Halo: Combat Evolved was almost single-handedly responsible for the initial success of the Xbox brand when it launched alongside Microsoft’s first console in 2001. Master Chief’s journey across Halo installation 04 revolutionized the first-person shooter genre and established Xbox as a legitimate contender in the video game industry.
Yet nearly two decades and a change in developer later, the Halo series seems to have lost much of the luster it once had. The past few installments were met with mixed reviews from critics and fans alike, and interest in the franchise hasn’t come close to reaching the same heights that Halo 2 and Halo 3 once enjoyed. But with Halo Infinite poised to be a spiritual reboot of Microsoft’s flagship title for the upcoming Xbox Series X, developer 343 Industries finally has a chance to breathe new life into its ailing sci-fi shooter.
When Halo: Combat Evolved first released, it completely changed the game in terms of what could be done with an FPS. Bungie took one of the most popular genres on PC and translated it to consoles in a way that was fun to control and even more fun to play, proving that you didn’t need a mouse and keyboard to create an engaging and intuitive first-person experience.
Besides tight controls and well-tuned gunplay, Halo established itself as one of the best in the genre with an intriguing and lore-driven narrative, excellent level design and addicting multiplayer suite that elevated the Xbox from a forgettable experiment to a must-have game console. And while 343 Industries has done a commendable job picking up where Bungie left off, it needs to really focus on these pillars that the franchise was built on in order to reclaim the series’ past glory.
Much of what players disliked about the single-player campaign in Halo 5: Guardians stems from the decision to split the narrative between Master Chief and newcomer Jameson Locke, leader of a new generation of spartans that are tasked with hunting down John-117. The plot itself is both convoluted and overly dependent on outside knowledge of other media, giving casual gamers a hard time keeping up with the series’ plethora of characters, locations and events.
Halo Infinite can fix all of these issues by focusing solely on the Master Chief’s point of view and presenting a story that’s self-contained and easy to follow for both first-time players and series veterans. Halo campaigns have always been at their best when they thrust you into the shoes of its armor-clad hero facing insurmountable odds. Halo Infinite needs to shed the excess baggage that the series has accumulated over the years and present its players with clearly-defined goals and bombastic set pieces that push the story forward in an enjoyable way.
If there’s one thing that’s remained consistently fun about the Halo franchise throughout the years, it’s the multiplayer mode. From the late-night LAN parties of Halo: Combat Evolved to the esports-centric design of Halo 5: Guardians, Halo‘s satisfying gunplay is something no other shooter (aside from the Destiny series, which is also made by Bungie) has managed to recreate. Even so, what was once the king of the Xbox Live charts has fallen into obscurity with the rise of games like Fortnite, Overwatch and Apex Legends.
But Halo doesn’t need a battle royale mode or hero-based abilities to regain its popularity in the current online multiplayer landscape. Much of the reason it’s fallen by the wayside recently is because of the borrowed mechanics and concepts from other successful shooters like Call of Duty, which have muddled the Halo formula in favor of something that feels more generic. Things like customizable load-outs, armor abilities and overly-symmetrical multiplayer maps are ideas that work great in other shooters, but not Halo.
Instead, Halo‘s multiplayer excels in the way that it blends responsive gunplay with hectic vehicular combat without one ever feeling more overpowered than the other. It also has some of the best multiplayer map designs of any shooter. There aren’t many other games with maps that can inspire the type of reverence that Lockout, Blood Gulch and Guardian still receive to this day, a testament to the importance of level design in a multiplayer shooter.
In order to succeed in 2020, 343 Industries needs to establish the Halo franchise as something distinctly different from the multitude of battle royales and Call of Duty clones that have flooded the first-person shooter market. A Halo game that truly reinforces everything people loved about the franchise could be incredibly successful if done right and would be a powerhouse of a launch game for the Xbox Series X.
Luckily, fans of the franchise won’t have to wait much longer to see the game in action; 343 Industries has already confirmed that Halo Infinite will be included in Microsoft’s July Xbox first-party reveal, where we’ll finally get our first true glimpse of what’s next for the Master Chief.
With Halo Infinite touted as a spiritual reboot of the series, here's what Microsoft's flagship AAA exclusive needs to do to regain its former glory.