Halo Infinite - open world and mobility to match.
Open world games are notoriously difficult to get right. They walk a balancing act between overwhelming a player with sheer scale and number of options, and offering an experience too tight and limited in the experience it offers to really justify the 'open world' moniker. It's even more difficult though, when taking a game series that's known for being linear and transposing it into an open world format. You'll meet resistance from long time series fans for starters - all of whom will be wondering how such a move would actually benefit the franchise they love, and the experience they've already built in their heads.
With that in mind, then, it's really nice to be able to say that Halo can be added to that short list of franchises where the jump to an open world was successful - and it's due in part to the size of that world. Halo Infinite has a map that is, I reckon, just about the perfect size. After a linear first mission that takes place on a Banished spacecraft (the Banished being the baddies of this narrative, for the record!), you crash land onto a new ring named Zeta Halo and it starts opening up - both horizontally and vertically.
I've played a lot of open world games - at this point, they're so ubiquitous that I guess most of us have, really - and they so often suffer from the problem of just being... too damn much. A map that's too big, dotted with so many icons that the decision of where to go and what to do next can be crippling. Halo Infinite doesn't have this problem. Yes, there's a map - but it's not so large as to make you seriously wonder how much time it'll demand of you before you jump in. Yes, there are waypoints and icons; UNSC Marines to rescue, high value targets to murder, bases to clear. Cosmetics and upgrades to unlock. Forward Operating Bases, that act as fast travel and resupply hubs are dotted generously across the map - meaning that you're never in a position where you really ever have to trek more than a couple of hundred metres to reach an objective. It was to my surprise, then, that I often did.
What's so fun about getting around then? Two things - the vehicles, and the grappling hook. The former is self-explanatory, as vehicles have been a big part of Halo ever since Combat Evolved dropped all the way back in 2001. The Warthog is here, as is the Mongoose and the Scorpion. My personal favourite is the WASP - a VTOL flying machine capable of putting down some serious firepower, but effectively made of glass in terms of how little punishment it can take. It wasn't quite as much fun as the Hornet that appeared in Halo 3 - but it made getting around and blowing stuff up a lot of fun. The real game changer, though, is the grappling hook. I found it it to be quite a clunky tool at first, in spite of having encountered it in the multiplayer side of the game. The world encourages experimentation though - and often, the grappling hook turns out to be the answer to the equation you've been trying to solve.
It doesn't take long until you'll find yourself flinging Master Chief around a combat arena, swinging onto ledges, around corners into cover, and even using it to drag yourself to a stunned enemy for a quick melee kill. My personal favourite is using it to snatch a set of power coils from a distance - that can then be chucked in the direction of an enemy for an explosion that throws corpses into the air. Out in the open world, it's an essential traversal tool - a lot of the collectible bits and pieces dotted around demand its competent use.
The best thing though, is how all of this feeds into the classic Halo gameplay. It's long been known that Halo is built on the "30 seconds of fun" concept, with a trinity formed between gunplay, grenades and melee combat. It was the perceived impact on these things that left a lot of us (including me!) wondering about what an open world Halo could feel like. How would these facets translate into combat scenarios that could be approached flexibly, and from any direction? The answer is... incredibly well. The more time I spent in Zeta Halo's sandbox, the more I experimented with different ways of tackling combat engagements. Long range was always fun, picking off grunts and jackals with sniper rifles - but eventually I started to try out more... ahem... direct methods. Grabbing a WASP and flying over my target before leaping out of it at several hundred metres altitude, plummeting toward the ground like a rocket launcher firing meteor, then slamming into the ground and whipping out a shotgun to mop up. Packing a squad of Marines onto a warthog and encircling an enemy encampment firing into the chaos.
The move to an open world lets Halo's combat breathe in a way it never has before. I, for one, am relieved - and for the first time in a long time, I'm looking forward to seeing where 343 Industries take us next.
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