Master Chief’s return is a joyful affair, despite the desperate situation you find at the start of the Halo Infinite campaign. Found at the outset floating in space, he’s a relic to human ingenuity that’s been MIA for some six months before the pilot of Echo 216 discovers him, zaps his suit full of juice, and resurrects our beloved Reclaimer. What follows is a bombastic, action-packed opening that showcases just how far Master Chief has come, while paying homage to his decades-long history.
It’s hard not to see 343 Studios applying the same kind of technological CPR to the Halo series itself. Neither Halo 4 and Halo 5 really recaptured the nailed down brilliance of the Bungie years, and valid questions hung around over whether Halo had indeed become a relic, ready for the sci-fi FPS graveyard like Killzone and Resistance. Halo Infinite shows that 343 Studios have found what makes Master Chief tick, while also taking the series into new territory. It’s a stunning success, even if there are a few space bugs in the ointment.
So Halo Infinite is open world. It’s certainly got a large area to get around, and its map does that traditional, Ubisoft-approved thing where there’s a new batch of icons every time you unlock an area. Those areas and markers are unlocked by taking control of FOBs – Forward Operating Bases – which also let you fast travel around Zeta Halo, grab extra weaponry, or call in reinforcements and vehicles.
Unlike Forza Horizon 5, Halo Infinite’s map doesn’t suffer from map icon bloat. It highlights Spartan cores that upgrade your armour, Mjolnir armoury cases that unlock cosmetics to use in multiplayer, and squads of UNSC soldiers that need help. Besides that there’s high-value Banished targets that unlock special weapon variants, Banished strongholds, and of course your FOBs, but there’s still plenty of reasons to enjoy a nice exploratory drive in a Warthog.
You need to come into contact with Propaganda towers, or Artifacts, for them to appear on the map, and that goes for some of the lost UNSC troops too. You’ll want to seek them out, if only to experience the Grunt’s amazing podcasting or to uncover more nuggets of Halo mythology, but there’s also the simple joy of exploring. That’s true whether that’s getting around it in style with Halo’s classic garage of vehicles or using the game’s biggest gameplay addition: the grappling hook.
Grappling hooks aren’t exactly new to gaming – everyone from Link to Rico Rodriguez has a grappling hook – but Master Chief’s gone and bagged himself a good one. It introduces a verticality to Chief’s movement that wasn’t there before, and provides some tasty escape routes when Hunters or Brute Chieftains suddenly appear in front of you. You’ll feel like a green-armoured Batman at times, leaping for the roof with your trusty wrist-mounted tether – even more so when Grunts and Jackals scream and shout in fear when you’re nearby. As crossovers go, it’s one I can get behind.
Besides the larger battlefield, and Chief’s fancy new fastening, the biggest addition to the series is humanity. Not that there’s loads of humans running around – they’ve had a bad time of it versus the Banished – no, this is the most relatable narrative the Halo series has seen since Halo 3: ODST, and that’s thanks to a narrative that focusses in on John-117, his relationship with Cortana, and the addition of Pelican pilot Fernando and new AI companion The Weapon. They’ve become like old friends and if their adventures continue, I will be first in line for whatever follows.
The trio manage to add humour and moments of levity as well as emotion and tenderness, and Chief is at the heart of it all. Even with the fact that John remains in armour clad the whole time, there are some storytelling chinks in it this time around, and his character, and Halo Infinite as a whole, is all the better for them.
Now, Halo Infinite isn’t perfect. Just like Halo Zeta is broken and trying to rebuild itself throughout the game, you can feel 343 beavering away behind the scenes trying to shore up the game code to be ready to ship. The fact that it works across every modern Xbox console and PC is a remarkable feat, so the lack of co-op is a painful but understandable loss. It is apparently coming, but not anytime soon.
There are brief moments, even on Xbox Series X, where the game hangs up, catching up on itself, but they are fortunately rare and the dynamic 4K at 60fps looks and feels great on this new console. The larger scope of the game brings further small annoyances, but chief amongst them are the behaviour of the UNSC troops you find out in the world. Anytime Chief comes into contact with them they’ll join up with you, backing you up as you embark on a mission, but they’re generally a liability.
If you head off to pick up a Spartan Core they’ll become stuck in a river bed, if you climb a mountain they’ll decide they’re staying at the top of it. Their behaviour brings a recurring sense of guilt as you leave them alone and unprotected, but as soon as they pull at your heartstrings you’ll find yourself careening away in a Warthog, swiftly forgetting them. They also no longer climb on the side of a Scorpion tank which is just the worst.
Once you’re done with the extensive Campaign, and cleared the map of every single icon, Halo Infinite’s multiplayer component will be your own grappling hook, dragging you back into the fight day after day. At a base level, this is the best Halo multiplayer has been since Halo 3, and it feels once more like a serious contender for your time in a world where Call of Duty, PUBG, and a host of other options exist.
Much like the campaign, some of the elements here are a work in progress. Big Team Battle has some serious matchmaking issues that 343 haven’t got to the bottom of, and the base battle pass is particularly stingy. At least if you own the game, or have access via Game Pass, there’s a batch of unlockables from the campaign, but you’re still going to have to put £7.99 into the Battle Pass to get the most out of it. 343 are proving, on the whole, to be very responsive though, and the game has already seen some key updates and additions to the playlists and progress that have improved matters. Luckily, it plays so well that you can overlook most of these issues, with the belief that they will be remedied in the near future.