‘Halo Infinite’ Promises an Open World, But So Far, It’s Mostly Big Halo

Fortunately for 'Halo Infinite,' the new wrinkles in combat are pretty dang fun, meaning Big Halo is, too.
November 19, 2021, 8:00am
A screen shot from the video game Halo Infinite
Image courtesy of Microsoft

Scattered throughout Halo Infinite are a series of outposts, military installations controlled by the Banished, the villainous faction driving this latest galactic threat in Halo Infinite. Because much of Halo Infinite takes place on what can only be described as a very large version of the Silent Cartographer stage from the original Halo, players can approach skirmishes like this in different ways. Charge into the front gate? Sure. Grapple up the side and quietly take out any snipers? Of course. Sneak through the side and blow up a bunch of explosives, prompting mass chaos? Definitely. At this point, I was, I dunno, half a mile from the area, and poring over its layout through a sniper’s scope. I was a contemplative Master Chief.

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At least, until one of my dipshit marines, a former prisoner of the Banished, decided to channel their inner “oorah!” and launch a volley of laser grenades at the installation without asking, immediately triggering the combat attention of the two dozen enemies over there. You cannot control what these marines do, and you’re at the mercy of their funky AI. A Banished sniper trained its eyes on me, and in a flash, contemplative Master Chief had died.

It was hysterical—and very Halo!

For all the self-seriousness in the high concept sci-fi gobbledygook that’s driven this franchise for the past 20 (!!) years, it is also a deeply silly game where ragdolling and floaty physics frequently result in abject, accidental humor. A stray grenade sends your character shooting to the moon, a rocket blast sends a Warthog spinning like a top over a cliff and into oblivion. My fondest memories of playing Halo, whether tossing a controller while trying to co-op through the campaigns on the maddening legendary difficulty or a round of CTF on Blood Gulch for the upteenth time, involve laughter. 

I’m limited in what I can tell you about the hours I’ve spent with Halo Infinite so far, but I can tell you that I’ve been surprised at how much laughing I’ve been doing during that time, and that it’s frequently and pleasantly captured some of the joy I felt playing those earlier games.

I’ve been frustrated with Halo ever since 343 Industries took over. Halo 4 and Halo 5 were, at best, incredibly boring. I gave Halo 4 credit for being a respectable imitation of Bungie’s systems—it felt notable at the time, at least. But beyond introducing some new and patently absurd layers of convoluted mythology to the storytelling, that’s all it was: imitation. I can’t tell you anything about what happened in either of those games, beyond that I played them out of a sense of obligation and nostalgia and Cortana is bad now. (To be clear: I didn’t touch the multiplayer in either; when I finished college, I also left Halo multiplayer behind.)

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The proposed twist for Halo Infinite is like Elden Ring, actually: that thing you like, but set in an open world! And in both instances, we haven’t been given a good understanding of what that even means. Elden Ring has been shrouded in secrecy because, well, that's just what developer FromSoftware does. Halo Infinite, on the other hand, had such a disastrous initial reveal in 2020 that Microsoft delayed the game by a full year and then buried it in the sand.

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Games with big maps are in a rush to drop you in there, so you can pour over all the little icons. Halo Infinite is not, and opens with a series of linear, story-driven areas much in line with the Halo games you’ve played in the past. (They’re fine.) It takes a few hours—perhaps less if you, unlike me, don’t spend a good chunk getting your ass handed to you on the heroic difficulty—before finally being let loose on another one of those dang space Rings, one with an Earth-y like look that harkens back to the beach-filled Silent Cartographer. 

It’s pretty and big and quickly you realize a big map is, itself, not transformative to the Halo experience. Unlike Elden Ring, in which the map explicitly begs the player to poke and prod at every corner and directly rewards curiosity, Halo Infinite is more guided. In my experience, there is no practical reason to set off in a random direction and expect to find anything interesting. (Halo games have historically been filled with easter eggs, however, and I suspect this is where they lie.) There is, likely, nothing cool hiding beyond that hill. Unless, of course, the game already dropped a handy icon on its map and said “yes, cool stuff here.”

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One of the more frequent locations in Halo Infinite are FOBs (forward operating bases), little Banish-held areas that players can use to call in weapons and equipment to take back out into the world. FOBs also unlock Banish intel, which translate to new icons on your map, and things to do in-between the main story missions. Some are pretty basic, like hiking over to a specific location and grabbing an upgrade point for your suit. There’s no cleverness involved in these hikes, though. You aren’t, for example, asked to use your grappling hook to cleverly scale a series of platforms. More likely, you’re gonna walk over to a spot and grab the glowing chest and your shields will become a little stronger. That’s it. More interesting, at least, are the side missions involving tracking down and killing unique high-level enemies and shutting down elaborate military installations. Remember contemplative Master Chief?

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It is not, in my experience, a world where anything can happen. Ships will pass overhead, animals will scoot by, but by and large, you are moving through a larger space to more traditional Halo combat encounters. One time, I zoomed my scope at a ship passing by, and realized there was no one even in it. Even the presence of enemies would have helped a bit.

Luckily for Halo Infinite, that part of the game still feels pretty great. Halo combat was revelatory in 2001, and it’s still solid in 2021. If the grapple hook has disappointed in terms of exploration, it has surpassed expectations within combat itself. It’s genuinely cool to find yourself in an “uh oh” situation and zap yourself to a different part of the map in an instant. And it’s very satisfying to bop a Jackal with the hook, briefly disoritening the shield-wielding enemy long enough for you to bop a bullet in their alien brian. With upgrades, the grapple hook can electrify enemies. It’s a welcomed, much-needed wrinkle to Halo combat, especially given how same-y the games have felt ever since 343 started making them.

I can’t talk about the story, really, but I lost the plot years ago, and couldn’t spoil this game for you if I tried. I know the Banished are bad, and Master Chief is good at shooting guns, and map big. That’s been enough so far, but the question is whether that’ll be enough for an entire game.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).