Preview: Halo Infinite is a ‘spiritual reboot’ of the linchpin Xbox series

An unidentified character from ‘Halo Infinite.’ (Microsoft Xbox / 343 Industries Image)

Microsoft’s 343 Industries revealed more information Friday about its next game in the Halo franchise, the forthcoming Halo Infinite. In a series of closed Q&A sessions with journalists, held via Discord, 343’s Chris Lee and Paul Crocker provided additional context and commentary for the campaign footage from Infinite that made its debut on Thursday morning’s Xbox Games Showcase.

They described Infinite as not simply a sequel, but as a “spiritual reboot” to the series that’s meant as a platform that 343 can use to keep building on the Halo universe.

Microsoft is banking on Halo Infinite as a “killer app” for the new Xbox Series X, debuting later this year. Halo has been a tentpole franchise for the Xbox line of consoles for almost 20 years, dating back to the original game in 2001.

As part of the reboot, Infinite‘s story campaign takes players back to basics. The high stakes and galactic scale of the last two games are, at least for now, gone. You’re once again playing as Master Chief, fighting your way across one of the Halo rings that named the franchise, up against a familiar array of Covenant aliens.

Specifically, you’re fighting the Banished, a power-hungry splinter faction within the Covenant that was previously introduced in 2017’s Halo Wars 2. The larger Covenant War is still over, but the Banished are still a going concern, and at the start of Infinite, have just captured a human research facility on a Halo construct. The Master Chief ends up stuck in the middle of Banished territory, under circumstances that have yet to be revealed, and is forced to shoot his way back out.

Infinite is still “100% a sequel to Halo 5,” according to Crocker, but is also an attempt to distill much of the series’s traditional appeal into a single experience. The “critical pillar” of their design, as per Lee, is to draw on the entirety of the Halo franchise to date, to take all the things that worked and put them into Infinite at the point at which they were at their best.

“When I first stepped out onto the ring in Halo: Combat Evolved all those years ago,” Lee writes for Halo Waypoint, “I was transported and immersed in a mysterious, awe-inspiring alien world extending into the sky… With Halo Infinite, we’re now able to give players more freedom than ever before to explore a sprawling Halo ring.”

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It’s a strange choice, but it explains the retro feel of the footage from the Showcase. The general idea behind Infinite‘s design seems to be starting over, to try to recapture some of the original game’s impact – and it’s difficult to overstate just how impactful the original Halo was, back in 2001 – and use that as a basis for continuing to build out the Halo universe. They aren’t pushing the envelope here; they’re reinventing the wheel.

Lee and Crocker said that the map for Infinite‘s campaign mode is several times bigger than that of Halo 4 and 5 put together, with more ways to explore it and rewards for doing so. Lee calls Infinite the “most open, expansive campaign we’ve created,” with the ability to reach and explore any area that you can see as you make your way across the ring.

While you’ll still have access to many of the traditional travel methods in Halo games, such as the series’s traditional human and alien vehicles, the big new addition introduced in the Showcase footage is the “grapple shot.” This is a retractable line built into the Chief’s gauntlet that lets you scale cliffs, rappel towards distant ledges, and pull both enemies and items over to yourself. The grapple shot lets you find new ways around the battlefield, to find your way to distant locations or spring sudden ambushes on enemy positions.

You’ll also have access to a personal cover item that 343 calls a Drop Wall, a portable energy shield that you can use to deflect gunfire or even grenades. Both the grapple shot and the Drop Wall will be accessible in the game’s multiplayer modes, but as item pickups rather than standard character equipment.

Infinite runs on a new engine called Slipspace, named after the warp drives that power the Halo universe’s spaceships, which offers a previously-impossible degree of visual fidelity. This is a big reason why so much of the Showcase footage of Infinite was focused on the game’s new antagonist, the Banished warlord Escharum. His face by itself represents more fine detail in its character model than past Halo games were capable of, which opens up a lot of options for a virtual actor.

Master Chief is back in ‘Halo: Infiite” (Microsoft Xbox / 343 Industries Image)

That in itself is significant. In a franchise that’s traditionally known for high spectacle and pitched firefights, the big “trailer moment” for Infinite so far is a scene where an alien trash-talks you for a solid 90 seconds. It’s a well-rendered, expressive alien, in a scene that wouldn’t have been as colorful or detailed on the Xbox One, but it’s a strange choice for a trailer that was expected to showcase the technical might of the new Xbox’s flagship title.

In fact, Infinite so far is a rough collection of strange choices. Microsoft has spent the better part of the last year hyping up the Xbox Series X as the most powerful video game console ever released, but its hotly-anticipated flagship title is a deliberate throwback to a 19-year-old game that, in the most extensively curated clip they could put together, still looks borderline retro.

However, the strategy behind Infinite also seems to mirror that of Microsoft with the Games Showcase itself. Both the Series X and Halo Infinite are foundation stones, seemingly built as something that Microsoft and 343 can build upon rather than as traditional products. The general thrust of the games shown at Thursday’s Showcase was primarily towards their variety and accessibility, while Infinite is being specifically built as an easy jumping-on point that 343 can proceed to iterate upon.

Halo Infinite is still scheduled to release as a launch title for the Xbox Series X, the release date for which is still an unspecific point in the 2020 holiday season.

Infinite is the sixth mainline game in the Halo franchise, which began in 2001 with Halo: Combat Evolved. Set in the 26th century, the games initially tell the story of an interplanetary conflict between Earth’s United Nations Space Command and an alien coalition called the Covenant. While the Human-Covenant War ended with 2007’s Halo 3, later games and related material have dealt with the events that followed the war. The franchise’s name comes from the “Halo rings,” a series of alien-built habitats that have provided the settings for several of the games, and which turned out to be the firing elements in an ancient super-weapon.

Originally developed by the Bellevue, Wash.-based studio Bungie, Halo was regarded as the “killer app” for the original Xbox, and the games in the franchise are a significant driver of the Xbox’s overall success as a platform.

In addition to the previous core games in the series, Halo also includes a line of best-selling novels, comics, and animated films, in addition to spin-offs like the strategy-based Halo Wars. Halo is currently developed by the Microsoft-owned 343 Industries, based in Redmond, Wash.

Preview: Halo Infinite is a ‘spiritual reboot’ of the linchpin Xbox series Preview: Halo Infinite is a ‘spiritual reboot’ of the linchpin Xbox series Reviewed by TechCO on 7/25/2020 Rating: 5

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