343 Industries had an arduous task ahead of them trying to follow up to, what I would argue, is one of the worst shooter campaigns I’ve experienced in recent memory in 2015 with Halo 5: Guardians.
It was not impossible, but an absolute monumental workload. Things were slightly looking up in 2017 with Halo Wars 2. Although, introducing a faction that managed to be more powerful than the Covenant were powerscaling red flags, I didn’t care all that much. Halo Wars 2’s reintroduction to the Spirit of Fire’s crew and the retreat to familiar ground was what the series, at that point, needed to give a modicum of hope to fans who, I would argue, have been yearning for a title that felt “Halo” since 2009.
When Halo Infinite’s trailer was announced at E3 2018 and the glossy in-game footage of wildlife, various biomes, and the motif of “Finish the Fight” played before my eyes, at the time, all I felt was pure bliss. It felt like 343 was finally “listening” and this was going to be the culmination of a year of a studio that kept pushing Halo into directions that didn’t fit the series.
Now, as I rewatched it for this review, it is a hilarious retread in the same vein of “Star Wars;” nostalgia beats to get long time fans excited, as it tried to recapture the magic and awe of Bungie’s debut trailer in 2006 for Halo 3.
As much as I would like to talk about Halo: Infinite on its own merits, Star Wars, more specifically the sequel trilogy, mirrors 343’s Halo almost one-to-one as a good point of reference: A trilogy without a coherent vision behind it, more concerned with being a reaction to the previous story, and never really being able to stand on its own two feet without sinking into a nostalgia quicksand pool,
Halo: Infinite is the culmination of a deep insecurity to finish a story that 343 wrote themselves into, leaving much of the fate of most of the characters setup in audio logs or future book installments. It isn’t focused on telling the story that probably .4% of the general Halo population even wanted to see finished, but setting up for Halo’s future. Because that’s all stories are now.
Endless sequel bating.
The story that is there is laughable as 343 doesn’t even have the energy to finish the trilogy they started; shifting from the focus of the Forerunners, to the Banished, to a faction called “The Endless,” by the end of Halo: Infinite.
Anything set up from Halo 4 and 5 is eerily either gone completely or served for extended material in Audio Logs or Books. This could be argued to return to CE’s style of a smaller focus so the focus can be more on cute little character moments or more bombastic reveals. This is more of a coincidence than anything because the focus isn’t just stopping the Banished from reactivating the Ring. It’s the mysteries of multiple things from the fate of the UNSC, to what happened to Cortana and the army of space robots she had. Where is this, where is that, so many questions that 343 didn’t answer directly because they wanted to shoot themselves into another galaxy before directly answering anything from Halo 5.
Aside from the overarching plot of stopping the Banished from getting ahold of a new Halo ring. (which I hope to god you played Halo Wars 2 because none of this shit will make any sense), the other plot is John 117 and his two new companions. Brohammer and Not-Cortana please guys it is totally not her.
I’ll start with Brohammer first. I actually like the performance Nicolas Roye brings to Fernando Esparza. While I only know Roye as his role of Octane in Apex Legends, his performance here was really solid. Esparza is just a guy who really wants to get home and he just happens to stumble upon the dude who has saved the galaxy multiple times.
My problem isn’t necessarily with Esparza not being a hype man like Sgt. Johnson was, its that his role is in such contrast to Master-fucking-Chief that his desire to run away and how, “Chief can’t possibly win this war,” makes no sense given the Chief’s records.
I’m going to take a minute to deviate on why Halo Infinite’s story crumbles at the very premise of “finding hope” when all odds are against you.
See, John-117 is a career soldier. Ignoring any extended material and going purely off of the original Halo trilogy, the player is well acquainted with the sheer abilities of John-117. He has dispatched entire armies of Covenant forces with the pull of a trigger. He has stopped the firing of multiple Halo rings and is able to survive a fall from space MULTIPLE times.
John-117 is pretty strong, right? Ok, keep a pin in that.
So, when you have a story that has a character reminding you that “you have no hope of winning this war on your own,'' when you are John Halo himself, it becomes grating, down right unbearable. What’s funny too is, the time John Halo did get his ass utterly kicked by Atriox, the Banished leader was in this game’s opening cutscene. You get a sense that John really doesn’t have a chance of winning when he has been brought to his lowest. He’s lost the UNSC Infinity, his allies, his friends, pretty much everything.
You’d think Atroix would be this big climatic showdown with Chief, but no. No it’s not.
You get to see his lackey, Escharum, taunt you about this epic upcoming battle and he’s never really directly antagonistic towards you. Sure his previous actions speak for himself, but when he sees Chief, he sees this legacy that he wants to prove. Escharum, YOUR VILLAIN, has a better understanding of who Chief is than your supporting character.
The reason Halo: Reach worked as well as it did was because it showed Spartans can be vulnerable and die just like any other soldier. You got a good sense that Noble Team have been doing their work for awhile, but when faced with the full might of the Covenant, the Spartans, the UNSC’s greatest achievement, are nothing compared to the Covenant. Noble Team getting picked off one by one (excluding Jun), until nothing remains of them but dust and echoes was one of the best parts about Reach’s campaign. While the UNSC managed to get small victories over the Covenant, it was met with immediate death and destruction almost instantly. There was no hope in the war itself, but what could be made in one final effort to deliver humanity’s “best chance of survival” as Halsey puts it. Really good stuff.
Halo: Reach directly shows you, front and center, the events that led Reach to fall. In Infinite, you really only get the opening introduction to get you invested in the conflict. You don’t get to see the direct results of humanity on the run from Cortana’s forces in the previous game or the work of the Banished, only the aftermath of it all. It’s like Halo: Infinite is the sequel to a game that never existed, yet still carried so many of the effects of that non-existent game.
So when I have one guy yelling in my ear that “I have no hope of winning,” and another who understands who I am but is such a laughable excuse of a villain, I am left in this tug-o-war where both sides are unable to pull me to get invested.
As for “Not-Cortana,” The Weapon is fine. Almost too safe. Pairing Chief with another AI is fine, but one so similar to Cortana (because she totally is not) makes me wonder why the vision of Halo 4 wasn’t stuck with throughout these games. It makes Cortana’s exit, reintroduction, exit and reintroduction, so sloppy. Obviously, yes, none of this was planned and this is why the stories in these games are almost incomprehensible, but at the very least, I can say Halo 4 had a vision surrounding that campaign. It wasn’t a great vision, but I could at least understand it came from a personal story that Josh Holmes wanted to tell. Halo 5 was more of a horrific science test gone wrong to make a squad co-op shooter.
At the very, very least, 4 and 5 had central pillars in which the campaigns were formed around. Infinite doesn’t have that clear, defined central pillar, so you get competing ideas all trying to fight for space and none of it works. It doesn’t have the personal story injected like Halo 4, nor the gameplay shift that Halo 5 tried to do. Infinite has a boring open world with nothing that even remotely tries to shake it up, and the few levels that don’t take place in the open map lack any style or substance that the Bungie curated scripted sequenced levels had.
But, there is one thing that Halo: Infinite is centralized around that does work, and it puts every single competing objective into perspective in a way that I find completely cynical.
Halo: Infinite’s job isn’t to tell an engaging narrative, in the now, but to sell you on the future. Even the very subtitle “Infinite” gives an impression that you shouldn’t look into the here or now, but invest in Halo for the future.
In Halo: Infinite, a faction called “The Endless” make their debut appearance and the first time ever mentioned. The one thing of note, is that they were the only race to be able to survive the effects of the Halo rings. Which is, to put into simple terms, The Endless can cheat death of the Halo rings.
Remember when I said the Banished being able to powerscale the Covenant was probably signs of the worst to come? This is what I mean by that. In fact, this goes beyond powerscaling the Covenant or the Banished, but the ancient aliens, the Forerunners themselves. It is absolutely insane a faction this powerful was introduced in this game. It no longer matters about trying to stop the Halo ring, Escharum, reunite the UNSC, none of it matters. All attention is brought to the Endless and setting up the Endless for future installments of Halo.
I’ve gone on record saying Halo 3 is one of my favorite games ever because of the sense of finality to that game. Halo 3 is not concerned about setting up for the future, but finishing a fight that Bungie set the stage in 2001. All that game does is serve to give you a kick-ass finale to end one of the best trilogies and it is all the better for it.
Halo: Infinite’s job is not to give a satisfying conclusion to the Forerunner saga, but immediately discard it as if it were trash and introduce what comes next. Anything left unanswered can just be dug up for required, extended material.
I could talk about the rest of the open world, maybe the music, but there is no point. If the game doesn’t care about selling itself in the now to you, why should I?
Although, I do want to briefly go back to the 2018 Halo Infinite debut trailer as my final point.
The reason I laughed at the usage of “Finish the Fight” in Halo: Infinite was because it was not earned whatsoever. I encourage you to watch the 2006 Halo 3 debut trailer and that feeling of finality I’ve mentioned can be felt in that trailer alone.
With Halo Infinite’s E3 trailer, much like the actual game itself, it is selling you on a tech demo that is far more focused on the future than the now. It isn’t giving you a chance to “finish the fight,” but to start another one like it's another day of the week.