The Halo Infinite multiplayer beta has been live for a few weeks now, giving Xbox and PC players around the world the chance to get stuck into the revival of one of the franchise’s most well-loved aspects. However, the single-player campaign doesn’t launch until 9 December here in Australia, and while we’ve been playing through it for the past week, it’s actually quite a bit larger and more evolutionary than you might suspect.
That’s not to say the set-up won’t be familiar to anyone who’s played the original Halo: Combat Evolved. Master Chief, once again at the masthead of the franchise, arrives at the Zeta Halo as it’s completely overrun with The Banished, a faction of Covenant forces from Halo Wars 2 who are not only looking to pick fights and gain power, but might be searching for something more mysterious. What this boils down to is the same premise as Combat Evolved – Master Chief fighting his way through hordes of alien Covenant forces on an ancient ringworld that hides secrets that could change the fate of the galaxy.
The state of play of the universe after the conclusion of Halo 5: Guardians is kept intentionally vague and treated with less importance than the immediate problem of ‘Chief vs The Banished’, with clarification on aspects only coming further into the story. After that game received a less-than-stellar reception, it’s clear the developers would rather move on and try to win back audiences by returning to what works, namely the Human vs Covenant conflicts from the original games. Chief himself is a bit more vocal this time around, gaining quite a bit of dialogue that conveys an entertainingly dry wit and level of done-ness with yet another Halo he’s been dragged onto. The banter between Covenant forces can also be both charming and funny, particularly the silly speeches you’ll hear being broadcast out of Covenant propaganda towers by the cowardly Grunts.
Halo Infinite starts with the same premise as Combat Evolved, but pushes it into Halo’s version of an open-world structure. After getting through a couple of traditionally linear missions, Master Chief emerges onto the surface of the Zeta Halo, which is filled with points of interest for you to explore. Forward Operating Bases are your fast-travel home bases, which need to be unlocked by clearing them of Covenant forces, thereby revealing nearby side missions and POIs. It’s Ubisoft-esque, but not quite the same. While you can proceed directly to the next story mission, it’s always in your best interest to explore and pick up as many resources as you can before proceeding, as every POI has something useful for Chief, whether it’s rescuing friendly UNSC forces, liberating a Scorpion tank, defeating a unique enemy for a modified weapon, or collecting ‘Spartan Cores’.
Spartan Cores are used for a basic skill upgrades across a range of Master Chief’s abilities. Some are incredibly useful – his new grappleshot brings an entirely new element to traversal around the world of Halo, enabling you to manoeuvre around enemies for surprise attacks, quickly get out of hairy situations or even stun enemies before rushing them for a full-frontal assault. A drop shield is great for providing instant cover in areas where it’s scarce, but a ‘threat detector’ is only really useful in certain situations, such as dealing with cloaked Elites.
Completing missions, including side activities, earns you Valor, which gives you more options at Forward Operating Bases, allowing you to call in vehicles from your friendly Pelican or choose a loadout from unlocked weapons. There’s actually a pretty broad array of weapons to choose from across the factions in Halo Infinite, and most of them feel satisfying to use when taking out Covenant.
Part of the reason the combat feels so satisfying is the stellar sound design. This is an aspect of game design I’m often remiss in mentioning, but it’s worth bringing up that Halo Infinite has both incredible sound positioning when playing with a surround sound setup or headphones, as well as really crunchy, punchy and gratifying sound effects, particularly the final ‘pop’ sound you get when you land a headshot or the final bullet which marks a kill on a target.
While you’re definitely able to stick to the main path in Halo Infinite and just experience the core story, the fact there’s so much to collect not just in terms of tools and upgrades, but also skulls and audio logs for both sides of the conflict, means that you really should pace yourself and take a look at everything the Zeta Halo has to offer. We’re still ploughing through the whole map, and will be delivering our final verdict later this week once we’ve had a squizz at everything, and also once we’ve seen if the performance hiccups improve from the early build we were sent (which tends to hang for several seconds when under heavy load, or delay in loading sound effects and music). Check back later this week for our full review.