For a series of its calibre and the fact we haven’t seen an entry in almost six years, Halo Infinite from 343 Industries is shrouded in a surprising amount of secrecy. It’s no secret that its development has been a little ropey, with a high-profile delay following its underwhelming gameplay reveal causing the Xbox Series X to miss out on a sorely needed launch title as Microsoft scrambled to ensure its flagship brand didn’t land flat on its face.
Aside from a few small updates on the official website and the appointment of series veteran Joseph Staten as director, Halo Infinite was being worked on quietly in the background ever since it was pushed back. I was hoping for this trajectory to change at E3 2021 – I supposed it did a little, with a bombastic glimpse at multiplayer and the live service model the series aims to adopt in the months following Infinite’s launch. But as far as the campaign is concerned, we were treated to a meagre cutscene before 343 Industries brushed it under the rug with the hope we’d ignore its unusual absence. Bad news – I didn’t.
I’ve been a hardcore Halo fangirl since I was a child, having grown up with the original trilogy and watched as the series changed hands as I entered adulthood. 343 Industries has never been able to replicate Bungie’s magic, even if it expanded upon gunplay and narrative lore in ways that fundamentally improved upon the overall experience. But there’s always been something missing, an aura of magnetism that even Bungie has failed to bottle a second time as it moved onto Destiny. The less said about that thing’s story the better.
Halo Infinite has the potential to recapture this, but only if the campaign manages to deliver. Right now, I haven’t seen nearly enough of it to feel reassured that the finished product won’t dissapoint. Its aforementioned gameplay showcase seemed to play brilliantly by combining the open world nature of Combat Evolved with the more nuanced firefights of Halo 4 and 5. Everything looked rosey, except the visuals, with a massive backlash causing 343 Industries to read the room and delay Halo Infinite indefinitely. Now we finally know it’s coming later this year, but the campaign remains firmly under wraps.
Perhaps Microsoft is nervous to give us an extended look at the campaign in fear of further scrutiny, using the game’s multiplayer to carry an E3 presence that should have been so much heavier. This is Halo, one of the biggest properties in gaming history, yet in the context of this month’s Xbox Showcase, it felt like a quiet announcement to pad out the middle of the show. It looks fantastic and will likely be a blockbuster for the console brand, but the campaign’s muted existence thus far has me worried it won’t be the excellent return to form we’re hoping for. It’s either that or the plot is so unimaginably amazing that it needs to be kept secret at all costs, but I doubt it.
In terms of the overall narrative, we know that Halo Infinite will address the cliffhanger that concluded Guardians while also introducing adversaries that first made an appearance in Halo Wars 2. It’s a mixture of lore and influences, all culminating in a soft reboot of sorts that will help establish the series as a live service game that can compete with the likes of Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Call of Duty: Warzone. It’s an achingly ambitious vision that ultimately puts multiplayer at the forefront, with the fundamental layout leaving a traditional campaign to feel out of place, with our lack of knowledge only further instilling doubts that maybe this is the last we’ll see of Master Chief as an unstoppable hero before he’s retired in favour of something new.
Knowing the weight that sits on Halo Infinite’s shoulders, it’s increasingly bizarre to see its campaign given the silent treatment. Its brief presence at E3 teased that Cortana might have been killed off, putting to rest an overarching web of plot threads that fans have been waiting years to see addressed. I imagine the truth is far more involved, but announcing such a revelation before swiftly moving on and turning our attention to multiplayer isn’t a great look. People immediately started asking questions, and not inquisitive ones, but probing assertions that the campaign remains in troubled waters, and perhaps it’s hurtling towards a finish line it doesn’t quite have the stamina to reach.
Halo reveals of the past have always championed the campaign as the main attraction. Your goal was to finish the fight as Master Chief, a lone marine tasked with saving the galaxy at all cost. Once Halo 3 was done, so was the fight, so 343 Industries had to conjure up a new threat that could rival those that came before. It never achieved this, which perhaps explains why Infinite is pulling from spin-offs and other supplemental materials to help support a campaign we still know so little about. I admire this level of secrecy, but when it goes against everything Halo is known for, I also can’t help but approach the inevitable launch with a degree of trepidation.
I’m probably being overly cautious, but combined with the delay and such a muted presence in recent months, Halo Infinite’s solo campaign appears to be in a state of disarray. Microsoft and 343 Industries need to tackle this reputation quickly, or risk unleashing Halo Infinite upon a legion of fans who won’t be afraid to take them to task. If this ends up being Master Chief’s final adventure, it deserves better than this.
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