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Why 'Halo Infinite' campaign is the franchise's slickest and most fun adventure yet

Todd Martens, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

No one is as gleefully brain dead to go to battle as the creatures in the “Halo” franchise — and especially those in the campaign of “Halo Infinite,” a sort of reset for the massive sci-fi franchise after 2015’s bonanza of impenetrable intergalactic war threads that was “Halo 5: Guardians.”

It’s hard, after all, to put down a controller in frustration when, after watching the man-turned-war-machine Master Chief get slain by an unseen alien brute with a pulsating blue sword, a squealy voiced rodent-like-reptile creature yowls, “I got dibs on the helmet, guys!”

The whole of “Halo Infinite” is somewhat ridiculous. There are times “Halo” tries to be serious, though those moments are best left at the tip of an eye roll. But when “Halo” embraces itself as sci-fi gobbledygook — wrapping a warm hug around its cheesy dialogue and reveling in the weirdness of its core storyline of one man’s relationships with artificially intelligent female holograms — it soars as pulpy, timeless, space opera fantasy.

So far, every minute I’ve played of the “Halo Infinite” campaign takes flight.

Return to form, reboot — whatever descriptor one wants to use — “Halo Infinite” plays as a bit of a “Halo” greatest hits, merging the Master Chief narrative existentialism of the very fine “Halo 4" with the early games’ patient level design, silliness and sci-fi slickness. As an interactive text it is still primarily a celebration of shooting with a variety of space guns, but even as someone who doesn’t often gravitate to the so-called “shooter” genre, “Halo Infinite” exemplifies the category at its approachable best.

The Microsoft-owned “Halo” franchise itself has for the past 20 years come to symbolize the modern video game shooter — less frantic than “Doom,” lacking the self-seriousness of “Call of Duty” and striving to balance complex storytelling with an over-reliance at times on space lore better left for 30 or so books that attempt to make sense of this universe. “Star Wars” but more militaristic in its mix of fantasy and sci-fi is the easy cultural comparison, as “Halo” turned the Xbox game consoles into a powerhouse and is as much a vital video game text as “Super Mario Bros.”

 

As those who have been able to secure a next generation Xbox console will be happy to hear, “Halo Infinite” is indeed a showcase for the new Xbox Series X/S. It’s a gorgeously vast world that emphasizes style over realism and delivers its violence with a smirk. Aliens are cartoon thugs, vehicles are wild to control and our fellow marines aren’t subtle in their excitement to go to war, here primarily with “Halo” villains known as the Banished.

“Halo,” though, isn’t a game for sneaking; it’s a game for enthusiastically swapping guns, firing static-energy blasts out of rifles, throwing up forcefields and generally making a mess of anywhere there are bad extraterrestrials. Try, for instance, to be quiet, and inevitably someone will see Chief’s hulking presence or a non-player-controlled marine will run in bombs a-blazing. But Chief is more spritely this time around, as a grappling hook allows players to ascend up mountains as if Chief is feather-light and not the bulk of a dude he is. It’s handy also for escaping overmatched battles, wrangling faraway weapons or just electro-stunning opponents that have nasty cloaking abilities.

Over its decades “Halo” has become so deeply wedded to interactive, environmental storytelling that attempts to turn it into a film have often sputtered. A Paramount+ series is in the works and due to launch in 2022, but any cinematic or television adaptors have a challenge on their hands. So much of “Halo’s” appeal lies in these more abstract facets. “Halo” dominates because of its tone, feel and player navigation — or lack of one, as I admit I smiled when my three-seater of a military vehicle got stuck on a rock.

But from little details — the “zoop” of Master Chief’s suit regenerating its power and shields — to grander elements of technological mysticism and the examination of our relationship to the artificially intelligent, “Halo Infinite” understands the fairy tale heroism of the series is just as crucial as its run-and-gun scenes.

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