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Game On: Halo Infinite is the best Halo in a decade

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 16, 2021

After having its release postponed by a full year, against all odds Halo Infinite has lived up to the hype. The game is available on PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S and is included in Xbox Game Pass.  (343 Industries)
After having its release postponed by a full year, against all odds Halo Infinite has lived up to the hype. The game is available on PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S and is included in Xbox Game Pass. (343 Industries)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

I’ve always been into Halo more for the multiplayer than the single-player experience, but Halo Infinite’s campaign hits it out of the park by leaning on all the series’ strengths and creating some new ones.

It’s impossible to discuss the story without getting into spoiler territory, so instead I’ll just say this – my favorite Halo campaigns are the ones that have less to do with epic, world-ending threats and more to do with interpersonal stories. I would rate Halo 3: ODST the highest, then Halo: Reach and next, yes – Halo Infinite.

It’s no simple task for Halo Infinite to jump up to being my third-favorite Halo campaign when I have so much nostalgia attached to the first three entries, but it manages. It’s even more difficult when you consider that the big shakeup this time around was the decision to make Halo Infinite an “open world” game.

It’s a fad that I’d like to see die down since so many open world titles seem to devolve into fulfilling an endless chore list on a massive but dull, minimally designed map. But much to my surprise, Halo Infinite pulls it off. The overall playing field isn’t grotesquely large, and it has just about the right number of activities. It’s also pretty straightforward to rush through the main plot and ignore the side objectives if that’s what you’d prefer to do.

And while one could consider an open world to be a big departure from the Halo formula, the truth is that Bungie wanted the original Halo: Combat Evolved to be open world but struggled to make it work in 2001. Its mission, “The Silent Cartographer,” scratches the surface of the initial ambitions, for those curious.

So, in a way, the Redmond-based developer’s choice to make Halo Infinite open world and return to Pacific Northwest-inspired landscapes is a homage to Halo: Combat Evolved. The series has come full circle, and it’s immensely satisfying as a longtime fan. It’s a welcome surprise considering 343 Industries is also responsible for the somewhat lackluster entries Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians.

Aside from the great worldbuilding and solid story, the moment-to-moment gameplay might be the smoothest Halo has ever had. The vast and varied repertoire of weapons is fun to experiment with and rewarding to master, and the implementation of equipment feels far less shoehorned than previous entries. These new additions feel so natural that I found myself wondering how I played Halo without a grappling hook for two decades.

To compensate for Master Chief’s expanded arsenal, the AI-controlled opponents are smart as ever, and their quips and taunts are more hilarious than ever – in one instance, repeatedly missing my shots led an Elite to bark, “Do not be afraid! He cannot aim.” At long last, Brutes are convincingly apelike, and their berserker rage is truly intimidating now.

Jackals are appropriately conniving and obnoxious, and 343 Industries has doubled down on the humorous nature of Grunts, an alien race tragically self-aware of its pawn-like status. It’s not unusual for them to rush directly toward you with two active plasma grenades in hand shouting ridiculous statements like “it’s a living!” or “I didn’t mean to turn these on!”

Despite all the bombastic battleground shenanigans, Halo Infinite also knows how to slow down and show the vulnerability of its war-hardened cast of characters. It’s not “The Last of Us” or “Life Is Strange” levels of deep, but it doesn’t need to be. The game isn’t a thinker, it’s just a fun romp with some heartfelt moments telling an encouraging story of hope and determination in the face of overwhelming odds.

Perhaps it was a similar degree of hope and determination that led the developers at 343 Industries to create such a phenomenal product after having to postpone the game’s release for a full year. Considering how unmemorable Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians turned out to be, I really think the extra year was worth the wait. I’ll likely play Halo Infinite several times over.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com.

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