more supportive.
He did not grow on me as much as the new AI called Weapon did. She is a good example of how a character can evolve the more she stands by Master Chief’s side, the more she learns about him and herself. Golem.de was pretty bullish about how she was portrayed – negatively. They saw her as a stereotypical dumb representation of a woman, a statement that made me cautious right away, especially in light of the disturbing revelations of women’s harassment at Activision and other companies in the gaming industry.
I understand where they are coming from, and it is good to question such character design decisions. In this case, though, I think they are wrong. The AI is naïve and almost too nice, which I assume to be the basis for their argument. It is essential to understand that Weapon was only created six months ago for one particular purpose. After completing her task, she was supposed to be deleted. Therefore, being with Master Chief is the first time she does something other than mimic an installation. It does not take away from her being nice, but it explains her optimism and light-heartedness early on. 343 had to give her different character traits than Cortana. Since the Grunts are already jerks, how many more choices were there? She had to be a contrast to Chief’s stoic military character and the pilot’s pessimism. She is also very conscious of her powers. Demonstratively snipping her fingers while sheepishly smiling to make things go boom is precisely that.
Her relationship with Master Chief is one of the game’s strong suits. Because she is so curious, she asks questions Cortana wouldn’t have. She gets Master Chief to show more of his human side than in the previous games, although subtle. It all starts with the opening cinematic after being rescued by the pilot. During Chief’s short trip through space, hurling himself towards an overwhelming enemy force with only a single bullet in his weapon, we get to see his disdain for the enemy and his respect for fallen human soldiers. When he bumps into Banished corpses, he tosses them away like trash. A fellow fallen marine is a different story. Chief hesitantly and cautiously takes the assault rifle, paying his respect in the process, all without words and only through his motions. This culminates after you defeat the enemy Banished leader. These are the moments for which I want to play a game and quickly advance the story.
And that leaves the Banished for last. Their leaders seem to be entirely one-dimensional in all the trailers and even the opening cinematic. Banished strive for honor, courage, and pride among their kin. They could effectively be alien Vikings. I agree that on the surface, all this pompous posturing makes them the perfect – and here is the word again – stereotypical super-villain. And it is tiring. Every time their leaders talk, it is for show. They tell you their name because they want Master Chief to know who the superior warrior is. The Banished culture seems to be one of military prowess and respect. It is not enough to defeat an enemy. They want to strike fear into their opponent’s hearts by sheer reputation. But this goes both ways, and in this aspect, the Banished are not your typical evil representation. As much as the Banished leaders want to be known themselves, they revere Master Chief’s achievements against the Covenant and recognize him as a formidable opposing force.
This is where all the audio logs come into play. I have not found them all, but from the few I did find and from other media sources, especially IGN, I know that those collectibles contain a lot of background information from which you can construct a complete picture. They are another incentive to capture all FOBs and outposts and perform some Open World exploration. Not everything is highlighted on your map, and not all audio logs are part of missions or known locations. Some you will find in the wreckage of crashed ships, some data you will gather from ancient ring structures placed around Zeta Halo.
As I have become a more casual story-driven player, I do not like when designers hide vital story pieces from me. I concur that placing collectibles in levels as a reward for taking a closer look is a good design. It motivates you as a player. If secrets are concealed so well that searching for them distracts you from the actual goal, ultimately breaking the immersion, then I am hesitant to call it good. All you end up doing is spamming the scan-environment key. This is not a critique specific to Halo Infinite. You can apply that generally to other games with a similar approach to storytelling.
Long Story Short
Speaking of which, without spoilers, Halo Infinite wraps up Cortana’s arc. I have already outlined the general plot, but the Why will be yours to discover. It takes a while for it all to unfold, essentially until the final three or so missions – which I devoured like a ravenous animal. Halo Infinite tries to establish its back-story by, you guessed it, audio logs until you reach that point. Unless you are merely in it for the gameplay, you better complete your digital vinyl collection. Once you have completed a set, listen to it in one piece. Audio Logs are grouped by topic, and listening to them in sequence makes it easier to connect the dots.
Hint: Watch Chief’s visor display when it shows up. It also contains some essential tidbits to Chief’s and Weapon’s relationship.
343 has also left a few questions unanswered, undoubtedly threads to pick up in upcoming DLCs or however they plan to expand on the story.
Playing With Strangers
Never tried Multiplayer, don’t care, moving on.
Famous Last Words
After this brief section, how would I answer the initial question? Is Halo Infinite a good game overall?
Yes, it is a fun game, and I am itching to go back and experience the combat once more – on Normal then and with keyboard and mouse. It is that good, despite my complaints – that are a result of my faults, not the game’s. I preferred the more linear levels over the Open World, but you can somewhat emulate that by walking in a straight line and treating the Open World like an overgrown Silent Cartographer. Do not misunderstand me. I like Open World games, like Horizon Zero Dawn, for example, and I do many non-story objectives. It just has not yet clicked for me in a Halo game. Maybe it is a first-person vs. third-person thing.
Let me try and briefly throw in a few more observations that I left out previously. Although I want to jump back in and start fresh, I was frustrated at first once I realized how the game works. The reinforcements, the checklist Open World aspects, all the things that keep me from what I want in a Halo game: a linear story. I did it anyway because I do not do as I say 🤦🏻♂️. The closest thing you can get to a linear narrative is following the main objectives and completing whatever else is on the way. If you want to get as much background information as possible without doing everything, then stick to the FOBs and outposts. Ignore the marine distress signals, the high-value targets, the armor lockers. Only collect the Spartan Cores.
To me, everything opened up once I had unlocked the WASP. This way, I could cross large distances in no time and eliminate enemies from the air. That’s when it all started to make more fun. It was a bit monotonous, true, but I got things done fast, and that allowed me to move on with the story quicker. Halo Infinite is absolutely missing the Coop mode. Exploring the world would be so much more fun with another player. Some additional human firepower may significantly help with larger enemy groups around the world-bosses. Those areas can sometimes become a war of attrition.
Checkpoints are placed very graciously, and usually, you will not have to repeat much after death. However, the constant repetition of story-related dialog in some situations can quickly become an annoyance, especially on a higher difficulty. Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order managed to solve this and spared you from repetitively watching or listening to the same thing over and over until you managed to beat that particular section. The developers should have placed the checkpoints after the dialog.
- Finding an energy source, essentially a big battery, to power doors or other structures is beneath a Master Chief. Most of the time, the thing you need is in the same room or an adjacent room – neither interesting, nor challenging.
- Hunters are bullet sponges, and I hate them. I never managed to get around them quickly enough to shoot them in the back like a real man.
- Friendly fire kills your own marines. I have wiped out so many rescued marines with a vehicle by accident because they just swarm around Master Chief in the heat of a battle. "I" even managed to kill a marine at a FOB because I requested a vehicle, and the pilot dropped it on that person. Talk about Chief showing respect 🙄.
- No flood!
- Not long for an Open World game. I have spent around 15 hours; the second half on Easy difficulty. Expect a bit more on higher difficulties.
- Grappling hook allows you to tackle mountains Skyrim-style. Run at it, jump and grapple like crazy until you reach the top. In all honesty, the grappling hook makes this very vertical map traversable. And it is like Thor’s mighty hammer when you grapple-punch an enemy. Nasty!
Halo Infinite is not perfect, but what game is? It is very entertaining and built on a solid foundation. I cannot wait to get more content, hopefully continuing the story. I personally rarely care about side stories that do not contribute to the main events. But that is just me. I will definitely jump back in once the Coop is released. I am in the process of playing the Halo MCC in Coop, and I want to do the same with Infinite. Completing Open World stuff with other players is so much better. I think other games should adopt this, too. Make Horizon or Assassin’s Creed somehow Coop compatible. Far Cry did it. It wasn’t an optimal implementation but workable enough. What I want to say is this: it is not impossible to play a single-player campaign with friends. Others have done that already.
Thank you very much for reading to the end. I appreciate you taking the time to indulge my musings.