When it finally releases on Dec. 8, “Halo Infinite” will mark both the conclusion and potential rebirth of a franchise more than two decades in the making.
The sixth main installment in the galaxy-spanning journey of humanity’s greatest hero, “Infinite” will aim to bring together old and new fans alike after a decade of turmoil surrounding the franchise following the departure of the franchise’s original developer, Bungie. To do that, it’s bringing together elements from every previous title to create an experience that marries nostalgic visuals with innovative game design. But the game’s development hasn’t been without turmoil of its own.
To those unfamiliar, “Halo” is a sci-fi first-person shooter franchise following the adventures of the Master Chief, a human super-soldier who must save humanity from a host of alien threats bent on the annihilation of all life across the galaxy.
The franchise is widely regarded as one of the most influential in the FPS genre. The first installment, “Halo: Combat Evolved”, released on Nov. 15, 2001. Melding captivating visuals with an engaging story and revolutionary combat, “Halo: Combat Evolved” followed in the footsteps of arena-shooter heavyweights like “DOOM” and “Half-Life” while paving the way for modern titles like “Call of Duty” and “Gears of War.”
“Infinite” is coming on the heels of the series’ controversial 2015 title in “Halo 5: Guardians”, which enacted numerous changes to the traditional “Halo” formula and sharply divided fans. Thus, the game is burdened with the enormous task of winning back long-time fans while also paving new ground and appealing to a modern audience.
The result is what 343 Industries called a “spiritual reboot” for the franchise in a 2019 “Halo Waypoint” blog post.
While “Infinite” returns the Master Chief to a familiar setting on one of the franchise’s self-titled “Halo” installations, it’s breaking tradition in more than a few ways.
Chief among those is the introduction of a far more open-world design than previous iterations. Large-level stages and revisiting past locations is nothing new to the series. However, “Infinite”’s promise of vast, sprawling areas with a far greater emphasis on exploration and player choice is a far cry from “Guardians”’ squad-based combat and the arena-style level design of almost every previous title.
Instead, the game is broken up into various large, open stages for the player to explore, giving them the chance to immerse themselves into the world and progress at their own pace, with each mission in the story leading into new stages.
The move to place a greater emphasis on the ambient beauty and atmosphere of the game marks a stark contrast from “Guardians”’ heavy emphasis on juicing up the combat.
While the series’ previous installment brought a host of new features, such as aim-down-sights, sprinting and squad-based tactics, “Infinite” seems far more focused on recapturing the nostalgia of the Bungie days with familiar locations and even the return of the classic Bungie art style.
In an October 2021 blog post on Waypoint tracking the development of “Infinite”, character director Steve Dyck said the development team is drawing heavily from previous designs for its character styles. He said the team was drawing heavily from “Halo 3” and “Halo: Reach”, two of the most recent Bungie titles in the series before the franchise was handed over to 343 Industries in 2012. Iconic enemies like the Grunts, Elites and Jackals all have designs similar to their pre-2011 appearances, and even the Master Chief will have an iteration of his classic armor from “Halo 2” and “Halo 3.”
The development of “Infinite” has been far from perfect, but their commitment to quality seems to be guiding them to avoid some of the mistakes other publishers have made.
The game was initially slated for release in November 2020, but in an August 2020 press release citing developmental setbacks from the ongoing pandemic, studio head Chris Lee announced the game would be delayed another year, setting it six years apart from the previous release of “Halo 5”, the longest gap between releases for the franchise since its conception.
Even still, split-screen co-op and forge mode, both staples of the series, won’t be part of the initial release, according to an August 2021 developmental update video from 343. Instead, co-op will be added three months after release and forge six months after.
In the video, head of creative Joseph Staten, who is also a veteran of the franchise’s Bungie era, said both modes hadn’t yet reached the standard of quality the developer was aiming for at release.
With the exception of “Halo 5”, split-screen co-op was a universal feature across the franchise, and was likely responsible for introducing millions of fans to the series, myself included. The ability to experience the story and forge unforgettable memories through it with up to three other friends was a vital aspect to my enjoyment of the series.
Forge mode unleashed the full sandbox of “Halo”, allowing players to create customized maps and gamemodes using the games’ resources however they please, bringing a level of freedom practically underheard of in any other high-budget shooter title.
While it’s disappointing that these features won’t be available at launch, it’s highly commendable that 343 isn’t willing to release a product that doesn’t yet meet its standards, especially in an era where few games are complete products at launch and require massive online updates to rectify issues that could have been resolved during production.
It’s been 20 years since the franchise broke onto the scene with “Combat Evolved.” Since then, each successive title has added to the series’ legacy in some meaningful way.
“Halo 2” brought unprecedented storytelling to the forefront. “Halo 3” balanced the multiplayer and brought on a new wave of professional gaming as one of the first massively popular e-sport titles. “Halo 3: ODST” and “Halo: Reach” expanded the sandbox with new features like the cooperative Firefight mode and armor abilities that allowed more specialization in combat. “Halo 4” revived the series and ushered in the era of 343 Industries’ control over it and “Halo 5: Guardians” drew in a massive professional multiplayer scene despite its controversial campaign.
So what will “Infinite” offer to the franchise? As its title suggests, the possibilities are endless, especially with a free-to-play multiplayer release alongside its ground-breaking campaign that promises to extend the life of the game long after its story has concluded.
All eyes are on “Halo: Infinite,” and whether it’s a total flop or the greatest shooter in history (or, most likely, somewhere in-between), it will be the swansong to a franchise that’s spanned almost the entirety of my life and countless others’.