In a sense, Halo Infinite feels like an object from the past that’s been sent from the future. On the one hand, 343 Industry’s long-awaited sci-fi sequel is stolidly backwards-looking – an attempt to mimic the formula that made earlier entries like Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 3 such tremendous successes. On the other, Infinite represents a bold new frontier for video games. Not because of any revolutionary gameplay - though it is well-balanced and addictive in all the right ways – but because of how it is being released. Infinite is available, in full, from day one (8 December) on Xbox’s Game Pass subscription service, free for all subscribers. Infinite isn’t the first game to do this, but it is the most high profile to date. Gaming has well and truly entered its Netflix era.
Picking up loosely where Halo 5: Guardians left off, Halo Infinite follows armour-suited supersoldier Master Chief as he explores the Zeta Halo, an expansive ring-shaped world taken over by the villainous mercenary organisation known as the Banished. There are people for whom the storyline of Halo matters a great deal. I am not one of them. For me, the plot only need be a shallow pretext for a string of firefights, skirmishes and vehicular assaults. To this end, Infinite’s campaign resoundingly delivers. But that’s not to say there’s no substance to it; loreheads will likely find the game a significant improvement on Guardians.
Infinite wisely avoids messing too much with the fundamentals. There’s a good array of weapons to choose from without feeling overwhelmed, and a nice sense of variety to the combat. A propulsive grappling hook is the sparkliest new addition; finding creative ways of using it as a weapon, tool or means of traversal is one of the game’s small pleasures. Infinite doesn’t quite have a full open world, but there’s a lot of emphasis on free movement and exploration. The whole “capture a base, reveal the surrounding area” rut may, however, seem overfamiliar to anyone who’s played Far Cry (or pretty much any open world game in the past few years).
There’s a lot of meat to the campaign (around two dozen hours, depending on your chosen difficulty/completionist bent), but it’s the multiplayer that has always kept people flocking back to Halo. Infinite’s free-to-play multiplayer was released early and by surprise last month; players have already sank their teeth into the open beta. Without offering too much that other online shooters don’t, Infinite packages its games slickly and appealingly, and is sure to retain a robust player base for years to come.
When it was announced last year that Infinite was being delayed (partly due to Covid) - that it would not be released to coincide with the Xbox Series X launch – some fans were quick to label it a disaster. Now, as the game becomes the crowning jewel of Xbox’s potentially industry-changing Game Pass service, it’s hard to see it as anything but time well spent.