Halo Infinite Campaign Preview: Approaching Perfection

Posted on December 6, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Games, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Project xCloud, Xbox, PC gaming with 24 Comments

UPDATE: I’ve published more Halo Infinite campaign screenshots here.

 

After lurching into uncomfortable territory in the two most recent installments of the series, Halo and Master Chief are back, and in fine form. I’ve only just started the Halo Infinite campaign, but two things are immediately obvious: the controls are perfect, a rarity for first-person shooters, and the story is a welcome and overdue throwback to the events of the first three Halo titles. Welcome home, John.

This is an important turnaround as the Halo games got less and less interesting over time. That is, the first three main titles in the series—remember, there are several offshoots too—are classics, and I played, and replayed, each again and again. But with the last two games, Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians, Microsoft’s gaming studios lost the script, and I didn’t get very far into either despite multiple attempts. The magic just wasn’t there.

Halo is also important for having essentially created the multiplayer matchmaking functionality that we now take for granted since it’s built into Xbox Live itself. It’s not the first great console shooter per se, but it really is because its single-player and multiplayer components were both instant classics, elevating both story and gameplay. In the great evolution of shooters that started DOOM and Quake, Halo is the next major milestone before Call of Duty and then battle royale titles like Fortnite.

So Halo is important, but that’s been increasingly true for historic reasons in recent years as those newer games, and newer game styles, took over. In many ways, Halo is like James Bond or perhaps Star Wars more obviously, an ongoing success that exists primarily out of nostalgia for a past when it alone dominated. But like those movie franchises, Halo can evolve to make more sense in a changing world while keeping what was special about it in the first place. And that’s exactly what Halo Infinite delivers. Finally.

From a storyline perspective, Halo is a bit complex. The first three games and the Halo 3: ODST offshoot, which was also excellent, tell the story of the war between mankind and the Covenant, an alien race that worships the Halo rings, a set of weapons created by a long-dead race called the Forerunners. The protagonist is a cyborg super warrior named Master Chief, previously named John, and he’s aided in his fight by Cortana, an AI-based virtual companion. Long story short, the Forerunners created the Halo rings, among other things, to defeat the Flood, a replicating parasite that infects all living organisms, and the weaponized part of the rings doesn’t directly destroy the Flood, it destroys their food source: all life in the universe. So you can see the problem.

I had to look up what happened in Halo 4 and 5 because I never finished those titles, but I’m not surprised to discover it doesn’t go well. In Halo 4, Cortana starts succumbing to an AI malfunction called “the rampancy,” which made her more like Siri and less like Google Assistant; in this story, AI assistants like Cortana are typically deactivated after 7 years to avoid this issue. But in Halo 5, Cortana goes insane, kills Windows phone, and then betrays mankind. The game apparently ends with Cortana and an army of Created Ais arriving on Earth to enslave mankind. Queue the cliffhanger.

The beginning of Halo Infinite basically ignores this cliffhanger, though it will be addressed soon enough, of course, and John, sorry, Master Chief will be reunited with an updated version of Cortana that Microsoft wasn’t brave enough to name Alexa. But before that can happen, we need to be reintroduced to Master Chief, who is once again the one and only protagonist, and to the world of Halo and its gameplay mechanics. This is done simply enough by having a random space freighter come across his nearly lifeless body floating in space—similar to the opening of the mostly-terrible Alien 3 movie—recharging his suit, and getting you back into the fight. Mankind’s savior is back.

The opening bits where you test movement and whatnot closely mimic the first Halo games, as does the initial mission in which you single-handedly defeat all of the aliens in the area. And that’s for the best, honestly, as it brings you back to what you loved about the early games. The graphics and gameplay are, for lack of a better term, perfect, and the actual controls are so tight, so polished, and so, sorry, perfect, that someone should invent an award for this category and hand it to 343 Industries immediately. I have never felt this at home in a shooter this quickly.

Aside from the polish, there is only one major addition to the repertoire here, and it’s huge: Master Chief now has a grappling hook that lets you rappel to areas that would otherwise be inaccessible, and it really helps open up the world. And deliver a fun new kind of attack, too. It’s a terrific addition.

And that’s where I’m at. I can’t wait to visit the new Halo ring and reexplore that environment, and I’m curious to see how the game rectifies the ridiculous ending of Halo 5 and brings Master Chief and Cortana back together. But I can say this already: Rarely has a single-player game held my attention like this, especially in recent years, and it’s been many years, sorry, since I’ve cared about Halo at all, let alone this much. But it’s clear that the additional year made Halo Infinite something special, a perfect combination of the familiar and the new. I can’t wait to keep playing.

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Comments (24)

24 responses to “Halo Infinite Campaign Preview: Approaching Perfection”

  1. echo64

    I'm kind of embarrassed to say that even as an original Xbox owner, I never really got into Halo. I remember renting it from Blockbuster a few times but just couldn't get invested, but now with all the hype for this game I think I'm finally going to give it another try.

    • will

      Get the Master Chief collection from Gamepass and play the games…the graphics are a bit dated, but they are updated a little. Then if you like to read, get the first 3 books in the Halo series. I would recommend the audio books if you really want to get into the story. Harvest and Fall of Reach setup the entire series just before the first game. From there, we’ll there is a lot to discover!

      • thewarragulman

        I still think Halo 2 Anniversary in the MCC looks great even on the Series X, better looking than Halo 5 tbh. CE, 3 & 4 and probably Reach when they added it later are just the Xbox 360 versions with some higher resolution textures I think, H2A was the standout with the MCC for sure.

  2. red.radar

    There are some comedic jewels in this piece. I got a good laugh. Thanks Paul!


  3. stmorr82zw5zml

    Thank you for tying the AI Assistant Cinematic Universe together. The only remaining question is: what happened to Clippy?

  4. rth314

    Love the AI humor, Paul! Got a laugh out of this article. Now I'm excited to play.

  5. thewarragulman

    I'm hoping to pick up my pre-order once it's out in a couple of days here in Australia, been wanting a good Halo game for about a decade now, Halo 4 was okay but not great, and Halo 5 was 100% grade-A certified garbage that I couldn't get into, I did finish it back when I got it but have not touched it since.


    Judging by what you've said in this article, it looks like it should be good. I like the idea of the first level being Master Chief doing what he does best - kicking some Covenant ass. I might have to play through the Master Chief Collection again to play the trilogy + ODST & Reach as it has been years since I've done so. Looking forward to playing through Infinite once I get it, the MP has been good aside from some cheating nonsense but otherwise fine.

  6. richfrantz

    Thank you for giving us the real story behind the death of Windows Phone.

  7. zeromus2003

    Paul, did you play this on a Series X or PC? If on PC, did you use keyboard or controller? Just curious.... also how does the grappling hook, as a movement component, compare to Doom Eternal's vertical traversal/parkour?

    • Donte

      I play it on the PC. For the MP game I use a controller because the strong aim assist favors controller users over Mouse and Keyboard in this game. I will probably stick with that for the SP (game pass). I will have to try it first.


      I typically use a controller for any third person SP game on a PC. Like Assassins creed games, or Witcher etc, and a M+K for anything else, especially FPS shooters. Halo is a rather simple FPS game, meaning it does not have a lot of options to choose from, like multiple grenade types or more than two weapons compared to something like Battlefield.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Series X, controller only. So far.


      I can't even recall the Doom Eternal thing, sorry. It's very close to the grappling hook that one character class gets in COD: BO4 multiplayer but can be used more often.

  8. juan

    I hope you're right because Halo 5 was absolute garbage. Microsoft stole peoples money with that crap game.

  9. martinusv2

    Hello Paul,


    Do you know if the PC version comes with anti-cheat system? If not, this will be bad on PC. So many cheater

    • Paul Thurrott

      Not sure, sorry. I had to choose between console and Steam/PC when I signed up, and I'm not sure yet what's happening on the PC side.

    • Donte

      Shocking Paul did not cover that the MP game is FORCED cross play with PC. Even turning off your crossplay settings deep in the Xbox privacy settings does not fix this issue because both the Xbox and PC are in the same "Xbox World"


      There are already lots of cheating going on in the MP game, with most if it aim bots and wall hacks, coming from the PC side of things.


      Releasing Halo Infinite as a free to play, forced cross play game is destined to make it riddled with cheats. Of course with the crazy expensive loot system they have, they do not care because its all about the $$$$. Someone on Reddit calculated the cost for all of the loot and its over $1000 US. Giving users the ability to turn off cross play will fracture the player base and kill off some of that revenue.


      Then again this all started with Fortnite doing the same thing, and even though many complained they never changed the forced cross play. Then came Apex who did the same thing, COD Warzone, BF 2042. It is the way of the future. Xbox is NOT a console anymore its a brand and to grow it, PC's are part of that brand, not to be separated.

      • Paul Thurrott

        >Shocking Paul did not cover that the MP game is FORCED cross play with PC.


        What?


        This write-up is about my experiences with the single-player campaign only.

        • Donte

          The forced cross play issue is all over the internet. It's been an issue since it released. Long reddit forums, lots of gaming sites, including pcgamer covering it.

          • Bart

            Do you understand English?


            This.

            Is.

            About.

            The.

            Single player.

            Campaign.


            Capice?

            • Donte

              I was replying to Martinusv2 and christianwilson and their comments about the MP part of the game. The issues of forced crossplay and cheating in this game has been getting a lot of attention.

    • christianwilson

      Cheating is already a problem on Halo Infinite multiplayer, unfortunately.

      • will

        Yea, I believe you have to turn off cross play on Xbox…system wide…to get away from PC players

        • Donte

          That works for third party games. I did that for BF 2042 but it turned the game into a ghost town because I could only play with Xbox Series X or S players. Not any Xbox One/S/X players and no PS players.


          For Halo, it does not work as Microsoft treats PC players as part of the Xbox universe. Turning that off still matched me with mix of PC and Xbox players.

  10. fikus74

    After hearing Paul talk about this game on Windows Weekly I decided to give it a try. It is awesome! Play the campaign. I'll try the multiplayer after I finish the campaign.