Be well, John Spartan.

Be well, John Spartan.

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What is Halo Infinite?

I mean it, think about it, what is Halo Infinite?

OK, fine, let’s step through it together. Is it a traditional, mainline game in the Halo franchise? Sure, yes, in most of the ways you’d quantify that, the complete Halo Infinite package checks many of the boxes you’d expect to see in a Halo game. Campaign co-op, really, is the biggest outlier there, but let’s not get hung up on that particular part just yet.

Is it one product? Or is it two? The multiplayer is a free-to-play release that’s being called a beta at the moment, though the money they will ask you to spend on a premium battle pass and cosmetics is decidedly final, non-beta money. I’ve had a fantastic time with the multiplayer and happily put $50 of my own money into it to buy said battle pass, some levels on said battle pass, and an extremely sick-looking armor set for my Halo Man. It’s certainly content-light if you’re comparing it to an “old,” full-fledged, traditional console video game release, but as a seasonal product with all of the ups and downs that entails, it launched reasonably well and it seems at least somewhat likely that the game will see a lot of meaningful additions to its modes and maps lists as time goes on. Obviously, we can’t review the future, so what’s here right now is what it is: a little thin on its own, but still something I’ve happily sunk time and money into.

The campaign is probably the part you’re interested in hearing about, since it’s the part of the game that hasn’t been out until right around the time I’m writing this review. That campaign sells for $60, just like a traditional console game. Wonderful, familiar territory, easy to assign a score to and… oh, wait, it’s also on Game Pass. OK, let’s walk through that a bit.

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It is the opinion of this publication that if you own a recent Xbox console you should subscribe to Game Pass and if you also have a reasonably modern PC you should probably subscribe to Game Pass Ultimate. It’s been a great collection of games both big and small. Even if Halo Infinite didn’t exist, I’d still be typing this part right now to tell you to go play Forza Horizon 5. Or to check out Back 4 Blood for an hour or so before deleting it. The PC end of Game Pass has been a somewhat dicier proposition than its console counterpart, but that side of things has picked up the pace quite a bit over the last year or so, making Game Pass Ultimate a much more interesting tier of service. Oh, also you can play Halo Infinite’s campaign via a Game Pass subscription. And there will be some multiplayer skins and stuff that come via the “Game Pass Perks” program.

With all of that said… yes, you should play the Halo campaign, it has some interesting ideas that blow out the traditional Halo campaign concept with some open-world-like designs without falling into the trap of just littering your map with a bunch of bad, repetitive activities. It brings that Halo toolset to a wider arena, letting you take on some of those outdoor challenges in fun, new ways. It also brings you indoors for some extremely Halo-ass Halo levels, which look great and give you that traditional Halo experience.

It also has an extremely satisfying grappling hook that makes you feel like the Master Chief has been playing a bit of Just Cause in his downtime.

So what the heck am I actually reviewing here, anyway? The $60 package, the “pay money for the campaign” package is probably the worst way to play Halo. You’d even be better off buying a month of Game Pass, playing the campaign, and letting that lapse. So thumbs down to that full, retail-style version of the game unless you are somehow locked in a world where you refuse to play anything unless it’s on Steam. I don’t know why you’d live that way, but you know what? People are weird. Did I say weird? I meant extremely particular. Hey, it’s your money.

Video game reviews have meant a lot of things to a lot of people over the years. To me, traditionally, the scored video game review is meant to serve as some sort of helpful advice for players who are on the fence about a particular product. When there was money on the line, I wanted to be there to help. At this point, I’ve written well over a thousand of these things. Timely reviews of new games couldn’t be beat for the first decade or so of my career. They’d sit in the top slot, the traffic would roll in, everyone was… well, maybe not happy, but at least they clicked on a thing and perhaps glanced at the last paragraph of what I had to say about a game. This was the way of the world. The games cost money, I hate to see people waste money on bad games, and me and the people I worked with on the reviews team were the people who held the line in an attempt to keep you from blowing money on bad games. Simple, right?

When the game is free and the subscription service is already something I’d recommend with or without the existence of this particular game, what purpose does that type of review serve? I could sit here and crank out the typical 1,500 words about The Next Halo. Playing the games takes way longer than writing about them does; it always did. In fact, let’s just do that now. I’ll get back to how I think this style of video game review is deader than dead later.

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Halo Infinite’s campaign once again puts you in the role of the Master Chief, and, unlike some previous entries, only the Master Chief. In a lot of ways, the game feels very back to basics, focusing most on the enemies and weapons that made the series famous in the first place. Where the last couple of games got bogged down by introducing a new, less exciting faction of enemies known as the Prometheans, Halo Infinite feeds you a steady diet of grunts, brutes, elites, jackals, and hunters. You’ll see some fun new tricks and some new enemies along the way, of course, but a lot of this game feels like it’s trying to ignore the last couple of games in service of giving you That Halo You Remember while also making everything feel bigger than it’s ever been before.

The story, too, takes a big sidestep by quickly introducing you to The Banished, a faction of traditional Halo enemy types that, if the numerous Halo wiki sites I’ve been scouring for the past few nights are correct, debuted in Halo Wars 2. While something about ditching large parts of the past two games’ direction in favor of a group of old-style bad guys that came from an RTS side story might seem a whole lot like grasping at straws to try to make something the lapsed Halo fan might more readily jump at… well, the change paid off because this very much works out in the game’s favor.

The story itself does what it can to tie up the loose ends of the previous games, but overall, Halo Infinite doesn’t seem too concerned with story at all. It thrusts you into the action, with a cutscene depicting the Master Chief being cast off into space by a large guy named Atriox. The game eventually fills in enough backstory to tell you about Atriox and his faction, the Banished, but overall, the story–particularly the parts focusing on the Banished and why they’ve taken over Zeta Halo–feels very light. The emotional side of Being the Master Chief and its counterpart, Being Around the Master Chief, are the focuses. Even the big events of the previous games, like Cortana lining up an army of AI allies to fight humanity, aren’t really dealt with in major or especially satisfying ways. The game feels like it’s waiting to tell you something really important, but once you get to the back third of game and start seeing something that resembles a story dump, it just doesn’t have that much information for you. It spends some time talking about what it means to be this weird, armored super soldier and what it’s like to be a human (or an AI hologram lady) who has to work alongside the universe’s coldest Spartan. The story feels small, in a sense, and that part works decently, but it’s hard to get attached to new characters like the Pilot when it feels like there’s still unfinished business with a lot of other, longer-running characters.

Many of the game’s late story beats unfold in front of you in holographic-style flashbacks and, by the end of the game and its post-credits sequence I was left wondering things like “wait, who was that” and “what did I even accomplish here, anyway?” It feels like a game missing one or two meaningful revelations at the end.

While we're on the subject, the Warthog skin you get for entering a bunch of Rockstar can codes is pretty good.
While we’re on the subject, the Warthog skin you get for entering a bunch of Rockstar can codes is pretty good.

I’ll put it this way: sometimes when we get games in for review, a publisher will ask nicely for us to not spoil specific moments in the game. Most of the time this is absolutely common sense stuff that you’d never really dream of just typing out in a review. In this particular case, one of the things on the Halo Infinite list is something I couldn’t spoil if I tried, because despite finishing the game, I have no idea what the thing they’re referring to actually is. I suppose I’ll need to finish it on Legendary at some point and see if there’s an extended post-credit sequence or something? Or maybe it’s mentioned in some even more obscure Halo side game? Do I need to buy the books? Is the information scrawled under the pull tab on a can of Rockstar?

Structurally, Halo Infinite looks like an open-world game, with its big map and little icons denoting main and side quests you can (and should) take on. But it works in phases. When you first get outside, you can run around a specific part of the map, taking over bases that serve as fast travel points, taking out high-value targets to unlock neat weapon variants, and so on. Progressing the story eventually takes you to another part of the map, locking you out of your old fast travel points from the first phase, and so on. Eventually you get your hands on a banshee, which is a flying vehicle. So, naturally, I set off in the direction of the dark part of the map that I hadn’t been to yet, to see if I could, I don’t know, see anything cool or play the last mission out of order or something like that. Instead, the game lets you get a bit outside of your current area, then throws up a YOU ARE LEAVING THE BATTLEFIELD SOLDIER countdown that kills you when it expires. That was a pretty disappointing thing to discover. Halo Infinite is smaller than it initially seems. That said, it’s still plenty big and pretty engaging. Also, you are let back out into the world after finishing the campaign, letting you travel around a bit more unfettered to mop up things you might have missed. In a lot of ways, Halo Infinite is the game I wanted after playing Halo 3: ODST, which had a hub world of its own that brought you into a set of somewhat traditional Halo levels. But there’s a part of me that can’t help but think that it could have been so much more if it had gone further in the open-world direction. It feels restrained both in its structure and in its storytelling. Still an extremely cool game with some terrific visuals and a lot of exciting and meaningful moments, but sometimes it feels like it’s just missing something.

And I don’t mean campaign co-op, though while we’re here, this campaign seems like it could be extremely fun to play through with friends. The open terrain and the mobility (and hijinks) enabled by the presence of a great grappling hook seem like they’d lead to some awesome moments. I’d probably be down to replay this entire campaign once that option is made available. They say it’ll happen next year. Forge is also planned to make its way into the game next year.

The multiplayer side of things, then, is confined to its competitive multiplayer, which comes in two basic forms: the 4v4 small map modes and the “big team battle” 24-player big map modes. The big maps are where the vehicles live, and loading up a warthog full of players and getting into trouble on the other side of the map is still extremely fun. The vehicle physics still get a little wild and loose, and again, the presence of a grappling hook only adds to the experience, letting you steal flying vehicles from a distance if you’re properly equipped. The trinity of melee strikes, grenades, and guns still works as you’d expect, but the action and control feels a little peppier than it sometimes has in the past. As far as I’m concerned–and I will grant you, I am mostly a Titanfall or Call of Duty kind of guy who didn’t even particularly like Halo until Halo 3 came out–this is the best competitive Halo has ever been.

But as I said above, the game launched with less than a full game’s worth of maps. The cosmetics are cool, but at some point in our modern, post-Fortnite world “skins” became pretty damned expensive. While I am alarmingly interested in being a clothes horse on the Spartan runway, spending like 20 bucks for a full set of new stuff just seems nuts. That’s rapidly becoming the standard price for that sort of makeover, though, so maybe let’s set this aside for the larger “the cosmetics are too damn high” conversation we probably need to have.

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On top of that, the game launched with an absolutely absurd progression system that only rewards you battle pass XP for completing. So playing the game properly–you know, heady concepts like trying to win or playing the objective modes as if they are objective modes instead of just yet another team deathmatch–aren’t really rewarded. There’s no listed player level or other progression, either. It’s just your battle pass. The challenge setup inspires people to play the game poorly because instead of trying to win, they’re trying to get five kills with a disruptor pistol… and then they might just quit after getting those kills since there’s no reason for them to stick it out. The developers have already made changes to this system and promise more changes are on the way, but it’s still in a pretty poor state as of this writing.

It’s been interesting seeing some players decry Halo Infinite’s split approach and instead pine for that traditional $60 package. I can’t think of anything more boring than a Halo that didn’t take any of these chances. While I don’t think 343 hit every single target they aimed for here, they hit a lot more often than they miss, and Halo Infinite is a great time whether you’re fighting it out with the Banished on the big ring or getting into the multiplayer.

Just don’t ask me if I think it’s worth $60 or not.

While I’m glad Halo went for it and trying a ton of different stuff in its gameplay, structure, and business model, there’s a part of me that pines for the old days. Remember when midnight launches meant something? Absolute lunatics, waiting out all night to pick up a game and go home to play until the sun came up? Now we’re pissed if a game doesn’t hit at 9PM here on the west coast and anything that decides to hold until 10AM the next day means we’re slapping together VPNs or changing our console region to get stuff to unlock early. Or, more accurately, we’re pre-ordering games to get in the Friday before the “real” launch date or something insane like that. Halo Infinite doesn’t have a Legendary Edition physical release, and something about that makes me sad. I have two of those stupid Halo 3 helmets in my garage and, honestly, the last thing I want is more physical stuff in my life, but… that helmet meant something, it stood out in a way that very, very few of those overpriced collector’s editions ever did. It was… well, legendary, I suppose.

Did that review serve its main purpose? I’m going to go ahead and say that you already knew if you were going to play Halo Infinite or not before you even clicked on this page. That’s fine, and it gets into the Other Reason people read a lot of these reviews over the years. Some people just want to get in some weird online argument about something. People go out and wait for Metacritic averages and then, instead of using them to help determine if a game is for them or not, they instead try to assign some kind of big meaning to the number. It’s just Ford versus Chevy, Sega versus Nintendo, Sony versus Microsoft, Apple versus Android. These divides now run all the way to the top, and I’m sure it won’t be long now before some console fanboy is waiting for JFK Jr. to return and tell us which machine is better.

When the games are free, we’re not reviewing to help save you money. We’re curating to help save you time. And this sort of information is often best conveyed in other forms. Like our podcast, for example, or Quick Looks. As games get bigger and bigger, as the medium spreads further and further, the game-specific publication is only for the diehards, even if some of the largest sites are still cruising off of SEO advantages and spending more time working on Black Friday gift guides stuffed with affiliate links than actual coverage of video games. Those diehards–you diehards–don’t need your hands held the same way people did 25 years ago. You don’t need me to sit here and put together my best game picks for “dads and grads” for some suck-ass gift guide. Those people all play games now, too. You’ve already consumed enough information about an upcoming game to know most of what you need to know before it’s out. All you really want to know is… does it live up to the hype? Again, you don’t need a score or a review to actually answer that question.

So it’s well past time for us to leave the “product review” behind. Duh, right? I realize that, as I’m typing this, we haven’t reviewed a game in over a year. And that plenty of other publications have made this same move. Also, I don’t want you to get it twisted–I’m not talking about critical writing. I’m not talking about actual criticism and the act of putting these games through their paces in search of some cultural context. That sort of writing is only getting more interesting, even if some meatheads like to get very salty the minute an author starts talking about a game’s place in the larger world we all inhabit. But that sort of writing isn’t necessarily the old “timely reviews that tell you if you should buy it or not” formula that I’m talking about here.

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I’ve been meandering down this road since 2019, when Microsoft put out Crackdown 3, of all things. A bad game, but when it’s part of a good subscription service, you might as well at least check it out, right? At the time, the idea that a bad, two-stars-at-best game like Crackdown 3 was still something that I could shrug off and say “I mean hey, give it a shot, you might as well, right?” felt like shoe #1. Halo Infinite is shoe #2. One of the biggest franchises from gaming’s modern era now shows up in two spots, one free-to-play, the other via a subscription. You don’t need me to do this anymore. There are better avenues for me to talk to you about the relative quality of new video games than this one. Whether it’s in an existing format or in an all-new one, this whole thing needs to change to better serve you, the modern video game enthusiast.

Overall, Halo Infinite is great but something of a mixed bag. Fans of the genre will certainly enjoy the additional mobility granted by the grappling hook while the rest of the gameplay delivers that well-polished Halo experience that shooter-heads have come to know and love over the decades. It’s a bit of a shame that the story doesn’t quite stick the landing, but add in the fantastic (and free) multiplayer and you’ve got a really solid foundation for whatever comes next, be that a story expansion or an eventual full-on sequel.

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