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 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

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.

 

Decaying AI, disintegrating Prometheans and Master Chief: it’s Halo 4

Halo 4 has all kinds of pressure on it.

External pressure from the fans that it’ll live up to the standard set by the previous three games to feature the Master Chief, the game’s instantly recognisable hero. Internal pressure from new caretaker 343 Industries to deliver a knock-out blow with its first Halo game and take the series that launched with the birth of the original Xbox back in 2001 in a new direction – while still keeping things familiar.

After some hands-on time with the game’s campaign mode, I reckon 343 has delivered something special here: a game that stays true to the series started by Bungie all those years back but one that delves deeper in the Master Chief’s psyche and his relationship with his AI companion, Cortana, who is nearing the end of her lifespan.

AIs, we’re told, usually survive around seven years but Cortana is nearing eight years old, and it’s clear that Master Chief, the once stoic and usually untalkative combatant, is concerned that she’ll succumb to the AI equivalent of dementia. It’s an added element that he has to take into account as he and Cortana take on a new foe, the Prometheans.

Presenting a more human Master Chief is a smart move by 343 and after an almost five-year absence since we last saw the Master Chief, it’s good to see that 343 aren’t afraid to try something new. Look, I like Halo as a series but it’s not my go-to game when I want something to play. I always thought the genetically enhanced soldier was a little too robotic at times, but this time, he’s more in touch with his human side, and I like that. This is a Master Chief who is in touch with his humanity – and he’s also a lot more talkative this time around, which will please some and maybe annoy others. I liked it.

I played through the third mission in the campaign, which finds Master Chief and Cortana on a mysterious planet called Requiem, and this is the first time we’re introduced to new enemies, which prove smarter and when in a pack, tougher than Halo’s more common Covenant forces.

Josh Holmes, Halo 4’s creative director, advised us to dial down the difficulty a notch that we’re used to – and after facing off against Promethean knights and crawlers, I can see why.

Knights, while not that hard to kill on their own, especially if shotgunned to the head using one of their own Scattershot weapons (nicely disintegrating into a pile of glowing particles) – become more dangerous thanks to the watchers, which fly above the battlefield, regenerating wounded Knights and shielding them from Master Chief’s fire.  I found it pays to take out the watcher as soon as you can, preventing wounded Knights from healing, then concentrate on the advancing Knights and crawlers, which can surround you quickly and scale walls and rock faces.

Of course, with new enemies come new weapons – and the Promethean armoury doesn’t disappoint. While the weapons are essentially the alien equivalent of what Master Chief is used to wielding – shotguns, rapid fire weapons – ammunition for his standard issue weaponry is scarce so it pays to swap to a Promethean weapon as soon as you can.  Something I absolutely  loved with the Promethean weapons is that when you reload them the individual components almost explode outward slightly then snap back into place once the reload is done. It’s a small but impressive feature.

I learned pretty quickly that when overwhelmed by foes, using fast-firing weapons like the Suppressor and Boltshot initially to pick off fast-moving enemies from a safe distance worked extremely well – then I went in with something like the Scattershot to pick off the stragglers.

But it’s not only the Prometheans the Master Chief has to deal with this time around and I was surprised to walk into a fire fight between Covenant forces and the Prometheans. I stood back and just watched, not sure whether I should help either side. I eventually decided to wait until the Prometheans had wiped out most of the Covenant then took on the rest myself. The campaign finished with a revelation that surprised me – but Holmes asked us not to reveal what happened, and I’m going to respect that, for him and for readers.

As I said earlier, I’m not a fanatical Halo fanboi but I came away from my time playing Halo 4’s campaign – and some multi-player which featured mechs that can dominate the battlefield if you let them,  and the Spartan Ops mode (bite-sized chunks of co-operative episodic content) – pleasantly surprised and waiting for November 6, when the game is released worldwide.

Hopefully I’ve finished Arkane’s Dishonored by then (that, is a game that you need to play: it is something special. I’ll give my thoughts on that another time).

I think Halo 4 is an important addition to the series and a necessary one that has convinced me that Master Chief is actually human and cares about those around him, especially Cortana. It’s definitely going to be interesting seeing how the relationship between him and Cortana develops during Halo 4.