Master Chief walks into the sunset of a shattered Halo Ring in Halo Infinite.

Screenshot: 343 Industries / Kotaku

Infinite halo almost lives up to its title.

At first you will find that the playing field of this mast shooter is not only big, it is huge, bordering on what you would find in a real open world game like, say, n anything in Ubisoft’s portfolio. The format is a marked departure from the previous one Halo games, which have always played out as linear sci-fi shooters largely set in hallways of various grays, purples, blues, and greens, with occasionally larger landscapes beyond. Over the past six weeks I have been playing many of Infinite halo. Despite the size of its purposeful map, I’m not entirely convinced that this is an open world game, at least not the way we’ve come to think of it.

Clue 1: When I recently spoke with two creative managers on Infinite halo, Associate Creative Director Paul Crocker, and Character Director Stephen Dyke, neither ever once said the phrase “open world” during our nearly hour-long chat.

Clue n ° 2: Infinite halo, a game of about 17 hours for most players, is carefully divided into three parts. The first section is a two-hour linear section that doubles as a tutorial (for newcomers) or a journey through the past (for inactive players). The second third is a series of subsequent sprawling open areas, packed with side quests, hidden collectibles, fast travel locations, and bases you can capture, with each region culminating in one or two grand missions. The final third is a four hour linear sprint to the finish.

Clue n ° 3: This last section? Once you get it started, you can’t quickly go back to what Dyke calls “the most open areas”. And you are not warned of the point of no return. It’s a bit of a hassle, that’s for sure. (“It’s up to us,” Crocker said.) But it’s also a quiet rebuttal to the formula established by so many true open-world games that came before.

Clue n ° 4: Infinite halo is, by most accounts, a manageable game. He eschews the “if you see it, you can go” philosophy that has come to define the open world genre, a genre that so often demands a triple-figure commitment to playtime.

Read more: Infinite halo Is harder than expected, and that’s by design

“We never wanted to do a 100 hour drag for the player,” Crocker said. “It still had to be that focused experience… as opposed to,” Now the Master Chief has to go out and hunt some space crocodiles or something just to be able to continue. It works for other games, but it doesn’t work for Chief.

Master Chief, for those who don’t know, it’s Halolongtime protagonist of and is the backbone of Infinite halo, following the series’ banter with other playable characters in Halo 5. As a leader, you can forgo your primary objectives to save a group of stranded Marines or take out an enemy commander or hunt down hidden tech that will enhance your abilities. And there are a plethora of cosmetic options, usually tucked away in the farthest parts of the map, that you can find for use in Infinite haloThe free-to-play, free-standing multiplayer part of. Optional stuff in Infinite overall is gratifying.

“Ideally, at least, [players] say, ‘Oh, that was cool,’ ”Dyke said. “Our goal has never been to make those things that are off the beaten path feel cranky or as a way to inflate time. “

Halo Infinite's map doesn't show too many objectives.

Screenshot: 343 Industries / Kotaku

But the constant narrative whirring forces you to reach the next main mission nonetheless. If you deviate from your course, your companion, an artificial intelligence unit known as the Weapon, repeatedly urges you to get back on track.

“Constantly shouting ‘Go, go, go’ at the player basically encourages them to finish the game as quickly as possible, doesn’t it? If history tells you the world is going to melt, you’re not going to hang around investigating that smoke on the horizon, ”Crocker said. “The tricky part is making sure it feels important but not urgent – or, quite specifically, if it doesn’t break the character of Master Chief, it doesn’t shatter your intention as a player, but you still feel like you be part of this thing moving forward.

Infinite halo advance in fact at a frantic pace, thanks to an underlined intrigue of mystery. Before Halo the games generally sported the same solid narrative chassis so expected: take the big gun, beat the big bad. Infinite halo, however, makes Chief an unreliable narrator for the first time. And then there’s the giant question mark posed by InfiniteSetting for: Zeta Halo. It looks like a Halo (an ancient ring-shaped space station) but is inexplicably shattered and is apparently capable of covert functions beyond what Halo stations are known for: the galactic elimination of sentient life. (In this regard, Infinite is not really subtle. At one point, in case you don’t get it, Master Chief literally says that Zeta Halo is “like no other.”)

Master Chief stares at a shattered Halo ring from the comfort of a pelican in Halo Infinite.

Screenshot: 343 Industries / Kotaku

Crocker, who cited Halo: combat has evolvedthe “Halo” level as the developing North Star, and Dyke, who said the same about this game’s “Silent Cartographer” level, wanted to capture the bottled lightning that put Halo on the map two decades ago.

These first two missions share a similar line of conduct: you start alongside a stubborn Marine crew, gain access to a minor fleet of futuristic vehicles, and you can tackle your tasks – firefights in vast exteriors and claustrophobic interiors – in a way you see good. But beyond the structure of the mission, “Halo” and “Silent Cartographer” both gave the impression that Halo was much larger, in terms of scale, than what you could see onscreen – a necessity, given the technical limitations of the time.

“I remember 20 years ago playing there and going, ‘It’s amazing! Look at the grass! Look how wide this corridor is! when you land for the first time. Then you go back, look at it, and it’s not really that wide, but it’s pretty wide back then, ”Crocker said. “[For Infinite], we wanted to figure out how many walls we could knock down and make you feel the same as you, that sense of wonder, wonder and mystery that you had 20 years ago.

Nowadays, game development is not so limited by technology, and the team at 343 Industries have the tools at their disposal to make the dream posed by these early adopters come true. Halo levels. Yes Halothe first levels sketched the plan, Infinite halo is the finished house.

“Tome, [‘Silent Cartographer’] is one of those missions where it’s, like, this, but to scale, is only a great representation of what we have provided with Infinite“said Dyke.

You can see this more clearly during a mid-game level called “The Streak”, the last “more open area” before. Infinite halo returns to the framework of a linear shooter. In “The Sequence” you have to extract data from four nearby laps. The region is dotted with over three dozen optional objectives – bases to capture, squads of marines to rescue, high-value targets to take down, collectibles to find – which you can battle along the way from turn to point. tower.

Or you can capture an aerial vehicle and destroy it all in under an hour.

Open world games sell you the promise of infinity: you can go anywhere, see anything, do whatever you want when you want. In Infinite halo, The “The Sequence” segment undoubtedly gives you a healthy sample, preceded, in the previous levels, by appetizer-sized portions of the same dish. But he eventually returns and spends much of his time on the reliable alien corridors that make a Halo a Halo. Yes, Infinite halo is huge. It’s still over, though, and those tighter, more focused sections that end the game still feel so central to Halothe identity of – too central, in my opinion, to Infinite to really wear the mantle of an open world game.

“We wanted to start linear and end linear, and then everything else encourages you to go out and explore,” Crocker said. “We wanted the ending to be very punchy.”