343 Industries wasn’t kidding when it said Halo Infinite should be a spiritual reboot. If the first four hours of Halo Infinite’s single player game are even remotely representative of the entire game, then we’re dealing with the most Halo-esque game since Combat Evolved.
While, as a surprise, Microsoft suddenly de multiplayer van Halo Infinite released, we were already able to get started with the single player of the game. With the first four missions that is, which coincidentally also lasted about four hours. You will not find spoilers in this preview. However, it is explained in detail why Infinite feels so familiar, and how the open world works exactly.
You have to wait a while for that open world. Halo Infinite takes the time to build the story first. Almost analogous to Combat Evolved, the player is thrown directly into the deep end. In the opening scene, we witness a fierce battle between humanity and The Banished, a new alliance of familiar enemies. But as long as Chief is still breathing, there’s still hope, of course.
You should not expect background information about The Banished or about Zeta Halo, the new ring world where the game takes place. Once again, the game, following the example of Combat Evolved, initially takes the premise for granted. That creates an intriguing tension. As you take your first steps in a typical Forerunner build and marvel at the chilly reflective metal, the game gives you just enough breathing room to think for a moment. Where are we? Why are we here? What do The Banished want? And what happened to Cortana? We haven’t experienced this much otherworldly mystery in Halo since we first set foot on the ringworld twenty years ago and gazed at the upward curving horizon.
In between that amazement, we have a blast. They may call themselves The Banished, but in the end we’re dealing with the same Elites, Brutes and Grunts as before. And we really mean earlier. Enemies are just as talkative and funny as they were when Bungie was still responsible for Halo. The Grunts in particular are cackling about it. They run away whining in panic when you slaughter their friends, or jubilantly when they beat you once. The Prometheans introduced in Halo 4 are not there, at least during opening hours, and we can’t really regret that.
Meanwhile, the new cast is also introduced to us. The Pilot, the pilot we’ve seen in trailers before, and The Weapon, a new AI, complement Master Chief’s personality wonderfully. The Pilot is frustrated, anxious and wants to get as far away from Zeta Halo as possible. The Weapon is uninhibited and naive. And Chief? Chief is Chief. Cool, calculating. But also incomplete and damaged, literally and figuratively. Chief has been through and lost a lot, and it shows. Even with his imposing Mjolnir armor, which is full of minor damage and spots, he looks tired or even sad at times. We certainly don’t want to compare Halo to The Last of Us or God of War, but Chief feels more complex than ever. Together with The Pilot and The Weapon, he forms a diverse team that faces an immense task: survive on Zeta Halo.
We haven’t experienced so much alien mystery in Halo since we first set foot on the ringworld twenty years ago
Because once the chess pieces are all in place, a whole new world opens up for you. Zeta Halo feels like a natural evolution from the first level on the ring world in Combat Evolved. It’s not really a completely open world where you can go where you want; it is war after all. The ringworld is occupied by The Banished, who have bases and camps everywhere. You can also find tufts of Marines here and there.
The Master Chief can rescue these Marines and capture bases to claim the ring world piecemeal. These Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) also serve as a fast-travel point, and you can spawn vehicles or weapons. In addition, there are larger fortresses where a little more story is told, as well as ‘High Value Targets’, a kind of mini-bosses that provide a cool weapon. Finally, there are some items to collect, such as Spartan Cores that improve tools like the Grappleshot, and cosmetic items for the multiplayer.
Although there are only a handful of these side activities in the first area, we do get flashbacks to Assassin’s Creed right away. There is a chance that these activities will feel generic after a few times. At the same time, it immediately becomes clear that Halo Infinite breaks the (potential) rut with story missions. For the next story mission, the open world transitions almost seamlessly into a more closed-off environment. This mission is noticeably more action-packed and carefully arranged than the bases we captured just before.
This interaction is perhaps most reminiscent of Halo 3: ODST, where the streets of New Mombasa didn’t really function as an open world, but more as a hub between the missions. Zeta Halo is also reminiscent of New Mombasa in another respect. It is not just a sandbox to mess around in: the open world partly determines the atmosphere of the game.
For example, you will find crashed rescue ships and burnt out Warthogs, but the ring itself is also visibly damaged. The hexagonal foundation of the ring is exposed everywhere. As a Halo fan, you want to know what happened here and what happened to the crew of the Infinity. Fortunately, there are plenty of audio logs in the game world to find out little by little.
But it’s also worth noting that 343 Industries is not an expert in creating open worlds. You don’t have a minimap or compass at your disposal during ‘free roaming’, if you can call it that. As a result, we get lost relatively often and we have to consult the larger map a bit too often via the menu. That slows things down a bit.
There is a risk that Halo Infinite will try too much at once. Does the humanity of The Pilot and The Weapon survive if you just mess around in the open world in between? And how long will it be fun to eradicate camps with Banished? On the other hand, all that is not completely new to the series. Infinite combines the mystique of Combat Evolved with the hub world of ODST. We even detect a hint of Reach during the story missions, in which a lot of attention is paid to the interpersonal relationships of the protagonists in between the action.
We can hardly give Halo Infinite a greater compliment at this stage. After all, it does not remind you of Halo 4 and 5, but combines elements from the heyday of the series. Is this finally the series’ revival? The rightful heir to the Bungie’s Halo? We will know for sure on December 8.
Halo Infinite is out December 8 for Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, and PC. For this preview, we played on an Xbox Series X.