For a game sold on its wide open spaces, player freedom, and great big sticky-up hexagons, Halo Infinite’s opening couple of hours couldn’t be much less representative. The approximately 700 miles of the same blue-gray corridors and chambers that gate access to the open-world game, feel as though someone remembered The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’s opening sewers and thought, “I wish that could have lasted a billion times longer.”
At the start of Halo Infinite, John Masterchief is floating in space, having been beaten in a space battle. You might think, like me, that this was something that happened in a previous Halo that you didn’t play or forgot, being briskly recapped to bring you up to speed. You would be wrong. This is in fact a calamitous attempt at a cold open, that succeeds only in alienating about 90% of its potential Game Pass-driven audience.
It is the most bizarre and troublingly oblivious decision by 343, that they thought that everyone playing would remember the climactic events of Halo 5—released six years ago—in such detail that they’d recognize they weren’t supposed to know what was happening here. There’s some guy we don’t know, who talks to Master Chief about a war we don’t remember, with an enemy that only previously appeared in...Halo Wars 2. It’s like being trolled.
But forget all that! Because it matters not a jot, when there’s a featureless blue-grey spaceship to trudge along.
Yes, I know, this is nothing new. Games have, since three-dimensional corridors were possible, thought it a good idea to begin with the most linear tunnels imaginable. Heck, this is practically a tradition for Halo itself. But oh my goodness, if every other game developer ran in front of a bus, would your studio do that too? Can we all just stop this now?
I think I know the idea behind this. It’s about creating that moment, when you step out from the bleak darkness of an enclosed space, and blink-blink-blink at all that sunlight and bucolic green. But this is an effect that can be achieved with just five or 10 minutes of corridors, not two miserable hours. Let alone the absolutely batshit logic of opening your game in a deliberately boring way.
Of course, the game had already worked pretty damned hard to ensure I wasn’t in a good mood. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in discovering yesterday that Infinite’s campaign was comically locked behind downloads. It went live at 6pm in the UK, and I was delighted that I’d be able to set it updating, put my boy to bed, and then come down to play. There’s a tiny window in my life for extra-curricular game playing, and for once it looked like it would work out. Except, of course, no.
The update to the previously downloaded multiplayer build was only 2.71GB, and I was confused and delighted! They must have previously included it, and just locked out access! Even on Microsoft’s crappy servers, that wouldn’t be an issue.
It was only on sitting down to play that I learned you can only actually download the campaign by starting it in-game. Because...no, I’ve got nothing. Another 18GB, which sucks, but on gigabit internet shouldn’t have been the end of the world. Except, yeah, those crappy servers. It trickled in at around 20Mbps, taking well over an hour. I can only imagine how bad that must have been for people on regular broadband.
After those tiresome delays, I really wasn’t in the mood for a game that decided it had better play all the cool bits for me, occasionally offering me the sop of walking in a straight line, before wresting the controls back from me to do something fun, like fly through space.
“I could do that,” I suggested to the uninterested screen. “I could have pressed that button.” “I could have jumped across that wreck.” “I could have enjoyed zooming toward that platform.” But no, no John, you sit there like a good boy and wait until there’s a straight line to walk in.
I cannot fathom why this is now so normal in AAA gaming. So much so that playing Returnal for the first time today, I was completely blown away by a game not doing this shit. It just let me play! ME! I had to pinch myself. The rest of the time, these openings seem like some sort of price we’re forced to pay before we’re allowed to get to the game itself. It’s like the entire industry is run by your mom, who won’t let you have any dessert until you’ve choked down an entire plateful of mulchy veg.
It’d have been better if Infinite’s first couple of corridor-imprisoned hours were any good. But they’re just defyingly dreadful. The repetition is like a 10 minute Ground(wart)hog Day, as you’re forced to trudge through the same dismal target range combat against the same two enemy types, for room after room after room. Just when you think, surely, surely it won’t do it again, that this door HAS to be the one that will end this fucking shit, nope, you hear the distant wretched grunts jibber-jabber the same “jokes” for a fourteenth time.
Here’s an idea, video games! Be good at the start. I know this is a radical concept, but if you’ve made something properly great, just have that proper greatness be available at the beginning. Because, you know, we’re paying here. There’s no plausible reason to make anyone slog through this crap, even if by the end of the campaign they’ll likely have forgotten it. (Hell, the reviewers all did.)
Stop taking the controls away all the time. If you’ve got something cool to show, think of a cool way to let the player play it. And stop punishing us with mediocrity as if that’s somehow going to make the rest of the game feel better. It just puts a bitter taste in the player’s mouth, that colors the first few hours with the game proper. A game proper I’ve yet to play, in the case of Halo Infinite, because it wasted my brief window to play last night with its absolutely bullshit opening.