Last night it was finally time to show off Halo Infinite for the first time, with the big reveal coming after years of building anticipation for the project among the Halo community. We knew in advance that the game was created with a new engine (the Slipspace Engine), it's about Master Chief, and that it's going to take place on a broken ringworld. Other than that, we've mostly been left with hope and rumours.
In recent weeks, Microsoft's hype machine has slowly but surely drip-fed the community tidbits and teasers, creating a huge amount of interest in Halo Infinite, but this has also has meant huge expectations have been building. Whether what we saw really lived up to those expectations is doubtful, but let's not start that way. Halo Infinite has been explicitly called a spiritual reboot by the developers, however, they are careful to point out that it's not a case of deleting or retconning Halo lore, rather it is simply both the continuation of the Master Chief's story but also the beginning of something new.
What Microsoft had to show played out on the cracked Halo ring we saw in an earlier trailer. This new ring has been taken over by Brute leader called Escharum and a group called the Banished, with whom we became acquainted in Halo Wars 2. This faction can simply be summed up as a breakaway group from what was the Covenant, a group that now feels betrayed, with furious Brutes as leaders rather than the spiritual and physically weak Prophets from the original trilogy.
After the global reveal during the Xbox Games Showcase, which you can see above, we saw an extra presentation from the developers at 343 Industries, during which I was told that the section of the game that was shown is about halfway into the story, which makes sense as it's clear that a lot has happened before we picked up the story. This is a large game that's said to be more than twice the size of Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians combined. When you think back to how big those games were, that makes Infinite the biggest Halo game to date by some margin.
The gameplay sequence begins with Master Chief and an as-yet-unnamed pilot crashing on the surface of the ringworld. 343 Industries says that this pilot is intended to function as something of a counterweight to the Chief, and therefore he has both real emotions and a desire to stay alive rather than risking everything to be a hero. According to the studio, he will also have a big role to play in this adventure. I interpret this as meaning that our pilot will act as something of a replacement for Cortana and be the Master Chief's sidekick during the adventure. Incidentally, the story takes place a fairly long time after Guardians, and part of the challenge initially is going to be piecing together what has happened since.
Something that struck me the moment Master Chief stepped out of the crashed ship, is how 343 Industries has tried to recreate the feel of Halo: Combat Evolved. Master Chief once again looks like he used to, the colours are warmer and the ringworld once again feels mystical - it's just begging to be explored. The developers quickly make it clear that this is intentional, that the goal is to recreate the magic surrounding Halo and to make this a complete game in and of itself. Therefore we can expect both a beginning and an end here, and not a game that must be expanded with DLC for you to experience the whole story.
Early in the demo, Master Chief gets hold of a Warthog, which seems to be a little less bouncy than in previous iterations, with good, realistic-feeling physics. What's more, the Chief has a few new tools at his disposal. These include the Drop Wall pictured below and, above all, his new grappling hook. The latter can be used both for attacking and accessing hard-to-reach ledges. This way you can find secrets as well as get around barricaded enemies, attacking them from a more vulnerable angle. According to the developers, the inspiration for these accessories is taken from Halo 3. There also seems to be plenty of new weapons and grenades, and 343 Industries also promised that several fan favourites not yet shown will also be included.
There's a lot about Halo Infinite that seems to be more of the type of Halo that I like (which can be succinctly summed up as "Bungie's Halo"). However, while there was stuff to like, that doesn't mean that everything I saw was as good. Unfortunately, Halo Infinite didn't blow us away from a technical perspective. Among other things, the lighting effects feel flat and ray-tracing is going to be added after release, something I assume is a side-effect of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, the definition on the characters is far from impressive, and when we get to see the Brute boss Escharum up close, it's hard to be impressed when you consider what developers like Naughty Dog and Microsoft-owned studio The Coalition are usually able to offer. This despite the demo running on a PC with specs equal to an Xbox Series X.
In terms of design, things are fortunately much better. The massive ringworld has a daily cycle and we will now be able to explore it at our own pace. You have a large map at your disposal where you can see what needs to be done, and the world lives and breathes in a different way compared to previous Halo titles. For example, there are animals in this world that do not behave like enemies (other than possibly acting as cannon fodder if you want to shoot them). In true Metroidvania style, you can't do everything straight away, instead, you will have to return to certain locations after you have received the tools you need to progress.
The Halo games have long been known for their music, with soundtracks and themes composed by Martin O'Donnell in particular but also Michael Salvatori. 343 Industries has had a hard time finding a good replacement for these gentlemen, but for Infinite we've got Gareth Coker as one of the main composers, and if that name sounds familiar, that's probably because you played Ori and the Will of the Wisps and its predecessor. From the little that we've heard so far, the music seems to be a step in the right direction for the series.
To sum up, we must say that Halo Infinite did not live up to our lofty expectations, and above all, it was the graphics that hampered this first impression. In a generational shift between consoles and in a series as important as Halo, I wanted more. Much of what Microsoft showed during the Xbox Games Showcase that was in-engine easily outperformed the technical aspects on show here. However, in terms of gameplay, Infinite seems to deliver, with a classic Halo feel and a large, open ringworld that is just waiting to be explored. All that and we still haven't seen the multiplayer in action yet.