Playing Halo Infinite for the first time, after delays, concerns, and countless development troubles over the past few years, I was hesitant, to say the least. Honestly, I didn’t expect it to be good.
And in my first few rounds, I wasn’t blown away: It felt a bit awkward and more than a bit clunky. The weapons were off, the physics felt slow, and more than anything else, it was just a bit shaky. Everything was just a bit off. Having spent the past few months pretty much only playing the Master Chief Collection — and by that I mean Halo 3 and Reach — it felt nowhere near those titles at first.
But as I played more, I got used to it: The physics began to feel more natural, I was able to familiarize myself with the gunplay, and the combat systems started to make sense. More than anything else, it began to feel more like the Halo I remember.
The only real hiccup was that some of the newer weapons didn’t feel perfect: The Commando is fun to use, but it would feel more at home in something like Valorant or Counter-Strike than it does in Halo. The Heatwave is in an awkward space between starting and power weapon — while it looks and feels powerful, the low damage numbers combined with a small magazine clearly restrict it to the same tier as starting weapons, where it can barely compete.
On the other hand, all the returning guns feel fantastic. The sniper is amazing, the assault rifle is, like always, serviceable, and damn is the battle rifle good. It’s crisp, clean, and honestly feels like all the best parts of Halo 2 and 3’s BRs. To put it simply, it’s fun. The shots go where they’re supposed to, the recoil feels natural, and the animations are fantastic.
And really, there are a bunch of new weapons that feel great, too. The Pulse Carbine is innovative in its combination of burst-fire and slow tracking rounds, the Bulldog is pretty fun and fills an interesting new role as a non-power weapon shotgun (although I do miss the old shotgun), and the Skewer is just absurd — there’s just nothing that compares to shooting a massive metal spike at your enemies (or friends).
More than anything else, the guns in Infinite are a lot like classic Halo in one crucial way: If you’re doing poorly, you don’t feel like the gun is bad, but instead that you’re bad with the gun. And because of that, there’s always a challenge presented instead of a shortcoming.
Infinite’s art direction and world design are fantastic, specifically because it builds upon Bungie’s work instead of trying to reinvent it. 343’s willingness to find a middle ground between old and new is a great sign — they’re able to maintain the brighter color scheme of 4 and 5 without sacrificing Bungie’s heavy and powerful designs. Their own new work with the Mark VII armor is clearly inspired by Bungie, but still does something new. It isn’t overly complicated or aesthetically confused and instead ends up feeling unique and innovative.
And for the first time in a decade, Spartans look powerful. Their armor is clearly meant for combat, and their weapons feel purpose-built, not like aesthetically pleasing things meant to look purpose-built. And more than that, everything feels like it has weight to it. Shooting a battle rifle, reloading the skewer, even just throwing a grenade — every animation seems natural, and the way the environment responds to it follows through with the same weight the animations have.
Somehow, that weight is even preserved when you see a Spartan — a half-ton supersoldier — sprinting.
Of course, we’ve all heard the debates about being able to sprint in Halo. I’m of the opinion that Halo 4 and 5 were worse off for making sprinting a default ability, but I don’t think it ruined the games. The main issue with sprint, though, is that it’s been continually hard to design pickup-based maps around two entirely different movement speeds. This was proven in 4, 5, and to some extent, Reach, where sprinting was able to invalidate lots of long-range encounters and reduce most matches to a mad dash for the map’s few power weapons.
But I’d honestly say Infinite does it right. Sprinting is barely faster than normal movement, and through that, it becomes more of a tool for mobility than speed. Sacrificing your main offensive capabilities lets you slide, clamber, and generally navigate the map more easily. And alongside all of that, it can help newcomers used to games with sprinting feel more comfortable with Halo’s combat system.
Feeling comfortable, then, is really what one of 343’s goals should be. The guns, animations, and general aesthetics all do it perfectly, so the movement experience should match up to that.
Of course, there are some flaws. While I do like the new AI bots for enemy Spartans, it does feel awkward and buggy at some times — something I’m hoping this beta test was meant to help them work on — and, more than that, I absolutely loathe the return of teammate callouts, which were already bad enough in Halo 5. Hearing a teammate yell “Over yonder!” every five seconds is irritating, to say the least, and it isn’t helped by the addition of a second announcer and medals being announced probably twice as frequently — it all just makes the game far too loud for my taste.
Along with that, the changes to armor color are concerning. Specifically, the decision to abandon red and blue armor in favor of outlines seems to match perfectly with 343’s move to an armor coating system more similar to Destiny’s shaders. While this normally wouldn’t be any concern, the choice is being made at the same time as 343 is deciding to make some of these armor coatings cost real-world money, a decision that saw massive outcry from some fans online.
Really, those are all relatively small complaints. For the most part, Infinite has a lot of potential. The gameplay is solid, and for the first time I really feel like 343 is making a true successor to the framework Bungie laid out. The gameplay is there, the aesthetics are there, and more than anything else, the Halo experience is there.
For the first time in 343’s history, it’s actually Halo.