Stop me if you've heard this one before: In Halo Infinite, you play as the Spartan super-soldier Master Chief who must defeat a dastardly group of aliens (somehow, the Banished returned!) before they take over a mysterious ring world. Playing through the game's first few missions is like plowing through an abridged Halo campaign, for better or worse. It starts off with Master Chief drifting in space, where he's miraculously rescued by a human soldier. In short order, he was back in action taking down feisty grubs, plowing helmet-first into increasingly bigger firefights and going toe-to-toe with angry looking space ape. Been there, plasma grenaded that.
To be blunt: Halo Infinite's opening had me worried, especially after its year-long delay. Sure, it was nice to be back in Master Chief's shoes after six years, but it still felt like a retread, even with the addition of a new grappling hook. It was as if I was walking down the same corridors and fighting enemies that I already faced in Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians, the previous two games developed by 343 Industries. Once again, I feared that the studio would be too afraid to push Halo into fresh territory and reach the heights of Bungie, the franchise's creator. (Bungie's Halo 3: ODST, in particular, was a unique attempt at delivering a human-focused story in a world filled with super soldiers.)
But a few hours in, once I showed that ape who was boss and acquired a Cortana-like AI called "The Weapon," Halo Infinite finally opened up. I made may way to the nearby semi-destroyed ring world, dubbed "Zeta Halo," along with my soldier buddy. After clearing out a Forward Operating Base (or FOB) filled with baddies, I was presented with something rarely seen in Halo: choice. Before me lay a chunk of Zeta Halo that I could explore freely. Judging from my map, which was populated by taking over that FOB, there was plenty to do. I could rescue some nearby soldiers, go hunt for new equipment, or take on notorious targets. This Halo was my oyster (or more fittingly, a broken disc-shaped sea creature of some kind).
I chose to embrace the freedom. My next story mission could wait. As I wandered around Zeta Halo, a grassy environment that's clearly reminiscent of the first entry, I quickly learned that the grappling hook was more than just a way to climb up. It also gives you a bit of a speed boost as you traverse the open world. Movement in Halo has always been slow, a quirk that likely made the game easier for players to grasp when console shooters were rare.
Halo Infinite still feels a bit like you're trying to hop around on the moon, but I appreciated being able to zip forward quickly by grappling onto a nearby hill or tree. You can also dash, something that the series didn't have until its fourth major entry, Halo Reach, but this time around it's more like a light jog. Time and again, it was the grappling hook that saved my Spartan butt if I needed to quickly run from a battle. It also gives you the freedom to approach enemies from multiple angles. When I noticed some soldiers pinned down by the Banished, I was able to scale up the side of a cliff and clear out the aliens easily.
While Halo Infinite technically presents you with an open world, it's more akin to a slimmed-down Far Cry map than something filled with detail like Assassin's Creed or Grand Theft Auto. Zeta Halo feels large, but it's not exactly teeming with life (though it's nice to see a few stray animals hopping around). Still, the ability to chart my own path felt thrilling, and investigating waypoints was well worth it. Helping those soldiers, for example, gave me valor points which can unlock new weapons at FOBs. There are also Spartan Cores throughout the map, which can be used to upgrade your equipment (I was quick to beef up my shields and make my grappling hook faster.) Everyone will be able to turn Master Chief into their own customized super soldier.