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Halo Infinite review: A great shooter, still in progress

New spartan armor in Halo Infinite.
Halo Infinite
MSRP $60.00
“Halo Infinite isn't going to reinvent the shooter genre, but it's a fun solo and multiplayer experience that can only get better with time.”
Pros
  • Classic multiplayer action
  • Creative weapons
  • Varied combat in single-player
  • Grappleshot is genius
Cons
  • Disappointingly safe at times
  • Campaign is thin on ideas
  • Unfinished at launch

“Why do you do this again and again?”
“It’s all I know.”

This little exchange between an Echo-216 pilot and Master Chief in Halo Infinite’s campaign is a thesis moment for the game itself. For 20 years, Xbox has been synonymous with Halo. The shooter series has defined Microsoft’s entire foray into gaming, with Master Chief reaching icon status. Even when the series took a downturn when 343 Industries first took the helm from Bungie, Microsoft and Xbox fans alike stayed committed to the franchise’s future. It’s all they knew.

Halo Infinite is careful not to disappoint — perhaps too careful. Gone are the days of 343 experimenting with game-changing tweaks that would polarize longtime Spartans. Instead, Infinite plays it safe in multiplayer, while keeping any experimentation contained to the lower-stakes single-player campaign.

The end result is a reliable return to form that harks back to the glory days of Halo 3. A lack of signature ideas means it’s unlikely to push the first-person shooter genre forward like its best entries, but it doesn’t need to. Halo is Halo and the formula still works.

Safe multiplayer

Halo Infinite’s multiplayer has already been out in beta for a month, which gives me the rare opportunity to critique a live-service game after actually seeing what it’s week-to-week will look like. After spending dozens of hours partying up with friends, I’ve come to a simple conclusion: Halo Infinite is a great multiplayer game, just not a pivotal one.

The core gunplay is unmatched. Rather than continue the unpopular experiments of Halo 4 and 5, 343 Industries has stuck to the basics. Infinite feels like it was plucked out of a box labeled “Halo” — and I don’t mean that in a bad way. The formula works as well as ever here, and there’s little need to tinker with it. Matches are fast, but not too fast, and players are rewarded for using every tool at their disposal. It’s less about accurately landing headshots and more about using whatever it takes to melt down an opponent’s shield.

Halo Infinite capture the flag.

The best innovation here is the game’s arsenal of weapons. Classic Halo weapons, like the assault rifle and pistol, have been fine-tuned here to feel better than ever. But some of the newer guns particularly stand out. The Cindershot is a powerful grenade launcher that packs a lot of power, while the Skewer is essentially a harpoon gun that can blast a vehicle to smithereens. They’re not all winners (guns like the Ravager feel useless), but players have more options than ever, and that can radically change the feel of a match.

Multiplayer’s main problem is a lack of personality. While 343’s decision to play it safe is understandable, I can’t help but feel like Infinite lacks any defining characteristics — and the potential is there.

Players can pick up multiuse gadgets like Shield Walls, which add an extra layer to battles. The standout tool is the Grappleshot, a grappling hook that’s an absolute blast to fire. With the Grappleshot, players can zip across Big Team maps without a vehicle, counter an incoming Warthog by latching onto the driver, or launch themselves into enemies to get a melee kill. It’s so pleasurable that I instantly felt bummed that I didn’t always have it equipped. I pick it up so infrequently that I practically ever get to use it.

Infinite feels like it was plucked out of a box labeled “Halo” and I don’t mean that in a bad way.

I get why 343 didn’t build the gameplay around the Grappleshot. Longtime fans would have complained about the tool and accused the studio of once again ruining Halo. But I wish 343 felt more confident in its gameplay ideas here. Rather than adding its own innovation to the formula, the developers only flirt with new ideas. That leaves Halo Infinite feeling like a fun shooter, but not one that’s going to meaningfully change the genre in the way that its predecessors did.

Spider-Chief

The game’s single-player campaign takes some bolder steps. It’s a complete reinvention of the Halo formula, trading in linear missions for open-world fluidity. That structure maps surprisingly well to Halo. One of my favorite moments came when I hijacked a Banshee out of the sky, flew it across the map to an outpost, rained fire down on a bunch of unsuspecting grunts, and then got into a dogfight with another Banshee. Those little moments in between missions naturally link Infinite’s campaign to its multiplayer Big Team Battle mode.

It’s the simple pleasures that make the moment-to-moment single-player gameplay work. As is the case in multiplayer, the shooting does a lot of the heavy lifting. Even in the campaign’s weakest moments, it’s always fun to point-and-click waves of enemies into oblivion. The wealth of weapons is especially felt here. Any time my clip ran out, I knew I could always pick a random weapon off a corpse that would completely change the pace of a battle. I barely touched guns like the scattershot Heatwave in multiplayer until I got to experiment with them in single-player.

Movement is the main hook, which takes us back to my beloved Grappleshot. Unlike multiplayer, Master Chief always has it equipped here, and that’s for the best. Traversing the map is an act of joy, as Chief can zip up cliffsides like Spider-Man. It adds delightful new tricks to combat, too. I constantly got a kick out of yanking a faraway plasma coil into my hands and chucking it at a pack of enemies. Little details like that enhance an already fun shooting system and make each encounter feel different.

It’s the simple pleasures that make the moment-to-moment single-player gameplay work.

Those pleasures pave over a lot of the campaign’s faults — and there are plenty. There’s not much variation in the open-world design. Nonstory map activities (like clearing out bases or … clearing out smaller bases) are repetitive. The actual missions tend to take place in chrome corridors that are indistinguishable from one another. Missions overuse the “find a battery to power up a door” trope. Reused assets and ideas pad the campaign out and make it feel much bigger than it actually is.

Master Chief talks to an AI companion in Halo Infinite.

My biggest pet peeve comes from the campaign’s tone. Characters constantly quip like Marvel heroes, which quickly becomes grating. Even the jokes get recycled. On two separate occasions, Chief’s A.I. companion says a line that ends in a “Wait, don’t answer that” punchline. Grunts, who were once delightful moments of comic relief, now constantly crack one-liners during battle. It’s all exhausting, sapping any personality from Halo’s grand sci-fi saga.

Even with those issues, the campaign is compact enough that they don’t fully drag it down. While this is an open-world game, it’s not a maximalist one. Players can get through the story in around 10 hours, even with extra exploration. Much more time can be spent checking off map icons, but the slim approach works here. Any longer and the game’s seams would become more apparent.

At least it’s Halo

Halo Infinite is a strange game to review, because it’s launching in an incomplete state. By adopting a live-service model, 343 Industries has a lot of flexibility here. It’s able to withhold features until a later date, or fail now and fix it later. I’ve been describing it as a great game surrounded by bad decisions. Some of the decisions in the game are so mind-bogglingly strange that it feels like they’ll have to change eventually. Some already have.

Spartans attacking each other in Halo Infinite

Take, for instance, the game’s battle pass. At launch, players only got a slow drip of experience points by completing daily and weekly challenges. Moving up a level on the battle pass could take hours, sucking the sense of progression out of matches. It didn’t help that the actual battle pass cosmetics are also generally lame (rewards include a single shoulder pad or a visor color). The progression system received so much backlash prelaunch that 343 implemented multiple changes to fix it up. It feels better now, though it ‘s likely that more tweaks are imminent.

Halo Infinite is a strange game to review, because it’s launching in an incomplete state.

There are other quality of life issues that haven’t been addressed yet, which are just as baffling. Chief among them is the fact that playlists are currently limited, an issue 343 says it plans to start addressing shortly after launch. Players can either hop into Quick Play, Ranked, or Big Team Battle, which contain a smattering of modes. At present, you can’t just hop into a Team Slayer playlist if that’s the only mode you like. You’ll have to suffer through objective modes like Oddball for the chance to play the mode you want.

That’s especially notable in Big Team Battle, which includes the game’s absolute worst mode, Stockpile. The large-scale twist on Capture the Flag has players slowly walking power cells to their base over and over, taking the emphasis off of the game’s combat and mobility. I detest it so much that I’ve largely opted out of playing Big Team Battle at all. It’s just not worth it.

Halo players compete in a Halo Infinite multiplayer match.

It doesn’t help that Halo Infinite is launching without entire features. There’s no co-op play coming until at least May, and the custom Forge mode is even farther off. The lack of co-op at launch is especially disappointing as the campaign feels well-suited for it. I want to believe that’s not a big deal. The core multiplayer is good enough that I’ll be plenty occupied until then, but I’m also left feeling a little skeptical about the proposed timelines. Will Forge actually make it out this year? Will co-op get delayed as 343 is forced to make more basic quality of life changes? Playlist issues and weapon balancing feel more pressing at the moment, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they take priority.

I can only critique Halo Infinite on promise at this point. It’s not the game it’s going to be in five years. The question is, do I feel like it’s in a good position to reach its potential? Historically, 343 is a responsive developer and I’m sure it’ll be quick to address the more basic fan complaints based on its response to the battle pass. There’s just no telling how quickly it can do that, especially considering the game’s already slow development cycle.

It’s a strong foundation, though, and one that feels specifically built to deal with disaster. No matter what happens, Halo Infinite’s issues aren’t fundamental ones. The safe approach to multiplayer means that any problems can be shrugged off with a “Eh, at least its Halo” response.

Halo Infinite is a fitting name. When done right, the core shooting really does feel infinitely playable. The title isn’t so much a grand statement about the game’s quality; it’s just reassurance that 343 didn’t rock the boat this time.

Our take

Halo Infinite is a worthy Halo game, plain and simple. Its multiplayer doesn’t do much to evolve the series or shooter genre, but the formula still works and there are some new twists here to make it feel fresh enough. The compact open-world campaign is a bit thin on ideas, but the moment-to-moment gameplay is fun enough to make up for uninspired design. It’s a shame that it’s launching in an unfinished state, with key features like campaign co-op missing, but there’s plenty to keep players logging in for now.

Is there a better alternative?

Splitgate is a more creative shooter that builds on the Halo formula, rather than repeating it. For a longer, more involved open world FPS, try Far Cry 6.

How long will it last?

The campaign will likely take most players 15 hours if they’re doing a healthy amount of open-world activities. The multiplayer will likely be supported for a good chunk of the Xbox Series X’s life span, if not the entirety of it.

Should you buy it?

Yes. Or, more accurately, you should download the free-to-play multiplayer and check out the campaign if you have Xbox Game Pass. Both aspects are plenty entertaining, even if they won’t move the series forward much.

Halo Infinite was reviewed using an early review code provided by Microsoft.

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