Friday, February 18, 2022

Microreview [game]: Halo Infinite by 343 Industries

Sometimes you just don't want to go home

After a year of failure, this December I finally managed to procure an Xbox Series X. As a longtime user of the platform, going all the way back to the original Xbox, I naturally had to get my hands on Halo Infinite - the latest entry in the venerable series. 

Halo Infinite is in many ways the perfect launch vehicle for the new console. Featuring crisp, high-resolution graphics and excellent gameplay mechanics, you'd think this would be Microsoft's veritable ace in the hole. The reality, however, is more of a mixed bag - a melange of good, bad and ugly. 

First, the good. Halo Infinite is gorgeous to look at and looks amazing in 4k. The multiplayer is everything you want it to be, operating in the middle ground between Call of Duty's frenetic action and Battlefield's more languid pace. The maps are tight, the various modes fun to explore and the encounters as tactical as they were when Xbox first went online. I also appreciated the post-rock lobby music - a nice and unexpected touch. Matchmaking can be a little buggy, but once it gets going, the game is a lot of fun. 

The campaign starts strong as well, setting you on an open world island where you can wander about, capture forward operating bases (FOBs), eliminate notorious enemies, free imprisoned marines and - when you feel like it - initiate and complete various missions that advance the story. You also have a series of special moves that you can level up with Spartan Points, which you find scattered across the island. There's a grappling hook, threat detector, thruster and drop shield, all of which are useful at various points in the game. 

The open world dynamic is a lot of fun, particularly as you can approach the tasks in a number of different ways: going in guns blazing, using vehicles or picking enemies off from a distance with the sniper rifle or skewer. There are also enemy bases and bridges to capture, which are very tactical but still frenetic affairs. At this early stage in the game, I figured Halo infinite would end up one of my 2 or 3 favorites entries in the series. 

Unfortunately, the denouement of the campaign is...well, calling it "forgettable"would be a kindness - because it's memorable for all the wrong reasons. 

Let's start with design. As mentioned above, the open-world segment of Halo Infinite features tight gameplay mechanics and intriguing tactical battles, which force you to think as well as twitch. But once the game shifts into the more traditional linear corridor model, its weaknesses quickly become apparent. Throughout the game you are basically facing 4-5 enemy classes, each with a few variations. The lack of variety or evolution is masked by the openness of approach that you can take. However, once we're back in the corridors, you're struck by the fact that you're just doing the same thing over and over again, against the same baddies, in more or less the same environments. 

Then there are the boss battles, which to a tee incentivize the "keep running in circles" tactic. Boss battles should feel epic and thrilling, not like a chore you just want to get over with so you can do something that's actually fun. 

Finally, the story - which has to be one of the worst I've ever encountered in a game. First off, it's incoherent. The game starts with Master Chief almost dying at the hands of a Brute named Atriox, who leads a breakaway faction of the Covenant called the Banished. Then it turns out he's dead. The guy who replaced him? Completely indistinguishable from Atriox. And for the record, both come from the tired genre of "ME STRONG, YOU WEAK" barbarian baddies. Sleeping emoji. This villain, whose name I can't remember and don't especially feel like googling, shows up periodically to announce some variation on the "ME STRONG, YOU WEAK" line. Eventually you fight him by running around in a circle for what seems like years. What a game! 


There's also something about Cortana, your erstwhile manic pixie dream girl AI companion, who has been replaced by "Weapon," your new manic pixie dream girl AI companion. Weapon is mostly notable for her facial expressions. Cortana is mostly notable for something about a Halo Ring and Atriox. 

And then there's the pilot, who exists mainly to tell you that everything is useless and you should just give up - even when things are clearly going well for the Master Chief. When the pilot is captured and tortured by the Atriox clone, I wondered if there was a way to progress the game without rescuing him. Alas, there is not. Oh, and there's another villain who I guess is some kind of ancient alien and killing her is just as annoying as killing "ME STRONG, YOU WEAK." 

To conclude, despite a strong multiplayer mode and an enticing open world dynamic, it's hard not to see Halo Infinite as a massive disappointment. This is supposed to be Microsoft's marquee franchise, one that is not only supposed to extol the virtues of the company's hardware, but provide a truly memorable experience. Halo Infinite fails to meet those standards, providing gamers instead with a glimpse of that, until it devolves into a tedious and repetitive slog.  

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for the open world segments and tactical gameplay; +1 for a balanced and fun multiplayer experience

Penalties: -1 for such a godawful story; -1 for repetitive enemies, weapons and environments;  -1 for the worst villains -1 really the story is as bad as I've ever seen in a video game

Nerd Coefficient: 6/10.