Is It Good? – Halo Infinite (Halo 6)

Halo Infinite, the culmination of the longest dry spell in mainline Halo games ever. Twice as long between games than any other gap. Far removed from the heyday of 2009 to 2015, where a Halo game of some shape or form was released every year. Following on from the worst-received game of the entire franchise. The question is, does it save the series? Yes. But also maybe not. Is it a good game? Yes, definitely. Is it a good Halo game? Maybe.

The multiplayer came out first, so seems like as good a place as any to start. On a basic level, Halo Infinite’s multiplayer is spectacular. It manages to combine the very best aspects of the Halo franchise in one little box. Because of its longevity, rather than being compared to Halo 5 Guardians, Halo Infinite is inevitably compared to The Master Chief Collection more often than not. And that’s a scary place for a developer to be, because the MCC is (almost) everything that is mainstream Halo in one place. Eminently accessible, convenient, and polished. In Infinite, weapons are balanced, the enhanced movement from Guardians is maintained and expanded upon. It’s a well-planned sandbox that lets player skill sit paramount. It’s fast paced, faster than Halo has ever been, and that’s very much to its credit. Some of the weapon changes are… questionable, mind you. Thanks to the grapple and electrical weaponry, vehicles are no longer the map-dominating behemoths they once were. Due to the addition of the aforementioned electrical weaponry, Plasma Pistols no longer have the EMP function that has defined it for 17 years, and with the speed reduction on the Gravity Hammer, it is no longer evenly comparable to the Energy Sword. The Plasma Rifle, a mainstay of the series since the very beginning, is gone. The Shotgun is underpowered. The Spartan Laser is gone. The Pistol is back to its weaker self. The Assault Rifle is, for the very first time, a serious weapon and not a death sentence to be left with in a firefight. Old school fans were confused by the changes, but all taken as a whole, the shifts complement each other to make, as said, a tight and balanced sandbox. Beyond anything else, at a basic level, the multiplayer is the most fun I’ve had playing a Halo game in years.

…It is also the most frustrating multiplayer experience I’ve ever had. Now, bear in mind, changes are being made near-constantly, so some of this probably won’t be the case a week, a month, a year down the line. And this is very much where comparisons to the MCC are going to be rife. Forge mode’s eventual release may even change the following, but of course that’s a rant all of its own for later. The sheer amount of missing weapons and vehicles is painful. I made a chart:

For a multiplayer sandbox that has always given this wide-ranging level of choice, the weapon and vehicle selection is hugely limited. Almost everything introduced in Halo 4 is gone, which is fine except there are new Forerunner weapons in place of the old. It’s cool that the Banished have their own brand of weapons, but taking out the Brute Plasma Rifle and Brute Shot makes no sense in a Brute-focussed game. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to get the Chopper back, it just seems like a lot is missing. Now there have also been comments made about the small number of maps available at launch, but that’s (again) because comparisons are being made to the MCC. Halo had 13 at launch, Halo 2 had 12, Halo 3 had 11, Halo Reach had 13, Halo 4 had 13, Halo 5 was complicated because of remixes and variants but basically had 13. Halo Infinite has 10. It’s low, but it’s not insanely low. And as a result of the enhanced movement in the game it’s rare that games on these maps play out the same way with any kind of regularity, so I give it a pass. No, no, there are two major issues with the multiplayer, and both branch from the same source. The issues? Rampant cheating, and microtransactions. The source? Being free-to-play. Technically.

See, Halo Infinite isn’t free-to-play. Well, it is after a fashion with Xbox Game Pass from Day One and whatnot, but the game itself is not truly F2P. The multiplayer however, is. Make an Xbox account, download the game, and start playing. For dedicated Halo fans this shouldn’t matter, since they’d be getting it anyway and it just means more players. In theory. Unfortunately, cross-play between Xbox and PC players plus the game being free-to-play means that it’s a wellspring of wallhacks and aimbots. With the MCC (and this is where it’s absolutely fair to compare the two), there was cross-play, but the anticheat was top-notch. You could play on the servers with anti-cheat on, or you could host your own games or use the custom game browser with anti-cheat off. Simple. There were ways and means to access the single player with achievements enabled but still skirting past the anti-cheat, but if you touched the multiplayer servers and your anti-cheat had been tampered with– boom, kicked from the game immediately. Not banned, because they perhaps understood that mistakes happened, but kicked. Meanwhile, Halo Infinite’s anti-cheat is, to put it plainly, shit. Ranked is more often than not unplayable, with the top player in any given game coming out with dozens of “perfect” medals for repeated pistol headshots through walls. The only saving grace is that all games are now recorded for all players, from all players’ perspectives, so the community has gotten tougher with the reporting of obvious hackers. Sadly, this doesn’t amount to much, because as we’ve established, a ban is irrelevant if the hacker in question can just pop the lid on a brand new Microsoft account and get right back to it.

The other thing is microtransactions. One of the worst things about Halo 5’s multiplayer experience was microtransactions. Long-time fans love customising their armour, but in Halo 5 customisations were locked behind a lootbox system where you would randomly receive item and armour cards. It was gross, it was overpriced, and as ever it penalised people not willing to put their hand in their pocket. Halo Infinite keeps the promise of removing “lootboxes”, but did not remove the microtransaction concept. In fact, it’s worse than that, because these aren’t microtransactions. They’re MACROtransactions. Let’s do a quick comparison: Full access to the first battle pass, full of Reach armour permutations and running until May of next year, is £7.99. My brother and I said to ourselves at launch, “well, we haven’t had to buy the game because of game pass, so we’ve got £55 we wouldn’t otherwise have”, shrugged, and bought the battle pass. Armour sets, which are NOT available to earn with any other way than by putting your hand in your pocket, cost upwards of £15 each. EACH. In fact, some kind soul datamined the existing store content, and discovered that to buy everything would cost over £750, with absolutely no way of earning them within the game. The “armour” caches you find in the campaign are simply colourations for your armour, and the biggest kick in the teeth of all is that they ONLY function for the Mark VI armour, not the Mark V or any to follow. Which raises the next big red flag: which is that banners, trinkets, avatars, and armour, weapon, and vehicle decals with the same picture are all separate unlocks, with armour colourations only being for a particular armour set, and a distinction between the versions of the armour for attachments, meaning that the battle pass significantly and artificially reduces in value. The special battle pass for the samurai armour isn’t even excluded from the nonsense despite being technically free, because it shares its limited challenge space with the standard battle pass, artificially slowing down how quickly (or if at all) things can be earned.

The worst part is that the MCC shows that 343 know how to handle cosmetic unlocks the right way– by tying them to collectibles, achievements, and challenges. Killed your 1000th Hunter? Have a banner. Completed the game on LASO? Have a cool sword. It’s all the more galling because once again the hackers win out, having unlocked everything from the store on day one. Unfortunately, as long as there are “whales” who continue to pay for these macrotransactions, 343 have no incentive to double-back and change course, and will instead focus on the same old nonsense they fed us regarding Halo 5’s lack of split screen multiplayer: “It’s part of the engine, we can’t change it post-launch”. Bullshit.

I promise you this was originally going to be a shorter review, but I got going. Let’s talk about the campaign.

The sort-of open world approach to Halo Infinite is something that I wasn’t happy with when it was announced. Halo is a level-based series that lends itself to easily being able to jump in on a mission you want and getting right to it, and not being able to replay campaign missions on a save file is… well it’s not okay. My general thoughts on this as not the route I want to see the series go have not changed in my first 19-hour playthrough (I missed the two skulls on the first two levels, but got absolutely everything else). But. And it’s a big but. Holy crap, it’s so much damn fun. The map is split into sections, where Zeta Halo is broken, and attempting to grapple across can (and often does) result in the grapple failing to work and you falling to your death in the void of space. As a result, once I finally unlocked the Wasp, I was thrilled. But I quickly realised that while it was handy to get from landmass to landmass, that was it. The rest of the time, I was Spiderman 117. There is something immensely cathartic about half a ton of Spartan flying through the air from tree-to-tree to land a well-placed ninja kick on an unsuspecting Brute. Travel is straightforward, and even the plethora of Ubisoft-style collectibles and “towers” don’t ruin an otherwise solid formula. In multiplayer games, we sometimes talk about there being a “meta”. Well, the meta for Halo Infinite’s legendary campaign is to unlock the Razorback, the Infinite version of the transport Warthog, loading it with five marines holding Sniper Rifles, Rocket Launchers, Skewers, or Sentinel Beams, and simply… driving up to your enemies and watching them die immediately, with zero resistance. It is open world, and that’s not proper Halo, but damn is it satisfying as all hell.

The campaign missions are more like “proper” Halo. Relatively self-contained areas, often pretty linear and direct: get from A to B, kill everything in your way. Golden. Though, as a result of the openness of the rest of the game, bringing a Warthog full of marines to a mission zone only to have them immediately blown up during the opening cutscene is rather infuriating. Weapon, or, I guess, Cortana 2.0, is a riot. She’s got Cortana’s witty and snide side, but is a lot more innocent about everything in general. I wasn’t a huge fan of Echo 216 during the game, but I did like the way they developed his personality and gave a reason for his outbursts, eventually giving us a few of the Master Chief’s most humanising moments in the franchise. The same is true of Weapon, actually. The story is going to be a point of contention, however.

This game represents something of a soft-reboot for the franchise, and I’m not talking about the shift to open world (which I don’t believe will stick). The first trilogy was about the Master Chief and his often one-man battle against the Covenant. The second, “Reclaimer”, trilogy has been about… I mean I guess the Forerunners after a fashion, but the focus has shifted so many times it’s tough to say. Retrospectively the answer is Cortana– it’s Cortana’s trilogy. Except… Cortana is almost entirely absent for this one. I’m getting looped around, but the gist is this: Cortana dies in Halo 4, except she manages to reconstitute within the Domain, realises that organic life is basically awful, and decides to rule the galaxy in Halo 5. We split our focus between the Master Chief and Spartan Locke, like with the Chief and the Arbiter in Halo 2, and both the story twist and the character change were not appreciated by fans at the time. But here’s the thing: It’s been six years. Six years to adapt to the idea that actually, yeah it makes sense to play as other Spartans for another perspective, and it makes sense that an all-powerful Cortana would be a bit more Forerunner-like. Sadly, 343 decided that the fan backlash six years ago was reason enough to do a complete heel-face turn. The Guardians? Irrelevant. Cortana? Dead. The Arbiter? Gone. The Infinity? Destroyed. Agent Locke, Captain Laskey, the rest of Blue Team? Missing, maybe dead. And the big bads? The Banished. Unheard of for people who only play the mainline games, but a big deal in the Halo Wars series. Except… again… The UNSC Spirit of Fire kept the Banished at bay throughout Halo Wars 2 on their own, while apparently they’re able to completely body both Cortana’s forces (shown to be able to casually destroy planets), and the Infinity (shown to just mow straight through Covenant capital ships without their shields even failing). And Installation 09, a massive deal being made of its capture by the Created at the end of Halo Wars 2? Meaningless.

To compound things, expanded universe fans knew what to expect from Zeta Halo. It’s where the Gravemind was created. It’s the single biggest Flood repository in the universe. It’s a known base for the character previously known as 343 Guilty Spark. It’s the last known location of several key characters, including ancient humans. What’s special about Zeta Halo in Halo Infinite? It contains Harbinger (and her pet Skimmers), the key to awakening the rest of “The Endless”, otherwise known as the Xalanyn; a species “more dangerous than the Flood” and completely unmentioned in 21 years of storytelling. They can’t even make the argument Bungie made between Halo 1 and Halo 2, or between Halo 2 and Halo 3, that there are books and comics explaining discrepancies and expanding the story, because even amongst the Forerunner books there is nothing to hint at the existence of the Xalanyn. The Flood caused the Forerunners to wipe out all life in the galaxy, the Created were able to hold the galaxy under their thumb, what on earth could The Endless even be?

This would all be fine, of course, if this wasn’t the third game in a trilogy. Rather than answering questions and wrapping up stories, this game abandoned a plethora of plot points and upended everything seemingly for the sake of laying the groundwork for the next game in the series, something Halo has never done at the expense of the story it was meant to be telling.

Now don’t misunderstand me, Halo 5 was shit. I’ve played over 2000 hours of the MCC, and a paltry 41 hours of Halo 5– I completed it on Heroic and Legendary, played a few hours of multiplayer, decided it wasn’t for me, and called it a day. Would I play more if it was in the MCC and had co-op? Maybe. Probably. Almost definitely. Halo Infinite has been out for less than a month, and I’ve already played an hour more of it than the six year old Halo 5.

I thought I was done but there’s one final pair of complaints to touch on, both hovering over the fact that this is not a finished game (thank you, free-to-play model). Campaign co-op, something this franchise is best known for, ignored in Halo 5 for stupid reasons and causing well-deserved lambasting of 343 as a result… is missing once again. “March 2022”? Are you taking the mickey? And the excuse being that it’ll come with season 2 is supposed to make us feel better because it meant they could spend more time making the game as polished as it can be in the run up to release? Well here’s the thing, it’s a core feature. The game isn’t complete and polished if it’s missing core features, guys. Forge is an even bigger joke, currently looking at a May 2022 release window, and that’s assuming it doesn’t get bumped again with all of the backlash over macrotransactions and whatnot. So all in all, we have the first Halo game ever with no multiplayer features included in the price at all with competitive being free-to-play and co-op completely absent, and Forge missing for the second game in a row. A campaign that takes a mere 19 hours to complete one hundred percent of the content with no expected additional features included has no business costing £55. It’s that simple.

And so, in brief: the campaign is good solid fun, with some truly great moments. Newcomers to the franchise will undoubtedly have a blast, while long-time fans will have fun but be left feeling a little hollow at everything that’s missing or ignored. The multiplayer is wicked, but deeply flawed and riddled with problems that only a free-to-play model can provide. It’s incomplete, unpolished, and half-arsed.

Is it good? Yes. But that’s all it is.