Hands On: Halo Infinite: Multiplayer Technical Preview
By now, I think it’s pretty obvious that people are putting a lot of expectations on Halo Infinite. Personally, I’m no stranger to this franchise’s multiplayer environment or the beta testing periods that preceded some of the prior titles. So you can imagine that I was pretty excited to be chosen to be in the initial multiplayer flight for Infinite. Yeah, it involved submitting specs from my gaming rig which can be weird to some. But the chance to get your hands on a game pre-release is always a fun thing to take part in. Not only are you helping the devs learn and tweak the game for the final release, but you’re able to get a head start on getting a feel for the gameplay.
That said, the Reclaimer trilogy has been a bit of a mixed bag for me. I was nonplussed with the story and gameplay of 4 in both singleplayer and multiplayer, though I found myself hating the nearly nonsensical story of 5 but being absolutely fine with the multiplayer despite it not being traditional Halo. It was quite fun and seemed to be where developer 343 Industries put a lot of their effort. I’ll concede that saying Halo multiplayer is good is akin to saying that pizza is generally good, but it shouldn’t surprise people that this mode is always under constant scrutiny.
Regardless of all that, getting into Infinite‘s Technical Preview is still a good chance to get a feel for what’s in store for the campaign and the multiplayer mode’s free to play element as well. There will be further flights as we get closer to release, but this is a good chance for fans to whet their whistle on what’s coming. Published by Xbox Game Studios, Halo Infinite is slated for release in Q4 2021 on Xbox One, Series X|S, and PC (Game Pass/Steam/MS Store). Both the Steam version and the Xbox One version (played on a One X) were played for this hands-on.
Starting off, I should probably address the elephant in the room with the free-to-play format. Honestly, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who played Halo 5 and dealt with their card packs. But there are cosmetic items that do require the purchase of a Battle Pass and leveling up past a certain point. This will require the purchase of in-game credits with real money (this wasn’t actually available during the preview, but 343 provided some credits to play with), but this is obviously not required to enjoy the game proper.
Armor permutations, weapon skins, and so on are purely aesthetic choices the player can choose to take on if they desire. While the amount of choices in even this preview is staggering, it’s still something meant to generate revenue. Thankfully, the fact that there are no loot boxes here at all is still a welcome sight. It wouldn’t surprise me if this is still the case for the final retail release, but it’s still worth mentioning here for transparency’s sake. People making comparisons to Fortnite’s free-to-play model are inevitable here, but that just seems to be the climate that gamers find themselves with this format.
The preview is unsurprisingly limited in scope, but what’s here is solid so far. Gamers who are new or have been away from the games for a while get the chance to get their legs with the various UNSC and Covenant weaponry with the newly included weapon drills. Some of us might consider this a tiny game on its own, but getting the chance to familiarize yourself with the weapons this preview has to offer is a nice thing to see for the player. Having that controlled environment is a good gesture, and not having to learn things on the fly in the middle of a match is also a pretty nice move on 343’s part.
Control-wise, it does work. Longtime fans might be used to the default control scheme from game to game. Here feels a lot like 5‘s with some tweaks to fit in with these specific mechanics. Being with the franchise from the start, I’m used to this. Though I’d be lying that some of the mapping choices threw me off. Mouse and keyboard bindings are just fine, though. Because the core gameplay here isn’t classic Halo, some of the purists in the fandom might balk at the fact that a dash is even included here at all. Never mind the fact that it’s been in since Reach, but the influence its prime rival Call of Duty has had on the genre as a whole is still readily evident here. Perhaps it’s more in line with its predecessor in terms of controls, but it all works once you get the hang of things. Most of the default bindings on a controller are weird at first, but easy enough to adjust to after a while.
However, the flow of gameplay is actually pretty great. For the first time in the franchise, you’re able to sharpen your skills against bot opponents. While they’re nothing new for the genre as a whole, it’s a first for Halo and a welcome addition regardless. They’re included here because the only true multiplayer mode available in the preview was a four player/four bot Team Slayer mode spread across a handful of maps. Much like its predecessor, they’re designed with various power ups and power weapons that are time gated and announced by the player’s Spartan AI when it’s in play. 343 mentioned that the bots were “no pushovers” previously, but skilled players will find them to be a good warmup at best. We didn’t seem to be able to try out vehicles yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see that in a later flight.
What’s Old is New Again
The expected “drop shield, drop health” aspect for these games is here, and it honestly feels pretty good. Part of the reason I found myself turned off by 4′s multiplayer was the more COD-esque method of handling damage, and as a result the shield and health situation often felt quite squishy. For someone who’s accustomed to having a bit more buffer with getting out of danger in the heat of a firefight, it got frustrating. Here, though? It feels pretty balanced and reasonable from a gameplay standpoint. It’s not squishy, nobody’s really a bullet sponge, and most of the weapons here feel pretty solid and often have a good counter. The only real thing that bothered me was the long wind up time of the gravity hammer, as I found myself unable to swing it like I could in Halo 3. That might have been a balancing choice, but I doubt that’ll bode well for the eventual Grifball players among us.
Making a bit of a return from Halo 3 is having deployable equipment on hand in the middle of battle. While we’re not looking at shield draining equipment or anything like that, what’s presented here is a good taste of what may follow. Most people are excited about the grapple shot, and with good reason. Why wouldn’t you want to live out your favorite Batman moments in a firefight? In the right hands picking up all manner of foes, equipment, and launching off walls is big fun. So much so that it only felt natural to limit its use, and I’m fine with that. It might be an unlimited thing in the single player campaign, but here it just makes sense to do it for balancing reasons. The drop wall is similar to the bubble shield, but not quite. It behaves similarly, but it eventually does deteriorate the more damage it takes. Which is neat from an on-the-fly combat standpoint, but it’s not quite as impenetrable as someone might think.
Much to the surprise of no-one, the gameplay here in general is solid. This is Halo we’re talking about here, after all. In between the delays, memes, and coming out with a build like this to the public while also navigating the challenges of game development during a pandemic is nothing to scoff at. Even with this build, I feel pretty good about loading up the final one once it drops. There were the occasional network issues and random game drops, but this is why previews like this are a thing at all. Things should be ironed out once the game drops proper. Sure, this is a longtime fan saying this. Though given the aforementioned rockiness of 4 and 5 in relation to what came before it, it’s nice to see 343 seems to be on their way to sticking the landing with Infinite’s core gameplay at the very least.
Elbow Grease Mixed With Headlight Fluid
The tentpole status of the Halo franchise is already well known at this point, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the graphical presentation is usually a general focus here. However, the thing that is unique to Infinite is the wide array of platforms it’s on. Its predecessors were generally relegated to console status and stayed there for the most part. That is, until 4 came along with the Steam/Game Pass version of The Master Chief Collection. The PC representation was admittedly even more spotty but ultimately represented in the form of the free sandbox Halo 5: Forge which had the laser focus of player created content but seemed quickly abandoned.
This isn’t the case for Infinite at all, and 343 wants you to be able to play it on whatever current or prior gen Xbox/compatible PC hardware that you own. That does come with the challenge of adjusting to the strengths and limitations of each platform, but the goal of being playable is the ultimate endgame here. On the console side, you’re obviously going to have the issue of dated hardware. Naturally, the Series X|S will have the best performance in comparison to their Xbox One counterparts. Though those who own later iterations of the Xbox One will have a slightly better performance than the base console. Playing in 1080p on my Xbox One X was not a smooth experience from a framerate perspective, but it wasn’t unplayable at all. Playing on my relatively modern PC build yielded unsurprisingly better results, but playing with the settings in either situation will help give you the best experience at all. Not that I would want to play on a launch One either, but it’s good that it’s playable and supported at all.
Graphically speaking, it’s quite nice regardless of platform. Dealing with enclosed spaces, densely packed wildernesses, or weaving your way through buildings and the like shows the attention to detail rather well. While I was warned of the prerelease status of the build, it still kinda threw me off to see certain instances of weird artifacting and losing my HUD altogether once or twice. Though outside of that, it’s a solid graphical presentation. Customizing your Spartan for battle is surprisingly deep in this build, even without the additional content to purchase. It all fits in the sci-fi setting nicely, and I’m glad to see it here for lore and aesthetic reasons.
Thankfully, I can’t say I hate the music here. It might be limited in what’s here, but I’ll admit that I dig the vibe here. It’s not trying to be tryhard hardcore, it’s well composed, and it’s pleasant overall. I’m kind of excited to hear the rest of it. Should be fun. If anything, I found myself somewhat annoyed by the constant chatter from your fellow Spartans layered on top of the usual announcer and the quips from your AI (one of which kinda sounds like Tom Holland). This is something you can toggle in the menus, but this aspect is subjective. Though the overall audio presentation here is solid, and that’s a relief.
Waiting For Touchdown
Walking away from this, I feel like the “delayed game is eventually good and bad game is eternally bad” saying hovers over Infinite quite a bit here. In between all the usual stressors of game development stacked on top of everything else that’s come with the shit show of the past couple years, taking the extra time to get things right was definitely the best play here. Not just from a development standpoint, but from a personal stress standpoint as well. With what I’ve been seeing from 343 in recent days, they’re very interested in the feedback here and will hopefully use it to improve it further.
It’s also why I’m happy games in this franchise aren’t annualized like a certain other FPS franchise has been doing for years. I’m sure there are some fans of the series that might feel differently about said franchise, but even the weaker Halo titles have certain aspects that make it stand out in comparison. Either way, I’m excited to see what’s going to become of later builds. Because based on what I’ve experienced here, the only way this can go is up. It’s absolutely solid, and my hype level went from “vaguely interested” to “hype as hell” in a heartbeat.
Techical Preview code provided to Insiders (writer included) by 343 Industries for PC/Xbox One. Screenshots taken by writer. Feature image provided by publisher.