Halo Infinite: first impressions

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for Halo Infinite, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and other iterations of the Halo franchise.

After the longest gap in between games since the franchise began, Halo Infinite was finally released last week. I haven’t yet completed the campaign, but I’ve spent a couple of hours with the game so far – enough time to give you my first impressions and initial thoughts about Halo Infinite.

First up, make sure you choose the right version when you go to download it! I have Game Pass for PC, and on the homepage of the Xbox app there was a big Halo Infinite icon, so I clicked it and it began to download – taking hours on my painfully slow internet connection. When it was done I booted up the game… only to find I couldn’t play the campaign, just the multiplayer! The campaign is a separate download, so I had to wait another few hours for that. Not the best start – and this should really be made clearer on the Xbox app.

Promo art for Halo Infinite.

When I was able to load the campaign, I immediately encountered an issue with the audio. I usually play games with headphones on, but although my headphones were plugged in there was no audio. After some investigating, the only way I could find to fix it came from someone else who’d had a similar problem and shared their solution on a forum – I had to go into my PC’s sound settings and change my headphone settings. Something uncomplicated but stupidly obscure; how this person figured it out I’ve no idea! It worked fine after that – but again, Halo Infinite made a poor first impression as a result.

The game opens with a cut-scene showing the Master Chief being thrown into space by an alien monster – the leader of a villainous faction called the Banished. This villain, and a couple of other Banished leaders who we’re also introduced to in cut-scenes across the game’s opening act, all feel quite generic. The vocal performances were hammy and over-the-top, and I don’t really get the impression that the leaders of the Banished are anything other than “evil for the sake of it” kind of villains. By default this makes the game less compelling and less interesting!

The game opens with Master Chief getting beaten up by this guy.

I haven’t played Halo 5; it wasn’t included as part of The Master Chief Collection when that was released on PC a couple of years ago, and it hasn’t been released as a standalone title. But the pre-release marketing and chatter about Halo Infinite seemed to indicate that the game was some kind of soft renewal of the franchise and would be a good jumping-on point for players unfamiliar with the world and lore of the Halo series – a series which, lest we forget, has recently passed its twentieth anniversary. Based on my first couple of hours with the game, I have to disagree with that.

Halo Infinite feels like an unapologetic sequel. We don’t find out why the Master Chief happened to be aboard that starship, and pretty quickly as he retrieves not-Cortana from a nearby Halo ring the game seems to reference events that took place in Halo 5 – something about Cortana going rogue and needing to be deleted. At this point I feel pretty lost with the story, with Master Chief blindly shooting his way through waves of enemies without any readily apparent goal or purpose.

I didn’t play Halo 5 so I feel a bit lost with the story.

I took a decade off from the Halo games after Reach, and it was only when I got The Master Chief Collection on PC that I played the fourth game in the series and the ODST spin-off. So I’m not the world’s biggest Halo fan by any stretch, and maybe big fans of the franchise are having a whale of a time – if so, that’s fantastic. I don’t want to detract from anyone’s enjoyment by being an old sourpuss! But Halo Infinite’s story appears to rely heavily on what came before, so for new fans or for folks who’ve been out of the loop, maybe The Master Chief Collection would be a better way to get started.

I found a couple of very odd graphical bugs during my relatively short time with the game, too. During the second mission, when Master Chief has arrived at the Halo installation, doorways appeared to glitch out: they’d appear to be solid even after “opening” and it was possible to just clip through what looked like a solid, graphically buggy door. Then shortly after, every alien of a particular kind (I think the Elites) were also completely bugged, and they ended up looking all stretched out and just broken. It’s hard to put into words, so see the screenshots below (click or tap the images for a larger version):

All of this kind of added up to mean that the game left a weaker-than-expected first impression. I’d been excited for Halo Infinite; the prospect of a franchise I remember with fondness from the days of the original Xbox getting a soft renewal and a new coat of paint was something I found genuinely appealing. I want to like Halo Infinite – but the somewhat dense backstory, a villain who feels silly at best, and a handful of bugs and glitches that should really have been fixed before launch have definitely got in the way of that.

So that’s the bad stuff out of the way. But my experience with Halo Infinite so far hasn’t been entirely negative by any stretch. There is definitely a good game at its core, one with some truly exciting and fun sci-fi shooting. The guns that I’ve used so far have been varied, ranging from standard rifles and pistols to Halo staples like the Needler. Halo Infinite’s gunplay is fluid, the environments so far have been well-designed, and were it not for those few bugs and issues that I’ve encountered I’d be giving it a ten out of ten for its gameplay.

Halo Infinite has great gunplay.

As a multiplayer player-versus-player online shooter, which is what many folks come to Halo for, I think that bodes well. I can absolutely see it being a game that keeps players hooked well into 2022 and perhaps even beyond that, as there seem to be teases of a lot more multiplayer content to come. And that’s great… for people who like that kind of game. As someone who came to Halo Infinite for its campaign, I feel underwhelmed more than anything else. Halo Infinite’s campaign isn’t exactly bad, it just isn’t as good or well-written as I’d hoped it would be.

So far, in addition to the Master Chief I’ve met two major characters: a pilot and not-Cortana – an AI named “the Weapon.” Both characters seem interesting, and I’m definitely curious to see how their stories progress as the game goes on. The voice and motion-capture performances for both characters have been great so far, with some of the Weapon’s facial expressions in particular being extraordinarily well-animated. The Halo games have come a long way from their 2001 origins in that respect. Were it not for those graphical bugs I encountered, I’d say Halo Infinite makes the franchise look better than ever.

Not-Cortana… a.k.a. the Weapon.

So I guess I need to read a synopsis of Halo 5 or something… get myself caught up with all of the story that I missed (and all the other story that I’ve forgotten about!) Maybe then I’ll have a better time as I progress through the campaign. Halo Infinite has potential, but I guess what I’d say is that I’m glad I picked it up as part of Game Pass; I’d feel far less charitable about its flaws and shortcomings had I paid £55 for it.

If you’re only interested in multiplayer, I think Halo Infinite will be a fine shooter going through 2022. Of this year’s big first-person shooter releases, there’s surely no question that Halo Infinite is the best choice by far. Battlefield 2042 and Call of Duty: Vanguard can’t compete, not by a long-shot. If you’re interested in the campaign, though, I think Halo Infinite isn’t as much of a soft reboot or fresh start as I was expecting – so make sure you’re caught up on what happened in previous games before you jump in.

Promo screenshot.

The bugs are disappointing, but so far they haven’t been so overwhelming that I felt the need to quit the game. Hopefully these issues can be patched out in the days ahead. There don’t seem to be as many reports of similar issues affecting the Xbox One or Xbox Series S/X version of the game, which is positive news for those of you using those platforms.

So that’s it, I guess. An unspectacular start, but not a terrible one. Halo Infinite could certainly do a lot worse, and in a first-person shooter market that increasingly only caters to the multiplayer crowd, it’s nice to see that Microsoft and Xbox are sticking with single-player campaigns. It’s also great that Halo Infinite got a simultaneous release on PC, and a day-one launch on Game Pass. Microsoft has become quite a player-friendly company in that regard, and I have to respect that.

If you already have Game Pass, it’s hard not to recommend Halo Infinite – you might as well give it a shot, at least. And its multiplayer mode is currently free-to-play for everyone, Game Pass subscriber or not. For £55/$60 though, the campaign alone might not be worth it. You’re probably better off signing up for Game Pass just for a month, beating the campaign, and then cancelling your subscription!

Halo Infinite is out now for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Halo Infinite is also available via Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Game Pass for PC. The Halo series – including Halo Infinite – is the copyright of 343 Industries, Xbox Game Studios, and Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Evil Genius 2 – first impressions

This is somewhat of a rarity for me – writing up my first impressions of a brand-new game while it’s still brand-new! Evil Genius 2 – or to give it its full title, Evil Genius 2: World Domination – was released for PC only yesterday. It’s the sequel to Evil Genius, a game from 2004 that I don’t recall playing at the time, but the fun concept and aesthetic appealed to me enough to give this sequel a shot.

Evil Genius 2 is a base-builder, but that hardly sums it up. You take on the role of the titular “evil genius” – a supervillain of the kind you’d expect to see in a James Bond film, and the base you build is their lair. Perhaps Dr Evil from the Austin Powers film saga is a more appropriate comparison, given the game’s sense of humour! With a casino as a “front,” the objective is to make money, run evil schemes, and build a “doomsday device,” all the while avoiding detection and capture by the forces of good.

The game’s title screen.

If you’ve ever played a tycoon game – the likes of Theme Hospital, Rollercoaster Tycoon, etc. – then the style of gameplay will be familiar to you. Evil Genius 2 confronts you with a lot of different screens showing every aspect of your evil empire, and you have the ability to micromanage practically all of it.

Hiring, training, and firing of your evil minions – and even executing them if they displease you – is one aspect of the game. Minions can be trained to perform different tasks, both in the casino and behind the scenes, with a number of different specialisations. Guards can man guard posts and act as security, and valets can work in the casino greeting (and scamming) tourists, to give two examples.

A worker minion (left) and a casino employee minion (right).

But minions also need to be looked after – at least in a basic way! They have needs, such as food, rest, and relaxation time, and you’ll need to balance your evil lair to make sure that minions aren’t overworked.

There are a number of different rooms that can be constructed – by digging them into your mountain lair, naturally. Every evil genius needs an office, of course, and then a vault to store their ill-gotten gold. There are rooms to train minions, house them, generate power for the facility, and many more besides.

A staff room for minions.

Building is not entirely straightforward. Like other tycoon games, rooms are built on a grid. However, in order to simulate being underground, not every tile is able to be built on, and there are some which are inaccessible – at least in the beginning. This can make building rooms a tad frustrating, as can the camera control. If you don’t get the room perfect and need to edit it before it’s built, it can take a few camera rotations and clicks to remove unwanted sections and get the room laid out the way you want.

I also found doors to be a tad frustrating. In short, doors can only be placed in an area four tiles wide, and need an additional two tiles of rock/dirt on either side. Not every room needs a door, some can simply be built directly off another room or corridor, but this requirement was odd and unexpected. Doors can be important for security reasons, especially in rooms like a vault!

This feels like it’s more than $40,000 worth of gold – at least at today’s prices!

As with any new tycoon game, it will take a while to fully get the hang of the way all of the different in-game screens, stats, and systems work. Evil Genius 2 throws a lot of different aspects at you all at once, and players who aren’t used to this kind of experience might feel overwhelmed. This issue is exacerbated by the lack of a tutorial. The game simply drops you into gameplay right from the title screen.

There are three game types available, the first of which is a “quick start” that drops you into an already-open casino. The second mode is a standard game, and this offers three levels of difficulty, as well as a custom difficulty selector allowing players to choose from a variety of difficulty options. This customisation is great, and is something I wish more games would offer. For example, it’s possible to tone down the threat from the forces of good to focus more on managing the lair, or to reduce the cost of different types of in-game events like evil schemes or scientific research. All of which is great!

The custom difficulty options screen.

The final game type is a sandbox mode, allowing players to build their perfect evil lair without limitations. As is often the case in games like Evil Genius 2, this is a great place to get started! Learning more about the way the game works and what some of the requirements are while not under pressure is a much more enjoyable experience – at least for me!

In the couple of hours I’ve spent with Evil Genius 2 so far, I didn’t see any bugs, glitches, or other issues, though there are two very minor points of note. Firstly, booting up the game prompted a warning message, telling me that my graphics drivers were out-of-date. This isn’t the case (I checked to make sure) so I’m not sure what caused this warning to occur. Regardless, the game plays fine once you get into it and doesn’t suffer from any graphical issues, low frame-rates, or anything of the sort. On my 4K display it looks fantastic.

The warning pop-up.

Secondly, on a 4K display (my monitor has a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels) the initial pop-up when the game launches is very small. The desktop icon is likewise a low resolution; both are clearly designed for screens no larger than 1080p even though the game itself supports 4K. This isn’t something you have to contend with very much, but it’s worth pointing it out. In 2021, games shouldn’t have these silly issues as 4K has become commonplace on PC.

The art style is cute and cartoonish, a step away from the realism a lot of modern titles go for. I like games that are visually different, and tycoon games like Evil Genius 2 do well with this kind of exaggerated style. If you’ve played Two Point Hospital I think you’d agree that the art style – bright colours, cartoonish characters, and bold, silly items and décor – is clearly drawing inspiration from a similar place.

I like the game’s visual style (minions pictured).

Evil Genius 2 has a pleasant soundtrack to compliment its visual style, and while I wouldn’t say I was blown away and need to rush out and buy a copy, it’s just fine. It works well in combination with the rest of the game. Sound effects are the same – they work very well with the overall cartoony style.

The voices for a couple of the game’s characters are interesting! Actors Brian Blessed, best known for his role in Flash Gordon and for being a mainstay on British television, and Samantha Bond, known for her role as Moneypenny in four of the James Bond 007 films (GoldenEye through to Die Another Day) star as two of the game’s evil villains (i.e. playable main characters). That was unexpected, and I had to double-check to make sure I’d got that right!

Samantha Bond (pictured in the 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough) lent her voice to Evil Genius 2.

I like Evil Genius 2, but more than that I want to like it. I remember tycoon games from the mid-1990s like Theme Park and Theme Hospital with incredible fondness, and this is a great attempt to recreate that older style of gameplay. Some modern tycoon games can go overboard with the stats and micromanagement options, making just learning the basics of how to play feel like a chore and a full-time job. Evil Genius 2 seems to have avoided that pitfall and struck the right balance between recreating that older style of game, but bringing it into the 2020s.

With a 10% discount at time of writing, Evil Genius 2 will set you back £32 (or $36 US). That’s not cheap, but it’s also not catastrophically expensive either. However, there is a “season pass” available to purchase for an additional £23 (or $25). Judging by the size of the DLC screen, there’s room for a lot of potential future updates and/or expansions, so watch this space. I would suggest that expansions could add new lairs – there are only three in the base game right now – or new playable villains, as there are currently four. I don’t think that these feel like extreme limitations, as part of the fun of a game like Evil Genius 2 is going back and replaying levels, completely redesigning your base.

Emma, one of four playable evil geniuses in the game.

In short, there’s a lot of potential replayability even with the four characters and three levels currently available. The existence of a season pass, though, seems to suggest there won’t be significant free expansions or updates, and I would assume that if you want to take advantage of new content as and when it’s available you’ll need to either buy the season pass or buy the individual expansions. This makes Evil Genius 2 basically a full-price game at £54 (or $61 US).

Evil Genius 2 started strongly, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. Over the next few weeks I’m sure to spend a lot more time with it, and if I have anything more to say perhaps I’ll write more about it at that time. For now, suffice to say I’m having fun with it. Living out my evil genius fantasy is a lot easier in video game form than it is in real life!

Evil Genius 2: World Domination is out now for Windows PCs and is available to purchase on Steam. Evil Genius 2: World Domination was developed and published by Rebellion Developments. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.