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Halo Infinite Campaign Review: "Teaching An Old Spartan New Tricks"

Halo Infinite Campaign Review: "Teaching An Old Spartan New Tricks"
Images: Xbox Game Studios

Written by 

Ford James

Posted 

6th Dec 2021 04:03

Master Chief's journey, from initially stepping foot on Alpha Halo in Combat Evolved to Cortana's betrayal in Guardians, has been an eventful one, it's safe to say. The narrative has always been placed front and centre in the Halo series with a traditionally linear mission structure in each game, focusing on epic space-themed set-pieces and hard-hitting moments. While Halo Infinite features some memorable moments, the open-world environment taking up most of the gameplay time results in a very different Halo experience indeed.

What's The Definition Of Insanity Again?

Hao Infinite campaign review: What's the definition of insanity again?
Click to enlarge

Halo Infinite begins with Echo-216, a surviving Marine aboard a Pelican, floating through space before bumping into the strewn aside Master Chief. Once rescued, the dynamic Chief/216 duo begin enacting a plan to first rescue a mysterious 'weapon', then reclaim Zeta Halo from the Banished. The very first mission, exploring a Banished warship, sets up what you'll experience throughout the rest of the story: grey, lifeless, metal interiors - full of grunts and brutes.

While fighting through spaceships is par for the course in a Halo game, you will quickly grow tired of the Forerunner structures across Zeta Halo. While the very first mission takes place on a Banished ship, pretty much every subsequent story mission takes place in a carbon copy Forerunner interior. It makes sense within the context of what happens throughout the narrative, but makes for some seriously boring and unengaging missions because everything looks the same.

Narrative-wise, there are two main foes: Escharum, the War Chief of the Banished and the deceased Atriox's successor, and the Harbinger, a much creepier and mysterious foe from a never-seen-before species in the Halo universe. While the former taunts Master Chief throughout the game and is placed on a sufficient evil pedestal, the latter is under-developed and rarely mentioned aside from their initial introduction and final appearance. Given this seems a prime opportunity to set up a much more ominous foe for our green hero, it isn't fleshed out anywhere near as much as it could be.

Far Cry: Halo

Halo Infinite campaign review: Far Cry: Halo
Click to enlarge

With story missions that look so similar and nary a groundbreaking moment within them though, what about the open world aspect that fills the rest of your time? The best comparison would be to essentially call this the next instalment in the Far Cry franchise, because so many aspects are lifted straight from the Ubisoft franchise.

Propaganda towers to destroy? Check. Bases to reclaim from the Banished and use as fast travel points? Check. Countless icons on the map to go through like a checklist and tick off one by one? Check. If the linear missions inside the Forerunner structures were lifeless, the surface of Zeta Halo doesn't do much to improve upon that.

The layout of the open world is split into a few different sections too, albeit subtly. Complete the story missions in one area and, alongside Echo-216, Master Chief will fly off to the next area, meaning it isn't quite entirely open. You can fast travel back to previous places, provided you've reclaimed a nearby Forward Operating Base (FOB), but if you're hoping for an open world that allows you to pick and choose your own direction, you're out of luck. Combined with the lack of oomph in most of the story beats, the structure of Halo Infinite leaves a lot to be desired.

Take Me Home, Country Road

Halo Infinite campaign review: Take me home, country road
Click to enlarge

Even though the world of Zeta Halo has a strange and often frustrating layout, it is a pure beauty to look at. The Forerunner remnants scattered throughout the mountainous terrain and grassy plains make for a picturesque view when you're not in the middle of a firefight with an army of Banished. With that said, don't expect a myriad of environments to explore; Zeta Halo foregoes the previously seen jungles and deserts from the franchise, which could've gone a long way to keeping things interesting, especially when it comes to combat styles. Approaching a FOB filled with brutes through thick foliage would be entirely different to every single one being incredibly repetitive.

On top of the FOBs, there are also enemy targets to hunt down, Shadow of Mordor-style. Except the system isn't quite that deep because they're highlighted on your map and once killed, nobody takes their place. There isn't some elaborate hierarchy, it's essentially bounty hunting without the bounty at the end of it.

The other type of extracurricular activity you'll take down actually varies in objective from one location to the next, but it's all about eliminating the control the Banished have over Zeta Halo. One base may have a bunch of captured Marines to rescue who will help you open a series of gates for easier passage, while another is all about hijacking a Scorpion and bringing the pain down on a bunch of power generators. While these side objectives offer the most variety, there's still little difference between each one.

Say Hello To My Little Friend

Halo Infinite campaign review: Say hello to my little friend
Click to enlarge

What Halo Infinite's success really boils down to is the moment-to-moment gameplay though. So while everything mentioned so far has failed to truly impress, it's another story when it comes to weaponry and movement. A plethora of new weapons have been introduced this time around thanks to the Banished, so while the UNSC armoury is still the same - your battle rifle, assault rifle, sniper, and rocket launcher haven't gone anywhere - things like the Shock Rifle and Ravager are brand new.

Throughout the first few missions, Master Chief will acquire some unique abilities too, the highlight of these absolutely being the Grapple Shot. It turns out you can teach an old Spartan new tricks, because while the Grapple Shot is a little underwhelming in multiplayer, fully upgrade it in the single-player, and you'll turn into an armoured green Spider-Man. Strongly reminiscent of Titanfall 2's movement system, it works like an absolute dream. All that's missing is a wall-run mechanic.

All of the abilities can be upgraded with skill points (known as Spartan Cores) found throughout the open world, so while there isn't a skill tree as such, you do have to decide which ability to focus on. There really is no other answer than the Grapple Shot though, because when fully upgraded, it recharges at an insanely quick rate and if you melee attack when you grapple an enemy, you'll perform a huge shock punch that stuns any nearby foes too. Sure, the Threat Sensor and Drop Wall are useful, the Thrusters not so much, but nothing compares to the Grapple Shot at truly adding another dimension to Halo gameplay.

All your favourite vehicles make a return as well, from the Mongoose and Warthog (and most variants like the Gungoose and Rocket Hog) to Wraiths, Ghosts, and Banshees. Driving ground-vehicles though, especially wheel-based UNSC ones like the Warthog, is an exercise in ice skating more than anything else. It's like the tyres are all smeared with vaseline because while the speed you can accelerate means there's no time for dilly-dallying, the lack of roads or even marked paths a lot of the time make them highly frustrating to drive. Not to mention trying to encourage AI Marines to jump in when they seemingly want to ignore you for minutes on end.

An Ambitious Yet Lacklustre Open World Debut

Halo Infinite campaign review: An ambitious yet lacklustre open world debut
Click to enlarge

The redeeming aspect about Halo Infinite is that underneath the unnecessary open world format and cookie cutter story missions, the core gameplay is Halo at its best. While it's much faster paced than the Bungie-era, Infinite improves tenfold upon the disappointing 343 releases so far. The story is nothing to write home about - Echo-216 especially will make you want to finish him off before Escharum even gets close to the pair of you - but engaging in a full-blown scrap with a squad of Banished feels brilliant.

This is largely down to the new tools at Master Chief's disposal, along with the added weapon variants. Few things are as satisfying as grappling a grunt and electrocuting all the surrounding enemies, then finishing them off with a sweep of a Sentinel Beam or perfectly placed Mangler shots. The downside is how this is surrounded by bloat, in a new direction for Halo that doesn't quite land on its first outing, despite being incredibly polished and excellent from one skirmish to the next.

 

7/10

Reviewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.