The Xbox Games Showcase was broadcast for the world to see on July 23, and I’ll admit to being excited by the multiple offerings that were revealed that morning. Survival-horror shooter “STALKER” is back after 13 years of silence; the humorous fantasy RPG “Fable” teased its return; and world-class RPG developer Obsidian Entertainment announced its next big upcoming title, “Avowed.”
Then there’s “Halo Infinite” – the newest game in the series that almost singlehandedly laid out the red carpet for Microsoft’s entrance into the gaming industry. The circumstances of “Halo’s” breakout success are remarkable because the series could’ve just as easily flown under the radar entirely. Bungie was initially developing “Halo: Combat Evolved” for Mac OS before financial strains led the company to pen an exclusivity deal for Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox console. Xbox entered the market in 2001 – conveniently the same year Sega departed the hardware business – with what is arguably the strongest launch title in gaming history.
“Halo: Combat Evolved” made the first-person shooter genre a mainstream success. “Halo 2” popularized competitive multiplayer gaming on consoles. “Halo 3” perfected the formula and sold like hotcakes, raking in $170 million in first-day sales in the U.S. alone, setting a record for the highest gross of an entertainment product within 24 hours of release. Worldwide, more than $300 million worth was sold in its first week, more than doubling the sales of the Xbox 360 console. “Halo” has always pushed unit sales, and after the series’ somewhat lackluster “Halo 5: Guardians” did little to boost the sales of the struggling Xbox One, all eyes are on “Halo Infinite” to be the system-seller the upcoming Xbox Series X needs.
The people at 343 Industries are clearly leaning into classic elements of “Halo” while also taking new risks with the franchise. The story is set on a lush, green ring world like the original, but unlike its predecessors, “Halo Infinite” will feature open-world exploration and a day/night cycle, making the alien locations feel more alive than ever before. According to creative director Chris Lee, “Halo Infinite” will still tell a coherent and focused story despite the open-world approach. Think “Red Dead Redemption,” “Grand Theft Auto” or “Assassin’s Creed.”
Open-world games have as many strengths as they have weaknesses. Players can forge their own path and become immersed in vast and scenic settings – conversely, many open-world games feel hollow and directionless. “Fallout: New Vegas” was a hit with many, but I found scavenging the postapocalypse Nevada desert to be bland and incredibly tedious.
Nevertheless, I remain optimistic the formula might work for “Halo Infinite.” The series dipped its toes in the open-world formula in 2009 with the spin-off “Halo 3: ODST,” which told the story of a lost space Marine being reunited with his team – quite different than the usual potentially world-ending consequences of Master Chief’s exploits throughout most of the series. A smaller-scale story works better for open-world games. There are too many games wherein saving the universe can be put on hold while you run amok in the wilderness in search of collectible trinkets. Talk about cognitive dissonance.
I’ve always been more enamored by the Halo series’ timeless competitive multiplayer than its story-driven campaigns, but the Halo tales I have enjoyed over the years were the ones smaller in scope. “Halo 3: ODST” was an immersive masterpiece that encouraged detective work and cautious, stealthy tactics. “Halo: Reach” told the heroic story of humanity’s last super soldiers making their final stand. From the looks of it, “Halo Infinite” will be a blend of big and small – the player-controlled Master Chief will wage a small war on the new alien faction known as “The Banished” while also working to preserve the life of the pilot who comes to the player’s rescue at the game’s opening.
I’m not convinced the series can single-handedly sell gamers on Xbox consoles the way it used to – but even the brief gameplay reveal of “Halo Infinite” seemed more inspired than 343 Industries’ previous works, “Halo 4” and “Halo 5: Guardians.” The franchise might never command the same dizzying heights of popularity that it once did, but a good game is a good game regardless – and “Halo Infinite” looks to be just that.
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