Halo Infinite campaign: Thoughts and impressions

I thought I’d do something different with this review for Halo Infinite. I thought I’d write what someone else thought of the game as they played it as well. My 22-year-old son Mitchell, who I think has helped with reviews on this site over the past few years, has played all the Halo games so has a good idea on what to expect and what they deliver. Together, we give our thoughts on the latest Halo game from Xbox.

Thanks to Xbox PR in Australia for the game code for Halo Infinite. The game was played on an Xbox Series X console and an Alienware M15 R6 gaming laptop.


Somewhere between Halo Reach and Halo Infinite, I feel the Halo series lost its way.

While I’ve played all the Halo games, personally, I’ve always found myself gravitating towards the Gears of War series, to be honest. That said, Halo ODST and Reach (both games not featuring the Master Chief, interestingly) are my standout Halo titles.

I’ll be honest: I haven’t finished Halo Infinite yet and I’m struggling to complete it. It’s competent enough, and I feel that developer 343 Industries have looked back at what made the original Halo Combat Evolved good, but it just feels to samey so far. It seems a lot closer aligned to Bungie’s Halo games, though, which is a good thing.

The game opens with Master Chief battling Atriox, the leader of an army of Covenant forces called the Banished that has broken away from the Covenant. The Banished both fear and despise the Master Chief. Following the fight, the Master Chief is assumed dead but is rescued by a friendly UNSC pilot and must gather the splintered UNSC forces, collect a new AI known as the “Weapon”, and stop the Banished activating the Zeta Halo. The game takes place around 18 months after the ending of Halo 5.

It’s during the very first mission – an infiltration onto a Banished frigate – that you’re introduced to the new grappling hook mechanic and it’s a great addition to the Master Chief’s arsenal. The hook can not only be used to propel Master Chief towards to high vantage points but can be cleverly used to pull him towards an enemy, delivering a bone-crushing melee punch on landing.

Or he can use the grapple to grab a just-out-of-reach explosive cannister (which are Halo Infinite’s equivalent of the explosive barrel trope found in video games since almost the dawn of time) that can then be thrown towards enemies, exploding on contact. It can even be used to pick up weapons left scattered around.

Importantly, the grappling hook brings a level of verticality to the Halo games that hasn’t really been a thing previously. It proved invaluable on numerous occasions when I’d miss timed a jump and I would have surely plummeted to my death had I not been able to use the grapple to attach to a wall at the very last moment, pulling the Chief to safety.

The opening two levels are full of tight corridors, corners and plenty of cover and the weapons pack a punch, and Chief will face off against familiar but different enemies in the Banished: Brutes, grunts, jackals, elites.

It’s once you reach the surface that the open world element reveals itself, with the Master Chief able to go off the beaten path if he wants to explore and capture Banished bases, before tackling the main mission again. Think freedom to go exploring for a little bit but not the dearth of content you’ll find in series like Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed.

The narrative is handled well but I felt Infinite falters with the open-world aspect: It lets you tackle a variety of side missions if you want but ultimately they don’t fundamentally add anything to the main story.

I liberated the odd Banished controlled base, provided UNSC marines to support me and supplies, but ultimately, I just felt there was no real necessity to deviate from the main story arc as for the most part the diversions are bases with the same objectives to complete.

The battlefield banter from grunts is amusing – stop every now and then and just listen to the banter – and enemy AI it a challenge at times, especially from the higher skilled Elite Covenant. With Infinite, I think 343 Industries has really found its stride with Halo but the game just lags in the middle section with a lack of variety of mission types. Bosses – at least those I’ve faced anyway – all take place in tight boxy environments, which just aren’t fun.

With some video games, I think about missions and how I could tackle them when I’m not playing the game. I’m not getting this with Halo Infinite: I’m not strategising on how I can defeat an enemy or tackle a problem. I don’t want to play it continuously to completion like like Guardians of The Galaxy did. Halo Infinite just isn’t wowing me.

My son Mitchell, who’s a far better Halo player than I will ever be, reckons game play is up there with Reach and ODST – his two favourite Halo titles – but he, too, agrees that the open-world aspect doesn’t add much to the game. He thinks it falls flat a bit and felt there there was no real incentive to deviate from the main mission.

He felt the that the opening missions were far too easy in terms of a challenge then later some missions were the opposite, with the game at times throwing almost endless waves of enemies onto the battlefield, making things hectic. He also would have liked to have seen more variety in the missions.

Look, Halo Infinite is a solid Halo game with a nice narrative, which is what fans will want, but for me, it just hasn’t “wowed” me like other games I’ve played this year have and won’t remain with me for long.

“The Weapon” from Halo Infinite’s story campaign.

Halo Fireteam Raven: A pictoral essay

As I mentioned earlier this week, I was in Auckland for work so was able to head along to the New Zealand launch of the Halo Fireteam Raven arcade machine at Timezone in Auckland’s Wairau Valley.

It was nice event, with like-minded individuals chatting, eating delicious nibbles, imbibing fluids and, of course, being among the first in NZ to play the dual-screen, four-player Halo Fireteam Raven arcade machine.

Short verdict? It’s good. It’s very, very, very good. Actually, it’s a helluva lotta fun, letting you fill the combat boots of a Halo spartan taking on the covenant hordes – with some mates along for the ride.

Feast your eyes on these images of some obligatory Spartans controlling Spartans in Halo Fireteam Raven & some video of the game in action.

Sadly, the machine was too big to to fit in my carry on luggage for the flight home a couple of days later.

 

Halo Fireteam Raven launches in NZ tomorrow night

There’s a new Halo game launching in New Zealand tomorrow night – but you can’t buy it at your local retailer or play it on your Xbox One (or One X console).

Halo: Fireteam Raven is the first arcade edition of Microsoft’s much-loved FPS game Halo to come to New Zealand – and it’s getting its first outing at Timezone Xtreme Entertainment Wairau in Auckland tomorrow night (August 28)

The arcade game lets  four players either play cooperatively, or compete against each other in the Halo universe, and boasts a 130-inch, 4K  widescreen and 5.1 surround sound. Halo: Fireteam Raven lets fans of the Halo franchise play alongside Master Chief in the battle to ward off the enemy forces of the Covenant and the Flood infestation.

Here’s the official trailer for the game:

As luck would have it, I’m actually in Auckland tomorrow night for work so I’ll be popping along to Timezone Wairau to check out the Fireteam Raven and the festivities I’ll  post images to my twitter feed (@GamejunkieNZ) during the night, too,  if you want to see what the arcade machine looks like.

Also, if you attending the event and see me, come say hi!

 

 

 

 

Halo 5 Guardians review: One more for the road

Trying to punch two Promethean Knights to death in Halo 5 Guardians  is never going to end well.

Believe me, I found out the hard way.

Two of these guys kicked my Spartan arse several times in Halo 5.

Two of these guys kicked my Spartan arse several times in Halo 5.

It was in the closing battle of Halo 5’s campaign when things went terribly wrong. Finding myself suddenly surrounded by two advancing Knights, the incredibly tough Promethean mechanised warrior, I realised that both my weapons were out of ammo and, sadly for me,  there were no discarded weapons nearby to pick up.

I  had two choices: Run or punch them in the face. So that’s what I did. I punched them.

What was I thinking? Probably that my augmented Spartan punches would crack the Knights carapaces, exposing their vulnerable AI core inside.

So, how do you think it went? It went as well as could be expected. Meaning it didn’t go well at all and I was knocked to the ground, my life force draining from my tired Spartan body.

Thankfully, one of my squad mates was close enough to revive me (that’s one of the new features in Halo 5) and, some how, I managed to sprint clear of the area, find some fully loaded Promethean weapons (I love the boltshot) before delivering swift, sweet justice to the Kinghts. It was frantic and full-on.

Master Chief: Ready to Rock.

Master Chief: Ready to Rock.

Now, I’m not  a Halo player who knows the canon off by heart and can recite it word for word. I don’t know all the weapon stats and what works best in certain situations. I also  found some of the earlier Halo games a little boring at times. Sorry, but I did. I enjoyed Halo 4, though, and really, really enjoyed Halo 5.

Guardians lets players take the role of two protagonists: Master Chief and Spartan Jameson Locke. It’s two heroes for the price of one game. Each man is supported by three other Spartans.

H5G_Render_Locke-Close5Throughout the length of the campaign you swap between Master Chief and Locke as you take on the Covenant and the Prometheans, which first appeared in Halo 4.

Hey, look, here’s me playing through the first mission of Halo 5 Guardians, including cinematics leading into Mission 2. I do die, but only to show you the revive mechanic. Really.  🙂

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I won’t dwell on Halo 5’s story for fear of, well, spoiling things for people but it deals with Locke hunting Master Chief, who has seemingly, gone AWOL. Go get him, soldier!

You’re squad mates are a competent most of the time (other times I bled out because their pathfinding proved difficult getting to me). They’ll provide cover fire, distract larger enemies and in the case of Edward Buck (who has now been promoted to Spartan after his fine work in Halo Reach) provides a wise crack or three (He also promises to buy everyone a drink at one point). The one thing I wouldn’t trust Buck with is driving: During one level, he seemed to just want to drive up rocks or take the long way home.

I did feel strange having three companions with the Master Chief, though. I’ve always felt the Master Chief was a lone wolf figure, taking on foes single-handedly, so it took a while to get used having three limpets (sorry, companions) but when the going gets tough, it’s great to have a helping hand. Like when you’re facing off against large groups of enemies or, say, two Hunters..

Graphically, Halo 5 looks nice with some impressive set-pieces and varied locations but – and I may be in the minority here – it didn’t blow me away visually all the time. I guess 343 Industries was always going to face a tough battle when it came to the look of Halo 5 given how good Halo 4 looked on the 360. Don’t get me wrong, when you stumble across scenes with a lot of action going on and vehicles flying all over the place and lasers everywhere, it looks great.

The frame rate remains rock solid at 60 frames a second most of the time, which was impressive given how many enemies can be on-screen at one time, and its in-game cinematics are fantastic, with great looking character models and atmospheric lighting.

Gameplay is the tried and true that Halo veterans will know but  if you’re after something revolutionary, look somewhere else: You won’t find it here. I also felt that the closing missions suffered too much from repetition and rinse-and-repeat game play. The finale disappointed me a little, too. I was expecting something a little more epic.

With Halo 4, 343 laid the ground work for what it could do with the series. With Halo 5, it has shown it knows how to respect the franchise and has created a game that, for me, was one of the most enjoyable of the series, even if the campaign has a few missteps near the end and it left a lot of questions.

The bottom line is that Halo 5 Guardians is a great game that will fuel your inner Spartan but where the franchise is heading to from here I’ve no idea. It’s clear from the ending that  there are more stories to tell, but whether Master Chief is a part of those, I’m not sure. He is getting on, isn’t he? Plus, I may have counted wrong, but I’m pretty sure you play more missions as Locke than as Master Chief. That might mean something.

I guess we’ll find out in Halo 6.

Note: I haven’t tried out the multiplayer of Halo 5 Guardians in real-world conditions yet, just what I’ve played at a preview event a few weeks ago. I’ll update the review with my thoughts on MP play when I can join some games. I’m also keen to play throught the game in co-op.

I played through the single player campaign of Halo 5 Guardians on normal difficulty from start to finish using a downloaded retail copy of the game provided by Xbox NZ

XONZ: Microsoft to showcase Xbox One titles at dedicated event this month

XboxLogoNew Zealand is at the bottom of the world so we don’t get the opportunity very often for the public to get their hands on upcoming games at special gaming events.

Well, this month XboxNZ  is hoping to change that with XONZ, a chance for Xbox fans to play upcoming Xbox One games at a dedicated event on September 26. That’s a Saturday.

Kiwi gamers will be able to play the latest versions of triple A titles such as Halo 5: Guardians, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege, Forza Motorsport 6 and Lego Dimensions among many others.

Fans will also get the chance to talk with developers from 343 Industries (Halo), Microsoft (Forza) and Crystal Dynamics (Tomb Raider), who are flying in especially for XONZ. The local Bethesda team will also be on hand to catch up with fans on Fallout 4.

Content from next year’s highly anticipated Remedy title Quantum Break and Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s The Division will be showcased to the crowds, as will a hand-picked selection of Xbox@ID indie titles including Cuphead, Plague Inc. and Wasteland 2: The Director’s Cut.

“XONZ will give 300 of Xbox’s biggest Kiwi fans a rare chance to see and play our greatest line-up of games ahead of their launches in the run-up to Christmas,” said Steve Blackburn, Xbox New Zealand Lead. “Having developers fly in to New Zealand to meet local Xbox fans is an opportunity not to be missed. Not many New Zealanders get to travel to international gaming expos like E3, Gamescom or PAX, so we’re delighted to be able to bring a slice of that to them.”

Attendees will also be able to get hands on with the highly anticipated Xbox Elite Controller ahead of its New Zealand release in November, as well as check out the latest Xbox Hardware including the Xbox One Forza Motorsport 6 Limited Edition and Xbox One Halo 5 Guardians Limited Edition.

You will have to register, though, to secure a place at the XONZ so head over to the Xbox NZ Facebook page (facebook.com/XboxNZ), check out the XONZ Event and be one of the first 300 fans to register your Gamertag to secure your place at this year’s event. Note, gamers must be at least 16 years old to attend XONZ.

The details:

What: XONZ

When: Saturday 26 September

Time: 10am-3pm

Where: The Studio, 340 Karangahape Rd, Auckland

Age Rating: Participants must be at least 16 years old to attend X0NZ

What’s on show: Halo 5: Guardians (Warzone), Rise of the Tomb Raider, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege, Forza Motorsport 6, Lego Dimensions, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, FIFA 2016, Cuphead, Plague Inc., Wasteland 2: The Director’s Cut

Halo 5 Guardian’s opening cinematic: Prepare for freefall, soldier

343 industries’ next Halo game, Halo 5, comes out on Microsoft’s Xbox One in October  so in an attempt to whet the appetites of Halo lovers out there, Microsoft has released the game’s opening cinematic. It looks impressive.

The cinematic sees Fireteam Osiris dropping onto a planet to take on the Covenant and Prometheans (an enemy that appeared in Halo 4) after being ordered by UNSC command to recover a high value asset (could that be Master Chief?).

And yes, that is actor Nathan Fillion’s face in the cinematic: He’s reprising his role of Edward Buck, who last appeared in Halo ODST, which just happens to be one of my favourite games of the Halo series.

Halo 5 Guardians is out on October 27.

 

Halo Master Chief Collection review: Finishing the fight again (but in 1080p)

When Halo first launched on the original Xbox, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person that  didn’t expect it to become the gaming phenomenon it has, but now, thinking back, it’s probably no surprise that Bungie’s console shooter has had the impact on FPS games, both in campaign and multiplayer, that it has.

Halo: The game that started it all.

Halo: The game that started it all.

I don’t actually think I finished Halo. I don’t know why that was but as the years passed, and more Halo games were released, I got more into the series, invested in what a seven-foot tall super soldier, the Master Chief, and his female AI companion Cortana got up to and faced as they traveled the galaxy saving it.

Halo Master Chief Collection brings together the four games featuring the Master Chief and I didn’t play through to completion each of these tweaked Halos – but then with the Master Chief Collection I don’t have to. The games have been given the 1080p treatment and frame rates lifted to 60 per second.

Halo 2 Anniversary: Feels all the loves in this compilation package.

Halo 2 Anniversary: Feels all the loves in this compilation package.

Thanks to the unified menu system, where everything is accessible from the one place, players can select any chapter from any Halo game and play it at any time they want. This means you can play Gravemind from Halo 2 Anniversary then jump to The Silent Cartographer  in Halo Combat Evolved before fast forwarding and taking the fight to the Prometheans in Infinity in Halo 4. It gives Halo fans a choice as to how they play the series, and I like that. I can play Halo the way I want to play it, and I like that.

I’ll also confess to starting each chapter in Halo 2 Anniversary just so I could watch the new cut scenes created by Blur Studio especially for Halo 2 Anniversary, which are, quite frankly, stunning.

Just how stunning they are is even more evident when you press the select button on the Xbox One controller  and travel back in time and view how the game originally looked.

Doing this really shows you just how far in-game cinematics have come in 10  years. It’s quite jarring, to be honest, but sometimes switching to the original view is functional: I actually found myself switching back to the original graphics in some levels because I was able to see enemies better. Strange, huh?

Of the four games in the package, Halo 4 is probably the least impressive visually in this package, but that’s  only because it was already an outstanding looking game when it came out on the Xbox 360.

Sound, too, has been given an update, with the sweeping orchestral score having been remastered and weapon sounds re-recorded so they pack more aural punch.

I haven’t had a chance to dive into the multi player (darn work keeps getting in the way) yet but HMCC brings together all the MP maps and their additions, again all in one place, and I only have a couple of niggles about the overall experience.

Halo 4: One of my favourite Halo games.

Halo 4: One of my favourite Halo games.

One is to do with Halo 2 Anniversary’s checkpoint save system, which still annoys me.  The problem I have is that the Halo games aren’t generous enough with its checkpoints.

Example: During one of the early missions, after battling through countless grunts, Elites and a couple of Hunters, I selected “Save and Quit” from the main menu, intending to come back to where I left off later. When I started again I expected to be at the point I finished, so imagine my surprise when I had to restart the level from a point about 15 minutes previously. The “Save and Quit function” had saved at the last checkpoint,  rather than the point I was at, which is frustrating to say the least.

Another niggle is while everything content-wise is unlocked and ready to access from Day 1, strangely the co-operative Spartan Ops won’t be available till December ,  as will the episodic TV-style Halo Nightfall (not that I’m that excited about that, anyway). And for some reason, if I do want to just watch the cut scenes of Halo 2 Anniversary on their own or access content from Halo 2’s in-game terminals (which are dotted about the game world) I have to launch an external app called the Halo Channel, which means you’re taken out of the game. It’s jarring to say the least.

Halo Master Chief Collection represents an opportunity for Xbox One Halo fans to play the series they love on their new fandangled games machine.

But it’s more than that: It’s something of historical guide, I think, as to how the Halo series (and FPS games, in general perhaps?) have evolved both technically and narratively over the years.

Here is the chance for fans of the series who have watched Master Chief and Cortana develop as characters almost to the point that they’re a couple who can’t live without each other, to relive it all for a modern age.

I’m confident the Halo Master Chief Collection will help sell a fair few Xbox One consoles, and with exclusive titles Sunset Overdrive, Forza Horizon 2 and now MCC, the Xbox One is now starting to hit its stride.

Destiny beta hands-on

Note: So, the Destiny beta ended earlier this week. And the end date snuck up on me sooner than I expected so this preview isn’t as in-dept as I’d have liked. I didn’t really get much online play done but did do a fair few of the story missions. Read on …

Destiny-screenshotBefore the Destiny beta I had little interest in playing the new game from Bungie, the game development studio known best for its Halo series. It just seemed like it was Borderlands but prettied up for the new console generation.

After playing the beta for the past few days on PS4 (it ended today, it seems),  though, I’m now more interested in the game. Perhaps not interested enough to buy the full version when it’s released in September, but my interest is piqued. I was pleasantly surprised at what I played.

Those that know me, know that I like single player campaigns first, online component second. And Destiny’s story mode doesn’t come across as anything special: An alien race called The Fallen have invaded Earth, bringing with them some other alien forced called The Darkness, and humanity has only one stronghold left. It’s up to you – Yes, you – to defeat the Fallen and save humanity. Frankly, the story is ho-hum and little more than an excuse to drop the player on a decimated Earth, face off against a powerful alien race and save the galaxy.

I played as a Titan, which is sort of a run-and-gun soldier by the end of the Beta I was a level 5 Titan, but had I had more time I’m sure I would have made it to the Beta’s level cap (which I think was level 8)

Destiny has a central hub called The Tower, where players can wander around, dance, emote, sit down and generally just hang out. I saw players dancing in front of each other and saluting each other. I also saw players trying to jump over a barrier fence onto what seemed like outstretched aerials. They failed, plummeting to the depths below. I tried it – and failed. I plummeted to the depths below, re-spawning back in The Tower.

You can make your avatar sit down. So I did. Several times. Generally, I sat down every time I arrived at a new location – during the weekend Bungie opened up a story mission set on the Moon – and took a photo of it using the PS4’s share function (then posted it on my Twitter feed).

The beta had four story which were relatively straightforward: follow markers to your objective, defeat the enemy, move on but an interesting thing about Destiny is that when you tackled a mission there could be any number of players there with you. Those players might help you take out the Fallen as you complete your objective or just bounce around doing their own thing (as some of them did when I played). Apparently, Destiny isn’t an MMO but it’s an interesting world where you’re single player game can be populated by other players from around the world.

The game’s tutorial opens with the player lying dead on Old Russia cosmodrome on Earth, and being revived by your Ghost, a flying AI voiced by Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage. Apparently, Dinklage’s voice work is better than it was in the Alpha. I didn’t play the Alpha so I can vouch for that but at times I still thought the voice work was a bit lacklustre.

The story missions weren’t long – I think one mission took me around 9 minutes to complete  – and you can ride a vehicle called a Sparrow about the world and explore, but the story missions didn’t blow me away and tended to follow tried-and-true shooter conventions, which was a little disappointing.  One mission even had a  “hold off the advancing enemies until your Ghost hacks an alien computer” scenario. I really hope that Bungie are able to create a deep and engaging narrative that rivals that they achieved with the Halo series.

The Destiny beta has a lot of great things going for, one of them being how great it looks visually (remember it’s in beta so it’s still going to get some polish), but I still have some questions before I’ll commit to buying it when it comes out, especially in relation to the story missions. Also, while it’s great fun, I don’t think it’s the great revelation and best gaming experience ever that some gaming sites are saying it is.

So, did you play the Beta? What did you think?