It’s been almost a year since Halo Infinite was initially set to launch last year. I still remember gathering together with some friends around a TV, eagerly anticipating the unveiling of the game back in July 2020, only to come away perplexed and baffled by what was shown. If this brings back sour memories, it looks like we’re all on the same boat.
Since then, the road has been a long and winding one. 343 Industries and Microsoft made the decision to ultimately delay the game to 8 December of this year (thank god for that). Joseph Staten, former lead writer and cinematic director of the Halo series from the Bungie days, returned to helm the project. In the meantime, 343 has kept the community up-to-date on a regular basis, and have been active in reaching out to fans and seeking feedback to figure out how to right the wrongs.
Thankfully, for those of us who eagerly await the return of Master Chief, the game’s most recent Multiplayer Technical Preview, has shown signs that our faith and patience may finally bear fruit. I was able to take part in October’s Multiplayer Technical Preview as part of the Halo Insider Program recently, and the following are my impressions of Halo Infinite’s Multiplayer based on my experiences playing the Preview.
Return of the Spartans
From the get-go, Halo Infinite feels like a very natural and organic evolution of what I love about the series. Everything from the designs and presentation, to the game modes and the combat, Halo Infinite feels like… Halo. But modernised for modern gamers and built for modern hardware.
When it comes to multiplayer, Halo has always been about cleverly designed arena maps and interesting game modes, featuring power-ups and weapon-drops that keep the moment-to-moment gameplay competitive, dynamic, and ever so slightly, chaotic.
In team games, it requires a level of coordination and teamwork to score points by successfully capturing Strongholds, playing your part in escorting teammates who are retrieving the enemy’s flag in CTF (Capture The Flag), and racking up kills and assists by flanking or grouping up in Slayer. I’m happy to report that as I sat down during this Preview, I went from grinning myself silly one moment to scowling at the lack of support from my teammates the next. Everything that makes Halo’s Multiplayer special to me is back, or almost everything. 343 has promised split-screen multiplayer in the game’s final build while local co-op will be added in after launch, and if that pans out, then yes, everything will be back.
What sets Halo’s combat apart from the pack (of a ridiculous volume of modern shooters) for me are the little things built into its well-balanced combat. Multiplayer maps and weapons are often designed for a mix of close-range (fisticuffs) and long-distance encounters (sniping showdowns). This effectively gives players different ways to play and various opportunities to shine and contribute to a team’s win in meaningful ways.
As a self-proclaimed close-combat specialist, I enjoy engaging enemies in close-quarters, taking down their shields with my Assault Rifle (MA40 AR) or Pistol (MK50 Sidekick) before knocking them out with a punch. Earning Reversals (one of Halo’s many in-match accolades) by taking out enemies who initiated the fight, in this manner, is ever so satisfying to my soul.
New Ways to Play
On the gameplay front, Infinite brings some new and exciting toys to the table. Beyond fresh maps, new power-ups and weapons have been introduced and have had a mixed impact on my gameplay experience thus far. Gone are the beloved DMR and Shotgun, and in their place, we have the fully automatic long-range non-Assault Rifle in the form of the VK78 Commando and the closer-ranged but less punchy CQS48 Bulldog.
Both these weapons have taken me some time to get used to and may ultimately prove to be great options for balancing out combat experiences on the whole. But for now, I’m still not quite convinced about some of the new guns.
New to the game are also consumable power-ups that can be stored and activated anytime, anywhere. These include new toys such as the grappling hook that significantly improves traversal and a deployable front-facing energy barrier that can block incoming fire or grenades. It also makes the classic Overshield and Active Camo manually activatable.
While I haven’t found any consistently practical uses for many of these, I did experience a lot of small and fun moments with these new toys. I felt like a badass grabbing a weapon from a distance using the grappling hook. I saved the life of a teammate by blocking an incoming grenade with a timely-deployed energy barrier. I also duped an opponent by hiding and reappearing fully-armed with an Overshield in the middle of a close one-on-one encounter. And yes, I smacked him upside down.
In terms of performance, the game looks stunning and runs really well on Xbox Series X. The game itself is beautiful to look at. The game runs smoothly at 60 fps as well, but if you’re interested in getting into the nitty-gritty of the mode’s technical performance, check out the guys over at Digital Foundry who delve deep into that.
There are also a few other things that I picked up during the course of this Preview that suggest that we’re gonna be in for a real treat when the game eventually releases to the masses.
Style and Swagger
Firstly, the aesthetic designs and choices really stood out to me as something that’s had a major rework. Gone are the plasticy, vinyl sheen, Star Trek-esque looks we regularly saw with Halo 5: Guardians and Infinite’s initial launch trailer. In their place, we have a much more grounded, dirty, scrappy outlook that reminds me of the looks of Halo 2, 3 and Reach.
We see this grounded, front-line-of-war kind of look in the map designs (Bazaar, Behemoth, Live Fire, Fragmentation, and Recharge were the ones cycled during the Preview). But we also see this in the armour designs and customisable cosmetics on our Spartan avatars. For example, you can earn grenade pouches and canisters to attach to your armour. And while that doesn’t make any changes to the gameplay, it certainly adds to the in-the-trenches look and feel that Infinite is clearly bringing to the table. After all, Halo is a game about warfare, so I’m glad it feels a little chaotic and messy.
The Finer Things in Life
Secondly, even in its current state, the game has a lot of polish and finishing touches that enhance the overall experience, which are clearly built into its design. Weapons and power-ups feel good to activate and use. The gravity hammer causes everything on screen to shake while opponents are subjected to strong kickback, if they aren’t pummeled to oblivion on the first strike. But my favourite example of this is the addition of Personal AI companions that each Spartan can bring with them into battle.
Each Personal AI has its own unique voice, oozing with personality. You’ll see them appear on-screen to help you when capturing locations in Strongholds, and they’ll often jump in with quippy one-liners throughout your match.
His name escapes me, but I spent most of my time hanging out with the funny one. Often he’d be shuddering that he’s “never heard so many bones break at once” whenever I bash a group of enemies with the hammer. And each time, it’d make me chuckle and bring a smile to my face. It’s the little things like this that enhance the experience of Halo. The small touches, the personality, the customisability, all while staying true to the franchise’s look and feel.
I can’t wait for Halo Infinite to launch this December with the Free-To-Play model likely to introduce Halo Multiplayer to a whole new generation of gamers. It’s exciting to see that the Halo that they’ll be getting will be one that seems true to form (at least for now). And if the campaign rights the wrongs of Halo 5: Guardians, then rest assured fellow Spartans, for I too will be there to finish this fight.
Screenshots taken on an Xbox Series X. Additional visuals courtesy of Microsoft.