It’s the thud of his boots, I think. They don’t hit the ground as much as pound into it, reverberating all the way up through Spartan 117’s legs, waist, torso, arms, and finally into my controller. The symbolism isn’t too difficult to decipher, is it? It means he’s weighty and strong. Steadfast and solid. Dependable, and in more ways than one. Where other games – particularly shooters – have suffered crises of identity over the years, Halo seemingly never has. Yes, Halo Infinite has brought a lot of new things to the table, but just like Master Chief himself, today it’s as solid and dependable as it’s ever been.
I suspect I’m not alone when I tell you that Halo isn’t a game series for me, but one of the series. I was a latecomer, sneaking in through the backdoor of the fan club when everyone was looking in the opposite direction, and it was Halo Reach – yes, the Halo game without Master Chief – that made me realise that despite many years of protestations to the contrary, it turns out I do like shooters after all. A lot, apparently… especially once I’d retrospectively immersed myself in all the incredible Halo games I’d missed up until that point.
Halo from the other side
It’s strange, then, how much Halo Infinite feels both old and new, as though it paradoxically straddles both whilst committing to neither. There may be new gadgets and weapons to experiment with – oh, that grappling hook! – but the gunplay is as meaty and hefty as it’s ever been. Master Chief is less taciturn than before, sure, but he’ll speak when spoken to, his voice calm and clear. And, as ever, the melee feels deliciously juicy whether you’re jamming Chief’s elbow under the chin of an Elite or into the surprised face of a scurrying Grunt.
Though its predecessors told their stories via linear, tightly-weaved missions, one stacked after the other – and without any room to explore the deeper recesses of Halo’s fantastical world – Infinite perhaps moves Halo out of its comfort zone to permit precisely that: exploration. No, it’s not quite as “open” as the worlds we see elsewhere, but players do have something the game that came before it didn’t offer: choice.
Like its half-sibling, Destiny – another sci-fi shooter series created by Bungie, albeit the one its creator still maintains – Halo Infinite is pushing back on the presumptions of what a sophisticated shooter can be by placing its warscapes into an open world. Whereas prior games focussed on mission objectives at the pace and timing of the storyteller, Infinite has an altogether more relaxed approach. Though you’ll need to commit to its traditional pattern for the first hour or so, after that, convention is turned on its head and Zeta Halo is yours to explore. You can take on missions, quests, and rescues, across the world at your leisure – and what a fine world it is, too.
Do I miss the chance to stomp around with a co-op pal by my side? Yes. A lot, actually. That’s always been one of the biggest draws of Halo for me – the fact I can take on the Covenant, the Prometheans, or now the Banished with someone alongside me. It makes me a considerably more courageous Spartan than the one who creeps around the place alone. I know it’s coming – we need to wait until May “at least” – but my word, that seems very far away right now.
Halo, Good buy
Until then, however, we have multiplayer, and there I can play with a full squad of friendly Spartans. Yes, developer 343 Industries is still fiddling with its microtransactions and no, there’s still no option for console players to opt-out of crossplay, but if you can put those issues to one side, Infinite’s multiplayer is as glorious as it’s even been, offering tense, tight corridors of combat that never fail to thrill.
I’ve always thought there’s something special about Halo’s multiplayer. Whereas its contemporaries are obsessed with reinvention, endlessly complicating matters with unlockables and perks and competitive advantages that sometimes seem to unfairly penalise those without the luxury of time, Halo has chiefly stuck to its guns: literally.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve played once, or 101 times. It doesn’t really matter what rank you are (well, beyond bragging rights, I guess) – Halo is genuinely a level playing field. At the end of the day, who survives and who dies comes down to you, your tactics, and good old-fashioned luck. There are no game-breaking God rolls to get you out of a sticky situation here – and it’s all the better for it.
It’s this sense of composure and self-belief that sits at the very heart of Halo Infinite. No, it’s not as flashy as some of its competitors but quite frankly, it doesn’t need to be. What Halo Infinite excels at is crafting exceptional combat, a fascinating premise, and a believable world that’s as accessible for beginners as it is for veteran Spartans. I can’t wait to find out what’s waiting for us in 2022.
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