A Spartan’s work is never done, and after three weeks of Halo Infinite’s excellent Multiplayer F2P suite proving that it is good enough to stand on its own as a product, Master Chief has finally arrived to take his place as the franchise’s load-bearing pillar once again with campaign mode. It should come as no surprise then that the #1 question on the mind of each and every member of the Halo faithful, even those currently engrossed in the multiplayer component’s grind-heavy first season, is: “Has the infamous one-year delay required for developer 343 Industries to polish the game resulted in a campaign that can still stand head and shoulders with the franchise’s best titles (e.g. Halo Combat Evolved, Halo 2 and Halo 3)?”
One thing no longer in doubt is that Halo Infinite has clearly benefited from an extra year in the oven despite still not being fully cooked (both local and co-op multiplayer for campaign have been delayed until May 2022 and the custom level maker Forge has been pushed out even further to Summer 2022). Many of the technical issues that were lambasted by critics and fans alike during the game’s reveal over a year ago have, at least to my eyes, have been addressed.
Visually, 343i has struck a refreshing tone that merges their highly detailed worlds and character models from Halo 4 and 5 with a new “retro-Bungie” aesthetic that hearkens back to the franchise’s glory days with the original trilogy. Tonally, it’s a bit of a mismatch when compared to the very sombre mood set by the game’s predecessor, but with most fans simply glad to see the bloated, dual-protagonist slog that was Halo 5 in the rearview mirror and excited to experience a new game starring only the Master Chief, a little more sunshine and rainbows never killed anyone.
“Halo Infinite has clearly benefited from an extra year in the oven”
The plot of Halo Infinite seemingly takes place many months after the events of Halo 5, where Master Chief and the UNSC Navy’s search for the rogue AI Cortana brings both the Chief and the military supercarrier Infinity to Zeta Halo, a seemingly undiscovered yet catastrophically damaged ring world where Cortana has apparently taken refuge. Before they can execute their plan to deploy Chief and a new AI “Weapon” intended to capture and delete Cortana, the Infinity is immediately ambushed and destroyed by an enemy fleet controlled by a Covenant offshoot known as The Banished that has been lying in wait.
All surviving UNSC forces are thus forced to escape to the surface of Zeta Halo with the Banished in pursuit. Master Chief, defeated by the Banished’s current war chief, Escharum, has been left for dead, drifting in space among the Infinity’s wreckage. As luck would have it, Chief is found and resuscitated by a UNSC Pelican pilot who goes by call sign Echo 216, whom Chief convinces to bring him to the ringworld surface so that he can reunite with “The Weapon” in order to finish the fight.
It goes without saying that players not already familiar with recent events in the Halo saga will be scratching their heads at name-drops like “Spartan Locke”, “Blue Team”, “rampancy” and the like, and even Halo fans will still have questions, such as where did all the Guardians go, how did the Banished (the principal enemy of 2017’s Halo Wars 2) end up at Zeta Halo, and what became of their leader, Atriox? Rest assured, Halo Infinite does eventually provide answers to most of these questions.
Sadly, fans who value the lore and narrative of the Halo saga as much as they do its gameplay may be disappointed in how the lion’s share of it is presented, which is largely through holo-flashbacks, scattered audio files found across Zeta Halo and via conversations between characters, rather than witnessing the events themselves. These “one-step removed” storytelling techniques still all get the plot where it needs to go, but they certainly aren’t the most satisfying way to get there.
Thankfully, I was having far too much fun in-between said moments exploring Zeta Halo, which, in a fitting homage to the original Halo: CE’s ringworld, is the exclusive setting for the entire game, which is completely fine by me. Likewise, although the Banished are actually a faction of the Covenant that broke off from the latter group’s religious fanaticism, they are also the most inclusive offshoot of the Covenant that I’ve fought against since Halo 3, with just about every memorable race of alien represented despite being led by Brutes.
Grunts, Elites (Sangheli), Jackals, Hunters, they’re all there, complete with their thousands of threats and other quips in spoken English, making them as hilarious a delight to listen to as their unmistakably Halo AI routines are exciting to fight against. Along with them, a new, winged alien race called Skimmers have risen to sub-in for Halo 3’s insect-like Drones, but unlike those annoying pests, they are, thankfully, far fewer and keep things interesting with their ability to tote and use a variety of power weapons more than twice their weight. Making them unpredictable and more dangerous on the battlefield than they first appear. The more, the merrier, I say.
343i needs to be commended not just for finally managing to recreate the Bungie sandbox “secret sauce” that helped make the original Master Chief trilogy so beloved among fans from a gameplay perspective. But then, also doubling down on and surpassing it, building a large, visually gorgeous open-world composed of various Halo CE-inspired sandboxes ranging from big, small, and everything in-between. These are seamlessly fused together to form the heavily damaged ringworld that is Zeta Halo.
With Zeta Halo’s environment featuring more vertical and scalable terrain than any Halo game before it (yet strangely, no bodies of water deeper than a rain puddle because Master Chief apparently doesn’t swim), players can take on Banished outposts from more angles and vantage points than ever before, and for the first time ever in a Halo game, the majority of Banished FOBs (Forward Operating Bases), checkpoints, strongholds that are not part of the critical story path can be skipped entirely. Of course, failing to capture FOBs for UNSC operations and exploring every nook and cranny of Zeta Halo will not only limit the number of fast-travel locations players have at their disposal, but it will also negatively impact the amount of Valor they earn from rescuing and recruiting captured UNSC soldiers held prisoner within Banished territory.
An intangible currency in the game, earned Valor, automatically unlocks specialized UNSC personnel, weapons, and vehicles that Master Chief can requisition at a captured FOB, and if there are any available seats on a vehicle that the player calls in, those UNSC personnel will eagerly hop into those seats to ride alongside Chief. Small caveat: Even when playing on normal vanilla difficulty, UNSC soldiers prove far less resilient and a tad less intelligent than in previous games. They aren’t smart enough to drive a vehicle on their own alongside Chief and likely won’t survive an entire mission. But if you swap their guns out with power weapons and let them ride shotgun in your Warthog, they’ll still lay waste to any enemy you point your hood at, just like in the good ol’ days.
Not to worry though, as Master Chief still has one wingman on which he can always rely. Nope, I’m not talking about Cortana. Echo 216, a.k.a. the Cowardly Pilot? Forget that noise! And while she definitely makes friendly conversation, it’s not “The Weapon” either. The most trusted sidekick players will have in Halo Infinite, without question, is The Grappleshot.
Anyone who’s read my aforementioned review of Halo Infinite Multiplayer will recall that I heaped plenty of praise upon this new piece of Spartan equipment, calling it “inventive” and capable of completely turning the tide of a match when used correctly. In campaign mode, however, the Grappleshot becomes transformative, elevating the traditional Halo gameplay that we already know and love to a new level.
Unlike in multiplayer where the wrist-fired Grappleshot is a limited-use, consumable item acquired in the field, in campaign mode the tool comes standard as part of Master Chief’s Mjolnir armour that is both upgradeable and can be used an unlimited number of times, with each use separated by a brief but reasonable cooldown.
This encourages players to use the Grappleshot spontaneously. It wasn’t long until I was using the tool not only to pull weapons and items towards myself or propel my Master Chief towards manned or unmanned vehicles in order to hijack them, but also to fearlessly catapult myself several feet into the air or across the field of battle to execute aerial assaults or beat hasty retreats. When combined with Spartan Core upgrades that can shock hooked enemies with electricity and/or damage them with AOE concussion blasts when zipping towards them to deliver a melee attack, the Grappleshot effectively becomes a third lethal weapon in Master Chief’s arsenal that never gets depleted.
Did I also mention that zipping about Zeta Halo’s indoor and outdoor environments with this new toy is just so much damned fun? Pushing forward or pulling back on the Left Analog Stick increases or decreases the rate of speed Master Chief travels while using the Grappleshot, which quickly turns a basic climb-and-mantle action into a 100-foot launch, and snagging onto the sides of objects while deftly pulling away from the attachment point as one hurtles towards it can slingshot players long distances, allowing them to get the jump on enemies embedded behind cover.
This is actually a BIG deal because, ever since the very first Halo game up until now, many of Halo’s toughest Covenant enemies, such as the Brutes, Hunters, Jackal Snipers and high-ranked Elites have traditionally required players to approach them frontally, generally on foot or in a vehicle. The franchise’s aggressive trademark AI can make it very difficult to close the distance without first dying many times (especially on the higher difficulty levels). Anyone who’s attempted the first level of Halo 2 on Legendary difficulty can attest to this, and the challenge can be enough to turn less-skilled players right off.
Conversely, the Grappleshot is the first new mechanic to come along and shake things up since Halo 2 introduced vehicle hijacking and dual weapon wielding, and it’s a much-needed one that affords increased mobility, options, and player agency in how one can engage the enemy in combat. It should also be mentioned that smaller-sized explosive shock cores, plasma cores and other similar cores containing volatile materials found in the environment can be picked up by hand or via Grappleshot, carried and ultimately tossed by Master Chief as an improvised grenade. This is yet another way that, even when completely out of ammo, players can quickly get the upper hand on a group of foes by taking out one or more enemies in the core blast and then quickly seizing the dropped ordinance of said enemies to get back into the fight.
“What we have here is 343i’s attempt at the ultimate Halo experience”
As I hinted at earlier before, if there is one thing that I can fault Halo Infinite for, it’s the narrative. The characters were all fun to watch interact with one another and/or chew up the scenery, especially Master Chief’s new and adorably naïve AI sidekick “The Weapon” as well as the menacing Banished leader, Escharum, who has no shortage of WWE-style speeches to hurl Master Chief’s way as he anticipates their inevitable final battle. I also didn’t mind where the story ended up when the credits rolled (pro-tip: watch until the end). That said, there seemed to be a heavy-handed, deliberate narrative drive to “shock players with a number of revelations” in the third act, which ultimately weren’t all that surprising because the mysteries were so poorly set up from the beginning.
In any event, despite my quibbles with the story, Halo Infinite is an experience that no Xbox owner or Xbox Game Pass subscriber on Xbox or PC should skip if they have even a glimmer of interest in Master Chief’s story. As with Halo Infinite’s F2P Multiplayer component, it probably sounds like the easiest of layups to make such a statement since a subscription to Game Pass is the only real cost of admission, even if it weren’t, it would still be worth the full $80 CAD charge.
What we have here is 343i’s attempt at the ultimate Halo experience, embodying the best environment, the best enemies, weapons, and vehicles from the best games in the franchise. Yet Halo Infinite still manages to bring new things to the table. Seriously, I can’t fathom the Grappleshot and throwable cores not being in every new Halo game starring Master Chief going forward; they are revelations for the series! Please do yourself a favour, show Microsoft and 343i some much deserved appreciation, and play this game.