'Halo Infinite' wows on both single and multiplayer — but needs more legacy features
It's been a while since Halo had its time in the spotlight. After taking the reins from the original developer Bungie, 343 Industries is now in charge of the Halo series. In 2012, Halo 4 was lauded for its campaign, while criticized for some of its multiplayer components (such as the Spartan Ops game mode and its Call of Duty influence). Halo 5 on the other hand, was praised for its multiplayer but had a lackluster story.
Halo Infinite is 343's third shot at a mainline Halo game, but did the studio nail both the single-player and multiplayer offerings that give the franchise its reverence? Absolutely. Despite some smaller issues with both aspects, Halo Infinite is the best entry that 343 has created thus far. It has a meaty and emotional campaign while also providing longevity and hours of entertainment with its multiplayer.
The game, which is available on PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S, takes place right after the events of Halo 5, with series protagonist Master Chief tasked to retrieve a new AI called "The Weapon" while also trying to find his previous AI companion, Cortana. The Banished, which were first introduced in the 2017 real-time strategy game spin-off, Halo Wars 2, are the main enemies.
What I appreciate about the story is that it fleshes out the backstory of the Banished and doesn't ignore what happened in Halo 5. 343 Industries could have just thrown aside the previous main entry's story line as it wasn't well-received. Instead, they decided to build upon it to tell a story about trust and camaraderie between Master Chief and his new AI partner. Having the Banished as enemies as well helps freshen the series up. I wasn't a huge fan of the Promethean enemies in Halo 4 and 5 so the new enemies were definitely welcome.
While open world games have become increasingly popular, the Halo series has stuck with linear segmented missions, until now. Infinite features a semi-open world with all the bells and whistles you'd expect from that typical game design: enemy outposts to reclaim and collectibles to find everywhere.
This type of design can definitely be tiresome with these things feeling like just some checklist, but what really helps is that Infinite's world map isn't overwhelmingly big. Additionally, the game offers a generous amount of Forwarding Operating Bases (or FOBs, the game's name for the outposts) around the map so that fast travel is always convenient when you're trying to go towards your next destination or objective. In previous games, there were vast open areas and so the open-world element of Infinite feels incredibly natural and fitting as the next step for the franchise.
This is only improved by Infinite's always stellar minute-to-minute gameplay. The core of it has remained the same, shoot enemies with your weapons and wipe them out. However, the real game changer here is the grappling hook. Acquired immediately at the start of the campaign, it's essential in order to go around the open-world area.
It'll help Master Chief reach higher places and can even be upgraded to provide a lot of use in battle. He can use it to latch onto enemies and stun them with an electric shock, closing the distance so you can punch them in the face, which turns out is incredibly fun to do. While there are other tools that Master Chief unlocks throughout the campaign such as a directional quick boost and drop shield, I can't overstate how important it is.
However, that leads me to my first gripe about the game: the controls. I understand that there are so many buttons, but the way to switch between the different tools and grenades Master Chief has is really cumbersome. You have to press the direction pad and it brings up a small menu in the corner, then you have to press the pad again in a certain direction to equip the new item.
What makes it worse is that the user interface in the corner is very tiny, even with the HUD size set to "Extra Large." It's hard to know what you end up equipping. In previous games, you could just tap a shoulder button to switch grenades or use items and it was really simple. However, Infinite does let you remap the controls however you'd like, so you can play the way you want and provides a good measure for accessibility.
My second issue is that the open-world structure doesn't allow you to go back to replay story missions like you could in previous entries. In previous games, you could just simply select a campaign mission and get on with it. As a consequence of Infinite's game design, that's not an option here anymore. However, 343 did state that they are working on that feature. Additionally, co-op isn't available either, but 343 is working on that too. It's strange to see such series staple features omitted at launch that were integral parts of previous games.
As for the multiplayer, it's very fun and builds on Halo 5's. Like it, gone are armor abilities and custom layouts, so everyone else starts off each match on an equal footing. There is also an even divide between smaller maps and bigger maps depending on the player cap in a specific game mode, which provides a good variety of different maps to play on. The maps also focus quite a bit on verticality because of the different movement options, especially the grappling hook. Each firefight encounter with the opposing team is intense and fun, leading to thrilling matches.
The gunplay and weapons feel amazing, with a good amount of variety of different types of guns. The standard pistol, assault rifle, and battle rifles are straightforward, but some of the other weapons like the Pulse Carbine and Heatwave can be harder to master, either because of the rate of fire or the unconventional spread. The staple power weapons like the Gravity Hammer, Energy Sword, and the M41 SPNKr rocket launcher feel as powerful as ever before too.
The most important part of multiplayer is the gameplay, so Infinite has that locked down. However, the biggest problem with the multiplayer is the Battle Pass and progression. Unlike previous Halo games, you can only gain EXP, or experience points, by completing Challenges, such as getting a set number of kills with a certain weapon, or playing a certain game mode a set amount of times.
You don't earn any EXP by actually playing well in any given match and achieving medals such as Double Kills (defeating two opponents within 5 seconds of each other) or Killing Spree (get five kills without dying). Since completing Challenges is the only way to earn EXP, players will focus on trying to do those rather than working towards the objective like contributing to a match's overall kill count or capturing an enemy flag. When the free-to-play multiplayer launched a month ago, everyone got a flat 50 EXP for finishing a match, whether they won or lost.
Admittedly, I was very against this at first, but I soon realized the value of this sort of system as I didn't feel too much pressure to win. However, I still think that more EXP should be awarded for players who score medals and play well. Since launch, 343 has implemented an update: the first match of the day will earn you 600 EXP, and after each match it will dwindle until you complete your sixth one, which then your EXP will drop to 50 again. It's a welcome change, and I hope that more improvements come in the future.
Another issue I had was that the multiplayer launched with no playlists, meaning you couldn't actually select what game mode you wanted to play. If I had a Challenge that required me to complete 5 Oddball matches, then I'd have to either select Quick Play or Ranked Match. It would then put me into a randomized game mode with other players, which can include regular Team Slayer (where players kill each other to see who can reach a score count first) to Capture the Flag (bringing your enemy's flag back to your base while protecting your own).
I couldn't actually select Oddball and I'd have to hope that the game put me in an Oddball match instead of the other game modes. It's just a waste of time if you didn't get the mode you wanted. Thankfully, 343 announced that four playlists, Slayer, Fiesta, Free-For-All, and Tactical Slayer (SWAT) are being added on Dec. 14th. So that helps alleviate those problems.
Despite some issues, Halo Infinite is one of the best first-person shooter games to release in the last few years. It's the complete package; it offers a great story driven campaign with plenty of replayability through its open-world as well as multiplayer. 343 can definitely iron out the kinks by adding features like co-op functionality in the campaign or playlist changes in multiplayer in the future. The game has a great foundation and can only improve with time.
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