'Halo: Infinite' may have a grapple hook, but it's still a grind

The best thing about the game is that it gets better as it goes. The single-player campaign starts out as a basic first-person shooter, but ends up as a sci-fi open-world shooter starring everyone's favorite emotionless space soldier and his co-dependency.

I had high hopes for Infinite, as the first open-world entry in the Halo franchise and with more than a year of extra development time. Maybe too high. The game can't reach them even with a grapple hook.

I say all of this with love in my heart. I have been a fan of the franchise for two decades, and have re-lived most of my happy memories while playing Infinite. It has been a pleasure to drive a Warthog down a narrow mountain path, or turn the corner in a random metal-lined corridor. This happens many times in Infinite.

The easy part is changing old environments. The first open-world entry in the franchise's history promises more exploration for Master Chief than ever before. In practice, the world of Zeta Halo is largely linear and offers little to CarRentals. There are bases to capture and hordes to defeat, but with such a small map, these sidequests pop up naturally along the path of the main storyline, and the game automatically switches the objective to whatever mission is nearby. The sidequests are indistinguishable from the main missions when folded into this campaign.
I realized I had already hit all the icons on my map when I was ready to explore the Ring.

The grapple hook is one of the best gadgets that Infinite has to offer, and it is fun to play with. The grapple hook allows players to scale mountains and buildings in a series of pops and swings, and there are no invisible walls in Infinite. The grapple hook opened up fresh vantage points for every battle, and it saved my Master Chief from falling to his death many times over. I may have even sung "Spider-Chief, Spider-Chief..." under my breath. Maybe.

The grapple hook, radar darts, and dash move are all added to Chief's arsenal as the game progresses, and I rarely use them. I have tried to deploy the dash, but I don't think it's worth it when the grapple hook does the same thing, but in more directions.
The hook, shield and radar make each fight more dynamic than before, and it takes some practice to switch among these options on the D-pad. The grapple hook allows Master Chief to pick up objects from afar like guns and throwable explosives, it eventually shocks enemies on contact, and it lets players smoothly take over enemy vehicles. When Infinite provides a rich environment for grappling, shielding and landing floaty in-air headshots with enemies attacking from all sides, it is at its best.

I am going to talk about the grapple hook. I stand by everything I said, but I have to put it in context. The use of vertical space, aided by the grapple hook, is the most obvious innovation in the game, but other games have done it better.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild made headlines last year for rethinking vertical exploration in an open-world space, and last year, Doom Eternal beautifully demonstrated the power of parkour mechanics in an FPS environment. Infinite's mechanics are not innovative compared to games like these.

I think it's a disservice to compare the game to other games, rather than its competitors. Competition is the root of evolution, and that's kind of the jam. I was expecting more from a pioneer of the genre as it ventured into open-world gaming. It isn't new for the industry just because it's new for halo.

Infinite plays like a classic game, even with the new toys. The levels are repetitive and mazelike, and the story is filled with military stereotypes, sarcastic robots, and women in skin-tight bodysuits. There are a number of new weapons, like the Mangler and the Heatwave, and the map is full of loose guns. It is a blockbuster action movie in interactive form, and it has high-energy, entertaining moments, but these are overshadowed by the simplistic grind of it all.

There is no surprise or intrigue from the map to individual fights. It doesn't feel like a failure of strategy if you fail a boss battle. I don't feel like I'm learning anything new with each run through, I'm just going through the motions until I catch a lucky break and I can follow the yellow diamond to my next checkpoint. And then the next. And the next.

It seems like that component is going to be fun, and so far it seems like that is the case. Infinite's campaign is more engaging in split-screen co-op, historically my preferred way to play, but that mode won't be available until next year. For that matter, neither will Forge mode be used.

I would not have had many complaints if the game had launched with the Series X and S. The fact that 343 Industries and Microsoft took an extra year to build this game made me think about my expectations a bit. Maybe too much.
I will see you in the lobby on December 8th.

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