Halo Infinite (Xbox Series S) Campaign Review

Expanded gameplay, limited scope…
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Halo Infinite’s campaign manages to feel simultaneously big and small. From a gameplay perspective, there’s still a strong focus on the masterfully-balanced combat the IP is known for, but also open-world elements. When it comes to the epic space-opera narrative, events feel stripped back, both in terms of the scope and how it’s presented. I’m also still undecided if it’s a point for or against the Halo Infinite campaign that, upon completion, I immediately reinstalled the Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

Starting with the narrative, it’s immediately obvious that 343 Industries wants a fresh start for the IP and potential newcomers to this console generation of Halo. Halo Infinite quickly sets about wrapping up lingering plot elements from the prior games, with surprisingly little fanfare. Where once you would experience crucial events first-hand or get a flashy cutscene, Halo Infinite is content to tell rather than show, and you spend the entire game on a fragment of the Zeta Halo installation. The amount of simple exposition dumps dealing with the capture and defeat of Cortana – especially in the opening and closing hours of the campaign – feels absurd given the high-stakes, galaxy-spanning narrative setup in Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians.

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Holograms and in-game banter recount the most pertinent past events in the least interesting way possible.

Despite drawing on characters and events from the past games – and some cross-media content that only a tiny fraction of the fanbase consumes – the presence of the UNSC Infinity crew is reduced to scattered audio logs; the fate of the UNSC Spirit of Fire is ignored despite John 117 encountering the same Banished faction they faced in Halo Wars 2; and you’ll only discover the full extent of Cortana’s actions against the organic races through in-game banter or cutscenes with holograms… so many holograms. Compared to the lavish cutscenes seen in the prior games, CG or in-engine, Halo Infinite is lacking.

Now, it’s not all bad news if you accept the focus is no longer on the broader conflict but The Chief’s internal struggles. Highlights include his growing relationship with “The Weapon”, a new AI that was responsible for trapping and destroying Cortana; coming to accept Cortana’s death and his failure to save her; and several interactions with a surviving pilot that remind him most of humanity are not highly-trained Spartans (even if the more uplifting moments feel overwritten and predictable).

Halo Infinite kicks off after the remnants of the UNSC fleet establishes orbit and commences with their plan to capture and delete Cortana. Mid-operation, a massive Banished fleet arrives and decimates the UNSC’s forces in orbit. The Chief buys several teams time to evacuate but ultimately loses to the Brute Chieftain Atriox, before being is tossed into the void for 6-months in stasis (none of this playable, if you were wondering). Pilot Echo-216 stumbles upon him among the ruins of the fleet and brings him out of suspension, in the hope of finding a way to flee. Naturally, The Chief aims to complete his mission instead. From that point on, the player gains control and it’s typical Halo fare: a fight against overwhelming odds to save humanity from both an old and new threat, with the sort of rubbish odds that The Chief is used to.

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The bulk of your interactions with the primary antagonist involves listening to shouting holograms. Both villains are given depth and tangible motivations within the final hours but it’s too little, too late to generate any sort of impact.

Unfortunately, the new villains feel underwhelming and lack complexity. A secondary plot arc follows the tired trope of introducing another terrible and unknown threat – even worse than The Flood – while the journey across Zeta Halo feels incredibly lonely (and not in a moody sense like the nighttime sections of Halo 3: ODST). The Banished faction leader, his right-hand Sangheili, and several underlings that feature as sub-bosses, are one-note rambling sadists until the writers try to make them more complex in the final hour. The Harbinger and her species have suffered some injustice in the past, so she decides the best course of action is to destroy the Forerunner’s decendants – humanity.

Honestly, the best moments are some frank or tense exchanges between The Chief and his new AI, which felt authentic and surprisingly heartfelt – considering The Chief’s inability to communicate in full sentences – though there was too much foreshadowing for the eventual twist. Ultimately, one of the biggest problems with Halo Infinite’s scaled-down narrative is the lack of pacing that comes with the introduction of several open-world gameplay segments.

The campaign is at its best during the linear opening and closing missions, about 2-ish and 3-ish hours of gameplay respectively. These missions take place primarily in enclosed locations, like space ships and Forerunner structures, packed with frequent story-beats, back-to-back combat arenas, and boss fights. They feel like classic Halo at its best. Sure, you’ll spend too much time fighting through visually bland and symmetrical Forerunner environments but these sections still offer great pacing and highlight what Halo has always done well – fast, tactical, and adaptive combat.

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You spend way too much time roaming the corridors of Forerunner structures but some areas do feel unique.

As in all Halo games, every weapon and grenade type has a purpose: an optimal target, attack range, or specific environment in which they excel (even if some, admittedly, feel too niche). Recharging shields – an ability shared by The Chief, elite enemies, and bosses – force you to commit to extended bouts of combat if you want to eliminate a dangerous target quickly. Low ammunition reserves prevent you from sticking to the same two-weapon combo, making scavenging and adapting during engagements vital. Priority targeting – to suppress snipers, stagger charging foes, or force enemies to drop grenades – is essential. Melee attacks remain overpowered, but getting in close is risky and you can find yourself on the receiving end of a devastating blow. Powerful vehicles can devastate groups of enemies, but make you a bigger target and can be repeatedly disabled with energy weapons. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to combat in Halo Infinite, so it rarely grows stale.

The most notable new additions are simple but impactful. The Grappleshot allows for added manoeuvrability around the battlefield, but can also be used to pull you into melee range, snatch up weapons from the environment, or hijack a nearby vehicle. Throwable explosive barrels – a dated videogame concept by this point – prove unexpectedly useful and fun in combat (and they can be snagged by the Grappleshot). They come in several variants and function as powerful on-the-fly traps or grenade substitutes.

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Exploding barrels might feel like an odd choice to highlight as “new”, but when you combine them with the Grappleshot, it adds more tactical options and dynamism to Halo’s already excellent combat loop.

The sublime combat loop goes hand-in-hand with Halo’s long-established and consistent difficulty levels. Easy offers up a power fantasy, giving you the option to charge into battle and emerge victorious 90% of the time. Normal requires some strategy but allows you to mess up and escape from danger while your shields recharge. Heroic requires strategy and optimal weapon use, but still allows you to come back from minor missteps (though boss fights become unforgiving). Legendary allows for few mistakes, entering a battle unprepared usually equals death, and Jackel snipers exist to haunt your nightmares. I sometimes feel there’d be room for another difficulty wedged between Normal and Heroic, but you should find a setting that provides a decent challenge without creating roadblocks.

But what of Halo Infinite’s open-world elements? Generic icon-clearing activities like claiming Forward Operating Bases, which function as fast-travel and resupply points; dismantling Banished operations and saving Marine squads for “Valor” points, which unlocks new weapons, vehicles, and Marine support; or hunting for Spartan Cores, which allow you to marginally upgrade The Chief’s abilities that unlock when you discover other fallen Spartans.

These systems are all interconnected and provide moments of sandbox-style entertainment, with new equipment creating the potential for new tactical opportunities. However, despite Halo Infinite’s relative restraint compared to true open-world games, these segments offer rapidly diminishing returns, drag down the narrative pacing during the mid-game, and often don’t gel with the checkpoint and save systems.

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Capturing FOBs will reveal the most useful open-world activities – think banished outposts, stranded marines, and Spartan cores – but there’s no shortage of unmarked collectables if you’ve got more time than sense.

Once you’ve unlocked several FOB supply drops – think armoured Warthogs, rocket launcher marines, the Scorpion tank, and eventually a Wasp light aircraft – they provide an enjoyable and efficient way to complete open-world objectives. The Grappleshot also makes plenty of sense in these open spaces (and is ideal for hijacking vehicles). Ramping into the middle of a FOB with an armoured Warthog packing 5 marines was a highlight as they swiftly wiped out the opposition without me firing a shot. Similarly, taking out high-value targets in a Scorpion tank or Wasp aircraft was simultaneously empowering and somewhat cheap. Most enemy units struggle to respond at long engagement ranges and I can understand why boss battles lock you into small arenas.

Unfortunately, you’ll also notice several glaring issues during these open-world segments. The most obvious is the lack of coop play at launch, despite clear evidence certain locations and vehicles were designed to support up to four players. Another issue is the vast but empty map, in which you’ll spend far too much time running, grappling, or driving through respawning mobs of Banished on the way to distant points of interest.

Less forgivable is the way the game handles checkpoints during optional activities or primary missions that take place in the open-world. The game frequently checkpoints as you progress, even in the middle of combat encounters, so long as your health and shields are full. This led to reloads that dropped to the moment I was about to be hit by a massive vehicle or boss attack, leading to massive damage and potentially unwinnable loops. Other times, I trekked for several minutes from a FOB to engage a high-value target, died in combat, only to reload back at the distant FOB. Falling back to the “progress” save – typically triggered after completing a listed sub-objective – proved just as frustrating when the game routinely respawned enemy waves I had defeated to get to the objective in the first place. Sure, Halo Infinite had no game-breaking issues that prevented completion, but I quickly grew tired of the inconsistency.

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If you’re some who can’t help but clear all the map icons, make full use of FOB vehicle drops and marine support to speed things up.

The one element offsetting the uninspired open-world activites is the impressive audio-visual experience when tearing accross Zeta Halo – even when playing on a budget Xbox Series S. Halo has always had distinctive designs, from The Chief’s armour, to the UNSC or alien weapons and vehicles, to the strangle serene yet unsettlingly artificial Halo environments. It’s obviously a cross-generation project but a modern PC or current-gen console would be my suggested platform, for 60fps gameplay options and fast loading times. Backing the visuals is another amazing soundtrack and quality voice-acting – for The Chief and The Weapon, at least. It may not convince you to buy a new console or GPU, but it’s an impressively well-rounded package.

I’d argue even the occasionally wonky ragdoll physics and impact animations are an entertaining highlight – especially when The Chief goes hurtling into the void T-posing – rather than a mark against the presentation. What is disappointing, however, is the uninspired cutscene direction. Most of these are various cuts between The Chief, his allies, or the villains in conversation. Everything important or dramatic seems to happen before The Chief arrives and it makes for bland viewing.

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A mid-game mission, set in a manageable chunk of the open-world, has you destroying anti-air guns as night shifts to day. It’s a great showcase for the sense of scale and spectacle Halo Infinite can achieve.

Negatives accounted for, I still enjoyed the bulk of my time with Halo Infinite, especially when it channelled the spirit of the classic games. I’d estimate around 40% of a 20-hour playthrough was spent on the most significant open-world activities (capturing FOBs, saving marines squads, and dismantling Banished operations) but these activities quickly grew tedious and I moved on with the main story.

I’ve seen an unfortunate amount of positivity towards these open-world elements, as if they’re the boost the ageing IP needs. However, in its current form, it’s difficult to agree. The Halo games have always provided overly-dramatic space operas that took you through a diverse range of locations. Limiting the action to a single location, no matter how large and packed with activities, leaves the experience feeling shallow and limited in scope. It may be the largest Halo game, yet it feels like the least ambitious. Other Halo games that focused on a single location – think Halo 1, Halo 3: ODST, and Halo: Reach – all felt more diverse and epic. I just hope that 343 Industries has several narrative expansions in the works, focused on either fleshing out other characters and events only mentioned in passing, or providing The Chief with new and diverse locations to battle through.

Halo Infinite (Campaign) was reviewed by gameblur using an Xbox Game Pass subscription

Halo Infinite (Xbox Series S) Review

Halo Infinite (Xbox Series S) Review
8 10 0 1
8/10
Total Score
  • Story
    6/10 Normal
    Surprisingly personal but ultimately underwhelming in comparison to the IP's space-opera heritage.
  • Gameplay
    7/10 Good
    The open-world busywork quickly loses its charm, but the core Halo combat loop remains as good as ever - with a few enjoyable tweaks to boot.
  • Visuals
    8/10 Very Good
    It was clearly conceived as a cross-platform project but the combination of distinctive Halo designs, crisp visuals, and fluid framerate still impress.
  • Audio
    9/10 Amazing
    There's the impactful sound of combat, atmospheric soundtrack, frequently hilarious enemy quips, and great voice-work between The Chief and The Weapon.

The Good

  • Retains the classic Halo combat loop
  • The Grappleshot and exploding canisters - both simple concepts - add a surprising amount of tactical options
  • Well-paced opening and closing hours of the campaign
  • Impressive visuals, solid performance, an amazing soundtrack, and great voice work from the protagonists

The Bad

  • The game spends too much time telling rather than showing
  • Although initially fun, the open-world gameplay offers diminishing returns
  • Limited environmental diversity
Total
10
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