Wednesday sees the release of Halo Infinite, the highly-anticipated next entry into Microsoft's flagship space shooter franchise, which has been in the hands of subsidiary 343 Industries since 2007.
Halo Infinite was first unveiled during E3 2018, but suffered through several delays, missing its mark as a launch title for the Xbox Series X in November 2020.
The multiplayer component of the game was released last month as a free-to-play standalone ahead of the single player campaign, marking the first time Halo's online mode has been separated from the main game.
As of writing, Halo Infinite is sitting on a respectable Metacritic score of 87, a marginally higher score than Halo 5 and standing equally next to Halo 4.
Halo Infinite's campaign follows on from the almost-forgotten Halo 5: Guardians, and follows the series' iconic protagonist Master Chief on a journey through Zeta Halo to locate a new A.I. codenamed 'The Weapon'.
Infinite has pleased critics so far, and seems to build upon traditional aspects of previous instalments in what Gene Park of The Washington Post has called "the most expansive setting in Halo's history."
In their 9/10 review, Park wrote: "By empowering the player in its themes as well as its liberating gameplay, Infinite is the closest to perfection the series has achieved. Together, these design decisions revive the childlike heart and sense of adventure lost in the Halo series over the years, even in the later titles under original developer Bungie."
The sentiment of the series returning to its former glory is echoed by Jade King over at The Gamer, who, in their 9/10 review, called Halo Infinite "a triumphant step in the right direction for 343 Industries."
"A triumphant step in the right direction for 343 Industries"
Jade King, The Gamer
"The studio has taken the legacy it inherited from Bungie and finally crafted an entry that lives up to that reputation," King continued. "It doesn't drown itself in needless exposition or directionless evolutions to the classic formula -- it's Halo through and through, right down to the graceful gunplay and masterful musical cues."
One big part of Halo Infinite's leap into the current generation is its sprawling open-world; while Halo games have gotten bigger with each instalment, the gameplay has remained fairly linear. VGC's Andy Robinson noted in their 4/5 review that players are free to explore the game's setting freely to collect upgrades and take on side missions, but also highlighted that the main chunk of the story is kept manageable.
"Developer 343 is keen to emphasise that this isn't an open-world in the traditional GTA sense," Robinson said. "The map isn't the size of a small city and players are subtly ushered through smaller, manageable chunks of the world to explore, without going too far off course."
Fanbyte's Nicholas Grayson also commented on the size of the map in their review, noting its expansive yet reasonable scale.
"The map is big, but not Far Cry big," Grayson said. "Whereas some areas in open world games can start to feel procedurally generated by a particularly boring algorithm, Zeta Halo's terrain is varied but considered in its construction. If you see it, you can, unsurprisingly, go to it."
King at The Gamer also commented on the variation of optional bases and outposts that the player can explore, and wrote: "This freedom complements the linear campaign missions that bridge the narrative together perfectly."
Halo Infinite's boss fights seemed to be another highlight, as noted by IGN's Ryan McCaffrey. In their 9/10 review, McCaffrey said that "the bosses make up many of Infinite's best encounters", and that "each boss fight will keep you on your toes, and in total, Infinite features Halo's best implementation of them yet."
Washington Post's Park also commends the boss battles, and wrote: "The enemies have more personality than ever before, not just in tactics and animation but in audio feedback too.
"The larger boss encounters are also a success," Park continued. "The series has struggled in making climactic boss fights, but the fights in Halo Infinite feel like a dance against similarly skilled and adept opponents, with regenerating shields like the Chief's along with move sets that force the player into hiding and evasive maneuvers using the grappling shot or the new thruster dodges."
As well as more personality and combat sense, Grayson at Fanbyte highlighted how benefits that were previously exclusive to Master Chief are now featured on enemies; such as a plasma shield that gives Infinite's antagonists an edge in a fight.
"By so closely mapping the tools and systemic interactions present in the multiplayer to campaign, Infinite creates scenarios that feel unique every time you enter a combat encounter," Grayson said.
Several critics also commented on Halo Infinite's plot, and noted that its place as a soft reboot of the franchise allows it to tell a more intricate story.
"By being a series reboot, Halo Infinite eschews the moral grays of the last two games in favour of centering the Master Chief once more as the last great hope," Park wrote.
"The enemies have more personality than ever before, not just in tactics and animation but in audio feedback too"
Gene Park, The Washington Post
King also shared a positive sentiment about Infinite's storyline and said: "By stepping away from the convoluted lore and abundance of changes made throughout its tenure, the studio has been able to craft something meaningful, an emotionally resonant journey across Zeta Halo that uses excellent worldbuilding and touching character interactions to build a triumphant campaign that sets the stage for an exciting future."
While the story landed well, IGN's McCaffrey noted that a catch-up on the series' convoluted plot that spans 20-years wouldn't have gone amiss. McCaffrey wrote that it is "not easy to get comfortable with Infinite's plot," and said that the lack of any visual catch up on the story so far is "a failure that could've been avoided."
Another aspect that is relatively new to the series is the inclusion of a skill tree, which allows players to build out Master Chief's abilities to suit their play style. However, Robinson at VGC seemed underwhelmed by the feature's impact on the overall gameplay.
"The skill tree also quickly becomes irrelevant once you've maxed out one or two segments," Robinson wrote. "And even when fully maxed out, your character doesn't feel particularly unique or specialised."
In all, Halo Infinite seems to be a triumphant return to the series' familiar formula, without just recreating a nostalgic favourite that feels dated in an era of more complex, modern shooters.
"The present and future of Halo are bright," Fanbyte's Grayson concluded. "Halo Infinite is simultaneously a complete package and one that has me begging for more. If the upcoming fights are like this one, sign me up to finish them."
The Gamer's King added that "Halo Infinite was worth the wait" and wrapped up their review by saying: "It feels so good to see Master Chief deliver an adventure that is once again worthy of his iconic status."
And despite reservations about some aspects of the game -- including the skill tree and the campaign's distinct lack of co-op at launch -- VGC's Robinson called Halo Infinite "a foundation that still has plenty of space for building upon."
"There are improvements to be made then, but despite these criticisms, what's here represents a compelling revival for the Halo series and the best campaign since Bungie handed over the reins," Robinson concluded.