Halo Infinite (Xbox)
TWO decades on from when the first Halo put Xbox on the map, gamers are once again itching to spill alien guts with this year's killer app for Microsoft's new machines.
To be fair, expectations weren't great. Last summer's embarrassing reveal failed to set pulses pounding – but I'm pleased to report the developers have turned this spaceship around.
Retooled for a new generation, Infinite is as good as Halo has been in a long time, and a throwback to the series' noughties heyday when Peter Jackson was helming a $200 million Halo movie – though, when the budget spiraled, we ended up with a cheap n' nasty web-series shot in Belfast and Tollymore Forest Park. Really.
For the sixth in the mainline series, humanity is, once again, on its a**e. In the wake of a conflict with the Banished (a splinter group from Halo's stock baddies, the Covenant) John the Master Chief (not John from Masterchef) tracks down a new AI with connections to his lost companion, Cortana, before bringing some shock and awe to the cosmos.
Halo's galaxy-hopping adventure boasts space Marines clumping around alien worlds in an intergalactic smackdown that involves plugging waves of enemies, hitting switches and hijacking vehicles.
Pitch-perfect set-pieces are the order of the day in a riveting piece of actioneering as your Space Rambo doles out brutal melee strikes and juggles the series' iconic arsenal of weaponry. It's Halo's biggest campaign to date, taking place mainly on the Zeta ring world, which harks back to the very first game with its Pacific North-West forests.
With tight combat and an entire alien army to shoot up, it's wilfully cut from the cloth of Halo's glory days, and obviously designed to tempt back lapsed fans turned off by the new developer's recent lurches.
Rather than barrelling down endless corridors, though, Infinite's been given an open-world dynamic, including a map pockmarked with objectives. While not as tiresome as Ubisoft's infamous busywork, Chief is able to dabble in side missions (usually enemy bases with more aliens to slaughter) while new areas of Zeta Halo open up, Metroid-style, once requirements are met.
The real game-changer, though comes in the form of the grapplehook. Chief's new toy can latch onto enemies from afar – yanking weapons and shields from their dirty alien fingers – and providing aerial options as players hunt for lofty vantage points to rain death down from.
Once upon a time, Halo's multi-player was the frag-fest of choice for discerning trigger fingers, its deathmatches keeping Microsoft clinging to the top table for two decades – and Infinite doesn't disappoint, with a host of classic and new ways to play online.
Playing out like a highlights reel for the franchise that saved Xbox, Halo Infinite offers both a decent campaign and blistering multi-player – a rarity in this age of tentpole shooters ditching single-player altogether.
Between Forza Horizon 5 and this, settling for an Xbox from Santa due to PS5 shortages may not be such a bad thing after all.