The Halo Infinite technical preview is over. In its wake, millions of poor Spartan bots were decimated across the three available maps. I was among the many chosen to put the hilariously named bots into the ground. As a Halo fan from the very beginning, I was curious to see how the multiplayer of developer 343 Industries’ latest will fare. The Halo Infinite technical preview only offered a short amount of gameplay, but I liked what I saw.
As mentioned, I’ve been playing Halo games for nearly two decades. In many of those years, I spent my afternoons, nights, and weekends with the multiplayer announcer’s voice ringing in my head. Halo: Combat Evolved LAN parties were my favorite weekend events. And when the franchise went online with Halo 2, I put my LAN skills to the test. I dumped a lot of hours into Halo online, and got pretty competitive (37th place in MLG Halo 3 2008 bay-bee). However, it’s been some years since I took Halo multiplayer seriously. I wondered, before I dove into the preview, if the multiplayer gameplay of Halo Infinite would bring me back.
Honestly, since this was just a technical preview, it’s still early to say at this point. I sadly missed out on the Arena Slayer mode (against actual people) that ran for a few hours Sunday night. In the end, my only combat experience during the two-and-a-half-day beta is with bots. However, I ultimately felt that bot arenas were the best way to get reintroduced to Halo multiplayer: steady, not sweaty, and free of opponents with unfortunate things to say about my mother.
I have to hand it to 343 Industries. Though the preview was but a sample, it lived up to the company’s pledge to make Halo Infinite a game that is true to its roots, without necessarily dwelling in the past. The game is a blend of old and new. Its aesthetic is clearly defined by the golden age of Halo 1-3, and its gameplay feels like a callback to those halcyon days while also embracing the modern evolutions. The classic Halo combat trifecta of guns, grenades, and melee is still here and is as solid as ever. Some of the more recent Halo conventions like sprinting, sliding, and clambering have also made the cut. The dash, hover, and charge of Halo 5: Guardians, however, are all gone. Halo Infinite has been pared down from its predecessor, and is more “combat evolved” than “advanced warfare.” The result is a game that stays true to its roots but doesn’t discard accessibility.
That trifecta I mentioned has always been the meat and potatoes of Halo. And in the technical preview, it’s still as tasty as ever. Tossing grenades to soften up enemies before whittling down their health with bullets or a meaty elbow check is still so very satisfying. And that dink sounding off with a headshot kill is the chef’s kiss. Despite the old moves still holding up, some of the newer abilities adds some needed spice (I really should stop writing while I’m hungry). It took some rounds to remember the moves introduced by Halo 5. But it wasn’t long before I was slide-jumping and scrambling up ledges for good vantage points.
But it’s not that those vantage points always helped. Bots are new to the series, and I got to square up against them for the first time in the preview. The first wave of bots were pushovers, often standing still or throwing grenades at their own feet. However, 343 Industries eventually turned up the heat with ODST difficulty bots. And you know what? I’m actually impressed by what the developer cooked up with bot intelligence. What were once sitting ducks suddenly started bouncing grenades up ramps, or ducking and weaving incoming shots. I even saw a couple bots quickly sidestepping left and right, a common tactic among competitive Halo players to force an opponent to miss. It was kind of scary. I didn’t lose any of my matches but, still, any bots that can cause me to say “how the hell” out loud are worthy of some small praise.
This is only a drill
The technical preview included a new mode called Weapon Drills, in which you can test and practice with some of the new and returning guns. I jumped into the drills before getting my hands dirty in the matches. There were some new toys I wanted to try, such as the Ravager and Heatwave. The series certainly could have always used a training mode. Before, getting tuned into the game’s assortment of weaponry could only happen on the battlefield. As a result, some weapons that were a bit unwieldy often got ignored by players. With Weapon Drills, you get three types of tests: the first with mobile bots, and others involving moving targets. Weapon Drills is a fantastic new feature for those fresh to the franchise and for seasoned players who want to keep their skills sharp.
Of course, nothing beats gaining weapon experience from an actual match. As with many Halo games of yore, you start Arena with an assault rifle and pistol. The MA40 Assault Rifle performs as well as it ever has. However, the new MK50 Sidekick pistol, while not quite the hand cannon of the original game, is superb. The Sidekick is a snappy, mid-range pistol that feels great to use. It’s perfect for cleaning up kills with a well-placed headshot.
I often found myself sprinting to claim the VK78 Commando. The automatic rifle can often be found on weapon racks in the maps. It’s incredibly deadly at mid range, and is a lot of fun to use scoped or fired from the hip. It’s more difficult to use close up or at long range, but anything at a short distance is going to have a bad time. The rack that holds the Commando will also sometimes offer the BR75, the new Battle Rifle (what the rifle rack holds varies between matches). What more can be said about the trusty Battle Rifle, which has dominated the series since Halo 2? It’s still amazing in Halo Infinite, and I was soon able to rack up a supply of double and triple kills.
I wasn’t able to get enough time with all the weapons, however. But I do have a few early thoughts. Certain guns like the Needler and Heatwave don’t appear to be damaging enemies until they fall over. The latter does have its occasional uses, as it can horizontally or vertically fire hot plasma that can pierce, making it good to soften up enemies. I’d like to see more of an indication that the Needler is causing some hurt before the pop. The Pulse Carbine appears to be a weapon of Covenant design, and it can lob multiple seeking shots with every pull of the trigger. It was fun to use, if a little too easy to nab kills with once you figure out the proper leading distance.
The new equipment rounds out the Halo Infinite gameplay experience well. It was a challenge to grab some of the power items, as those are always the hot ticket among players. However, I got some time with the new Grappleshot, and I love it. After the typical learning curve of smacking against walls George of the Jungle-style, I was zipping across maps and up ledges like it was natural. You only get five shots with the Grappleshot, which makes it more of a situational item. But I can see it easily turning the tide of any slayer or capture the flag match. I’m hoping to see some modes where everyone has the Grappleshot equipped, because that sounds like some fun nonsense. The drop wall is a barrier that can stop bullets and explosions. You can fire through it, but enemies can damage sections of it over time. It works as well as advertised, though it takes some forward thinking as its deployment is not what I’d call quick.
Finished the Flight
I did run across a few issues during the Halo Infinite technical preview. Naturally, it doesn’t make sense to hold too many grudges against a stress test build. I did have some flickering menu screens, and joining a game in progress did present me with a bug that caused the audio to become muffled. Framerate on my end was inconsistent. My rig is setup with a 2080 Super, 16 GB of RAM, and a 6700K CPU. My framerate tended to vary between 45-80 fps, no matter if my graphical settings were maxed out or the opposite. And I’m sure it was my aging CPU that caused most of the trouble. But, again, it’s a technical preview and not the final product, so any gripes I have could be gone by the next beta. For a more in-depth look at the tech behind the technical preview, hit up Kevin Foley’s assessment. I also had a hard time knowing if an enemy’s shield had gone down. Luckily, 343 is already on the case.
Overall, the game is shaping up incredibly well. Whether or not it will be the game to drag me back into Halo multiplayer is still a question that only the Guardians can answer. However. I can’t deny the feelings of warm nostalgia which left a smile on my face. Infinite may just deliver on the promises, and become the Halo for all fans old and new.