TThe best I can say about Halo: Infinite is that it just keeps getting better over time. The single player campaign begins as a simple first-person shooter dripping with nostalgia and ends as a rudimentary open-world shooter swimming in science fiction tropes, with everyone’s favorite, emotionless space soldier and his co-dependent AI assistant.
As the first open world entry in the Halo franchise and with more than one year of additional development time, I had high hopes for Infinite. Maybe too high. And even with a grappling hook, this game just can’t reach them.
I say all of this with love in my heart. I’ve been a Halo fan since Combat Evolved, and I have two decades of happy memories associated with the franchise, most of which I relived while playing Infinite. This part was a treat – there’s nothing quite like turning a corner in a random metal-clad corridor or driving a warthog down a narrow mountain path and feeling that warm, happy feeling of familiarity. This happens over and over again in Infinite.
Revising old environments is the easy part, however. Halo Infinite is the first open-world entry in franchise history, and it promises Master Chief more exploration and spontaneity than ever before. In practice, however, the world of Zeta Halo is limited and largely linear, offering few surprises and little incentive to travel off the beaten path. There are bases to conquer and hordes to defeat, but with a map this cramped, these side quests pop up naturally along the path of the main story, and the game automatically switches the objective to a nearby mission. Side quests are inserted into the campaign in this way and are indistinguishable from the main missions.
When I felt ready to explore the ring, I realized that I had already reached all of the symbols on my map.
That being said, Infinite is introducing new mechanics and tools that are really fun to play with, and the best of these gadgets is the grappling hook. There are no invisible walls in Infinite, and the grappling hook allows players to take advantage of Zeta Halo’s vertical space and climb mountains and buildings in a series of pops and swings. The grappling hook opens up new vantage points for every battle and has saved my Master Chief from falling to his death many times. (Maybe I even sang “Spider-Chief, Spider-Chief …” every now and then. Maybe.)
When playing with an Xbox controller, the grappling hook lives on the D-pad, along with three other tools that will be added to Chief’s arsenal as the game progresses: a shield, radar arrows, and a dash that I rarely use. I’ve tried putting the dashboard in but I really don’t see any point in the grappling hook doing the same thing but faster and in more directions.
Switching between these options on the D-pad takes some practice, but once this becomes second nature the hook, shield, and radar make every fight more dynamic than ever. The grappling hook allows the Master Chief to remotely pick up objects such as weapons and thrown explosives, it eventually shocks enemies on contact and allows players to take over enemy vehicles smoothly. Infinite is best when it provides a rich environment for grabbing, shielding, and landing suspended headshots in mid-air, with enemies attacking from all sides.
Now I’m going to talk a little about the grappling hook. I know I just praised it and stand by everything I’ve said, but I need to put everything in context. From my point of view, the most obvious change in Halo Infinite is the use of vertical space, aided by the grappling hook – but that’s not a new idea at all, and frankly, other games have done better.
To name just a few current examples: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild made headlines in 2017 for rethinking vertical exploration in open space; last year, Downfall forever beautifully demonstrated the power of parkour mechanics in an FPS setting; and insomniacs Spider-Man series has perfected the art of peppy action. Compared to games like these, Infinite’s mechanics are not at all innovative.
I mention this because I think it’s a disservice to only compare Halo Infinite to other Halo games and not to any of its competitors. After all, competition is the root of evolution – and it is a kind of halos jam. I expected more from a pioneer in the FPS genre than they dared venture into open world gaming. Just because it’s new to Halo doesn’t mean it’s new to the industry.