The Halo series has been around with us long enough that every change will come under some degree of scrutiny, as fans hold onto the familiar. The upcoming Halo Infinite is the next step of a perceived identity crisis, the third full title from developer 343 Industries. Xbox and PC players were finally able to try a slice of the game through a multiplayer technical test, and I found myself both comforted by the familiar and bewildered by the new.
After getting past some widespread server issues, the tech preview itself as a whole had little to offer. There was a Bot Slayer mode that pitted four human players against four bots, and the “Academy” provided players with quick weapon drills for each gun available in the tech preview. Only a brief period last Saturday allowed human players to face off against each other, so hopefully, future tech tests closer to release will have a PvP focus.
No one went into this test expecting competition — it was simply an opportunity for regular players to pick up some guns and see how everything feels. With Infinite being the third full effort from 343, Halo fans were curious what direction this new entry would take the series. At the risk of oversimplifying, the 343 era has been defined by speed, mobility, and style, whereas the older Bungie games emphasized precision, patience, and occasional sandbox nonsense.
Having been caught off-guard by the quick gameplay pace and harder futuristic sci-fi aesthetic of Halo 4 and 5 in the past, I have to admit that my first bouts in Halo Infinite were a lot more comforting than I thought they would be. Every move I made during combat encounters felt purposeful, and any slip-up that would let the enemy get the first hit on me or outsmart me in some other fashion would rightfully lead to my demise. Sprinting and vaulting were still present, but basic strafing still felt like the tried and true strategy for victory.
Old classics like the Assault Rifle, Battle Rifle, Needler, and Gravity Hammer all felt as I remembered them — or at least, how I think I remember them. But while any new entry in a long-running FPS series is bound to add some new weapons, the set of new guns in this Halo Infinite tech test initially had me frustrated and underwhelmed.
Take the Commando assault rifle, which at my first glance looked like something in between the Assault Rifle and Battle Rifle. The sound design of this gun inspires a sense of power, with a loud thumping noise with each bullet — I expected to unload on these bots with ease. But every encounter I had while using the Commando ended in failure, and I ultimately felt like I was shooting acorns at opponents. Similarly, the new Bulldog shotgun felt as effective as a t-shirt cannon, and the Forerunner weapon known as the Heatwave, while discharging a wide spread of projectiles, lacked punch and felt like it barely connected with enemies.
It was hard to not feel jaded by anything that felt “un-Halo” — for instance, Halo Infinite sounded more talkative than any previous entry, as Spartans would make snide remarks and provide unnecessary bits of commentary. The community is already rolling their eyes at phrases like “over yonder” or “oh, so satisfying!” The latter line read sounds like something out of a Disney Channel sitcom rather than a sci-fi military shooter.
And at the same time, you can choose between several AI assistants for your Spartan, all with distinct colorful shapes and quirky personalities that made them talk and sound like characters from a budget rip-off of Pixar’s Inside Out. The fact that there is an audio option in the settings that lets you turn off “Spartan Chatter” must mean that surely, someone in 343 knows that these attempts of levity are intensely annoying.
The first Halo Infinite tech test took some time to grow on me. Once I looked past these niggles, I found a lot to appreciate. The maps on offer in the test — the militaristic but lush Live Fire, the confined and indoors Recharge, and the lived-in Bazaar — all felt grounded and fitting of the traditional Halo aesthetic and design. While I didn’t get used to the new weapons by the time the test ended, I thought of how they can fill new roles in combat instead of expecting them to act instead of using them like I would with old weapons. Instead of using the Commando like an Assault Rifle, I could focus more on the head and space out my shots; perhaps the more rapid-fire rate of the Bulldog deserved another examination; and instead of expecting the Heatwave to instantly obliterate people, I should focus on getting every light ray to hit an enemy’s body.
Halo under the 343 team has certainly made some changes and additions in previous games that deserve scrutiny, but Halo Infinite deserves credit for going back to the basics for gameplay and visual design. At the same time, 343 deserves to try to make its mark with new elements, even though change can be scary. I’d love to eavesdrop on a conversation at 343 Industries and listen to developers debate on where to adjust the slider between nostalgia and evolution. Every franchise lives or dies by how it changes and moves forward, and so far, I’m impressed and intrigued by how Halo Infinite is looking for that balance.
As long as the Spartans shut the hell up too.