By Ronald Gordon
Even non-gamers realize the Halo franchise is one that many people know and love. For years, ever since the first Halo game back in 2001, fans have played and enjoyed the various installments that came to Xbox consoles. Since information about Halo and its legendary protagonist Master Chief spreads like wildfire in the gaming community, the number of people unfamiliar with Chief is rapidly decreasing. With all that in mind, you can say that the title of the newest game is somewhat comedic, seeing as how Halo as a franchise is infinite in renown and recognition. They can afford to be less serious as long as the game itself is good.
Halo: Infinite is a First Person Shooter developed by 343 Industries and published by Xbox Game Studios. It continues the story of Master Chief Petty Officer John-117, in which the legendary Spartan finds himself on yet another alien planet fighting a one-man battle against yet another alien threat, this one being the Banished. Except this time the fight for the planet of Zeta Halo, the main location of Halo Infinite, might just be bigger than anything Chief has taken on.
A collection of Brutes, Grunts, and Covenant Elites have been exiled from the Covenant ranks after their defeat at the hands of Master Chief and the UNSC or United Nations Space Command. They now seek revenge for their disgraceful loss against the UNSC and almost achieve it. They succeed in destroying the UNSC and capturing the bulk of their Marines, leaving Master Chief in a comatose state after a losing battle against their Commander, Atriox. Unfortunately for them, Master Chief doesn’t die so easily, and once he awakens it’s right back to business as usual on the front lines. This time he has to take back a whole planet from alien control, a daunting task to some, but not to Master Chief. To Master Chief, it’s just another a worthy challenge.
Halo Infinite’s campaign actually takes a different turn than the other Halo games in the franchise. Instead of being fairly linear and story driven, Infinite is an open world that lets you explore the map of Zeta Halo, unlocking new weapons and vehicles as you progress and take down strongholds. You can clear out whole Banished bases and make them your own, free captured Marines or respond to distress signals, and hunt down important figures in the Banished ranks to collect the specially augmented weapons they use. All of your efforts are rewarded with Valor points which can be used to unlock different armor skins or weapons for your Online Multiplayer activities and various other things. As a fan of open world games, I relished the vastness of Zeta Halo and how hostile it felt all throughout.
Enemies were around almost every corner and, until I cleared a few bases and rescued some fellow Marines, nowhere felt safe. The game makes Chief’s struggle subtly but consistently apparent; he’s always been the man behind enemy lines after all, and this was just another day in his life. That struggle felt real to me in every confrontation I had with the Banished. Their numbers and tactics made even the comically weak Grunts into a problem, and the scale of the battles fought only ramped up each time. Halo Infinite pushes you to take on the types of battles that Chief is familiar with and allows you the freedom to adapt as you see fit. But don’t worry if you aren’t ready for that right off the bat. Trust me when I tell you, there’s plenty of time to learn after you respawn once or twice.
One thing I will praise Halo Infinite for above all is the amount of characterization we get for Master Chief throughout the story. From past games, we understand that Chief isn’t an emotionally driven person. He prioritizes the mission he’s been tasked with first and foremost and almost always makes sure he gets the job done right. Halo Infinite doesn’t drastically change how Chief acts and portrays himself, but it does reveal more of his human side in how he interacts with certain characters, most notably Pilot Echo 216. He’s one of the last of the remaining Marine forces that Chief encounters and is the whole reason why Chief is even alive today.
Echo 216, who acts as your Fast Travel and Item Delivery system in the game, isn’t battle hardened or stone cold like Master Chief or other the Marines. It’s very clear that the loss of the UNSC weighs heavily on him, and the Banished do nothing but rattle his nerves. But Chief provides a sense of stability in this crazy world he’s been thrown into. Throughout the game, Echo 216 is scared and anxious enough to either run away or abandon the mission, the two things that aren’t in Master Chief’s repertoire. Chief always stays, confident that he will succeed, reassuring Echo 216 time and time again, and always coming back successful, just like he said he would. Eventually, Echo 216 goes from a nervous emotional wreck to a full fledged superfan of Master Chief, even hugging the Spartan on one occasion. Their interactions were a highlight of my experience, solely because Chief embraced the fact that Echo 216 was afraid and that the odds were against them. However, he never let Echo 216 doubt him; he always remained calm and reassured his ally that he would prevail, going so far as to have a heartfelt moment in which he admits that he failed Cortana by not protecting her, and promising that he won’t fail in protecting Echo 216.
Aside from wonderful storytelling, Halo Infinite brings with it beautiful graphics and lovely music. The world of Zeta Halo is vast and lush, and the sheer number of Banished forces overtaking it definitely adds to the sense that there’s a new life entering the abandoned Halo ring. The environment offers more than something to gawk at while you explore the region; it adds a sense of joy in how you traverse it. You can swing from trees and the sides of walls with the Grappleshot, ride around with rescued Marines in a vehicle, or trek around on foot and see the sights. As in most other Halo games, the music does not disappoint during suspenseful scenes or thrilling battles, embodying Master Chief’s indomitable drive to finish the mission and defeat the Banished no matter what.
But there’s another reason I believe more people should experience Halo Infinite, beyond its Campaign and main story. Until Halo Infinite, the only Halo games I’d played were Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 3: ODST, and Halo: Reach, all of which told their own impactful stories and made me appreciate the series’ deep and enthralling characters and world building. Infinite showed me that not only can you take a war-hardened badass like Master Chief and make him feel human without changing much of his character, but also that the Halo franchise is still telling tales that can send anyone on an imaginative, emotional journey. I’d suggest Halo Infinite to anyone who wants to begin or continue that journey.
Ronald Gordon is a New York Videogame Critics Circle senior intern. He recently completed an internship at Rockstar Games.