‘Halo Infinite’ review: the best AAA shooter of the year

Halo? Killer

It only takes a few minutes in Halo Infinite’s campaign to know that you’re playing something very special indeed. There’s something tangible to the game’s movement and shooting that just feels right. It’s not what I was expecting, as someone who has largely put off by 343’s attempts at Halo games in the past, losing enthusiasm for the series nearly as soon as Bungie hung up their keyboards after Halo Reach.

Infinite won me over near instantly with a grapple hook. It’s one of the better done grapple hooks in games, latching on to the ground and ceiling to give you increased high-speed mobility, something that meshes in really well with the pace of Halo’s combat, but also lets you tether to enemies to get close and melee them. Later you can upgrade this to stun enemies, or even let off a shockwave as you connect with the enemy – or just let you pull a weapon or grenade from the floor to keep fighting.

It’s been five years since the last mainline Halo entry, and 20 years since the original game launched, so it’s fair to say there’s not really much of a joy of discovery thing going on. When you emerge into the game’s first open-world area there’s a brief moment of wonder, but what Infinite trades on instead, smartly, is a real sense of creativity. For example, learning you can use the hook for example to pull away a Jackal’s shield so you can stick them with a plasma grenade – or grapple to a Ghost as it speeds past you to hijack it to make an escape from overwhelming odds.

The grapple hook is, sadly, the best of the tools you’re given during the game but you’re also given tech that lets you scan enemies, a deployable energy shield and a few other bits and pieces that I won’t spoil. The hook is the first you get your hands on and one of the only real disappointments of the game is that nothing else is as much of a game-changer as the hook.

Halo Infinite

Every small fight in the game feels improved by these gadgets though and – on PC at least – it was easy to switch between the variety of different tools to ensure I was using them during combat. Halo Infinite also deserves praise for making me feel like an armoured superman, letting me toss explosive barrels around with one hand, while effortlessly melee-killing a fleeing Grunt.

The balance is on a knife edge. Every single fight, at all times, feels like it would be easy both to win or lose. Even with an overshield, even clutching one of the power weapons Infinite tosses at you with abandon. Often, winning a battle in Halo Infinite will have at least a handful of moments where you outthink the enemy, using a series of tricks to try and make a dent and keep surviving. I come out of most firefights convinced I’m some sort of murder deity, and the game does nothing to shake me from that notion.

There’s a story in Halo Infinite, although I didn’t find myself paying too much attention – it’s been a few years and the overall Halo lore has been advanced in titles like Halo Wars and Spartan Strike so I felt like I came into the game missing a beat. Thankfully, the story here is quite simple and the introduction cutscene does a good job of spelling it out for you: humankind has lost and is in its final death throes on yet another ringworld, Zeta Halo. Master Chief has arrived to even the odds, done partially through collecting outposts in the open world like you would see in an Ubisoft open-worlder, while you’re also investigating another larger mystery.

Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite. Credit: 343 Industries

It feels like a return to basics, chucking you down on one of the titular ringworlds and turning you loose with tight combat and an entire alien army to shoot up. There’s no chance of diplomacy here, as the monosyllabic Master Chief scythes through new bad guys the Banished, an offshoot of previous baddies the Covenant that play out fairly similarly.

There’s a distinctly different feel between the linear parts and the open-world. The linear segments are classic Halo: there’s Forerunner architecture, there’s Elites shimmering invisibly as they move up on you, and a lot of things happening to Master Chief who, if we’re being honest, seems to be here for the same “fucking things up” reason the player is.

The Open World invites you to use creativity in a few different ways – perhaps you’ll be blowing up a Banished arms factory, or destroying fuel cores to shut down a vehicle facility. You can walk in the front door and get to work, but there’s also space for you to snipe from afar or even roll in in a Scorpion tank and blow everything to hell if that works better. These bigger fights are good fun, and there’s a nice emergent feature as you run into friendly USNC marines – or rescue captured squads – and they’ll buddy up with you, manning vehicle turrets or the like.

Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite Credit: Microsoft

You’ll care about these marines, you’ll dive in front of them when bigger enemies show up, and you’ll even equip each of them with power weapons like they’re a team of Pokémon until a rogue Grunt plasma grenade will stick to the front of the car and blow your new friends into chunks. This is absolutely gutting, but then at your next FOB spawn you’ll meet another USNC grunt and fall in love all over again.

Sadly, one of the biggest pacing issues in the game is the hunt for Spartan Cores, which are the currency you use to get upgrades. You’ll mostly find these in the open world, and looking for them is a bit of a pain, but you’ll need to to get the most out of your tools. The map tells you specifically when there are things to find in a certain area, which means several times I’ve stalled my campaign progress to roll around looking for a Spartan Core and been hating it when I’d rather be shooting at things because, well, that’s what Halo Infinite does so well.

Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite. Credit: 343 Industries

In the open world segments, you get even more chances to be creative, which are to be applauded, but it also feels at times like a full mobilisation war game. Sometimes you’ll be sniping in a high field miles from an outpost when all of a sudden a Ghost will roll up and attack you, or you’ll take a hit from an energy sword from an Elite that has spent the last few minutes sneaking up on you.

This is brilliant, and if it weren’t for a couple of very minor hang-ups, this could well be my favourite FPS game ever made. As it is, it’s already up there with the greats, slotting in with titles like Titanfall 2, Doom Eternal and Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

I haven’t really touched on the multiplayer here, and I’m going to give it the briefest of passes, because it’s free and already out – albeit in a nonsense “beta” release that feels pretty feature complete – but this also feels like solid Halo and is a great way to see if you’ll enjoy the chunkier feeling movement and shooting. There are – valid – concerns with the way that it allows you to unlock items, and I’m curious to see how new content will be added in, but in full disclosure I’m monumentally bad at Halo Infinite’s multiplayer and it leaves me somewhat cold. If you dig the campaign or multiplayer arena shooters in general, you’ll want to check it out.

Halo Infinite releases for Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC on December 8. We reviewed this on PC.

The Verdict

Halo Infinite feels as immediately compelling and necessary as Bungie’s original games, and is a shining beacon in a year that has felt quite underwhelming in the AAA space. Intense combat and a keen sense of creativity make this a must-play, even if you’re not typically a fan of the genre or even Mr Mean and Green himself.

Pros

  • Well-balanced gunfights
  • Solid movement
  • An FPS that values creativity
  • Master Chief is a great character even though he rarely says anything

Cons

  • Collectible-hunting isn’t a draw
  • None of the new tools are as fun as the grapple
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