GameCentral reports back on the first playable demo of Halo Infinite, with looks at the new game’s weapons, abilities, and maps.
The impact of the Halo franchise on the current gaming landscape is hard to quantify, but it’s certainly considerable. There’s a direct lineage to be drawn from the games that currently dominate to Halo popularising the feel of what a modern first person shooter on a console should be.
Relevance hasn’t kept up with significance though. The franchise, once the infallible crown jewel of console exclusives, has wavered in the past decade. Even if you’re fan of what 343 has done with the franchise, it’s clearly fallen behind battle royales and service-based games in terms of popularity and influence. The overall reception to Halo 5 and the initial release of the Master Chief Collection saw the franchise at potentially its lowest point. Tides are turning though.
The Master Chief Collection has seen an excellent turnaround, now a complete and wonderful compendium of Halo’s history. It has also been six years since the last mainline Halo game, and that absence really has seemed to make hearts grow fonder. With many games-as-a-service communities seemingly growing tired, bitter, and annoyed at their chosen titles, Halo Infinite, despite everything, feels primed to be an enormous hit. There’s a sense in the air that players want Halo Infinite to be great.
That’s the stage that 343’s flighting test walked onto this weekend. To select players signed up to the Halo Insiders program, access was given to get the first new taste of Halo multiplayer in over half a decade. Thankfully, 343 delivered, with a scrumptious tease of what could be one of the most significant Halo releases ever.
The test was limited in several key ways, making it clear this really was just a technical test from the developer, to get data on players being in their servers. There were only three maps and 12 weapons to get acquainted with. On top of that, and most striking, the matches held were only against bots. (There was one instance of player vs. player at 4 am on a Monday in the UK, which, unsurprisingly, we didn’t make.)
This wasn’t a beta being released just a week before launch. No, this was janky and rough, especially on PC where it was a struggle to get the game running just right. Paradoxically that added to the authenticity of the experience. This truly felt like a data-collecting excursion that will go on to make the final product better. There’s work to be done here, but it feels like there is time for it to be done in.
However, looking past these (at this point) forgivable issues, this was a delightful taster of what could be. When it gets down to the actual gameplay, Halo Infinite most certainly feels like Halo. For purists though, you might be upset to hear it’s much closer to more recent outings than the Bungie days of old. Halo 5’s multiplayer is a close bedfellow here. That’s not a bad thing either. While some may have had issues with the campaign, Halo 5’s multiplayer was fantastic; a smart, modern take on what made the series great.
If you insist that Halo shouldn’t have sprinting, mantling or aiming-down-sights on all weapons, you’ll be disappointed. However, if that is the case, you can boot up the Master Chief Collection and go play Halo 3. It’s a great package.
No, what’s here is beautifully punchy and violent. The audio design really helps sell the bone-crunching kickback of these weapons. They are booming, and it’s in tandem with animation adding a real sense of tactlessness to the act of shooting. It’s a loud game and has a unique sense of tangibility that’s missing in most other shooters. The animation and sound of these weapons discharging really help you ‘feel’ it. Halo Infinite’s multiplayer wants you to believe the experience it is selling.
One area where Halo Infinite feels very distinct from the rest of the franchise is in its maps. There is a larger sense of verticality to the game, with climbing up various tiers of the map being an important part of getting around. There’s also a grappling hook you can pick up which lets you fly around with never-before-seen speed and manoeuvrability. The arenas released during the test, despite being compact, feel bigger as they’re densely packed with levels to move up and down.
However, it was clear this was a selection of some of the smaller maps from the final game, since there were no vehicles and no wide-open spaces. In fact, one thing that was missing was the sci-fi spectacle of many Halo maps of old. The settings from these maps wouldn’t be out of place in a future-based Call Of Duty.
None of the preview maps had the distinct universe showcasing vibes of, say, a Valhalla, a Sandtrap or a Blood Gulch. While Halo Infinite has a wonderful feel and delivers on the moment-to-moment gunplay, it still has to prove it’s Halo where many love it most: on epic sprawling maps set in beautiful locations throughout the universe. Thus far, its locations and smaller designs feel a little pedestrian, although that is almost certainly by design for the test.
One divergence away from the 343 style of Halo, back towards the old, is that, at least so far, there are no Spartan abilities in Halo Infinite. Starting in Halo: Reach, the abilities have been a somewhat controversial topic for the fanbase and have changed from game to game. Halo 4, you chose an ability you wanted and had it up all game long. Halo 5 did away with specific abilities, but made several inherent, with a thruster pack and the ability to ground pound from the air available to all.
Halo Infinite seems to be going back to basics in this regard. Besides the ability to sprint and clamber up small ledges, the only abilities you can get are those dispersed on the map. Classics like active camo and overshield return, but there are also deployable barriers and the aforementioned grappling hook. However, unlike older Halos, you take this ability with you. You decide when you want to use it. If you pick up the overshield but you want to save it for a bigger fight down the line, you can. Besides that though, Halo Infinite feels decidedly stripped down of abilities, at least in terms of what was available in the test.
In the current games as a service landscape, the arena type deathmatch that Halo Infinite is offering feels decidedly out of fashion. So often games are built on ever-evolving battle royales or online role-playing games. Besides the base Call Of Duty multiplayer, this kind of deathmatch, that was big in the Aughts, has fallen far out of favour. However, that’s perhaps to Halo Infinite’s benefit.
At a time when many of the biggest service games have fatigued communities, Halo Infinite’s multiplayer feels like it’s offering something different. As with all fashion, after enough time, out of fashion becomes fashionable again. Arena deathmatch feels old in a way that could soon become the trend again.
Taken on face value, Halo Infinite feels like a good iteration on the Halo 5 multiplayer. However, that game was marred by a floundering console identity, a focus on arena multiplayer in a tired market, and an odd campaign choice taking the focus away from Master Chief. Halo 5’s multiplayer, while fantastic, had a lot going against it.
Halo Infinite on the other hand has so much more in its favour. People are longing for a new Halo after such a massive absence, the market feels like it’s hitting a ceiling for service games, there’s an unfilled niche for arena multiplayer, and, importantly, the Xbox brand with its tantalising service suite, headed up by Game Pass, has earned itself a lot of goodwill.
The idea that Halo Infinite will be available day one to subscribers on Xbox One, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, PC or any device that can handle Xbox Cloud Gaming is invigorating. Add on top of that, the multiplayer will be free to play? This could be the perfect environment for a Halo comeback.
It feels like everything is in place for Halo Infinite to succeed – at least in terms of the multiplayer. While the technical test had technical issues, it’s already a ton of fun and at the moment that feels like enough. With Sony potentially having no first party exclusives ready for this Christmas, the timing for Halo Infinite and the return of Master Chief couldn’t be better.
By Patrick Dane
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