HALO INFINITE [Review]: Return of the King.

HALO INFINITE [Review]: Return of the King.
Dan Witt

First off, thank you all for your patience in waiting as long as you all have for this review. Typically I’m up day and night, grinding for completion into the wee hours of the night to get something out as quickly as possible. Alas, I took my time. I savored the experience. I played multiplayer. I wanted to really dive into the game and get what I wanted to get out of it, and I was absolutely glad I did…

By saying “it’s like X, but Y” isn’t always the best way to review something; but in this case, it really applies given the context of not just the subject matter itself, but the game industry in general. Given recent releases in both the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises, the oft touted “Halo Killers” in the FPS genre, I can’t help but also take a look at those titles and reflect on those experiences compared to what we have in Halo Infinite. Call of Duty: Vanguard is a decent, solid C+ experience, that doesn’t really think outside the box, and is more or less forgettable outside of a handful of halfway decent moments in the campaign. I haven’t heard too much about the Warzone: Pacific mode, but that comes as no surprise either– as I’m sure it’s really just more of the same. Battlefield 2042 tried something “different” and it’s a disappointment on a scale I can’t even quantify. It’s fun in some regards, but it’s not Battlefield. It’s a buggy, clunky, unbalanced mess.

So what was 343 and Microsoft going to offer? Halo Infinite’s development cycle and early release demos left a lot to be desired, and left many scratching their heads or rolling their eyes thinking they might be let down yet again by another crappy Halo game. I’m here to say, unequivocally.. that this is not the case. From the opening moments to the end credits, I was hooked. They got it right. No more convoluted story, no more completely out of character moments, no more shoe-horned in characters no one asked for. Just Chief, his AI, lots of enemies to kill, and plenty of intrigue that we have come to love from the original trilogy.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that 343 set out to recapture the nostalgia from those of us who fell in love with the original trilogy of games (I do consider ODST and Reach to be a part of that trilogy– so I guess, quintet?). One can’t help but feel a familiarity to the best moments and beats from the O.G. Halo experiences that most of us grew up playing. Is it recycled? No, Halo Infinite is definitely fresh, only with the right sprinkling of nostalgia where appropriate.

I’m a Halo Lore fiend. From the books, to the comics and the movies, I have been extremely interested in the story that Bungie created and 343 Industries inherited. Where Halo 4 and 5 were arguably missteps, Halo Infinite’s story falls right in line with what you might expect from a franchise that hopefully has grown up with its audience. It’s very dark at times, and really (I mean really) showcases the human side of the hero we all know as Master Chief. We get to know “John” a little bit more. That’s not to say he’s different in any way shape or form, it’s just that there are certain pauses in his dialogue, little nuances in the direction of the cinematic that really make you remember that he’s fully a person inside that suit.

All the guilt, all the times that John has perceived himself as a failure, and all the subtleties that you might not have experienced before come to the forefront in Infinite. It makes this Spartan commando’s path all the more intriguing. John’s narrative is definitely not melodramatic or corny either. 343 nails what it might be like for someone who has experienced tremendous loss and torment, only to keep rising, keep moving forward, and keep fighting— a lesson that we can all take something from in this current day and age. As someone who has been on this ride with Chief since I was 17, I really feel those moments, and applaud the writers for taking the time to craft a heart wrenching and a story full of emotion.

What about the open world though? If I have a criticism of the game, it’s that there is a pretty noticeable shift in the feel and the stakes when it comes to the open world aspect. When you’re in a story mission, you know it. Each mission is very well crafted, paced exquisitely, and delivers on nearly every level. The open world falls into the same trappings of every open world game to date: go here, liberate point A, reveal stuff on the map, kill targets, take down base, rinse and repeat. That’s it. I’m not going to knock it, because it actually works. It’s not overwhelming, I appreciate the “approach the objective in whatever way you see fit” feel of it, but it’s just a little lifeless and rote, compared to the actual story missions.

I absolutely enjoyed the idea of loading up my warthog or razorback with a bunch of salty Marines, driving to my objective and seeing how many I could keep alive during my mission, hoping to return back to base with all souls accounted for. If I felt it necessary, I’d spawn my own Scorpion tank (I love these) and lay waste to countless enemies as if I was literal hell on wheels. If I had a High Value Target to take down, why not take my trusty sniper rifle, get a good vantage point and dust them before they even knew they were dead? I loved the freedom, I loved the idea that I could play Halo “my” way. That’s why the open world was so fun and engaging despite not having the same sense of urgency as the main story. For you explorers out there, you won’t be disappointed as there are tons of nooks and crannies to explore on Installation 07, just waiting to be found.

Without touching into heavy spoiler territory, Halo Infinite does everything it can to address the events of Halo 5 but also completely shift course away from that game. There’s a little hand-waving at play here, but it’s explained as you progress further into the story, and it makes more and more sense as you uncover more secrets and information about how the narrative ended up here. It’s slightly confusing at first, and without any other familiar characters to anchor the player to the previous entries, it’s very much a mystery. If you haven’t played Halo Wars 2, you might be asking who the hell are The Banished? What’s an Atriox? Why are these Brutes and Elites working with each other? All these questions are more or less answered in game and through collectible audio logs, but if you want more information on these topics, there are legions of YouTube channels dedicated to Halo lore (my personal pick is the channel “Installation 00”).

Halo Infinite succeeds where the other pretenders to the crown of King of the FPS Genre fail miserably. While not perfect, this game not only offers a polished, well-executed experience that is absolutely aligned with my high expectations of the franchise, but attempts something new and delivered. I wish I could go into more detail about the story, but it’s worth it to experience for yourself. It’s absolutely heartbreaking at times, but it’s hopeful, and sets the stage for far more to come and I am absolutely here for it. Master Chief has absolutely returned in a big way here, and he finished the fight. 4.75-5/5 Delta Whiskeys.

-Dan Witt

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