It was with mixed feelings that I went into Halo Infinite. On the one hand we all know this series is never going to bloody end so I appreciate the title being up front about it, but on the other I’ve never really gotten on with Halo as a franchise. I’ve never understood what’s going on in the overarching plot. I asked Nick the Escapist editor and professional Halo liking person to summarize it for me and he was all like “Oh the forerunners created the precursors and the prometheans-” Okay, stop listing words that all mean the same thing. Start at the basics. Why is humanity at war with the Covenant? “Because the Covenant worship the forerunners but are jealous that the forerunners favoured humanity because-” “Bastards hate humans, kill all the bastards.” GOT IT. Should’ve led with that. I’ve said before Bungie IPs are 90% setting and 10% plot so “Bastards hate humans, kill all the bastards” is really all you need for the moment to moment experience. And having gained that insight, I appreciated Halo Infinite more than I expected. Because the story seems to have a conscious “back to basics” approach. You know that whole plot the last few games were setting up with Cortana turning into the big baddy? Well that’s all in the bin.
Halo Infinite starts in the aftermath of Cortana already having been sorted out as a new and bigger bunch of bastards show up who hate humans more than any previous bastards, wiping out the human forces and leaving Master Chief for dead. They’re called the Banished, so let’s just add that to the ever-expanding list of Halo entities named The and an ominous word. After Chief gets discovered in space and reactivated for the umpteenth time he has to go down to a new Halo ring to prevent the Banished from reactivating the Auditorium on behalf of the Harbinger because – a ta ta ta ta, Halo. Sorry, I meant to say, bastards hate humans, kill all the bastards. Thank you! I will! And since Halo Infinite takes influence from open world shooters, there is a quite inexhaustible supply of bastards because what else’re you gonna do in post-ending fuckabouts mode. I say “takes influence from open worlds” rather than flat out “is an open world.” Certainly there’s an open world in it. One that showed up late to the final exam for open worlds and had to hastily scribble out an assignment that it turned out was from last year’s syllabus. It’s like some board of directors heard about this open world thing the kids like and told market research to compile a powerpoint.
And they came back with “copy pasted towers and base assaults as far as the eye can see.” And besides when it forces you to climb four copy pasted towers spread out around the map before it lets you into the next part, the overall plot doesn’t really engage with the open world. Completing the optional base assaults or side activities doesn’t give you any significant edge in standard gameplay, since the most powerful pew pew laser guns are always conveniently strewn around every combat and boss arena like minifridges in hotel rooms and none of the optional crap you can do makes them pew pew any harder. For you see while Halo is flirting with open worlds, it will never stray from its true love: shiny corridors. Its eye might have briefly been drawn by the open world’s sensuous curves but its love for shiny corridors is the kind of unyielding emotional bedrock on which contented marriages are built. So the open world sections are separated by plot missions where you complete inescapable sequences of enclosed arenas connected by shiny corridors now you’re done fooling about with your open world hussy. And I feel Halo Infinite should’ve picked a lane. Why not go full Breath of the Wild? Maybe Ms. Open World can’t offer stability but it might’ve livened up your dull middle age, Halo. Trying to talk the missus into this undignified polyamory is only going to look bad in divorce court.
But with an open world comes a need for traversal mechanics, most Halo vehicles flip over if they drive over anything larger than a chocolate raisin and the terrain is usually about as even as a section of your grandmother’s upper thigh served with crinkle cut chips, so to counterbalance all that, Master Chief gets a fucking hookshot. And I fucking love it. It’s not as fast or as versatile as, say, the Just Cause hookshot, probably because it has to haul around the dump truck Master Chief is constantly wearing and all the Mars bars secreted in the glove compartment, but there are very few games that wouldn’t be improved by a grappling hook. Losing at Civilization wouldn’t be so bad if I had the option of a dignified exit. So I was hookshotting up to vantage points to descend upon enemy bases, hookshotting into vehicles to hijack them, and outside the open world, hookshotting my merry way down shiny corridors to avoid wearing out Master Chief’s plimsolls. But for some reason the game seems to have mistaken this core traversal mechanic for a gimmicky gadget. You have to unequip the grappling hook to use deployable cover, dodge thrusters or see enemies through walls-o-vision. So guess what three things I never fucking used.
And never fucking needed. Deployable cover? I’ll just hookshot myself behind this bin. And why see enemies through walls when I can just hookshot over the wall and look at them. What about dodge thrusters? You can use them to outwit those incredibly annoying charging berserker enemies. Or I could just hookshot them in the face, which stuns them out of the charge, and with the hookshot upgrades I can then deliver a powered melee strike that launches them like Team Rocket and is a million times more fun than any of Halo’s standard range of nerf guns. The hookshot became a central part of both combat and traversal so I’d sooner unequip Master Chief’s armoured trousers. Never used anything else or spent upgrade tokens on them, which is another nail in the heart of the open world since finding upgrade tokens is one of the only reasons to explore besides getting your cardio in. Still, the hookshot might be all Halo needs to enhance its otherwise rather stale combat, which is about as much as you’d expect – lots of enemies firing lots of glowing blobs and Master Chief occasionally randomly exploding because you mistook an incoming very dangerous glowing blob for one of the relatively harmless ones.
Alright fine since it’s Christmas I’ll say I’ve had worse times with shooters and I did appreciate the relative straightforwardness of the plot – shoot all the bastards, big bastard is your new arch nemesis basically because he declares himself such and nobody else called dibs – but you might be disappointed if you have a long term investment. I’m gonna talk about the ending now so if you don’t want spoilers either stop watching or turn on the little windscreen wipers on your face helmet. Not that there’s some big spoilable twist where Master Chief dramatically reveals himself to be Tom Selleck. No, I just didn’t want to spoil that there is no twist. The game ends with a big fat return to status quo – Master Chief gets a brand new factory reset non-psychotic soberly dressed Cortana and declares his intention to keep killing all the bastards, leaving me with a profound sense of “Wow, twenty years and we’ve basically gone absolutely fucking nowhere, have we, Halo.” The only difference is Master Chief has a new hairy boyfriend. The bearded pilot sidekick is the closest thing to a proper love interest he’s ever had. He has to be rescued about as often as Princess Peach. Gives him a nice romantic cuddle near the end. I ain’t judging, I hope you’ll be happy together, I just wonder if you wouldn’t get a more reciprocal relationship from slow dancing with the air conditioner.