Halo Infinite review

By Luke Albigés,
'Infinite' feels like a strange subtitle for a retail product that effectively contains one thing of value. Considering just how much content is usually rammed into a Halo game, it's really weird to fire up Halo Infinite and see — aside from competitive multiplayer, which is free-to-play and thus can't really be considered a valuable part of the package any more — just a solo campaign option. That's it. Development on Infinite has been a bumpy ride indeed, and it's still far from over, with core features like campaign co-op and Forge stripped out to get Infinite out the door this year, and these Halo staples now aren't expected until around the middle of next year, while multiplayer tuning is ongoing follow backlash at the aggressive F2P approach to the battle pass. Infinite certainly has quality on its side, but there's just not all that much to it as a full-price release, especially given the fully-loaded suites of modes and options for which the series has come to be known.

Halo Infinite

Perhaps that's not entirely fair. While Halo Infinite may feel wanting for other content besides the solo campaign, there's no denying that what is there is of a superb standard. Those who have been enjoying the multiplayer will be glad to hear that everything in the campaign feels just as slick and snappy, and there's a premium air to Infinite that is worlds away from what we saw in that original 2020 campaign reveal. Minor issues still exist, like foliage detail pop-in, but it's rare to see an open world game that doesn't have quirks such as these, and impressive that 343i has hit the ground running so well with its debut sandbox. I opened my campaign preview with a reassurance that the new open world design didn't break the experience of those first few missions, and I'm glad to say that it serves the full campaign even better.

For the most part, you can still just go to waypoints to trigger the next largely traditional story mission if you'd rather mainline the campaign than see the sights, but several missions actually play into the broader setting brilliantly. One in particular tasks you with taking out three key targets spread across a large area of the map. What once would have been a linear sequence of objectives or smaller play area with some choice in terms of order becomes something bigger and better here. Perhaps you grapple up the cliffs on the other side of the map to commandeer a Banshee for easy access to all three sites? Maybe you pay a nearby group of marine hostages a visit, liberate them, then bring the whole crew to the party? Or how about going after the high-value target known for their heavy ordnance in order to procure a potent new persuasive tool before getting stuck in? I said previously that I wasn't sure how much value the open setting added, but a few of those later missions not featured in the preview build certainly do leverage it well, so I'll change my tune a little. Only a little, mind, because the open world thing does kinda fall apart in the endgame. There's plenty of stuff to see, do, and collect, sure, but as you chip away at outstanding objectives, it becomes more and more apparent that there's no real benefit to engaging incidental hostiles around the map. Most open world games would offer loot, experience, cash, skill proficiency... some kind of reward. Chief gets zip, and while combat is still fun without a payoff, it's literally just a waste of resources in most cases, and I found myself avoiding it in the late-game unless there was something on the line, or a twinge of bloodlust that needed sating.

Halo Infinite

Open world activities come pretty much from the Sandbox Playbook, with many earning you Valor — a currency of sorts that gradually unlocks new vehicles, weapons, and allies for your efforts as you stockpile it. Forward Operating Bases can be reclaimed simply by wiping out all Banished on-site, and are worth grabbing for both fast travel spots and resupply points... although seeing four weapon caches at each is a co-op-flavoured gut-punch. Marine squads in need of aid often require a little more shooting, usually with several waves of Banished to punch through before the platoon is safe — sniping restraints off of captives to get more friendlies in the fight is never a bad idea here, and survivors may head back to safe FOBs to provide allies capable of showing that lonely Warthog turret some love. High-value target encounters play out similarly, albeit with a boss enemy to deal with and backup limited to that which you bring, but these are absolutely worth the effort. Each unlocks a weapon variant that you can freely grab at any friendly FOB, and some of these are amazing. I'll leave the specifics of most of them for you to discover, but will offer one example to give you an idea of the kinds of things you're getting: the Sentinel Beam variant offers a massive damage boost, but has barely enough ammo for a few seconds of sustained fire, making it an amazing nuke for key targets but forcing you to rely primarily on your other weapon. Special weapons also cannot be reloaded by picking up standard versions, making them gambits rather than long-term strategies, but what ridiculously satisfying gambits they are.

Arguably the most interesting non-story activities are the Outposts: key Banished sites that need to be handled in specific ways. I was excited by the idea of these during the preview (where we only had one available) and while there is a little bit of repetition among objectives, they're generally unique combat puzzles that make great use of the open nature of the game. From weapon factories that can be repurposed to offer a ready supply of whatever guns you like to research facilities overseen by countless Jackal snipers, fighting through these landmarks is always thrilling and each requires a different approach. The rest of the open world stuff is pretty basic, to be honest. Mjolnir lockers offer trivial vanity items for multiplayer (weapons skins, emblems, and so forth... not even armour pieces), Spartan Cores are basically upgrade points that let you slightly improve your gadgets, and audio logs should need no introduction in 2021. Weirdest of the bunch, though, are the propaganda towers, which feel really out of place here — the Banished already run Zeta, and are already loyal to a fault, so what purpose do these serve other than just getting blown up? Grunt broadcasters trying to be funny is a surprisingly good reason to do so, sure, but this just feels a step too far into Generic Open World Objectives territory.

Halo Infinite

While we're on the topic of questionable dialogue, let's shift focus to Weapon — Cortana's replacement as Chief's AI. She's as sassy as computers come, often to the point of being downright obnoxious... think Destiny 2's Failsafe but dialled back just a little, and her glib chatter often feels at odds with the high-stakes mission on the go here. There are some great interactions, and it can work quite well as a counterpoint to MC, who is as stoic and direct as ever, but it can also feel a bit much, almost like a Borderlands parody of a Halo AI. Which is pretty much what Failsafe was, actually, and the Destiny comparisons don't end there. The Banished's leadership are tanky brutes akin to the Cabal, use a lot of the same rhetoric and vernacular, and some even fight the same way — seeing one of them take to the sky and go for a diving dunk just gave me flashbacks to the Shield Brothers Strike, for better or worse.

That actually serves as a pretty solid segue into the concept of boss battles in general, which is perhaps Infinite's weakest area. Big bullet-sponge enemies are par for the course in open world games (The Division being a perfect example) but they're far less welcome when they show up in something like Halo. Every boss battle in Infinite is just a war of attrition, as you slowly chip away at shields and health across several rounds or phases until the big bad is on the floor. Some are more egregious than others — one in particular reaches a point after a prolonged battle where he just pulls out a massive hammer and decides he can one-shot you now, which is fun — but they're rarely good. The campaign thankfully uses them somewhat sparingly, but these will certainly be choke points, given how different the experience is to the usual strategic flow of a Halo encounter. That's still alive and well elsewhere, even in open world gameplay, which is especially impressive, but going through the entire gun rack at the back of the room just to make it through a big enemy's shields isn't my idea of fun. Yes, you could maybe bring a weapon better suited to penetrate shields (weapons have distinct damage types now) but you're still restricted in terms of ammo, as most arenas offer limited opportunities to refuel.

Halo Infinite

I talked a lot at preview stage about how great the grapple feels, and that almost works to Infinite's detriment. All of the new gadgets are fighting for the RB slot, and I'm just not sure why you'd ever give up the best one. Swapping between tools is a chore, requiring a D-pad press followed by another specific input to preorder the one you want, almost like putting in a cheat code. Multiplayer's simple cycling is by far the better solution, and the campaign's implementation puts paid to some otherwise awesome interactions between gadgets. Thrusters offer a useful lateral dodge, and that could be amazing to combine with the grapple, except the switching input makes that hugely impractical. Others are situational at best — the Drop Shield might save your life in a pinch, yeah, but grappling into cover will usually do the same, and with the added benefit of mobility — and others are just bad. Motion sensors? Come on, the Elites' cloaking tech isn't that good and in most cases, you can clearly make them out anyway. If you're going to be fighting for this slot, you need to fight harder. For fear of engaging Broken Record Mode, the Grappleshot is enormously satisfying, whether using the upgraded version to scale more or less anything or simply dragging your bullet-riddled ass out of the fray for a few seconds to catch your breath.

Encounters can get chaotic, and AI seems solid, especially on tougher settings. Elites will give you a good stand-up fight until they realise they're beaten and try to slink off to cloak, recuperate, and go again; Brutes either rush (terrifyingly) or sit behind underlings, depending on their archetypes; Grunts are no laughing matter, and charged Plasma Pistol shots can end runs; Jackals are a staple threat and continue to be so for the obvious reason that getting sniped is bad; Hunters still suck, maybe even more so here as they seem harder than ever to outmanoeuvre to hit their one weakness, although hard light weapons seem to serve as a decent cheat there. Picking your way through the pack and prioritising key targets is as important as ever, and even the little guys can prove troublesome, which makes every encounter different and interesting. Halo rose to power on the strength of its combat, and that USP is absolutely still there.

Halo Infinite campaign gameplay

Achievements aren't supported in the review build I've been playing, but we've had the list for a while now so we know what to expect. I'd have unlocked the vast majority if they were, though, with the main exceptions being LASO (couldn't exactly try that when I didn't even find half the Skulls...), a few for collectables, and likely the speedrun ones, not that I timed myself to know for sure. Those don't actually seem that bad, especially if you were to do an Easy run just to tick them off — an eight-hour campaign time seems reasonable if you skip most (if not all) optional content, although that in turns means minimal upgrades, hence why you might want to drop the difficulty for that one. Not being able to replay story missions will make some of the list missable, as there are several that involve meeting certain times or conditions and the quirky checkpoint saving may decide to autosave when you've already failed the challenge. Most collectables appear on the map, at least after securing an area, so mopping those up won't be a problem, although audio logs and towers do not (the latter do appear, but only after you've discovered them for yourself) so those find-'em-all achievements could be a pain. Skulls too you'll need to track down for yourself, although with both Skulls and logs hidden away in unrepeatable story missions, you'll either need to be very thorough or prepared to do multiple runs to grab the lot.

Summary

Moment-to-moment gameplay in Halo Infinite feels fantastic, so it's just a bit of a shame that there isn't more to do with those tight mechanics right now. Multiplayer is superb but you likely already know that, and with that element being free-to-play anyway, there's a massive question mark hanging over whether that should even be considered part of the core experience. The open world setting both giveth and taketh away, but I think it works for the most part, and fair play to the team for trying something new. Right now, it's a damn good game... but when it eventually catches up to its ambitions, it could wind up being something much more impressive.
8 / 10
* Luke played around 30 hours of Halo Infinite on a review build provided by Microsoft. Achievements were disabled in this early version of the game.
Luke Albigés
Written by Luke Albigés
Luke runs the TA news team, contributing where he can primarily with reviews and other long-form features — crafts he has honed across two decades of print and online gaming media experience, having worked with the likes of gamesTM, Eurogamer, Play, Retro Gamer, Edge, and many more. He loves all things Monster Hunter, enjoys a good D&D session, and has played way too much Destiny.