Halo Infinite (Xbox Series X)

  • Gameplay
  • Story
  • Audio
  • Visuals
  • Entertainment

Also available on Xbox One and Windows

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Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 12/14/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night

I’ve been a pretty big Halo fan pretty much since it came out in 2001.  Even in middle school at the peak of my Nintendo fanboy-ism and general hatred of all things Xbox, I’d make exceptions when I would hang out with friends who had an Xbox and Halo.  It’s because I’m such a big Halo fan that I’ve been so disappointed with the main series entries since 343 took over.  Halo 4 was just bad, and Halo 5 was even worse.  Halo Infinite, therefore, was kind of their last chance with me, and I went into it with a lot of trepidation.

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Halo Infinite is sort of a double-edged sword for me.  On the one hand, I absolutely love everything about the gameplay.  On the other hand, I absolutely hate everything about how they’ve gone about the release.  They started by releasing the multiplayer a few weeks before releasing the single-player.  That’s fine, whatever.  They called it a “beta,” but it really wasn’t as it was monetized out the ass day one with overpriced microtransactions, but that isn’t really what bothered me as that’s to be expected with free-to-play which is what Halo Infinite’s multiplayer is; you don’t need Game Pass or even Xbox Live Gold to play it.  On December 8, they released the single-player, and that’s where my issues started.  First off, there’s no ability to replay missions or play co-op, two things that are pretty much staples of Halo.  They’re both “coming in the future.”  Okay, stop right there.  Those two features have always been core to the Halo experience.  I would have MUCH preferred they delay the game another six months – they had already delayed it a year – to have those features in at launch.  I then found out that the physical release of the game contains no playable data on the disc.  The disc installs part of the campaign, but you have to download the rest to actually play anything; I get that we’re in a mostly digital age now, but that completely defeats the purpose of a disc altogether.  Just don’t do a physical release at all if that’s how you’re going to do it.  Because I’m so big on physical media and game preservation, that’s a MAJOR faux pas to me, and it made me glad that I canceled my pre-order to wait for a sale and just played via Game Pass.

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Fortunately, most of the actual game itself is really solid aside from a couple of grips with multiplayer and the bizarre omission of mission replay and co-op.  The gunplay has never felt as smooth to me, and the addition of a grappleshot and thruster to move around make it feel almost like Spider-man with guns.  The vehicles feel a bit odd to control at first as 343 made some big changes to the handling of them, but it’s just different rather than bad; once you play for a while, you get used to it pretty quickly, and that’s a good thing as the open world is massive.  Even flying in a wasp, it’ll probably take you a solid ten minutes to fly from one end of the map to the other, and with all of the mountains and caves and whatnot littering the landscape, there’s a ton to do on foot.  That’s honestly my favorite part – just driving around in a Razorback full of marines and finding a little Banished outpost to attack.  As one would expect with an open-world game, there are also a TON of collectibles to find.  There are Spartan cores that let you upgrade abilities, Mjolnir armories that unlock multiplayer cosmetics, forward operating bases that let you fast travel and serve as UNSC bases, propaganda towers that award valor (the more valor you have, the more weapons and vehicles you can call in at FOBs), Banished outposts to attack, high-value targets which unlock powerful weapon variants, and three different kinds of audio logs to find (UNSC, Spartan, and Banished) as well as the usual Halo skulls.  Just running the main missions will probably take 10 to 15 hours; doing a 100% collectible run will probably take 40 or more.

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Anyone who knows me knows that multiplayer isn’t something I usually put a lot of time into, but I have to admit that Halo Infinite has some of the most fun multiplayer I’ve ever played even if it is pretty bare-bones currently.  You’ve got two main options – quick play and big team battle.  Quick play is 4v4 and cycles between Slayer, Oddball, Stronghold, One Flag, and Capture the Flag.  Unfortunately, there’s currently no Fiesta even though that was the first week-long event, and there are no playlists although that function, as well as a couple of new game modes, are coming in an update this month.  Big team battle is 12v12 battles and cycles between Slayer, Oddball, Stronghold, Total Control, Capture the Flag, and Stockpile.  Stockpile sucks.  It sucks less when you have a team that actually plays the objective, but it still sucks.  I absolutely love Halo Infinite’s multiplayer, but it’s not without its issues.  The biggest issue is progression; initially, you only got battle pass experience from completing weekly challenges (things like “Kill 10 enemies with a battle rifle” or “Win 3 Stronghold matches”).  You got no points for completing or even winning a game, no points for kills, no points for playing the objective.  The outcry was immediate, so they changed it so that you go 50 xp for completing a match.  Well, that still sucked because it meant you had to play 20 games to go up one level, and a match can take anywhere from five to thirty minutes.  They’ve said more changes to progression are coming, but the current iteration of this is a scaling system where you get 300 xp for your first game, then 200 for a couple, then 100 for a few, and then 50 for each one after that.  All of that is, of course, in addition to your weekly challenges, and those are actually my next complaint.  Because of how the weekly challenges are set up and still the best way to get experience points, you have a ton of people who completely ignore the objectives in favor of focusing on those challenges.  Got a stockpile match?  Get ready to deal with people just killing the enemy players with a needler for a challenge and not even trying to bring power seeds back to the base.  I’m sure that, within a few months, they’ll have a better system worked out and implemented, but it really makes you wonder “Who the hell at 343 possibly could have thought this was actually a good system?”  Despite all that, though, the gameplay itself is amazing and feels absolutely sublime.  I can honestly say that I’ve never enjoyed PvP Halo multiplayer even close to as much as I do here.  Now if we can just get a remake of the Blood Gulch map in Quick Play…

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Now that I’ve outlined my likes and dislikes for the single-player and the multiplayer, I’ll take a minute and talk about some of my observations about the more technical side of things.  I played on Series X, so I can’t speak for One, One X, or Series S, so if you want a more side-by-side with those, you’re better off going to Digital Foundry.  On Series X, though, you’re given a choice between a Performance mode and a Quality mode, and there’s honestly no bad choice here.  Performance gives you a frame rate of 120 fps and a usual resolution of 1440p whereas Quality gives you a frame rate of 60 fps and a resolution of 2160p.  If you’ve got a TV that supports 120 Hz, I’d say go for Performance to get that silky 120 fps, but the 60 fps of Quality is still fantastic, and the 4K resolution looks amazing.  There does seem to be some awkward frame pacing, though, the facial animations just look a bit janky in general.  This was most noticeable to me during the fight with Escharum.  It almost felt like his face was moving at 15 fps while the rest of the game moved at 120 fps.  Most faces aren’t as bad as that particular instance, but Echo-216’s pilot has some odd-looking facial animations.  Fortunately, though, the Weapon’s face looked fine to me.  Still, though, for a game this otherwise impressive looking, it’s jarring.  I also can’t help but wonder how amazing it would have looked if it had been developed specifically with Series X hardware in mind and not made for Xbox One and just upgraded for Series X.

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Overall, Halo Infinite is a great game.  From a narrative perspective, I don’t think it quite reaches the heights of the Covenant saga, but it’s a HELL of a lot better than the garbage 343 gave us with the Forerunner arc.  From a gameplay perspective, though, this is the best the series has ever been in my opinion.  It’s smooth, it’s intuitive, and the control scheme is a lot less radically different than the “FPS standard,” so it’s less jarring to go from other FPS to Halo and back.  As most have come to expect with Halo and Microsoft, it’s a graphical showpiece on top of how much fun to play it is.  The fact that it’s on Game Pass (as one would expect from a first-party Microsoft game) is fantastic, and add to that the fact that the multiplayer is totally free-to-play, and you’ve got a recipe for success here.  Supposedly, this is going to be a sort of service-based game that gets continuous updates going forward, so I’ve got my fingers crossed from some solid story content in the future, but even if what we’ve currently got is all we get, it’s a good time and well worth a playthrough.

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