Established fans and newcomers alike are excited to see if Halo Infinite can live up to all that the Halo franchise stands for. Whether or not it can remains to be seen – we’ve got a campaign to play this December – but if the game’s latest round of multiplayer technical previews is any indication, Halo Infinite’s multiplayer is shaping up to be something truly special.
This past weekend, 343 Industries opened the game to Halo Insiders (which is a free program) who own an Xbox One or Xbox Series X/S and some PC players. This meant that two matchmaking-based modes – Social Arena and Big Team Battle – were quick and easy to jump into. I spent the majority of my nearly dozen hours with Halo Infinite in those two modes.
Before jumping into my thoughts on Halo Infinite’s multiplayer following this technical preview, I want to mention that Friday night, from about 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., three online buddies and I played custom games in The Master Chief Collection. We played to hang out, but that doubled as a way for me to touch base with a franchise that’s about to receive a flashy new entry. The classic Halo games absolutely hold up, but they are significantly slower than any modern FPS and despite how much fun I was having, I was desperate for a way to speed up match pacing (we ended up kicking the movement speed up by about 20 percent).
I continually told my friends I wish those old Halos were faster, smoother, and more strategic. Then I jumped into Halo Infinite and realized Infinite is very much the Halo of old… but faster, smoother, and more strategic.
Launching into the technical preview immediately brought me back – the classic Halo theme kicked in, my Spartan was front and center, and I saw the words Big Team Battle on screen. This mode is everything I had hoped it would be – large battles, vehicular destruction, control points dominated by players hoping to get their hands on a sniper rifle, and of course, that lone wolf who refuses to follow the team effort to capture the flag (okay, I can’t lie, this was definitely me a couple of times).
The only map in this mode that I played on, Fragmentation, is reminiscent of Halo 3’s Valhalla. It’s set on a Halo and specifically in a more natural mountainous terrain. There are two large alien-made structures on both ends of the map and between them sits the pathways you’ll take to either grab the lone Overshield, pick up one of the two vehicular requisition drops, or perch high above for easy Battle Rifle kills. Its symmetrical design keeps the playing field even no matter which team you’re on, and it allowed my teammates and me to quickly learn the “lanes” to best capture control points, flags, or get some easy Slayer kills.
The weapons on this map included the standard Assault Rifle, the trusty Battle Rifle, an occasional one-shot-kill Skewer, the Bulldog shotgun, and more. To my surprise, Battle Rifles don’t dominate the battlefield. I felt at home with one in my Spartan’s hands, but when I didn’t have it, I still stood a chance. I fell especially in love with the Needler, which is as fun as ever. Waiting for that timed explosion at the end of a round to kill an enemy never gets old, does it?
Visually, I wasn’t blown away, but that’s not to say the game doesn’t look good. It looks great, but it doesn’t scream new-gen the way other modern titles do. However, my biggest gripe with the technical preview stems from these visuals. Particularly the graphics of Performance mode, which brings the frames-per-second up to a blistering-fast and buttery-smooth 120fps.
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Simply put, Halo Infinite looks ugly in Performance mode. The textures take a hit and the game’s resolution takes an even bigger one. Each time I gave Infinite’s Performance mode another shot, I couldn’t play for longer than a few minutes. Its lower graphical fidelity put everything but my Spartan’s weapon out of focus.
I’m not the biggest snob in the world when it comes to visuals, but the lack of sharpness in Performance mode versus what I saw in the Graphics mode, which targets a 4K resolution and a frame rate of 60fps, solidified that I’d probably be playing the latter this December. Keep in mind that this technical preview took place on an old build and there’s a good chance 343 Industries has already quelled my concerns with Performance mode.
Elsewhere in Big Team Battle, I was enthralled with finding new ways to use the game’s equipment pickups. There’s what is essentially a deployable shield, a repulsor that can bounce back enemies and grenades dozens of feet, and of course, the grappling hook. The game’s marketing showcases the grappling hook quite often but to be honest, it doesn’t feel as integral to Halo Infinite as marketing led me to believe, at least in multiplayer.
The grappling hook is not hard to find, but once you die, it’s gone. Sure, it can whip you around large swaths of land with ease, and it never stopped feeling amazing to grapple onto a Ghost and hijack it, but thanks to its limited use, it quickly fell into the background of Halo Infinite’s excellent gunplay, much like the other pieces of equipment did. While these pickups are useful, they never felt necessary, and that’s because they serve to simply compliment the game’s already fantastic gunplay.
Infinite’s excellent gunplay shines most in the game’s Social Arena, which is where you can find smaller matches of Halo classics like Slayer. In this mode’s handful of maps, I was surprised with how easy it was to learn the maps, their layouts, and the best lanes to take out enemies with ease. I would have liked a little more visual variety – so far, every map feels like a training ground built for Spartans rather than something you’d encounter in a Halo campaign – but I still had a blast.
The maps make for the frenetic jump-while-you’re-shooting-and-don’t-forget-to-toss-a-grenade gameplay I’ve come to associate with Halo for decades, but with the added bonus that I could sprint, mantle up ledges, and ultimately play the game the same way I play every modern FPS.
With nearly a dozen Halo Infinite hours behind me, I’m happy to say that I’m actually (and finally) excited about the game. 343 Industries’ first foray into the series with Halo 4 was good. Halo 5 was… not so good, and for that reason, I’ve remained cautious of Halo Infinite. This weekend’s technical preview proved that despite my reservations, this game’s multiplayer is in good hands. I only hope the Halo Infinite campaign can match it.
Halo Infinite made our list of the most ancipated games of the year, check that out here.