Take away the grappling hook and Halo Infinite doesn't work. In an interview with 343's developers this week, I learned the grappling hook began as an experiment in multiplayer, and the proposal to integrate it into the campaign was a heart attack moment for the campaign's designers. Suddenly players would be able to get on top of buildings, grab weapons from afar, leap over walls that would otherwise be serious obstacles. Would it even still feel like Halo if Master Chief was a little bit Spider-Man? But they tried it, and it didn't take long for the naysayers to come around.
It was the right choice. The grappling hook feels like a cipher that unlocks a secret corner of Halo's open-ended sandbox we never knew we were missing. This is Nic Cage finding a hidden code on the Declaration of Independence, but for Halo.
The best battles in this series are the ones that let you loose in a big playspace, toss in a pile of enemies, and make you problem-solve with bullets. After something like five hours with Infinite's campaign, that's what I've been doing non-stop. The grappling hook is a tremendously fun tool in the heat of battle, letting me take more risks because I know when my shields are down I have a way to fling myself out of harm's way. And much like the way Doom Eternal makes you juggle glory kills and chainsaw kills, I love the in-the-moment decision-making the grappling hook prompts. Shield warning yelling at me, Grunts behind me, I could try to grapple away and hunker down, or I could grapple onto the nearest Brute instead, introducing my fist to his face like a one-ton yo-yo.
More subtle is how the grappling hook cements the physicality of every action and interaction. It may sound silly, but being able to pick up an explosive barrel and chuck it at a jackal cowering behind its shield is so empowering. I have a verb other than 'shoot' now, and it's such a great fit for a series with such detailed (and often looney tunes) physics. Even better: if you can grab it with your hand you can grab it with the grappling hook, which feels cool as hell when you're whipping a power weapon off a rack and pulling the trigger a half second later.
Halo Infinite's campaign gives Master Chief the same arsenal of equipment options you'll find in multiplayer, but since you can only use one at a time, I suspect most players will spend 99% of the campaign with the grappling hook equipped, because it's both the most satisfying to use and also instrumental in making Infinite's new open world structure work.
Infinite's first couple levels start off like traditional linear Halo fare before dropping you into the open world. Pull up the map and you'll see a scattering of tasks awaiting you. Most common are liberating forward operating bases (FOBs) which you can use to summon vehicles and grab fresh guns, and rescuing marines, who are scattered all around the map and imprisoned by the Banished, the Covenant splinter group that's up to no good on this particular Halo installation. There are also collectibles to find, which unlock armor customization options, and Spartan cores, which let you upgrade your equipment and shields.
My favorite tasks are base assaults where you destroy Banished enclaves (I recommend grappling over the wall, finding the gate control and then charging in with a Warthog full of marines) and VIP eliminations, where you take down a named Banished baddie while your AI companion lists all the war atrocities they've committed against humankind. The base assaults especially feel like they could've been major encounters in most previous Halo missions, with squads of Banished scattered around on defense and more arriving by dropship as I destroy the facility. So far the ones I've played have unequivocally delivered the freeform Halo combat I love.
I'm still a little shocked, honestly, that Halo Infinite's combat seems to work so well at this scale, with the freedom to let me roll up with a rocket-firing Warthog or a sniper rifle and have fun taking down the Banished either way. The map also highlights primary missions to complete, of course, which seem to mostly take you into more typical indoor Halo environments to feed you story and some more controlled encounters.
If each of those missions is a full meal, the rest of the encounters are basically snacks, but I've found doing a bunch of them in a row is still plenty satisfying.
At least it has been so far. I'm not sure if the base assaults will wear thin after I've done half a dozen, or if I'll grow tired of rescuing marines and abandon them to their fates. But I don't think that'll be a problem, because the Covenant are still somehow fun to fight despite how many times I've played through each Halo campaign, and because Halo Infinite's gunplay is the best the series has felt since… ever, probably.
It helps that the snacks themselves vary in size: run for 30 seconds in any direction in Infinite and you'll probably find something interesting to look at or a small squad of Banished, like a couple Grunts I snuck up on who'd walked away from their ghosts to have a chat by the edge of a ravine. I heard them from a distance, then snuck up to melee them in the back and borrow their Ghosts. (The first one I immediately got stuck in the ravine, so I sheepishly climbed back up and stole the second).
Come to a crossroads and you might run into a bunch of Brutes bunkered down behind forcefield roadblocks, who you can cruise past or splatter with enough speed.
In exploration, the grappling hook again feels like an essential piece of Infinite's design. This Halo ring is full of mountainous terrain that would be tedious or impossible to scale without it, but with it every pile of rocks is an enticing challenge.
Despite its free roaming map, Infinite surprisingly doesn't really feel like a radical reinvention of Halo. It mostly just feels like Halo, but bigger, and with more options. There are ways I think 343 could push this style of design further in the future, like giving you more tools for stealth or ways to command marines other than honking a Warthog horn—your options there now feel especially limiting with this newfound scale. But radical reinvention clearly wasn't the goal here, and so far I'm deeply impressed with how well Big Halo preserves all the ingredients that make combat in this series so fun.