Everyone remembers their first big Halo moment. For some, it might’ve been crash-landing on a strange, ring-shaped alien world. For others, maybe it was the slow discovery of an all-consuming, nightmarish parasite. Or the realization that said ring-shaped alien world wasn’t actually a world but an interstellar superweapon designed to purge all sentience from the galaxy.
Halo Infinite, which is described as a “spiritual reboot,” aims to recreate those moments—or at least capture the nostalgia behind them. Kickstarting today’s Xbox Series X games showcase, 343 Industries showed off some first-look gameplay of a campaign mission from halfway through Halo Infinite.
It’s impossible to deny the sheer nostalgia 343 was able to pack into nine minutes. Everything’s there—the assault rifle, the slow pans of alien architecture, the crowds of pestiferous aliens, that iconic military-green armor. The music, too, is instantly transportative to a previous era of Halo. Hearing it today with a modern reworking stirred something in the soul. (Gareth Coker, who scored this year’s terrific Ori and the Will of the Wisps, teamed up with Curtis Schweitzer to do the music for Infinite.)
Infinite isn’t all a return to form, though. Today’s preview featured plenty of new features, including a sweet grappling hook and a snazzy map that implies an open world, all of which we’ll get to in a bit. But first, the graphics.
As you might’ve seen on Twitter today, some fans were less than enthused with Halo Infinite’s visuals. A few posted side-by-side shots comparing screenshots from today’s video (a preview broadcast over the web) to screenshots from Halo 2 and 3 (completed, fully polished games). Maybe you’ve seen a selectively chosen closeup of a Brute getting punched in the face.
To some, to sum it up, today’s peek at Halo Infinite bore an uncannily strong visual resemblance to the original trilogy—fine, in fans’ eyes, for an Xbox 360 game, but not exactly as jaw-dropping as what you’d expect from a Series X launch title.
“This really speaks to the spiritual reboot concept that we started this project with, where we really wanted to take the learnings from Halo 4 and Halo 5 and [...] look across the entire history of the Halo franchise and embrace the most iconic elements and bring those forward for gamers today,” said Chris Lee, of 343 Industries, during a closed-door Q&A session following today’s showcase. “The visual language kind of brings back, harkens back, to some of those iconic looks that we’ve had in Halo.”
In other words, the folks at 343 know exactly what they’re doing. And, truth told, it’s working for me.
My big Halo moment wasn’t a specific scene, but a whole level. In the first game’s second mission, “Halo,” you’re given the keys to a Warthog, a vehicle that looks badass but moves about as gracefully as a cat wearing velvet slippers. You drive over a ridge and are soon informed of your objective: Rescue three groups of space marines, each pinned down at three separate areas. You can hit these three objectives in any order you like. It wasn’t an open world, least of all by today’s 100-hour standards, but it offered the type of bespoke traversal that you see in many modern games—and it was magnificent.
Today’s peek at Infinite lifts that mission structure almost beat for beat. In an expansive-seeming outdoor level, Chief’s tasked with disabling three anti-air cannons. As a navigational device, there’s a map—a first for the series, if you don’t count the hub of Halo 3: ODST—that looks much like one you’d see in any of today’s open-world games. There are icons for various points of interest. They’re color-coded. The topography is immaculately detailed.
As a result, perhaps, there’s been a lot of chatter today about Halo Infinite being an open-world game. During the Q&A, I didn’t hear anyone from 343 explicitly say “open world.” The phrase I heard tossed around, by multiple members of the 343 team, was “a huge world that is open and expansive.” The level shown today no doubt has the trappings of an open-world shooter. But that level happens several hours into the game. 343 hasn’t shared what comes before—or after. Is all of Infinite as open? Or is this the only section with such an expansive playground?
In any case, an area of this size is a first for the series. Further, 343’s Paul Crocker confirmed that although narrative focus will pull you through Infinite, yes, you’ll still be able to backtrack to prior areas to explore and gather collectibles you may have missed. To me, that makes it sound like a series of large, sandbox (another word I heard a lot of today) areas rather than one massive, contiguous map.
Those collectibles, too, indicate a degree of customization that hasn’t been present in previous Halo campaigns. Look closely at the map screen, and you’ll see an “upgrades” tab. During the Q&A session, 343’s Jerry Hook called out a moment from today’s preview when Chief shoots right through an energy shield. Infinite’s loadouts are customizable. It’s just unclear, at least after today, how customizable exactly.
But the biggest new nugget of knowledge was, again, inextricably tied to what Halo used to be. Whatever your thoughts about Halo 5, it was missing one staple of previous games: split-screen co-op. Hook confirmed for me that Halo Infinite will have both local co-op and four-player co-op. A follow-up question about whether or not local co-op will also be four-player—or if you’ll need two separate Xbox consoles, each hosting two players—went unanswered.
One thing’s for sure, though: Infinite may truly be infinite. According to Lee, the game’s campaign is several times larger than the “past two Halo games put together.” It’s also the cornerstone of Halo’s future. There isn’t a planned flagship entry after this one, and any new content will get introduced like a drip feed. 343 wasn’t ready to share any details about what that content will look like—or about any competitive multiplayer modes. The only thing we know for sure is that it’ll amount to something between “a lot” and “A LOT.”
For maximum nostalgia, you’d best start stockpiling the Cheetos and Mountain Dew now. Halo Infinite comes out “holiday 2020" with a planned release for Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC. It’ll be available on Game Pass the day it comes out.