Finally, after more than half a decade of waiting, Halo fans across Xbox and PC have been able to go hands-on with Halo Infinite in a weekend-long technical preview. I was lucky enough to be included in that initial testing flight – head here if you want to sign up for future tests – and suffice to say, I was pretty satisfied with what I saw in this limited preview.
A blend of old and new
Halo Infinite seems to be striking a great blend between old and new. The game’s base speed is certainly faster than the classic Halos that first captured the imaginations of console FPS multiplayer fans – go back to Halo 3, and you’ll feel like you’re walking through treacle – but it also steps away from some of the zeitgeist genre conformity of Halo 5.
Gone is Halo 5’s jet pack boosting, but you still have mantling up onto ledges, the ability to sprint, and a Call of Duty-esque default controller layout. Sprinting makes you feel faster, but it turns out it’s only a 10% difference to regular walk speed. Meanwhile, mantling feels integral to getting around the tight arena maps and feels satisfying to use.
One of the more debated changes is that the motion tracker now only shows players that are firing their guns or sprinting, and not those who are simply walking at the base speed. It strips back a crutch that players have leant on since the beginning of the franchise, but is it actually that bad? Personally, I think it makes the decision to fire your gun or to sprint a part of the tactical game of cat & mouse with the other team.
Grappling is Fun!
One of the newest tools in John-117’s box is the Grappleshot, as 343 Industries reconsider all the items and abilities that you’ll be able to use through the campaign and multiplayer. In multiplayer, it’s one of the many pick ups that will spawn on maps, granting you a few uses of the hook to augment your movement options.
It is, as every Titanfall and Apex Legends fan knows, an awful lot of fun to use a grappling hook on the scenery, swing yourself up to a vantage point or toward an enemy and give them a good slap or unload a shotgun in their face. It’s fun to figure out how to use, and already leading to great clips being shared online.
All the other pick ups and items have also been reconsidered. The shield bubble from Halo 3 and Reach has been replaced by the Drop Wall, a barrier that quickly deteriorates as it takes damage, while things like Active Camo and Overshield take long enough to activate that there’s some forethought that needs to go into their use..
What’s also nice to see is how it enables some of the more iconic moments from Halo’s past. Use the grappling hook to snag a power weapon, throw a Threat Sensor on your teammate to make them a mobile radar station, create preemptive blocking lines that you can retreat behind. Having the ability to choose when these pick ups are used adds to the tactical plays available to you and your team.
Speaking of Maps
Three maps were available during this first technical test, all for the smaller 4v4 arena game modes. They’re small and easy to learn, and that’s vital when Halo Infinite starts everyone off with the same MA40 Assault Rifle and very capable MK50 Sidekick pistol. Everything else is a pickup, and advanced players will learn to time their rotations to grab power weapons as they spawn, snap up longer-ranged guns, and secure the various pick-ups.
Live Fire is a neat training arena style with open areas on either side of a central corridor – actually two with one layered on top of the other. Recharge then brought much more of a sci-fi feel and a more complex multi-layered layout, with some key locations to learn and frequent for the central pick up item and the power weapon – here the Gravity Hammer – off to one side. Finally, Bazaar brought us back to Halo 2’s African setting, the map featureing a central market courtyard with a SPNKR that’s sure to be hotly contested. Bazaar was also a map where mantling and sprint jumping will be key to getting around smoothly.
How’s it looking?
Personally, I really like the way that Halo Infinite looks. It’s not going to blow anyone’s socks off, but it’s clean and modern, subtly stylised toward the kinds of cartoony nature inherent in early 2000s graphics and less of the metallic chrome of Halo 5, but with a bit of wear and tear that helps these places feel a bit lived in.
We also have the curious case of the game’s performance. Series X easily handles 60fps, and strives for 120fps on supported TVs (though doesn’t hit it), but Xbox One and One X are stuck at 30fps. There’s plenty of optimisations still to go, so hopefully, that’s not the case come launch.
The AI is pretty good! (Most of the time)
After the first day with the regular AI difficulty, 343 industries gave them a bump up to ‘ODST’ difficulty, increasing the challenge that we face out in the practice rings. Sure, they should still get beaten quite handily, but they can spring a few more surprises on you, that’s for sure.
I’ve enjoyed fighting the AI, and they will make a great opponent as newcomers to the series try to get up to speed and practice their skills, while oldcomers might want to shake off a little rust. They are, at times, a little robotic, spotting and quickly snapping to face you in a way that doesn’t feel particularly human, but that’s fine. They also seem to follow the same path at the start of a match, which makes them feel quite predictable as they all rush around the same corner, and there’s clearly some pathing issues as they can get stuck jumping on the spot by a ledge. Still, they’re fun to fight against, and ODST difficulty throws in a few extra quirks, like dropping a little squat in a firefight to throw your headshot aim off.
There’s a little way to go, but 343 Industries is 90% of the way there, in my opinion.
The Battle Pass has all the customisation
Halo Infinite isn’t the first time that Microsoft has tried to cook up a free to play game in the universe, but it feels like this time it’s going to stick. Of course, that means it comes with the wringing of hands over battle passes and monetisation – we simply have to consider Halo Infinite’s multiplayer as a separate product to the single-player campaign that you will have to pay for upfront.
The technical preview showed off some individual cosmetics and a battle pass to buy, but it feels quite safe and conservative compared to others’ excess. You level up through completing game challenges, and earn individual armour components that are matched to a particular era of SPARTAN armour. In that way, Halo Infinite’s custom characters are going to look like Halo characters, and will hopefully continue to do so for a good few years. The most controversial part of this is that all but the standard colours and patterns will also be unlocked, but if that means 343 Industries can retain the Halo feel to the game, I doubt fans will complain too much.
This emphasis on custom colours that the traditional red vs. blue battles will take a back seat so that your designs can be shown off. At the extreme, the technical test featured bots in blue with a red highlight by standard – about as jarring for long-term players as trying to read “yellow” when it’s written in purple. That highlight colour can be customised, but I wonder if 343 can’t tone down the mental clash in other ways.
All in all, I think the feedback for the first Halo Infinite technical test is largely positive for 343 Industries. Yes, there’s plenty of areas for them still to work on – this technical preview is from a build that’s already two months old, and it’s not clear if the 30fps lock on last-gen is here to stay – and some changes that are sure to be contentious. In general, I feel like 343 Industries is successfully straddling the divide between Halo eras. The game feels tight and modern, but captures a lot of the spirit of Halo at its peak.