Halo Infinite

PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series


Developer 343 Industries

Publisher Xbox Game Studios

Format PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series Origin US

Release Q4

They say you can’t go home again, that if you return somewhere after a long time away, it’s never how you remember it. As we rack up the first of many Killing Sprees in Halo Infinite’s first technical preview, however, we’re not so sure that’s true. The territory might be new – Live Fire, a tangle of ramps, towers and gangways wrapped in drab training-facility theming – but everything else feels like home. The crunch of a melee hit connecting with the armour plate of an opponent. The lazy, tumbling trajectory of a frag grenade. The precise number of Needler shards you need to embed beneath someone’s skin before they’ll explode in a cloud of pink. All of this imprinted onto our brain by endless hours of practice, the intervenin­g decade apparently having done little to shift them from our muscle memory.

This familiarit­y should be a criticism.

At a time when we often lament the lack of chances being taken by developers, surely it is hypocritic­al to celebrate Infinite for so perfectly imitating its predecesso­rs? But the difference here, we’d contend – somewhat guiltily, as if caught with fingers in the plasma-grenade jar – is that nothing else out there feels quite like Halo. Including, arguably, the previous two Halo games.

From what we’ve seen, Infinite is shaping up to be the Halo equivalent of The Force

Awakens. The return of a cherished series, arriving in the wake of some significan­tly less cherished entries and then a long, appetitere­storing pause. Much like Abrams’ film, there’s the feel of a loving tribute act, less interested in the new than restoring the former glory of the old. But, well, we’re rather fond of The Force Awakens.

The key is not simply replicatin­g the old signifiers, whether it’s a desert planet and a cantina packed with aliens or the sound of a plasma pistol and an announcer throatily celebratin­g your latest triple-kill. Anyone can do that. No, it’s about understand­ing the essence that set your source material apart in the first place. That’s much harder. But this first taste of Halo Infinite suggests that, in multiplaye­r at least, the developer has both halves of the equation nailed down.

It’s the rhythm of play we find most welcoming. A good match of Halo is as much about spacing, about knowing when to push the advantage and when to put a wall between you and your opponent, as it is about aiming the reticule correctly and pulling the trigger. (A blessing, given the state of our reflexes these days.) And a weekend with Halo Infinite provides us with plenty of good matches.

Time-to-kill hits a sweet spot, where every bullet feels meaningful but deaths

rarely come before we even know we’re in a fight. Popping out from behind a column, squeezing off the contents of an MK50 Sidekick clip, then ducking out of sight and waiting for the vwooom of a recharged shield is a thrill no other shooter can boast. Hours in, we still catch ourselves shifting on the sofa occasional­ly, as if trying to dodge fire.

343 is standing on some big shoulders – but its new additions do nothing to disrupt the rhythm, and possibly even elevate it. Literally so, in the form of the grappling hook that was front and centre in that first gameplay demo last year. In the hand, it reveals itself as an extension of the old positionin­g game: a way of closing the gap for a melee strike or escaping certain doom.

In multiplaye­r matches, at least, the grapple is one of a selection of disposable pickup items that spawn at set intervals in marked spots on the map. Think Halo 3’s equipment drops or, if you’re really getting on, the overshield­s and active-camo powerups of yore. Those two are in the mix here too, but they’re outshone by the younger competitio­n. In particular, the blessed drop wall.

Heir to the proud lineage of the bubble shield and armour lock, this is a portable shield that, once dropped on the ground, throws up a forcefield at head height, curved slightly at the edges. It’s a one-way shield, meaning that gunfire and grenades can pass through it outwards – but players can move through it freely, meaning it’s possible to get rushed. It’s also team-agnostic, in the sense that it functions identicall­y no matter who’s firing through it – only the direction matters. Finally, it’s destructib­le, composed of a mosaic of a dozen shimmering tiles that can be shot out individual­ly.

The opportunit­ies are obvious even before our first shield has fully expired. It can act as a temporary addition to the map’s carefully placed cover, or as an external extension of your health bar when things get sticky. It’s also possible to flee an attack from behind and find yourself on the wrong side of your own shield. What the drop wall represents is that 343 has been able to take its understand­ing of what always made Halo great and apply that to building new toys, ones that increase possibilit­ies in exciting ways.

There’s much we’ve still to see. Even setting aside the campaign (about which Microsoft has been quiet since the mixed reaction to its first showing last year), this preview offers just three maps, at the smaller 4v4 end of the spectrum, with no opportunit­y to get behind the wheels of any vehicles. Perhaps most significan­tly, we’ve yet to come up against a human opponent, with all matches played against a team of AI bots, themselves a new addition.

But everything we have touched is enormously promising. The maps on show are all compact affairs, but tunnelled through with shortcuts and hiding spots. The drop points for weapons and equipment are placed with care – special mention must go to Bazaar’s rocket launcher, positioned on a mezzanine that gives a perfect view of the central market square below but is perfectly exposed from almost every angle.

The aforementi­oned bots make a good first impression across all the available difficulty settings. A bit grenade-happy, perhaps, and occasional­ly they move with a terrifying unity of purpose, but they prove respectabl­e adversarie­s, and offer a handy demonstrat­ion to rookies of how Halo is best played.

This is the real promise, in fact: that Infinite might appeal not just to old hands but newcomers too, players who wouldn’t know a Warthog from a Mongoose. That, presumably, is the masterplan here – keep in mind that Infinite’s multiplaye­r is being launched as a standalone F2P propositio­n across PC and two generation­s of Xbox consoles, all connected by crossplay. Once upon a time, Halo was positioned as the killer app of a new system; today, you don’t even need to buy the new console. Microsoft has been smoothing out any barriers to entry, in the hope that players who dip in will then choose to stick around. Based on this evidence, they’ll have good reason to make themselves at home.

This is the real promise: that Infinite might appeal not just to old hands, but to newcomers

 ??  ?? The Needler is a gloriously unusual weapon, from its Day-Glo appearance to the slight homing on its darts, and the fact that kills arrive a few seconds after impact
The Needler is a gloriously unusual weapon, from its Day-Glo appearance to the slight homing on its darts, and the fact that kills arrive a few seconds after impact

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