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Halo Infinite’s campaign drops you right into classic Bungie-era action. After the opening sequence in which Master Chief is saved by The Pilot that we’re all so aware of now, Spartan-117 grapples into the Warship Gbraackon, a Banished ship with a dock full of what can only be described as UNSC scrap. Here, we get our first look at a new feature, Scanning, and the best new Halo sandbox addition, the Grappleshot. Those of you who’ve played the Multiplayer Beta will have a good idea of its uses, but there it is limited. In the campaign, however, you can use it as much as you want, albeit with a cooldown.
Check out our video gameplay preview below:
The first set piece is very reminiscent of Halo 2, fighting it out on a ramp with travellators on either side, carrying scrap. Halo 2 loved a travellator for some reason, so just having this layout is an extremely welcomed nod from developers 343 Industries, as if to say: “Yes, we know our classic Halo.”
We take out a few Grunts and head into a glowing red control room with several more pint-sized foes ready to have a fusion coil thrown at their dumb faces. The combat isn’t hard, just here to get you into the swing of things, with Infinite laying on iconic-style Halo locations and baddies alongside fun new additions to the gameplay loop we know and love (and that we’d somewhat lost in previous 343 Halo titles).
After wrecking the Grunts, we head through a doorway and get our first look at a snarling, angry Brute in red armour. Clearly, he means business, as he tears down the door and throws it at Master Chief, and begins to sprint towards our Spartan protagonist. A quick grapple, an assault rifle round in the head and a whack in his dumb face later, and he’s down.
Not long after KO-ing our over-eager Jiralhanae pal, Halo Infinite reveals two gameplay additions that’ll be vital to your campaign progress. First up, ammo crates - the two on the ship hold Kinetic and Plasma ammo, one of which refills most UNSC and Banished weapons, the other Covenant-style, alien ‘pew-pew’ guns. Then come fusion coils, which although not new, have the ability to be grabbed, grappled and thrown. Fusion coils are everywhere in the first four missions that make up our preview, and they might be my new favourite way of taking out any enemy. Grappling a coil into your hands and lobbing it into a swarm of Grunts is so satisfying, as you watch the little blighters go boom.
Although the warship isn’t an open-world area, there is a choice of routes to take, rather than just one door leading to the next. Nevertheless, the sequence is fairly linear - which is maybe supposed to feel empowering for the player, or ease them into Infinite gently; but really I just wanted to explore everywhere and find any audio logs and secrets scattered around.
The mission ends with a very Halo: Combat Evolved escape scenario - I won’t spoil it, but you’ll know what I mean when you play. It’s a combination of two iconic segments of that first game.
Throughout the mission and the scuttling of the ship we get a real introduction to the game’s main big bad, the Brute war chief Escharum. We’ve seen him in all the promotional materials, but as we see him as a hologram on the ship, you can tell he is a force to be reckoned with. He may have a plan for the Zeta Halo ring, but that isn't the main thrust of his fight with you. It's about honour. Escharum isn’t the Warden Eternal or the Didact. He specifically wants to fight you, and is engaged with the Master Chief on a personal level, something that in these early missions makes him a much more interesting antagonist than even the Prophets.
Halo Infinite has a very different style of storytelling from past 343 games. Whereas Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians felt like overly complicated exposition dumps, most of the in-depth backstory of Infinite happens in audio logs (similar to Terminals in previous Halo games). This mechanic works well to fill in any gaps players might encounter, but definitely isn’t needed in a story that is much more focused on the Chief, the Pilot, and someone else who we are soon to meet after we escape Warship Gbraackon: the Weapon.
Dropping onto the ring for the first time - or into the ring, on the second mission, ‘Foundations’, we get our first glimpse of the infamous pillars that underwhelmed fans in the ill-fated 2020 reveal. The level is set under the ground at the edges of the damaged ring. Turning around will reveal the openness of space, but inside is the realised version of concept art 343 released several months back.
In the underbelly of the ring, you can really see the art style shift back to Bungie’s original vision for the Forerunner structures, albeit with a current-gen “glow up”. Everything is back to its brutalistic beginnings, and it all looks familiar, playing with our nostalgia. This is what I thought Halo 3 looked like at the time (it didn’t).
There’s something genuinely enjoyable about grappling from broken platform to broken platform, grabbing fusion coils as you go, throwing them at Grunts who never stood a chance. It's this dynamic movement and interactivity that makes Halo shine and, in this preview at least, it’s great to see the levels take what we all loved from the original trilogy and alter it in a way to cater to these new movement and battle mechanics.
It's here we finally meet The Weapon, the extremely Cortana-like AI that was revealed during E3 2021. It’s the exact sequence we saw then with a few extra bits-and-bobs that, again for narrative spoiler reasons, I don’t intend to dive further into. She is very much what you expect from the marketing: an easily likeable AI who appears more naïve than the similarly designed Cortana, there to brighten up the mood in gameplay and ask the questions the player wants answered. She isn’t as all-knowing as Cortana was, but that seems to be on purpose.
Something I didn’t expect going into Halo Infinite was its small insights into Chief’s past. These are handled in a way that will please older fans of the series, but will also potentially help welcome new players who only know John 117 as a “pretty cool guy called Halo who doesn’t afraid of anything.”
Something that kind of rubs me up the wrong way, however, is the need to power up a bridge, then a grav lift and then an elevator using ‘Power Seeds’. These are the same seeds from the multiplayer match type Stockpile, and doing this in the second campaign mission felt like busywork to pad the time, rather than add anything new or dynamic to the player experience. Hopefully it won’t reoccur several times throughout the complete campaign.
On the other hand, something that does sit well is the way the player upgrades armour abilities, and where those upgrades are found. At the end of the first mission I come across the body of a Spartan who died in battle. She left behind a Shield Core, one of what I assume is many Spartan Cores throughout the game that can be used to upgrade Master Chief. I didn’t expect the game to go this route, but it adds gravitas -somebody had to die here, for you to improve. Aside from these specific Cores, the levelling up of other equipment is achieved through finding other cores scattered around the game.
As we reach the lift to head to the surface of Zeta Halo, a Brute boss arrives to say hello. Tremonius is one of those health-bar baddies you will have seen in the trailers. Obviously this means he is tougher than your standard Brute, and you’ll need to take down his shield before dealing any real damage. Thankfully there’s a fusion coil to hand, which takes out a big chunk of his shield, and from there a grenade or two and several Needler rounds puts him down. Up the lift we go.
After a stern talking to from Escharum’s hologram, the world opens up and it’s time for the biggest fight yet - to claim Outpost Tremonius Yes, it’s named after the chap we just killed. Despite the open battlefield, Halo Infinite shines again by offering a range of means to tackle combat scenarios, with more verticality than is initially apparent (which is to say, more than I realised in my first playthrough of the preview).
There are Grunts on a turret in the far distance causing trouble, and I only manage to dispatch them after breaking away from the ground-level fight and grappling up, leaving a friendly spike grenade for them to enjoy. By now I’ve assigned the new Spartan Core and put it into the Grappleshot, so enemies I hit are stunned for a few seconds. I’m looking forward to seeing what other abilities unlock as I progress through the campaign.
Now the outpost is ours: the Pilot can land and the whole gang is together. The Spartan, the Pilot and the Weapon all together in the Pelican, off on an adventure on Zeta Halo. The next mission: capture the Forward Operating Base ‘Golf’ from the Banished.
FOBs are UNSC bases that have been captured by the Banished, and by defeating all enemy NPCs they become locations for you to spawn new weapons and vehicles, rallying together troops into your Warthog or other vehicles… or rather, you could do that if you have enough Valor. Valor is earned by taking back bases and defeating high-value Banished targets like Briglard and Okro ‘Vagaduun. Defeating these targets will offer up Valor as well as letting you spawn their modified signature weapons at FOBs.
The opening hours of Halo Infinite paint a positive picture for the rest of the game, and I genuinely can’t wait to dig more into the open world. In the past, 343 have struggled to evolve the franchise, deviating too far from what the fans love. But this time, from these few hours at least, it feels like they’ve recaptured that old Halo magic, and I’m excited to see where this campaign leads.
Halo Infinite’s campaign releases December 8, 2021 for Xbox consoles, PC and Game Pass. Game tested with code provided by the publisher.
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